6 Behaviors of Narcissists That We Can “Learn” From and Use Differently — Without Being Toxic

Unhealthy narcissistic behaviors cause harm to others. Undoubtedly none of us want to become narcissistic nor would we want to take on any of these traits. Yet there are certain behaviors narcissists engage in that we can actually observe and “learn from” and implement differently in order to live better lives and empower ourselves. To be clear, the narcissist’s ways of life are extreme and maladaptive and not something to be followed the way narcissists use them. However, if you tend to be people-pleasing, overly forgiving, and overly compassionate toward those who harm you, there are six behaviors you can further look at, adapt and implement in healthier ways to set better boundaries for yourself to improve and enhance the quality of your life. Think of this as a thought exercise to pinpoint which unhealthy codependent patterns you may have. This is not about being toxic, cruel, or unempathic toward others: on the contrary, this is about being more compassionate and empathic toward yourself.

Narcissists and otherwise toxic people prioritize themselves. They don’t tolerate people who don’t benefit them.

When was the last time you put yourself first? Narcissists do it all the time. It’s all about their needs, their desires, and what they feel they deserve. Without being as selfish and self-absorbed as the narcissist, there are healthy ways to prioritize yourself too. You are just as important and worthy as anyone else. You are just as deserving of good things – in many cases, you are even more deserving of positive experiences than manipulators who use immoral means and harm others to achieve their agendas. You are the only person who can take care of you. If you’ve spent most of your life being selfless and engaging in a great deal of emotional labor for others, it may just be time to visit the other end of the spectrum. Think about ways you can celebrate and pamper yourself. Evaluate your current friendships and relationships and consider both the benefits as well as the costs. Are there relationships that are draining you more than they are adding value to your life? While you may not view relationships as transactionally like the narcissist does, you are encouraged to cut ties with toxic people who exploit you and build stronger connections with those who cheer you on and celebrate your strengths. You deserve respect and reciprocity in your relationships. Revisit the areas of your life where you feel neglected by others and give yourself extra nourishment and attention in these areas. Start to reserve some of your emotional energy for yourself and cut down on the labor you’re always performing for others. Instead, think about engaging in actions that benefit you and improve the quality of your life, self-esteem, and self-care.

They don’t wait for you to change or expect you to. In fact, they tend to pigeonhole you unfairly and act accordingly.

Narcissists don’t doubt themselves – they’re all about investing in their distorted reality which means emphasizing their distorted perception of you. They don’t hesitate to devalue you based on these inaccurate distortions and box you into labels that they use to justify mistreating you and to evade accountability for their actions and project their own shortcomings onto innocent people. They punish you based on these distortions and don’t expect you to “change” (not that you actually have anything you need to change – these are the narcissist’s malignant projections at work).  Yet survivors often rationalize the legitimately cruel and callous behaviors of the narcissist and attempt to find a valid reason behind the narcissist’s abhorrent behaviors. Instead of rationalizing, minimizing, or being overly forgiving toward these behaviors, why not label the narcissist accurately, who unlike you, actually has engaged in harmful behaviors and stop waiting for them to change? Unlike the narcissist, your ability to discern their destructive patterns won’t be part of a distorted perception: it speaks to your ability to acknowledge reality without excusing it.

They take pride in what they’ve achieved and aren’t afraid to showcase these achievements.

Whether or not they’ve truly earned their accomplishments, narcissists are the first ones to think of themselves as superior for anything they’ve accomplished, real or imagined. You don’t have to be haughty, delusional, or condescending like them: just notice whether you tend to minimize yourself or hide your light because you’ve been taught to shrink by pathologically envious toxic people. Realize that you are allowed to have healthy pride and speak matter-of-factly about your true strengths and achievements. Unlike the narcissist, you won’t be diminishing anyone else, nor will you try to put anyone else down. You will simply be existing in your positive qualities and traits with authentic confidence and joy.

They explore their options.

Narcissists and otherwise toxic people explore their options in ways that are deceitful, unwarranted, and deliberately staged to provoke jealousy in others. However, while you won’t be taking any pages out of their toxic playbook, you can still learn from this willingness to explore other options to detach from them. Don’t restrict yourself to seeing the narcissist as your one and only option, or the end-all, be-all of your life. There are many empathic, wonderful people in this world who would add value to your life rather than detract from it. There are also many social, financial, educational, and career opportunities that will allow you to flourish outside of a relationship. Being in a toxic relationship with this pathological personality type can feel quite isolating: you may feel like you are alone and that they are the only “savior” you can turn to because they’ve trained you to seek their comfort after abuse. Don’t be afraid to explore the world outside of the narcissist. Build strong social networks, travel, pursue your dreams and always level up.

They fiercely protect and implement their so-called “boundaries.”

A narcissist’s idea of “boundaries” is a skewed one and is implemented quite unfairly and unjustly: usually their so-called “boundaries” have to do with silencing the victims of their abuse, evading accountability, and trespassing the boundaries of others while seeking to only impose their own desires onto others. These are not boundaries but an excuse for more entitlement, control, and power. You are capable of enforcing boundaries that are genuinely healthy and warranted with just as much ferocity. The narcissist uses their so-called toxic idea of “boundaries” to fiercely protect themselves from accountability: it’s time for you to use healthy boundaries to fiercely protect yourself from people like them. Do not allow anyone to demean you or verbally and psychologically assault you without consequences. Whether it’s leaving the narcissist or issuing legal ramifications, you must protect and defend yourself against toxic people.

They defend themselves to the max and are focused on “winning.”

Narcissists defend themselves furiously when held accountable even though they were the ones in the wrong. This is known as narcissistic rage in response to perceived slights or warranted criticism. Yet survivors of narcissistic and psychopathic partners often find themselves scrambling to apologize to the narcissist and walking on eggshells after they’ve been the ones who were gaslit, mistreated, and taunted. It’s time to defend yourself, your pride, and your rights just as ferociously – by establishing healthy boundaries and enforcing them. Create an unshakeable self-concept that does not allow  toxic people like narcissists to degrade you without consequences. Unlike the narcissist who acts out on their aggression to bully and silence others,  you do deserve to defend yourself and walk away from these toxic interactions for good. You deserve healthy relationships and a happy life. Don’t allow narcissists to “win” in the long run. You deserve to be the winner of your life. You can become victorious by setting healthier boundaries, breaking the trauma bond with the narcissist, and living an even more successful life after you leave them.

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.