If you have to continue to live with a narcissist in your life, you’ll find that it’s a constant battle for power. Narcissists love to feel as though they are all-powerful and in control of everything around them. If they do have power, they are usually abusive to anyone who is under their control. Dealing with a narcissist is difficult for many reasons, but their propensity to abuse power is probably one of the most problematic issues you’ll face.
Perhaps the best way to take power away from the narcissist in your life is to be your own best advocate. You have to be clear about who they are and who you are, learn to speak up for yourself, and set strong boundaries. Don’t apologize, don’t blame yourself, and don’t accept abusive treatment.
The first step in taking power away from a narcissist is to understand why they feel they need power to begin with. Once you understand their motivation, you understand why you have to speak up for yourself and stand your ground when they attempt to take away your power. Let’s explore why narcissists do what they do and how you can take away their power over your life.
What’s Behind the Narcissist’s Need for Power?
Narcissists feel they need to be in control of everyone in their life because they have an insatiable need for external validation. This is known as narcissistic supply, and the narcissist needs almost constant adulation to feel they are getting enough of this supply.
The reason they need their narcissistic supply is that they buried their true self long ago because their childhood experiences filled them with self-loathing and shame. That’s really what’s at the heart of narcissism.
Though they buried their true self, they needed an identity structure that would allow them to interact with the world around them. For that reason, they constructed a false self and infused it with grandiose ideas of being all-knowing and all-powerful.
The problem with the false self is that it has no capacity to prop up the narcissist’s self-esteem. They need other people to do that, and that’s why they feel the need to control them.
The narcissist lives in almost constant fear of their true self being exposed. They believe that it is worthless and hopelessly flawed, and they see every critical remark or insinuation of guilt as a possible threat to their carefully constructed house of cards.
Because of this damaged identity structure, the narcissist comes to view other people as mere extensions of themselves. They are, in effect, the narcissist’s ego, and the narcissist comes to believe they should be able to control them.
Of course, in reality, the narcissist doesn’t have the power to control you, but they can manipulate you into doing what they want you to do. That manipulation can be either physical or emotional, but both forms can be very effective in getting people to comply with the narcissist’s wishes.
How Does the Narcissist Use Manipulation to Gain Power Over Others?
To get control over their victims, narcissists use various manipulation tactics. Early in their life, they learn how to be very charming, and they learn how to figure out what makes other people tick. They have to do this because it’s essential to their survival.
Their charm helps them get close to you, and it gives them time to learn all about your friends, your goals for your life, your loves, and what you hate or fear. To you, they appear to be a supportive, loving, and concerned friend or romantic partner. All the while, however, they are taking stock of what they can use against you and which manipulation tactics will work best to get you to do what they want.
Once they have learned what they need to know about you, your relationship with them changes. They begin to make unrealistic demands from you in the relationship. These are not demands that you can or should have to meet.
When you push back on what they expect or are unable to satisfy their demands, the narcissist begins to devalue you. You might witness a sudden and dramatic change in their demeanor and their behavior.
They become extremely critical to the point that you can’t quite reconcile their sudden change in manner with the person you thought you knew. You might have believed you had met a veritable soulmate, but now they seem like your polar opposite. You excuse their behavior and even begin to question your own perceptions.
The narcissist, meanwhile, begins using the following manipulation tactics to confuse you and gain power over you:
Gaslighting is a maddening tactic that can leave you questioning your own sanity. The narcissist will deny your version of events, accuse you of being too sensitive, or state that they were joking or didn’t mean it the way you took it.
The idea behind this is to deny and distract. They want you to think there’s something wrong with you; they want you to question your own reality. The more they can make you do that, the more power they have to manipulate and control you.
Make no mistake about it, narcissists lie frequently and easily. They lie almost as easily as they breathe. They will sometimes lie for no reason just because it makes them feel as though they have the power to get away with anything.
When a narcissist can get you to believe what they’re saying, they feel as though they have won the game. It makes them feel very powerful, and they will use it to get you to do what they want.
Projection is when someone accuses you of doing something they know they are actually doing. It’s a distraction technique to put you on the defensive. It’s also very effective at making you think that if they are accusing you of doing this, they surely wouldn’t be doing it themselves.
If a narcissistic partner is being unfaithful, they will probably accuse you of cheating. If they are lying, they will call you a liar, and so on. Many times, this distracts the victim because they deny the accusation.
This is a particularly destructive manipulation technique because it pits family members and friends against one another. Narcissists will tell you one thing and your family member or friend something different.
They will use this tactic with their own children too. They may, for example, tell your child that you don’t want them to do something because you don’t want them to have fun. They might say that if it were up to them, they would let you, but you won’t.
While they tell your child that, they come to you and say that they laid down the law with the child. They told them no and why. You can imagine the problems this causes in relationships. The narcissist is effectively playing both ends against the middle, and it can often tear a family apart.
Devaluation is the constant criticism that narcissist’s employ to make you feel insecure, less confident, and as though you don’t have self-worth. The narcissist wants you to feel this way so that they can get you to do what they want.
What’s more, the criticism they lobby against you can become constant and very detrimental to your self-esteem. You can come away from this relationship feeling as though you can’t do anything right. During the relationship, you will begin to feel as though you need to walk on eggshells around the narcissist. That’s how they want it because it gives them more power.
Another tactic the narcissist will use is isolation. They will work to isolate you from your family and friends. They want you to have no one else you can turn to if you’re questioning their behavior.
They will use the other manipulation techniques to destroy your relationships and leave you isolated. You can easily feel as though they are your only ally.
What’s the Best Thing to Do?
Most experts are going to tell you — with good reason — that the best thing to do when you realize you’re in a relationship with a narcissist is to go no contact. Get away from them and block them from contacting you in every area of your life.
That’s not always possible, however, since the narcissist may be someone you can’t cut out of your life like a boss, a child, or a parent, or they may be someone you just can’t cut out of your life because you love them. That’s no reflection on you, but it does complicate the situation.
The narcissist will use all of the techniques discussed above to take away your power but that doesn’t mean you have to let them do that. Even if you love them, there are many things you can do to keep the narcissist in your life from taking and using your power against you.
Let’s take a look at the best ways to respond to this very difficult situation.
Understand Who You’re Dealing With
The first thing you need to do to reclaim your power is to see the narcissist for who they really are. It’s not as easy as you think because they seemed so wonderful and perfect in the beginning of your relationship. They often sweep their victims off their feet at first.
That’s what makes it so difficult to accept that they are not, in fact, all that. You must start seeing their manipulation for what it is in order to be able to put a stop to it. Watch them around other people and take note of how they treat them. What you see them doing to other victims is the same thing they are doing to you.
Despite the image they put forth in the beginning of your relationship, you will need to realize that your concern and dreams are not important to them. They are focused — and they want to be focused — on their own needs.
Though it’s not possible to know what’s truly in their heart, any love they truly feel for you is colored by the incessant demand of their own ego. They need it to be propped up at all times, and that need is first and foremost in their mind.
Their needs drive their behavior, and by accepting that fact and taking off those rose-colored glasses, you can begin to take away their power.
Stop the Madness
Once you accept the narcissist for what they truly are, you must turn your focus from them to you. Our culture teaches us that we need to be giving and focus on the needs of others. That only works if everyone does that.
The narcissist will never be able to focus on your needs, so you will need to do that for yourself if you must continue living with the narcissist in your life. It’s not selfish to ensure you are treated with respect, it’s not selfish to take care of your physical and mental health, and it’s not selfish to take the actions you need to take to make your dreams come true.
In an ideal world, we would all have wonderful, respectful, and supportive partners — just like the narcissist seemed to be in the beginning of your relationship. You do deserve that, but in a relationship with a narcissist, you will have to get it for yourself.
You will have to adjust your expectations for the relationship and provide what you need for yourself. Take time to take care of your physical and mental health needs, and get the emotional support you need from truly loving family and friends in your life. The narcissist will not be able to give you that.
Be Your Own Hero
A narcissist will never be in your corner. You will have to defend yourself, and that means you’ll have to speak up for yourself. It’s sometimes a hard call to make. Do you speak up for yourself or pick your battle?
The answer to that really depends in part on the nature of your relationship with the narcissist. If it’s a romantic partner, you might speak up, but if the narcissist in your life is your boss or parent, it might be better to keep quiet.
Still, there are times when you have to speak up no matter what. If this is the case, try to do so in a calm, but firm, manner. Don’t show that you’re annoyed, just state your truth. Be specific and consistent in describing what is not acceptable and how their words or actions have impacted you.
Even if you speak up for yourself, you must know that it’s not likely they will care or understand. Remember, narcissists are not capable of empathy. They can’t put themselves in your place and genuinely understand how their actions have hurt you. Even so, speaking up for yourself is something you must do as part of ensuring you are treated with respect.
Set Clear, Strong Boundaries, and Enforce Them…Every Time
You have to be very specific when setting boundaries with a narcissist. They will violate them anytime they can. You’ll need to clearly lay out what is not appropriate and what the consequences will be if they violate your boundaries.
It can help to write them down and give a copy to the narcissist. Then, you can refer to them if there are violations. It’s also important that you enforce any violations in a consistent manner. If the narcissist learns that they can violate boundaries with impunity, they won’t respect anything you say.
There’s no need to be angry or mean about enforcing your boundaries. If there is a violation, just calmly do what you said you would do. That may mean leaving the room or even the house for a while to compose yourself.
If the narcissist sees that you mean what you say and you will follow through on the consequences, they will think twice before violating a boundary. As former therapist and narcissism expert Mac Davidson notes, “Narcissists don’t expect to hear you use the word ‘NO.’”
Expect Pushback, but Remember It’s Not You
The narcissist won’t be happy with the new you. They will test you at every turn. That’s why you have to be consistent in your behavior. You also need to refrain from showing emotion when they push your limits. If they know they are getting to you, they will keep doing what they’re doing.
They are going to push back. You may be treated to their characteristic narcissistic rage or they may turn to harsh criticism, but just do what you said you would do without showing them any anger or other emotions.
Remember that they are often simply pushing your buttons to get a reaction out of you. You have to avoid giving them that. That’s how they gain more power over you.
Don’t Apologize and Don’t Explain
While healthy people are willing to examine their own actions and admit their mistakes, when you do that with a narcissist, they will use it against you for the rest of your relationship. In a healthy relationship, if you apologize, the other person accepts it and the relationship moves on
The narcissist, however, will only grudgingly accept an apology, and they will use your mistake against you in every argument you have in the future. An apology is like handing a narcissist a hand grenade. It will blow up in your face.
You also don’t have to explain yourself. When you stop to explain something you have done, it’s like admitting you’re wrong; at least, that’s how the narcissist sees it. They have also successfully managed to distract you if you stop to explain yourself to them.
You know the reasons for your actions, you’ve explained boundaries and consequences for boundary violations to the narcissist, so if you are implementing a consequence, there’s no need to explain. You also don’t have to explain your emotions to the narcissist. If you do, they will know more about what bothers you, and they will use that information against you.
While these behaviors are positive in a healthy relationship, they work to your disadvantage in a relationship with a narcissist. The narcissist will use the information they have about you and any mistakes you’ve admitted to gain more power and control over you.
Accept that You Cannot Change the Narcissist
Many people make the mistake of thinking that if they just love a narcissist enough or give them what they need, the narcissist will change. They will see how much you love them and stop acting in such an unhealthy way.
The truth is that the only thing that can help a narcissist is years of psychotherapy and a genuine commitment to change. That’s possible, but very unlikely, and it won’t be because of anything you say or do. It must come from them.
Particularly if you’re an empath, you might be able to see the real pain they’re in and you might have a genuine desire to help them change. That’s commendable, but the reality is that the narcissist must see for themselves that there is something wrong and that they need help. They don’t usually do that.
Admitting there’s something wrong with them is opening up those old wounds and exposing their true self. Most narcissists are quite simply unable to do that. They are too frightened and too wounded. But they are the only person in the world who can make them change.
You must accept that if you continue living with the narcissist in your life, they most likely will not change. You might still choose to stay in their life, but you’ll need to protect yourself and take the necessary steps to ensure you hold onto your own power.
Narcissists, over time, have become experts at taking away your power. At first, they charm you, and then, they disarm you. It works so many times, but once you understand what is happening, you can take the power back from them.
Of course, probably the best way to take power back from a narcissist is to go no contact with them, but that’s not always possible or even desirable. If that’s the case for you, you’ll need to use the tactics above to make sure you can take the power back from a narcissist and prevent them from getting it again.
If you must continue living with a narcissist in your life, it’s not only critical to understand how it affects you, it’s important to know how it affects them. You need to read this blog about the scientific research about whether narcissists die at a younger age. Their mental condition is not just devastating for you; it’s harmful for them too.
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