A narcissistic relationship is, by definition, one person psychologically orbiting around the false self of a grandiose other through coercion and manipulation. To avoid attracting a narcissist, you need to see this fact clearly, anchor yourself within, and then find and maintain your grip on reality as you get to know people.
Find your centre
The first step to avoid attracting a narcissist is to establish your own point of gravity, and then to direct your consciousness toward it. This means being extremely sensitive to when people pull you off centre by targeting your identity and emotions. It also means making a practice of being aware when your mind drifts off centre.
Before anything, we need to define what a ‘centre point’ is. In the case of a narcissistic relationship, it is the narcissist themselves. With an alcoholic, it is the drink and ritual that surrounds it. In the case of a group, it is usually the most dominant person. In the case of a place of worship, it is the altar. These varied examples show that a centre point can be anything; a place, a person, an object, even an idea. In short, a centre point is an outlet for life energy to flow into the world.
In this instance, you want to create a point of centre inside yourself by directing your attention to the emptiness inside. This can be behind the chest, along the spine, in the belly, wherever makes sense to you. It requires mindfulness, discipline and a spiritual practice. Using this strategy, in time you will have an anchor point when the emotional storms come. And they will come, as will the desire to surrender your centre to a source outside yourself; whether a narcissist or other compelling person, group, movement or place.
By being centred, you will have something to juxtapose against difficult emotions, powerful impulses and autonomous behaviours. Amid a barrage of nervous thoughts, you will still know yourself. That is, you will not lose yourself in vertigo. You will notice: I am my mind, I am the anchor point, and between them: I am.
It is in this environment that a narcissist may approach you. They will lather on the charm, and you will feel yourself drifting away from the safety of your centre point. Because you’ve grown accustomed to your inner anchor, you will notice yourself drifting. As a result, you will instinctively disengage from the narcissist’s charm to rediscover your centre. This back and forth will continue until you or the narcissist gets tired of the game and someone walks away. A narcissist needs you engaged and off-centre at all times. They need you fluttering in the wind so that they can more easily have you where they want. A centred person can interact and share with others and love them, but they do so from a singular point of focus – not on the whims of others.
Find your centre and guard it viciously, and you will be on the way to avoid attracting a narcissist.
Maintain a grip on reality
All of us, deep down, want others to like us simply for being us. This desire begins in childhood and stays with us for a lifetime. Nobody likes to jump through hoops to be liked, or to have to suppress genuine traits in themselves.
A narcissist will make you feel like this outcome is possible. There seems to be something about you which lights them up and just fits. You and they are soulmates, or at least compatible in some strange way and capable of being amazing friends. This, unfortunately, is a projection of the mind. And what we often forget is that it works both ways.
To avoid attracting a narcissist, you must be aware of the mind’s capacity to split people and situations into two categories; all-good and all-bad. A person is either perfect or repulsive. In childhood, this is a pretty standard way of seeing the world. Yet as our mind develops, we gain a more nuanced view of people and the world. People have positive and negative traits, and there is usually a reason behind it. Some of those traits work for us, others are a turn-off.
The hard reality is that people like each other for a reason. Maybe you’re a good listener, have an interesting way of seeing the world, are attractive, intelligent, have a lot of friends, or you share common interests with the other person. Usually, there’s an external structure which binds two people together, such as school, work, common friends or a sports team. Within this context, two people might slowly have shared positive experiences and develop a bond. In such a case, there is vulnerability, empathy, support and understanding. You’ve shared good times, bad times and mundane times. You’ve both seen the best and worst of each other and nonetheless chosen to remain in the relationship. You are grounded in reality.
A narcissist wants to avoid the hard-earned road toward a relationship. They deflect and deny to avoid being vulnerable, and they pretend to empathise. In the beginning, you feel like you’ve finally met the person who truly accepts you for who you are. The narcissist will project onto you their paradigm of ‘all-good’, and you do the same in return. You believe that in their eyes, you can do no wrong.
Furthermore, the narcissist will help you channel this into a magical, shared world full of fun and joy. This world feels exclusive to you both, and you allow no one else inside. In this bubble, you can be as open as you like. Nobody is flawed or wrong in this world.
And that is why it is so hard to see it. This bubble is the red flag. When you are in a bubble where anything goes, the narcissist is free to influence and manipulate you. While you have rose-coloured glasses on, they’ll experiment with you. They will begin to suggest where your relationship is going and what you should be doing together. You will notice none of this during the warmup phase. Eventually, their narcissistic fantasies will begin to show. They’ll very slowly and gradually expand the limits to see what you can tolerate. Because your friendship originated from such a wonderful, joyful state, you will be reluctant to push back.
It’s hard going from Utopia to having to reject someone and tell them: ‘NO, I don’t want this.’ ‘Why not?’ they might ask? ‘You’re being strange,’ they will add. To return your relationship to equilibrium, you will acquiesce. And before you know it, you’re slowly being dragged toward the narcissist’s inner dystopia where they dominate and you submit, and you will feel helpless to stop it. You’re already attached. You’ve already invested so much into the relationship. You have invested all of your pride in the relationship.
This is why the Utopian bubble is so dangerous. It’s not based on reality. It doesn’t tolerate reason, boundaries and accountability. Whenever you meet someone you suspect of being narcissistic, you need to ask questions. What is the context behind your relationship? What makes it so magical and perfect? What makes you so magical and perfect which nobody else sees? What happens if you say no? Who is directing the relationship, both of you or just them?
Every adult relationship requires accountability, flexibility, boundaries and a strong dose of reality. Maintaining a sense of Self while being in any kind of relationship is hard work. To get the benefits, you need to be conscious and responsible, not just for the other person, but for yourself.
To learn more about how to avoid attracting a narcissist, check out the following books: