Surviving A Strained Relationship With A Narcissist

Surviving A Strained Relationship with A Narcissist-5 Ways to Cope

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If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you may find yourself feeling isolated, frightened, and confused. Narcissists can be manipulative and controlling, making it difficult to express your own needs and wishes. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and that there are ways to cope with this type of relationship.

Surviving A Strained Relationship with A Narcissist-5 Ways to Cope

Here are five ways to survive a strained relationship with a narcissist and keep your sanity.

Surviving A Strained Relationship with A Narcissist-5 Ways to Cope

What to do When You Can’t go No-Contact with a Narcissist

By Nicole Dake

Do you have a family member, friend, relative, or co-parent who you suspect may be a narcissist?  The relationship may feel damaging to your mental health, or make you doubt or question your sanity. These kinds of relationships can be incredibly destructive.

The most common advice from mental health professionals regarding relationships with narcissists is to leave the relationship as soon as possible.  However, there are some circumstances when this either isn’t possible or isn’t feasible.  In these situations, it is best to structure contact so that you can protect your mental health and keep the narcissist at arm’s length emotionally.

How do you know someone is a narcissist?

You may not always know that someone is a narcissist if they haven’t been diagnosed by a mental health professional.  But there are signs that you can be aware of, according to psychology.  You can watch out for these red flags in your relationships and be aware of narcissistic traits in the people in your circle.

According to The Mayo ClinicSymptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and how severe they are can vary. People with the disorder can:

  • Have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance and require constant, excessive admiration.
  • Feel that they deserve privileges and special treatment.
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements.
  • Make achievements and talents seem bigger than they are.
  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect mate.
  • Believe they are superior to others and can only spend time with or be understood by equally special people.
  • Be critical of and look down on people they feel are not important.
  • Expect special favors and expect other people to do what they want without questioning them.
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want.
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them.
  • Behave in an arrogant way, brag a lot, and come across as conceited.
  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office.

At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they view as criticism. They can:

  • Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special recognition or treatment.
  • Have major problems interacting with others and easily feel slighted.
  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle other people to make themselves appear superior.
  • Have difficulty managing their emotions and behavior.
  • Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change.
  • Withdraw from or avoid situations in which they might fail.
  • Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection.
  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, humiliation, and fear of being exposed as a failure.

Keep in mind that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis that can only be applied by a mental health professional.  However, anyone can have narcissistic traits, or observe these traits in others.

When someone has many narcissistic traits, it can be toxic for your own mental health to spend too much time around them. They are difficult people to be around who will often gaslight and manipulate you to get what they want out of the relationship.  Due to this type of emotionally abusive behavior, it is important to get some distance and to learn coping strategies to be around the narcissist.

Let Go Of The Guilt

When you have spent a great deal of time around a narcissist, you may begin to feel guilty or to feel like their behavior is your fault. This is because the narcissist gaslights you into believing that all the problems with the relationship are your fault.

According to Very Well MindGaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in abusive relationships. It is a covert type of emotional abuse in which the bully or abuser misleads the target, creating a false narrative and making them question their judgments and reality.1 Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to feel unsure about their perceptions of the world and even wonder if they are losing their sanity. 

Since you are worried that you are losing your mind at times, it becomes easy to believe what the narcissist is telling you is true, even when it is contrary to your own perception of events.  So, when they tell you everything is your fault, they aren’t telling the truth.  In reality, the narcissist’s behavior has very little to do with you, and more to do with their own personality traits.

Once you realize that everything isn’t your fault after all, then you can let go of the guilt.  Start being very gentle with yourself and forgiving yourself for all of the perceived wrongs. Then, you can start to develop healthy self-love and self-concept again. 

This allows you freedom from guilt, and you will be able to realize that you are still a good person, no matter what the narcissist has told you otherwise.

Make Time For Self-care

There are things you can do to take care of yourself when you are in a relationship with a narcissist.  One of the most important things that you can do is to make time for self-care.  This means, doing things that are good for yourself, your health, and your healing.

Some examples of self-care are:

For self-care, you can also do anything else that makes you feel good or feel good about yourself. This is an important way to replenish your energy after you have had to spend time with a narcissist. You will want to take extra special care of your mental health in order to cope with their toxic vibes when you are around the narcissist.

Making time for yourself through self-care is an important way of showing yourself love. This can help with your mental well-being and make sure that you aren’t only catering to the needs of the narcissist, you are honoring your own needs as well.  This helps to create balance in your life and make space for yourself emotionally.

Simple Habits To Help You Create The Perfect Self-care Routine

Set Boundaries

When you have a relationship with a narcissist, it can feel all-consuming. It begins to take over your whole life. This is what they want. They want you all to themselves so that you will love them and provide for all their physical and emotional needs.

Learning to set boundaries is one of the first and most important ways to distance yourself from the narcissist.

According to Psych Central, Personal boundaries are simply the lines we draw for ourselves in terms of our level of comfort around others.

These boundaries may have to do with:

  • physical contact (not feeling comfortable hugging a person you’ve just met)
  • verbal interactions (not wanting a friend or family member to speak down to you)
  • our own personal space (choosing to not have others in your home when you aren’t there)

For example, you may set a boundary with the narcissist about speaking to you with courtesy and respect. If you are on the phone with them and they begin to disrespect you, you can tell them, “If you don’t speak to me with respect, I am going to end the call.”

You can do the same thing if you are visiting with them. Just make sure that you follow through on what you have said that you would do if the boundary is broken. Otherwise, you are just showing them that you can continue to be pushed around, no matter what you may say to them about it.

You can set boundaries about how much time you will spend with them, about what types of issues you will discuss with them, about physical or sexual contact, and about financial boundaries.  All these types of boundaries will help to protect you from the manipulation and gaslighting that often occurs with a narcissist.

By maintaining your personal space and demanding to be treated with courtesy and respect, you are taking control of yourself with regard to how you will accept being treated.  If a narcissist isn’t able to treat you the way you deserve, then you need to be willing to remove yourself from the situation to preserve your safety and your mental health.

Grey Rock

Another way to cope with a narcissist is by using the Gray Rock technique.  This means, making yourself emotionally inaccessible to them in conversation by giving out as little information as possible about yourself.

According to Medical News Today, The grey rock method is a tactic some people use when dealing with abusive or manipulative behavior. It involves becoming as uninteresting and unengaged as possible so that the abusive person loses interest.

 This technique is especially effective with narcissists because you are refusing to give them what they want: a reaction.  If you don’t react to what they say and give them as little information about yourself as possible, then they are likely to lose interest and move on from the conversation.

This allows you to have mental and emotional space at times when you will need to be around the narcissist. It is important to note though, that this technique may not work indefinitely, as it forces you not to react to what may be said to provoke you, and is better used as a short-term solution until something more permanent can be found.

For example, the gray rock technique would be useful if you are attending a family dinner with a narcissist in attendance. This way, if you are stuck talking to the narcissist for any length of time you can give simple answers to their questions, like yes or no, so that they won’t find it interesting to talk to you.

However, if you are in a one-on-one situation with a narcissist, it can be more useful to assert your boundaries and leave the situation if necessary.

Go To Counseling

If you have been in a long-term relationship with a narcissist, it can do psychological harm and can potentially lead to anxiety, depression, or PTSD.  If you feel like this may be the case, or like your mental health has been seriously impacted, it is a good idea to go to therapy so that you can rebuild your self-image and mental well-being.

A therapist can provide a kind, listening ear for your issues and problems stemming from the narcissistic abuse that you have suffered.  They can help you with additional coping strategies, and give you compassion for all that you have been through.

Also, in therapy, you can work through the emotional baggage that comes from having a narcissist in your life.  A therapist can help you learn how to set boundaries with the narcissist, as well as other coping strategies, such as the gray rock technique.

You can work on your self-love and self-esteem in therapy as well.  This is super important so that you can start feeling good about yourself again and begin to heal your mental health.  Once you start to feel better about yourself, it will be easier to navigate the relationship with the narcissist.

Additionally, if you have Anxiety, Depression, or PTSD from dealing with the relationship with the narcissist, a therapist can help you cope with these issues as well and may advise that you go on medications.


A relationship with a narcissist can often be difficult and strained. This is because narcissists have issues with interpersonal relationships and can often be very manipulative and gaslight you to get what they want.

Coping with this type of relationship can be difficult and accompanied by a lot of guilt. By releasing your guilt and realizing that things aren’t your fault, you can begin to make space for healing.

Healing can come in the form of self-care or talking to a therapist. It is important to make sure that your mental health isn’t being consistently impacted in a negative way by spending too much time with the narcissist.

So, in addition to caring for yourself, you will want to set some boundaries with the narcissist and use the gray rock technique when you are forced into a conversation with them that you don’t want to be having.

Hopefully, these strategies can help you to repair your mental health once you have been in a relationship of any type with a narcissist. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship this can apply to family relationships as well.

For more information about recovering from narcissistic abuse, you can check out my ebook:

A Narcissist Destroyed my Life: How do I Rebuild?

About the Author

Nicole Dake is a blogger, author, and mom of two. Nicole blogs about parenting with a focus on health & wellness for moms and kids. Nicole has a BA in Psychology with a minor in Religious Studies from the University of Colorado, and Paralegal Certification from Boston University. Currently located in Frankfurt, Germany but is originally from the US.

Be sure to check out where you can find valuable information and resources about PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

Are you struggling in a relationship with a narcissist? What is something that has helped you cope? Let me know in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “Surviving A Strained Relationship with A Narcissist-5 Ways to Cope”

  1. Having been there I can see so much of myself and what I needed to know at the time. I broke up with them years ago – it was far too damaging. I have since also cut off our friendship.

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