Have you ever come across a person who always seems to go out of their way to make you doubt yourself? To shake your confidence and make you question the validity of your decisions, your words or your actions?
Well, whether it’s a friend, a family member, a colleague or a partner, its never nice, nor easy, to constantly feel as if you are being judged and found wanting. And while we can tell ourselves, “their words aren’t true,” it doesn’t really help us to cope with the feelings of the moment – the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that come from someone actively trying to demean you.
So, what then should we do when placed in these types of situations? Well, here are a few simple steps that you can follow to prevent yourself from falling victim to a narcissist’s attempts to make you feel inferior.
STEP 1: Maintain your composure
Well, the first and perhaps most important thing to remember is that when people go out of their way to make us question our self-worth, they are actively looking for a response.
Whether in the form of a physical fight-or-flight reaction, an angry outburst or a grappling defence, they want you to know that their words have found their mark and that you have been left reeling.
And it is this reaction of yours that gives them power over you. Why? Because by giving them a reaction, you are inherently saying to them that they have power over you. And this feeds into their desire for control.
So the BEST thing you can do, especially in the heat of the moment, is to try and maintain your composure.
Now, I know that this is easier said than done. But, even if their words have left you shaken and hurt, as far as possible, you need to try and remain calm and impassive in the heat of the moment.
In other words, do not attack, do not defend, do not cringe, do not cry. Against all odds, you MUST NOT let them see you thrown off-balance.
But the question is, how on Earth does one do this? What are the actual steps that one needs to take to remain calm when someone is openly trying to provoke you? Well, as difficult as it may seem, don’t be disheartened because there are a number of practical things you can do to maintain your composure, as outlined in the steps below. And the more you practice these steps, the better you will become at building your defenses and holding fast to your own locus of control.
How to maintain your composure?
So, a simple strategy you can use to create distance between yourself and your reactions is to SLOWLYand SILENTLY count down from ten to zero. Now I know that this may seem like a no-brainer, but when was the last time you actually did something like this to help you take a step back from a heated situation.
You see, we too often react without thinking, out of habit or an urge to defend yourself. But by making a conscious decision to count down from ten till zero, you are allowing yourself the time and the space you need to rebuild your defences and maintain your control.
And, what’s more, your ten-second-silence will do TWO other very important things:
1. It will throw the narcissist off-balance:
You see, because narcissists feed off power and control, your intentional silence will be completely unexpected. They won’t know how to deal with it. They won’t know how to read it and they won’t know how to fill it.
And so, even though you are using this time to gather your own composure, the narcissist won’t know this. All they will be met with is this blank wall of impassivity and this is not a reaction that they will easily be able to deal with.
2. It will give you time to CHOOSE YOUR RESPONSE:
By counting down from ten to zero, you are giving yourself sufficient time to create a space between your reaction and your response.
In essence, you are giving yourself the time you need to CHOOSE your RESPONSE, rather than react without thinking. And when you give yourself this space, you automatically feel more in control because you are making a conscious choice and it is in this moment, when you can choose to remain impassive. You can choose not to devalue yourself and you can choose to not give the narcissist the satisfaction of seeing you lose your cool.
STEP 2: Find a private space to validate your emotions.
But here’s the rub. No matter how strong-willed or committed we are to our own self-preservation, our resolve can only last so long. We do not have an endless supply of self-control, especially when placed in high-stress situations which raise our cortisol levels and activate our fight or flight response.
So while you still have a modicum of self-control left over from STEP 1, you now need to move on to the next step in the process – finding a safe space away from the narcissist to be able to privately process your thoughts and your emotions.
So, without being overt, what you will next need to do is extricate yourself from the situation and find a spot where you can be alone, even if for just a couple of minutes.
Now this can be another room, the inside of your car, a toilet cubicle even – but it needs to be a space where you can be sure you will not be disturbed. That way, when you find yourself alone, you can give yourself the freedom to let go and allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.
Without judgement and without censorship, you can now allow your feelings to wash over you. Be it anger or sadness, anxiety or self-doubt, you need to be able to grant yourself this gift and allow yourself the leeway to validate your feelings, whatever they may be.
STEP 3: Self-soothe and Reframe
Now, once you’ve allowed yourself to validate your emotions, you can now actively begin to take a step back from the situation in order to reframe the encounter.
But what does this actually mean? Well, the psychological act of reframing occurs when we choose to view our experience through a different lens in order not to lose ourselves in a loop of negative emotions. It is a self-soothing mechanism that allows us to modify our perception of reality in order to better manage our emotions in any given moment.
For example, after a confrontation with a narcissist, instead of getting caught in a loop of self-recrimination, anger, pain or despair, we can try and reframe the experience by consciously acting to redirect our thought processes.
Now this is not to say that we need to try and think positive thoughts or to lie to ourselves about what actually happened. Not at all. Reframing is not the same as self-deception. It is simply a mechanism that allows us to see the truth of our experience from one or more different perspectives.
Like the ten-second-silence tool, it allows us to take a step back and regain control over our thinking and, subsequently, our emotions. And the easiest way to reframe an experience is to ask yourself questions which will allow you to see the outcomes of the experience differently. In other words, you are not invalidating your experience. Instead, you are choosing to take control over them impact of that experience on your life.
So reframing questions can include things like:
- “In what ways, real ways that I can see and feel and touch, has this person’s words changed my life?”
- “Does this person’s opinion of me determine my self-worth?”
- “Do I respect this person enough to allow his/her words to impact me?”
- “What is this person trying to achieve by making me feel inferior?”
- “Why is this person threatened by me so much they feel the need to destroy my confidence?”
And so, by consciously asking yourself these types of questions, you can actively begin to shift your perspective and gently extricate yourself from the downward spiral of suffocating emotions and loss of control.
AND ALWAYS REMEMBER…YOUR REACTIONS ARE WHAT GIVES THE NARCISSIST POWER OVER YOU.
Above all else, don’t let them see you shaken. Don’t let them see you flounder. Don’t let them see you doubt yourself or get defensive. Find the space to be alone and put things in perspective. And once you regain your equilibrium, go back out there, armoured up, consciously aware of the power game they are trying to play and then – CHOOSE NOT TO PLAY THEIR GAME.
Recognise your own worth and the fact that they have no power over you other than the power you give to them.
And whenever you begin to doubt yourself, make a conscious decision to reinforce your own worth. You can’t change a narcissist, but you can protect yourself by refusing to play their game.
And remember, your value is determined by nobody but you.