How to Outsmart a Narcissist (8 Methods!)

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Published by:
Practical Psychology
Andrew English
Reviewed by:
Andrew English, Ph.D.

Narcissists are tough to deal with. That’s the truth. If you are dealing with a narcissist, they likely see you as a person to be used or played like a chess piece, not a person with feelings, hopes, and dreams. That’s not your fault - it’s theirs. They will naturally behave in ways that make you feel crazy, weak, or dumb. But there are ways to outsmart a narcissist, take back control of your relationship, and enjoy a happy, healthy life. 

Eight Ways to Outsmart a Narcissist

  1. Recognize you’re dealing with a narcissist. 
  2. Understand the behaviors they use to manipulate or control you. 
  3. Create boundaries for yourself.
  4. Express those boundaries in advance. 
  5. Share when your boundaries have been crossed. 
  6. Don’t be afraid to have open conversations in front of others. 
  7. If things get dangerous, leave the situation. 
  8. Remember that you are in charge of your reactions and emotions. 

How Do You Know You’re Dealing With A Narcissist? 

The first way to outsmart a narcissist is to realize you’re dealing with one. Movies and TV make it easy for us to identify narcissists - they are usually painted as conniving, sneaky, and downright evil. Often, the audience gets a look into their inner thoughts and sees all the ways they manipulate others. Real life isn’t like that. Narcissists may appear, at first, to be confident or even empathetic. They might be charming, ambitious, or have your best interests at heart. They don’t. The sooner you recognize a narcissist for what they are, the better. 

Here are four signs of a narcissist: 

Inflated sense of self. Because a narcissist has this inflated sense of self, they believe that they deserve more and are better than other people. This doesn’t always mean that a narcissist is walking around with grand confidence. Narcissists may also feel slighted any time their “worth” is questioned. Any attempt to hold them accountable for their actions or question their abilities or intelligence may be met with intense retaliation. 

Constantly needing attention and validation. A narcissist believes they are entitled to more attention and praise than anyone else. They crave it. If they aren’t getting it, they seek it out. Narcissists may also crave negative attention. You may hate a narcissist’s behavior, but you can’t stop thinking about it. That’s a win for them. 

Lack of empathy. Is there someone in your life who doesn’t empathize with you? They’re probably a narcissist. Narcissists cannot begin to imagine the hurt they are causing other people because they don’t think about any feelings besides their own!

The desire for control and perfection. Because a narcissist feels so entitled, they believe that everything should go the way they want it to go. This leads to an intense desire for control. If they have control, they want everything to be perfect to their liking. When people cannot meet these expectations for the narcissist (or refuse to do so), the narcissist will retaliate. And they don’t care what it takes to get that control - they’ll do it to feel that they are in charge again. 

Sound like someone who is causing you distress? Keep reading. It would be best if you learned how to outsmart this narcissist. 

Understanding the Narcissist Through TV and Movies

Pop culture often portrays narcissistic personalities with a mix of intrigue and cautionary tales. Take Don Draper from "Mad Men," a classic example of a narcissist in the workplace. He's charismatic and successful, which masks his manipulation and lack of empathy towards others, particularly in his relationships. Then there's Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho," an extreme depiction of narcissism taken to psychopathic levels, showcasing a disturbing blend of charm and calculated malice. These characters demonstrate the varied spectrum of narcissistic behavior, from subtle to overt, and while they might make for compelling television and cinema, encountering such traits in real life requires careful navigation.

Behaviors Narcissists Use to Control Others

A sense of empathy stops most people from wanting to control others or perform a behavior that might hurt someone’s feelings. A narcissist only acts on their desire to control others and benefit themselves. When challenged or questioned, the narcissist may: 

  • Invoke the silent treatment
  • Call you names 
  • Lie
  • Gaslight you and make you feel insane 
  • Slander you 

Narcissists see people as a source of attention and praise. They don’t care if they fight “dirty” or hurt feelings. They’ll do anything to “win.” They may also display some more covert behaviors that don’t appear to be manipulation. Keep a lookout for these, too.

Know that these behaviors may be used if you try to outsmart a narcissist. Prepare for this so you are not surprised. When a narcissist does begin to display appalling behaviors, stay firm and remind yourself that they are at fault for their behaviors, not you. Also, know that your emotional appeals will not break them down but may strengthen them further to continue controlling you. 

How to Create Boundaries For Yourself When Dealing With a Narcissist. 

When was the last time you consciously thought about how you want people to treat you? We often take for granted the kindness of others. We assume that everyone is going to act with kindness in their hearts. Narcissists don’t. If you are dealing with a narcissist, you have to consciously create boundaries for yourself so you can recognize when they are crossed.

What is a deal-breaker for you? Lying? Cheating? Being a narcissist’s emotional punching bag? Remember that boundaries are not about another person’s behavior - you can’t control that. Boundaries are limits for how other people will treat you. If you do not accept lies, you can set that boundary and walk away when people try to treat you with disrespect through lying. 

Express Those Boundaries in Advance.

Set expectations for the narcissist in your life, whether or not they have crossed your boundaries before. Let them know what type of treatment you refuse to tolerate. Do not give ultimatums, but calmly let the person know that you refuse this treatment and will need to change the scope of your relationship if the treatment continues. 

This is a daunting task. Narcissists can instill fear in people through negative behaviors. Please do not give in to their intimidation and manipulation tactics. Be clear, use confident body language, and use their name when speaking to them. Do not be afraid to be blunt, either. A narcissist does not care about how you feel and does not need excessive empathy in return. 

Yes, this feels like a lot of preparation when talking to someone, but think of the creation and sharing of boundaries as suiting up with armor. The more confident you are in your boundaries, the less it will sting when narcissists try to fight them. If you need help with this process, contact a mental health professional. 

Share when your boundaries have been crossed. 

Once you have set expectations, enforce them. Think of the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. If you allow a narcissist to cross your boundaries once, they will do it over and over again. Be clear when you let a narcissist know that you refuse to be treated in the way that they treat you. Be confident, and do not let their retaliation distract you from the importance of holding strong to your boundaries. 

When the narcissist tries to change the subject or blame you, remind them that the conversation is about their bad behavior. Stay on topic. Remind them that they need to be held accountable for their actions and that you can refuse their requests. These are not easy pills for a narcissist to swallow. That’s okay. Hold strong and stay calm. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Have Open Conversations In Front of Others.

A narcissist cares about what other people think of them. If you let them know they are crossing your boundaries calmly and confidently and in front of others, they might stop to save face. This Reddit post from a child of a narcissistic mother shares how effective this can be: 

...One day, I had asked to use the car to go to the movies with my friends. My parents had no objection. Later in the day, my mom in a sickening sweet way asked me if I would go to the store to buy her cigarettes before I went to pick up my friends. I reminded her of my policy about not doing this for her anymore; I was actually surprised she was asking because it had been at least two or three years since I had started refusing.

Anyway, her sweet demeanor suddenly changed, and through her clenched jaw, she informed me, "Fine. Then you will NOT be using the car this evening." However, her threat didn't sway me, and I told her fine. I then immediately got on the phone to one of my friends and said, "Sorry, we can't go to the movie. My mom won't let me use the car because I won't go buy her cigarettes."

Upon my mom hearing me say this to my friend, her clenched jaw suddenly loosened and almost hit the floor in shock and embarassment. The narcissist in my mom couldn't stand the thought of looking bad in front of my friends or having it get back to their parents about why I could no longer use the car. Her demeanor once again suddenly changed, and in this overly friendly voice loud enough for my friend to hear on the other end of the line, she exclaimed with fake laughter, "Oh wait, wait! Hold on! You know I was only kidding! Ha ha ha."

So not only did I get to use the car after all, I semi-shamed my mom, and she never once even tried to ask me to buy her cigarettes again.” 

If Things Get Dangerous, Leave the Situation.

Ideally, the narcissist will respect your boundaries, whether they want to or not. They will move on to another person and look to them for the attention and praise they desire. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Some narcissists will resort to violence to exert the control they desire over others. 

If you are in danger, leave the situation. Stay with a friend or family member who is not involved with the narcissist. Call the authorities if you have to. Please don’t give in to the narcissist’s demands because they will learn that threatening or using violence allows them to get their way. Your safety is of the utmost importance. Prioritize it over the needs of the narcissist in your life. 

Remember That You Are In Charge of Your Reactions and Emotions.

As you try to outsmart a narcissist or just set boundaries, you may notice that they have a serious emotional reaction. This is part of a narcissist’s manipulation. You are not in charge of their emotions. You are only in charge of your own. To protect your emotions, you must establish clear boundaries and maintain them.

You are in charge of the people you spend time with, too. One of the best ways to outsmart a narcissist is to surround yourself with people who treat you with respect. Over time, you may find ways to replace the narcissist in your life with another friend group or chosen family. That’s okay. If the narcissist does not change their behavior or respect you, they do not deserve to be in your circle.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, October). How to Outsmart a Narcissist (8 Methods!). Retrieved from

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