Is it possible to outsmart a narcissist? Perhaps, but only if you’re willing to downgrade your standards to act like one.
Admittedly, this post began with a trick question! The point was to say, first, why would you want to? And also, that taking that approach can be trap! This post explains why.
The narcissist has a wounded ego, and the suffering they cause is a projection of the inner suffering and wounds they avoid. Their greatest fear is to be thought of as crazy, meaning weak, which is why they find pleasure making others feel this way.
When you’re in the trenches with a narcissist — trying again and again to get through to them, to get them to stop hurting you, to understand you or the impact of their behaviors on others, you have to view the narcissist’s behaviors and responses from their worldview, and vantage point. Then, their tactics makes sense.
You may not be able to outsmart a narcissist, but what you can do, however, is much more powerful, and wonderful, and that is to grow stronger and smarter, more courageous and real from the experience.
If the goal in your relationship is to prove who will win, and be declared an impenetrable force, this article may not be for you. If your goal, however, is to grow and learn “what” you need to know along the way about the narcissist, and about what this triggers inside you that needs healing, there are a few “need to know” secrets that can help you save your energy, and neutralize the power a narcissist can have over ones’s emotional wellbeing.
Secret number 1: Only a narcissist finds sheer pleasure in competing to outsmart another in the use of cruel- or chaos-causing tactics.
Theoretically, it may be “possible” to outsmart them, however, why would you want to? To outsmart a narcissist, you’d have to play by their rules, in which case, you could find yourself stuck in a vicious game, or worse, a hellish war zone. And that’s the problem, a constant state of inner turmoil is precisely the trap a narcissist sets, all the while, making you think that “your situation” is as good as heaven gets!
Only another narcissist would really, really “want” to, and can afford to do so … without feeling depleted. In fact, the thought that someone is trying to outsmart them would totally energize a narcissist to go into battle. There’s nothing they’d enjoy more than a fight to prove who’s superior, who can outdo, conquer and dominate.
The narcissist has an arsenal of “crazy making” tactics, and wants nothing more than to see you out of control and acting “crazy” so they can take full credit for how “right” they are about you, then turn around and accuse you of being the controlling, abusive, selfish one … leaving you even more confused, bewildered, not to mention exhausted. What just happened? Gaslighting.
In practice, if your goal is to learn to relate in healthy ways to yourself and others, to grow and protect your happiness in response to the narcissist’s tactics, your first step is to set an intention to disallow their tactics from wasting your energy and emotional resources. Why waste precious energy and time? Don’t even try! Instead, identify the patterns they have, and learn to respond in ways that neutralize any power they have over you. In other words, learn how to repel rather than attract narcissism, to protect your happiness, growth and wellbeing. Never compete to outdo them; leave this “thrill” to other narcissists.
Secret number 2: From a narcissist’s vantage point, like it or not, you are viewed as a fierce competitor — and your relationship is an ongoing competition.
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, understand that, in their worldview, first and foremost, they view you as a fierce competitor, and reject the idea of “partnership” relations (though they may not say so). In their mind, there is no such thing. In a relationship, there’s a top dog and underdog, and the underdog is always trying to be the top dog, period. A narcissist is hyper-alert around the clock, looking for signs that you’re trying to take over, subvert their will, dominate, render them powerless, and so on. You’ve been repeatedly accused being “controlling,” right?
They’re competiting at such high levels that they’d rather self destruct than have you beat them. It’s like a battle between a team with squirt guns and a team with grenades. You’re trying to get them to partner and get close, and they’re strategizing to render you powerless, to get the upper hand, to make sure they achieve a clear “win” — so that you acknowledge their superiority. Their ego is so monstrously big that it tells them their self-worth and existence depend on beating you. This explains why they compuilsively look for evidence to diminish your self worth, esteem. And they know how.
For sure, they’ve been listening and taking notes when you disclose your hurts, pain and vulnerabilities, but not for the reasons you’d want. They seek to know your weaknesses, what triggers your fears, your insecurities, your wounds, and so on, to hit them hard, and take you out of the game. That’s what a fierce competitor does!
To attempt to “outsmart” a narcissist means you’d have to go down to their low emotional frequency (fear), which would be akin to two apes fighting over turf. Unless your goal is to destroy another’s sense of worth, just for sheer pleasure, and also view this as an entitlement and “proof” your superiority, stay out of that trench!
Only another narcissist would have something to gain from do-or-die competitions, which in effect cause suffering for all involved. The problem is: they see and relish their ability to detach from feeling their own or the other’a pain, regarding this as a strength that gives them superior status! In contrast, a healthy person aspires to grow an empathic connection to self and other, to feel their vulnerabilities alongside their strengths, and so on.
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, and want the relationship to work, in practice, the narcissist needs regular assurance that you’re not competing, that you have no interest in proving who’s better, who’s right versus wrong, who has more power, etc. Remind yourself to be present, centered, authentic, confident when assuring them — and stay out of emotions of scorn, and other low-level energies, such as scolding one another like a parent would a child. To relax and trust, to stop fighting to prove their worth on the basis of proving superiority — and to view this as a limiting belief that needs to be discarded. It can take years to gain their trust, however. And, if they’re really lost, they’ll never give in. In which case, you have to accept that it takes two to make a relationship healthy. The fact is, a competition between partners destroys a partnership. Consider the Brian brothers in tennis; if competed against each other in tennis doubles, they would have never won a match, much less all their trophies!
Secret number 3: The means they use to to crush another’s esteem or plans .. are the end game.
To a narcissist, the end and the means are the same, that is: to get you before you get them. Their game plan is to stay at least one step ahead of you. First of all, nothing energizes or moves them to action than When the thought that they’re in a fierce “unto death” competition energizes and moves them to action, then they’re in war-game mode, ready to fight to survive.
To outsmart a narcissist would be emotionally taxing to everyone but a narcissist, who’s not likely to feel terrible about the things they said and did during a scramble to emotionally survive! To a narcissist, it’s a game of war, and in a war, you’re fighting “unto death” for supremacy rights over the other. In battle, staying in the fight is what grants you honor, and without honor, you have no image, thus, do not exist. In this mode, not only are they numb to their own pain and yours, the thought of taking down an opponent a notch or two, likely also releases pleasure and reward chemicals, such as dopamine.
Biologically, it’s a release that they get hooked on like a drug. Breaking other’s balloons, simply because they can and are immune to feeling remorse, brings sheer pleasure.
The narcissist feels no remorse! They feel pleasure! When you share details of what “hurts” you, they take good notes on what you disclose! Expect that they will hit every wound and vulnerability you expose or reveal. They may be drooling as they look forward to the next opportunity to hit where it hurts most.
This explains why, although you’ve tried, the narcissist does not seem to “get” what you’ve shared about something they did that “hurt” your feelings. Or, why they never engage in “real” talks about improving your relationship, emotional intimacy and closeness, etc. The narcissist sees this as your emotional “craziness stuff” — and a trap to disempower or emasculate.
The means is their end goal. Keeping an opponent wounded, in their mind, keeps them safe. They are in survival mode when you’re around. From their perspective, it makes sense. From yours, it is another good reason to never, ever compete on their terms.
In practice, this means the narcissist is not a “safe” person with whom to share vulnerabilities and hurts. A bottom line would better serve your sense of self and security. Let them know, calmly and detached that, “it’s beneath them or you to go there” and take a “this won’t work for you” or “it’s unhealthy for both” approach.
Save your energy. You’ll need it to keep a protective shield around your sense of self and security, one that allows you to keep reaching for high-energy goals and power, and not succumb to invitations to sling mud at each other, and enter low-energy, life-zapping, reactivity traps.
You cannot outsmart a narcissist without hurting yourself, however, what you can do is infinitely more amazing, and that is: to enrich your life, and grow stronger and smarter, as you learn courageously to be real, to identify and understand their patterns, and to allow yourself to see the world from a narcissist’s vantage point, so that you may neutralize the impact of their power on your emotional state of mind and body.
Your real need is not to outsmart a narcissist. It is to evolve and awaken so that you no longer are impacted or hooked by the narcissist’s false self.