Navigating Narcissism

I used to always want retribution, but as I got older, I understood a few more tricks and tips in life and living. I have come to the realization that shitty people usually swindle themselves on their own. That said, I realize the closure I need in many relationships is that I deserve better. I wrote this piece to make sense of the insensible, realizing I was made to be the villain in someone else’s story because my truth and reaction to their disrespect were not what they wanted to receive.

Let it be known that navigating conflict in healthy relationships is a complex skill that I am still learning—a skill I believe we continue to hone and improve throughout our lives. Yet, as essential as this skill is to a healthy relationship, it’s nearly impossible to apply within an unhealthy relationship, precisely one where narcissistic tendencies prevail—manipulation, triangulation, lack of empathy, shifting of blame, and superficial connections where you serve their needs to then be discarded or ignored once you are no longer useful to them.

This is where I find myself on a trail with manipulative masterminds, also known as narcissists, who keep gracing my sacred sphere. While it’s been an ongoing lesson for me to understand and navigate these situations that have swirled around me, my ability to do so has finally reached a level of toxicity that is unhealthy to manage or try to manage.

In the past, I have never been shy about stating my feelings and thoughts when injustice swirls. I believe in healthy and honest relationships, so taking up space and voicing my perspective is vital. I’ve valued this openness and honesty in others, believing that genuine connection and understanding are fostered through mutual respect. Communication is critical, even if the result is to agree to disagree. Listening is essential to understanding and seeing beyond oneself. Unfortunately, all of this gets muddled when narcissism enters the picture.

Twelve-plus years ago, I sat in a therapy office with a spirited pre-doctoral intern who was finishing her hours to obtain her Marriage Family Therapy license. Tristen, with her no-nonsense approach to problems, quickly introduced “narcissistic behavior” to me after I shared a short situation about my father-in-law, who at the time was making me feel like my feelings about “his behavior” were my fault. Manipulative behavior can do that.

“Narcissists will not tolerate anything that threatens them,” Tristen said. Put another way, they cannot tolerate anything that threatens their self-esteem. “They are incredibly clever in order to hide the feelings of inadequacy they feel deep inside,” she told me during that same session. The zinger was when Tristen ended by saying, “You are a threat to their self-worth because you are aware of who you are.” And here I thought it was the opposite, as these manipulative minds knew the right words and ways to make me question myself and deny what I was feeling or doing with conviction—making me stop and think, did I hear what was said right? 

Now, at this juncture in my life, all I can hear is Tristen’s voice reminding me, “They are overt and covert, and this behavior will cut into the core of who you are if you let them—ripping your kind and empathetic heart in two, not once, not twice, but multiple times.”

Yet, I still struggle to understand what being a narcissist means. Lately, my inner Rosie, as I have named her— that gut feeling we all have if we tap into it—tells me that my honesty and heartfelt actions are simply not able to penetrate the mindset of a narcissist. I “think” what I have finally learned and absorbed is that the people in my life who exhibit these self-absorbed tendencies (narcissistic traits) appear to be allergic to accountability or healthy self-awareness. This realization is pivotal to getting off the merry-go-round of self-doubt that narcissists will attempt to fuel within you.

Am I the lunatic?  Am I misreading the situation? Why is my assessment of reality so different from theirs? 

Narcissistic people thrive on attempting to undermine your competence, actions, and skills. They want you to question your memories, experiences, and understanding of events to invalidate you.

As hard as it has been over the years to unpack this behavior from the various people in my close circle, I have learned that distancing yourself from a narcissist is the only way to self-preservation and well-being. Narcissists do not like being dismissed.

In a windstorm, I have learned to see myself as a solid oak tree. The more rooted I am, the more connected I am to myself, and the firmer my boundaries, the less impact the unruly wind will have. I know there will continue to be uncomfortable storms that blow in at times, but I will not be pushed over or fall to pieces.

What is, perhaps, one of the most disheartening outcomes of dealing with a narcissist—apart from the loss you feel if there is love involved—is the effect their behaviors can have on others within your sphere. Triangulation is one tool a narcissist relies on heavily to attempt to retain whatever relevance they feel is threatened. Involving a third party, or more is a manipulative tool a narcissist will use to try to validate their misaligned position and remain in control. They will use whatever means at their disposal to keep the triangulated parties divided uncommunicatively in their attempts to divide and conquer.

As I continue to navigate narcissists around me, I am freeing myself from imbalanced relationships, noticing none of them like when I go “no contact” (remember, narcissists hate nothing more than dismissal). It is okay for them to ghost me, maybe preferable. But having fierce boundaries infuriates the narcissist. This skill (of boundaries and distancing) is the sovereignty that one needs when attempting to manage a narcissist. 

Tristen told me recently that “water does not affect fake flowers.” This changed my entire mindset regarding relationships that manipulate.

This insight has allowed me to shift my energy away from trying to convince or prove my reality to a narcissist, as it is futile, to shift my energy away from poisonousness, to know when self-preservation is the only antidote. Narcissists simply do not hear words of reason.

And so, I walk away with the only words that might be relevant…

“It looks like we see things differently.”

This letter I crafted below could be sent to several people who I have come to learn have narcissistic tendencies….

Dear Narcissist,

I need to express some things, and I believe writing them down is the best way to ensure my thoughts and feelings are conveyed clearly and without interruption.

Over time, I have come to understand more about our relationship and its dynamics. I have noticed a recurring pattern of behavior in you that has made it increasingly difficult for me to maintain my ability to relate to you authentically. It has become clear to me that your actions and words often center around your own needs, desires, and perceptions, often at the expense of others. Your lack of accountability prevents any real connection.

My attempts to communicate openly and honestly seem to be met with defensiveness or manipulation. This continues to create an unbalanced relationship and an environment in which I have no interest in participating. (As stated in a previous conversation, cut me out if I am the villain in your storyline.) I cannot continue in a relationship where my feelings are consistently disregarded, and the focus remains solely on your perspective. Meaningful relationships are built on mutual respect, empathy, and understanding—essential for any healthy and fulfilling connection. 

My only hope in writing this letter is that it may promote clarity and change. I believe everyone has the capacity for growth and self-awareness—myself included—and I hope that sharing my perspective may encourage you to reflect on our interactions and their impact on us and those around us.

While I accept that you may be unable to see the hurt you inflict, I will only say that there are limits to what love can conquer. I don’t believe that one can constantly cause harm to another and expect their connection to survive. Even those of us with big, empathetic hearts have limits; our energy for conflict lessens, and our ability to sustain a problematic relationship weakens. And, in the end, relationships are forever altered and impaired.

While empathy for others is a tenet I hold dear, there comes a time when self-care must take precedence for the sake of my own mental and emotional health. I need to set boundaries and prioritize my well-being. While I genuinely hope that you find a way to understand how your behavior impacts your relationships, I know that I need to put some distance between us for now.



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