But I want to take a slightly different tack on this and look at more practical, everyday lessons that narcissists can teach us. Things we can learn from how they see and interact with people and the world that we can actually take a dollop of ourselves, even if we definitely don’t want to turn into them.
Everyone is supposed to have some narcissistic traits (healthy narcissism) to survive and thrive in the world, and it’s often a flaw of overly naïve, sincere co-dependents that we seem obsessed with having and showing zero narcissistic traits, because we see it as “bad” or as representing “them”, that other person who we hate so much and don’t want to be like.
But this leaves us too vulnerable and open to attack in the modern world; we need a healthy degree of narcissism to survive. If we detach from our own hurts a little, we eventually come to see that narcissists can actually teach us something about the world, and how to interact with it in a way that serves us better.
Let’s explore some examples of this in more detail.
How To Analyze Situations Better (Power Dynamics)
This is a huge area of human interactions that narcissists just seem to be very good at, and at which we can learn from them. They’re very “streetwise” in the sense they can seem to very quickly see what a person’s motives are, and where they’re coming from psychologically in any situation. And they can read this in person, or if you just tell them about a situation/person.
They can very quickly analyse all the moving parts you give them, and tell “this person’s doing X because of Y”, or whatever makes sense in terms of what you gave them. In other words, they’re very good at reading the power dynamics of interactions and relationships, and seeing what a person’s real motives might, or at telling you what someone said/did really meant.
On reflection, this isn’t actually surprising, because the narcissistic personality is power and emotional reaction fixated, so they’re always looking at how to gain power over others in interactions. So they just instinctively process information in a way that incorporates power dynamics in a way that more naïve people struggle to, and this is where we can learn from them.
In this sense, having a narcissist in your corner can be quite useful sometimes (don’t worry, I’m NOT recommending having these people in your life). But you can run something by them, and they’ll instantly be able to tell you what’s actually going on if power-plays/exploitation/lying/bullying are present (because that’s what they’re so good at themselves).
I had a friend in the past who was like this, and he was very insightful and useful to run things by, and he spotted certain things that I didn’t. However, it’s not recommended to use this as an excuse to have or keep these people in your life, as sooner or later they’ll be using their knowledge to abuse/exploit you.
It’s more just a thought experiment to see how they view the world from a perspective that can be useful at times to defend oneself, and work on being more “streetwise” and understanding power dynamics better in your own time.
How To Forgive Yourself & Move On
This might seem like an odd title section at first, but let me explain. I’m coming at this from a more practical perspective and just observing how easily narcissists forgive themselves (in a purely psychological sense) and move on from relationships (however disastrous).
The reason they can do this is because their entire personality is built on the twin defenses of denial and projection, so to them, NOTHING is ever their fault, and they TRULY believe this. It’s never them at fault and they’re always the victim when anything goes wrong in their life.
Whilst we don’t want to copy these traits as they’re extremely sick, it is still instructive how easily narcissists can tell themselves a story about what happened and move on.
And this might be what we need to do sometimes if we’re really struggling at getting over a toxic relationship and can’t quite “let go”. We can do all the “right” things we’re supposed to do. We can go to therapy, do journaling, do courses, try to move towards forward focus and not looking back so much. But there can still be this stubborn “stuckness” there, where the “wrongness” of the relationship and what was done to us remains stuck inside us and we can’t quite let go of it all. It festers inside, despite our best efforts.
To overcome this and bridge this last “gap” of letting go, it can be useful to take leaf out the narcissist’s book and just tell ourselves a story about what happened and why, and just “drop” it and move on for good.
You can be sure that’s what the narcissist did right after it happened – they don’t blame themselves and have no problems moving on. So why would you still ruminate over it years later? You’re just punishing yourself. Sometimes, you might just have do what they did and tell yourself a story and drop it and let go.
Brutally Cutting People Out Your Life
This is another area where we can take a leaf out of the narcissist’s book, and follows on a bit from the last section. They can very easily discard people and move on with their lives, literally as though the person never existed.
Whilst it’s extremely painful for those on the receiving of such narcissistic discards, it’s also instructive how easily they can “drop” people psychologically and move on, and we need to take on some of that ability ourselves.
Too many victims of narcissists stay stuck tolerating their nonsense, or else ruminating out them for months or years after the relationship. But you can be sure the narcissist isn’t doing this, and in all honestly, it’s not healthy for us to either. We need to mimic them in this regard and drop them cold.
Here are some categories of people it might be useful to consider brutally and non-negotiably cutting from your life, in the same ruthless way a narcissist would do to others:
- Any narcissist/sociopath that’s discarded you (return the favour and also move on with your life as though you’re dead to you. Go full no-contact, block and delete on all channels, and move on like they never existed).
- Any other pathological personality disordered people like narcissists, psychopaths/sociopaths, borderlines that are in your life (co-dependents often attract multiple of these people in their lives because their boundaries are so weak. When you clear out one, take it as an opportunity to clear out all of them).
- Anyone else who you’re not sure has a full blown disorder, but still seems to act as though they do, especially in terms of toxic communication patterns (sly digs, insults, insincerity, double meaning statements, and all the other verbal nonsense you’ll encounter in modern workplaces especially).
- Any dysfunctional family members who are also narcissistically abusive or reinforce toxic family dynamics, and refuse to respect your boundaries or do any work on themselves.
- Anyone who does not respect your boundaries and is instead constantly trying to “dig into” them and erode your privacy and self respect.
- Anyone who engages in gas-lighting – the systematic invalidation of your own perception of people and events.
- So called “apaths” – those poor quality, apathetic, unintelligent, easily manipulated, easily influenced bystanders who the narcissist/sociopath happily co-opts as “useful idiots”, into their smear campaigns and bullying of others. People that lack integrity and go along with the narcissist’s scheming and nonsense.
Anyone displaying these traits, don’t trust them, don’t socialize, don’t be their friend, don’t reveal anything sincere or vulnerable or private. Just keep very strong boundaries up and mentally “drop” them in the same cold, ruthless way a narcissist would to others.
How Not To Get Bullied
This is another area where the overly fawning, people pleasing types that often get caught up with narcissists can learn from them, as they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum.
You can be pretty sure a narcissist will NOT get bullied in any environment, because they’re just so savvy and versed in power dynamics and the manipulation/exploitation of others that they’re ahead of the game on anyone who’s trying to bully them.
They also have no problems telling people no or rejecting them, nor getting into any kind of battle of wills, which they’re happy to carry on fighting for as long as it takes until they “win” in their mind.
Put simple, they’re not going to get bullied because they’re not an easy target, and this is where we can learn from them. The “opposite end of the spectrum” co-dependent is by contrast “wide open” to bullying, because they’ve got weak or no boundaries, struggle to say no, and their default position is “jammed” to the needs of other rather than their own. If someone is going to get bullied in an environment, it’s going to be them, not the narcissist.
By contrast, the narcissist can be very instructive in how easily they:
- Dominate and take up space in situations/environments
- Respond quickly and assertively to any attacks
- Don’t care what other people think
- Have no problems saying no and putting their own needs first (think of that emergency work call asking you to come in on your day off, and you say “yes” when you really want to say “no”).
- Use charm, seduction and general “people skills” to get people on their side when they need to
- Use communication in ways which assert dominance or send negative energy back to where it came from
- Scan people for weakness and file them away to use later if needed (even if only defensively, in response to their bullying).
There’s a certain type of person that always seems to find themselves targeted and bullied in work environments, despite not seeking to cause trouble and just looking to get their head down and work. They seem to attract bullies, and this is where these people can learn from narcissists by taking up the space required to demonstrate that you’re not an easy target and putting your own needs first sometimes. See the section further below on striking a balance for more on this.
The Context/Content Split In Communication
This is something that the narcissist might not teach you directly, but which you learn indirectly after dealing with them, when you understand better the toxic patterns of communication they engage in.
Understanding the context/content split as regards to communication is a revelatory insight and allows people to make sense of the crazy-making interactions they might have had with a narcissist. It also provides a powerful tool going forward to deal with any further narcissists/sociopaths encountered, plus any other generally ignorant people than engage in toxic communication patterns.
Let’s define what content and context are regarding communication:
Content – In communication, can be defined as the word suggests – the actual content or reality of the interaction/situation/person. Facts, logic, reason, evidence, reality, who did or said what, who’s responsible or not, fairness, justice, balance, and so on.
Context – In communication, relates more to the impact or effect of what’s communicated, rather than the reality or truth. How a communication impacts the person on the receiving end. Does it provoke a reaction in them? Does it poke at a “wound” or insecurity? Does it upset them? The truth/reality is less relevant here; it’s more the power dynamics and emotional reactions garnered.
When interactions turn toxic, narcissists (and other toxic people) and NOT at all interested in the content of interactions, ONLY on the context (power dynamics, taking “digs” or “shots” etc).
This is a huge trap that overly naïve and sincere people can fall into when dealing with toxic people – they’re too earnestly focused on the content (facts/logic/reason/evidence), and the other person has no interest in these things and is just winding the person up and stringing them along (often gas-lighting them as well).
Understanding the context content split of narcissistic communication patterns allows us to detach a bit, see when a person is interacting without sincerity, and draw back accordingly and save our energy. This is a HUGE life skill overly naïve people can learn from dealing with narcissists.
The amount of time we can waste interacting with people who have no interest in facts/logic/reason and only on power dynamics and provoking reactions in people, is insane, and it can serve us far better to know when a person is only context focused and dis-engage from them entirely.
“You must abandon all sincerity when communicating with the terminally insincere”
Striking A Balance Between Codependence & Narcissism
Comparing the co-dependent to the narcissist and seeing them as effectively opposite ends of the spectrum of boundaries/needs, is a very useful exercise. If you can imagine the spectrum, the co-dependent is on the far left, entirely other-focused and abandoning their own needs, whilst the narcissist is on the far right, entirely self-focused and not interested in the needs/wants/feelings of others.
CODEPENDENT – 100% other focused, self sacrificing, meek, submissive, fawning, people pleasing, easy target, naïve, too open & trusting, no boundaries, tolerates unacceptable treatment.
NARCISSIST – 100 % self absorbed, manipulates & exploits others, predatory, reaction seeking, zero care for others, erodes the boundaries of others, no sincerity, no morality/conscience.
Neither extreme is healthy, and instead we need to seek to either transcend this spectrum, or find a healthy balance in the middle, whereby your own needs as well as those of others are respected. This is what is sometimes referred to as a healthy degree of narcissism.
It’s up to each person to strike this right balance in themselves if they see themselves as too far in one direction on this spectrum. Narcissist’s don’t see anything wrong with themselves and therefore won’t change, but co-dependents/people pleasers often find themselves too far to the left and find they get too easily manipulated/exploited/bullied in the world. They need to come back to center and find a healthy balance of narcissistic traits which works better for them.
Here are some things that a healthy degree of narcissism might embody:
- The ability to “take up space” psychologically and physically and be seen, noticed and respected in situations.
- The ability to effectively balance your own needs with the needs of others, being neither 100% selfish and self-absorbed, but also neither 100% other-focused and neglecting one’s own needs.
- The ability to set boundaries and say no to people, refusing things that violate your values and/or don’t serve you.
- The ability to stand up for yourself psychologically and defend against unfair attacks and criticism, holding your ground and shutting down abusive/bullying behaviour from others.
- The ability to be “socially intelligent” and “streetwise”, effectively reading situations and people, especially their real motives and intentions for doing/saying certain things (lack of naivety).
- The ability to fully enjoy life without any sense of guilt or shame, or that you “don’t deserve it” somehow.
- The ability to move on from distressing or otherwise toxic situations/events/relationships and process them in a reasonable timeframe without ruminating or festering on them for years.
- Handling and moving on from any other setbacks in life, taking appropriate ownership and learning the appropriate lessons, but also without excessively blaming or punishing oneself.
- Displaying an appropriate gentleness towards oneself regarding flaws, past mistakes, setbacks, imperfections, and accepting oneself in spite of them (but not denying them altogether).
For people pleasers that recognize some of these issues as their own and want to work on finding heathier ways to engage with the world, Richard Grannon’s Summoning The Self course (affiliate link) is an excellent starting point for re-wiring dysfunctional co-dependent beliefs and striking a better balance between your own needs and those of others. We also have a section on our books page on Boundaries/Co-dependence, because it’s such an important issue to work on.