10 Ways to Be More Assertive: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Tips

Written by Angela Atkinson

“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.” ― Edith Eva Eger

Going through a toxic relationship is hell, and one of the worst parts is that it tears us down, bit by bit. We lose our SELVES, and we lose track of our boundaries. We forget how to assert ourselves. We forget that we are allowed to do so – and we get into a very unhealthy pattern of letting life happen to us.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist (meaning someone who lacks empathy and has a grandiose sense of self-importance), then you know how hard it is to assert yourself, or even feel respected. Emotional abuse can wreck your self-esteem, making it hard to assert yourself.

But if we’re going to fully heal and recover after a toxic relationship with a narcissist, we must learn and employ assertiveness in our lives.

Why is it important to learn to be assertive with narcissists and others in your life?

If you start practicing assertiveness, here’s what can happen:

  1. Your self-respect will grow stronger.
  2. You’ll feel more in control of your life.
  3. Other people will listen to your needs and wants instead of just blowing you off and telling you what you need instead.
  4. You won’t need to manipulate people to get what you want.
  5. You will avoid being emotionally blackmailed by the narcissist (though they’ll still try).
  6. Your frustration and resentment can be released.
  7. The person you truly are will become more apparent (to yourself first), and your need to act like a victim will disappear.

And that’s just for starters.

What does “assertiveness” mean in the context of relationships?

Assertiveness is that fine line between being aggressive and passive. Aggressiveness and passiveness can be advantageous at times, but an attitude of assertiveness is most often the most effective position to take.

To be fair, being assertive without being aggressive can be difficult to demonstrate with a narcissist.  Being assertive is the best way to speak up for yourself, to state your case clearly and confidently, and to get respect at work, in relationships, or dealing with anyone you feel is not treating you well.

When you’re assertive, you’re willing to make your needs known and to take responsibility for your life. There are many advantages to being assertive.

How do you assert yourself with a narcissist?

Let’s face it – being around a narcissist is draining, frustrating, and hurtful. They can make your life awful. When you have to deal with a narcissist on a regular basis, it’s easy to feel helpless, but being assertive with a narcissist allows you to stand up for yourself.

In fact, assertiveness is one of the most basic forms of defense against narcissists. Narcissists are manipulative, deceitful, and always on the lookout for power and control. That being said, it’s important to recognize that if you want to escape narcissistic abuse you need to learn how to express yourself effectively. So, how do you assert yourself with a narcissist?

First, I should explain my very simple philosophy on dealing with narcissists: Don’t.  As in, don’t try to change them.  Don’t even try to fix them. Don’t focus on what you cannot control.

In other words, while it is theoretically possible for a narcissist to change, I’ve never seen or even heard of it happening successfully – and that’s because, by the very nature of their personality disorder, narcissists cannot recognize that there’s anything wrong with them. They refuse to take responsibility for their bad behavior, preferring to deflect and project their problems and shortcomings onto the people around them – generally on to their closest sources of narcissistic supply, but also to random people (and sometimes even objects).

For example, think of the meme where the narcissist has wrapped their vehicle around a tree. The caption reads something like, “It’s the tree’s fault for being in my way.” Yes, it seems ridiculous, but it’s not so far from the truth of the way a narcissist thinks.

We’re often taught to be respectful, kind to others, and be nice. This is great advice in most cases, but when dealing with narcissists, it’s terrible. You have to understand how narcissistic supply functions in order to be assertive when dealing with one.

What is narcissistic supply?

Narcissistic supply involves your emotional energy, attention, and admiration/adoration, gained through manipulation and exploitation. Narcissists will usually have a main “source” of narcissistic supply, which will come from the person or people closest to the narcissist, but might also come from animals, friends, acquaintances, or larger groups of people who are used by the narcissist to get attention, validation, admiration – all the “supply” they need to feed their ego. The narcissist often has a circle of supply or “narcissistic harem.”

Proven Strategies for Being Assertive With a Narcissist

Follow these strategies to learn to be more assertive with a narcissist and take control of your life:

Keep the narcissist’s psychology in mind.

As much as you want to confront the narcissist about their outrageous behavior, it’ll only frustrate you to try. So, if you want to win against them, you need to show understanding, concern, and sympathy for them. Remember that under all that vitriol and venom lies a very broken person. So, consider who and what they really are, and take the time to learn how narcissists think so that you can come to them in a way they can receive. And remember their “weak spots.”

What is a narcissist’s weakness?

Narcissists have many weaknesses, but if you ask me, the one that matters most here is the narcissist’s ego. They literally believe that they are above you, and so they are highly likely to believe that you cannot possibly outsmart them. This is a HUGE advantage for you, this little “blind spot,” because as often as the narcissist underestimates you, they’re almost begging you to manipulate them right under their nose.

Narcissists are emotionally stunted.

You might even call a narcissist an “emotional toddler,” because as intellectually intelligent as they can be, they are emotionally disabled. Often, they have the emotional capacity of a child. So, you’ll need to play things a little differently to be effective in your efforts to be assertive with a narcissist.

For example, to effectively communicate with a “non-narcissist,” you might follow these steps to be assertive.

  • Agree with them – let them know that you are on their side.
  • Then ask for honest clarification about the problem.
  • Next, respectfully present your sides of the story.

But narcissists will need a bit more schmooze than your average person. While it sounds counter-intuitive, you almost need to play the narcissist’s game to get through to them. As difficult as it may seem, there are certain techniques you can use to counter narcissists’ attacks. One of the most effective involves Ross Rosenberg’s Observe, Don’t Absorb technique.

How does the Observe, Don’t Absorb Technique work?

When I interviewed Ross Rosenberg, he told me that the whole point of the Observe, Don’t Absorb Technique is that when the narcissist wants power over you, “they want to get you into what I call their wrestling ring, and that is where they always are in control, and they have all the power.”

“So once they get a reaction out of you, through many techniques (including induced conversation technique), you lose your power because narcissists know how to fight,” he said. “They know how to manipulate, they know how to guilt and shame, and an SLD or codependent can never stand their own.”

“Essentially, the Observe, Don’t Absorb Technique is a way to safely disassociate from a narcissist who gains power by triggering your emotions and making you fight them in a fight that you can never win,” Rosenberg said.

So, if you’re trying to get through to a narcissist, you can try these steps.

  • Respond as diplomatically as humanly possible.
  • Be honest, but don’t say too much.
  • Don’t let them provoke you into an argument, respond calmly.

Of course, it’s important to remember that there are times when the narcissist almost literally cannot hear you. In these cases, it’s best to wait until they’re more receptive, assuming you have no choice but to deal with them. Of course, ideally, you’d go no contact or low contact so you won’t HAVE TO deal with them.

But what if you MUST deal with the narcissist? And what if they refuse to hear you and refuse to allow you to be assertive? What do you do then? Well, you learn how to control them.

How to Control a Narcissist (When Nothing Else Works)

This may be a bit controversial, but if you really wanted to, there are ways you can literally manipulate the narcissist into submission. It takes a little time and is most definitely not something you can comfortably maintain long-term. But here’s what you’d need to do.

Things to Remember

Before you start this plan, remember that narcissists are only concerned with getting what they want, doing what they want, and being in control of everyone and everything around them. In other words, your well-being is of no importance to them, but their own is their top priority.

Keeping this in mind, it’s easy to understand that the key to getting a narcissist to understand you is to understand what makes a narcissist feel good about themselves. If you can do this, you can lead a narcissist where you want them to go.

So, if necessary, you can sort of “train” them to be nice to you. The good news is that the steps are simple. The bad news? They’ll be annoying and exhausting to sustain for long. Still, if you really focus and stick to the plan, they really can work in most cases. It’s sort of like you’re training a dog. Let me explain.

Step 1: Give them as much narcissistic supply as you can stand to give them. 

Tell them how amazing they are, allow them to be the center of attention, praise them and make them feel like they hung the moon, in your eyes. This will disarm them in many cases, and they’ll be more likely to soften up and hear what you’ve got to say, so long as you remain kind and diplomatic.

Step 2: Make them think it’s their idea.

If at all possible, figure out how to get the narcissist to suggest or offer what you want by allowing them to take credit for the idea. For example, if you need them to take out the trash every day, you can say how grateful you are that they do this for you and tell them how they’re your hero for doing it. This is an oversimplified example, but applying it to the challenges you face with a narcissist can be surprisingly effective.

Step 3: When they do what you want, praise them and amp up the supply.

Since narcissists want to feel loved, admired, needed, and even worshipped, anytime they can get some extra narcissistic supply, they will often jump at the chance. This might mean that you need to go a little over-the-top with noticing literally anything and everything they do that doesn’t make your life miserable. Point out the stuff that they’re doing that you like and lavish the praise on them. This is sort of like giving a dog a treat when they follow your commands and learn a new trick.

Step 4: When they don’t do what you want, give them the gray rock.

I’m talking about the Gray Rock Method here. Grey rock/Gray Rock is a technique that was named and first published by a writer called Skylar, who advises that you act boring and don’t react to the narcissist’s attempts to engage you in drama. The tactic is highly effective but also infuriating for narcissists to experience. Use caution if you are dealing with any physical abuse as the narcissist may not react well.

In this case, the Gray Rock Method can be likened to smacking a dog on the nose when they do something wrong. In other words, hit them where it hurts. Remember that narcissists can’t stand to be ignored. If you try to ignore their antics, they will chase you. But if you play their game by their rules, you might get what you want.

What to say to disarm a narcissist? 

You know how hard it is to handle a narcissist’s blatantly disrespectful behavior. the gaslighting, the projection/deflection games – and all of the other outrageous manipulation to which they subject you. So how do you disarm a narcissist? How do you outsmart a narcissist? What do you say to disarm them?

If you want to outsmart the narcissist the “smarter” way, you’ve got to know that it’s not about how to make a narcissist miserable, but more about how to take back control and counter-manipulate the narcissist.

In this video, I’ll explain exactly what you can do to disarm the narcissist, how you can outsmart a narcissist, and precisely what you can SAY to shut down the mind games.

Tips for Learning to Be Assertive After Narcissistic Abuse

Once you’ve extricated yourself from the toxic relationship, you may have a hard time being assertive with others. Try these tips to e stronger and more assertive in every area of your life after narcissistic abuse.

Understand what assertiveness really means.

Some people are reluctant to be assertive because they consider it as similar to being aggressive. One definition of assertiveness is, “The ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights, without undue anxiety, in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.”

Assess yourself.

Some people would benefit by being more assertive in every part of their lives. Others are assertive in some areas but lacking in others. In what part of your life are you either too passive or too aggressive?

Decide how you can be more assertive in those situations.

Suppose you’re not assertive in your romantic relationships. Think of ways you can be more assertive. Have a plan and start working on it.

Take responsibility for the challenges in your life.

Passive people hope that someone else or fate will solve their challenges. Assertive people take care of their own messes. Passive people blame fate. Aggressive people blame others. Put yourself in a position where you can take credit for your ups and downs.

Avoid feeling responsibility for the behavior and feelings of others.

If you’re constantly submitting to the wishes of others, you feel some responsibility for their feelings. Worry about your own behavior and feelings. Others can do the same.

Give your opinion when asked.

When someone asks you where you want to go to dinner, or what movie you want to see, give them an answer. You’re not being nice by responding, “I don’t care. Where do you want to eat?” If someone asks your opinion, give it.

Start saying “no” more often.

The ability to say no is a sign of a healthy relationship. It’s okay to tell people no when saying yes would be too inconvenient for you. You don’t gain anything by making yourself miserable. Be willing to say “no” when necessary.

Practice.

Some situations are just psychologically easier to manage when you’re learning to be assertive. You might speak up and give your opinion in a meeting or tell your teenager what you expect from them regarding the cleanliness of their room. Choose a few situations in which to practice.

Pay attention to your body language.

Assertiveness isn’t only demonstrated through your words. You broadcast your level of assertiveness with your body language. Work on your posture and eye contact for starters. Practice in front of a mirror and with your friends.

Build your social skills.

If you’re not comfortable socially, you’re likely to either be passive or aggressive, but not assertive. Social skills can be developed and provide a foundation for assertiveness. Work with a friend that has excellent social skills or get your hands on a few good books on the topic.

Assertiveness has several advantages. Assertive people suffer from less stress and anxiety. Assertiveness also provides a feeling of control over your life. It’s not easy to move from passivity or aggressiveness to assertiveness, but the advantages are considerable. Be patient with yourself and begin your journey to taking more responsibility for your life, emotions, and challenges.

Read More: Get back your personal power

Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Resources

Helpful Videos for Narcissistic Abuse Survivors

Author

  • Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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