Narcissists are difficult people with inflated egos. Stoics are calm people with practical self-sense. How do Stoics deal with narcissists and selfish people?
I study Stoicism and use its principles in my life. I’ve been doing this for a few hours every week since 2019, when I wrote this self-guide: Stoicism For Beginners: 7 Quick Lessons You Need To Start.
In my professional capacity, I have been helping survivors of narcissistic abuse find resilience and happiness.
So, I thought I could bring these two experiences together and give out my two-pence on how a Stoic would handle narcissistic people, drawing from the wisdom of the great Stoic philosophers, such as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.
Who Are The Narcissists?
For clarity, let’s first define a narcissist.
A narcissist is someone with an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Narcissists want to be served and validated by others, often leaving them feeling used and confused.
One thing of note, not every narcissist can be called to have NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), which is a clinical diagnosis. This study found that patients with NPD scored high on perfectionism, shame, and aggression. However, those findings can’t apply to every narcissist you know.
How Do Stoics Deal With Narcissists?
Stoicism teaches us to be virtuous, resilient, and detached from events outside ourselves. This refraining from being overwhelmed by emotions caused by events and experiences can be particularly helpful when dealing with narcissists.
So, how can ancient Stoicism help a modern person navigate the challenges of narcissistic relationships?
1. Practicing Emotional Detachment
First, the Stoics practice emotional detachment.
This doesn’t mean that they train themselves to be devoid of all emotions. Stoics value human emotions,
But they understand that the opinions of others, especially those of narcissists, do not define their worth and so they do not need to get attached to those.
The great Stoic master Epictetus said,
“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.”
By recognizing that a narcissist’s behavior is a reflection of their own insecurities, rather than an accurate assessment of our value, we can avoid being hurt or swayed by their words.
Let me repeat that while the Stoics know they don’t control external events, and choose not to be controlled by them. But they allow themselves to feel all human emotions.
There is a difference between feeling an emotion and getting overwhelmed by an emotion.
For example, let’s say you have a crush on someone and you feel excited and happy when you’re around them. This is a normal feeling of love. Stoics allow this.
However, if you start constantly checking their social media, following them, or trying to control their actions, it becomes limerence or obsessive love. It can make you have an intense desire to be with your loved one, often to the point of stalking or controlling behavior. Stoics don’t allow this.
That’s why Donald Robertson says. “You will never see an angry Stoic.”
Robertson, the author of How To Think Like A Roman Emperor, means that a Stoic can feel angered, but they will be aggressive out of that anger.
2. Pre-Training On Self-Control
Second, Stoics practice self-control.
Stoics focus on what they can control, letting go of what they cannot control. They maintain a mindset of acceptance and detachment from external events.
They believe that the only thing they can control is their own thoughts and actions, and that what others say to them or about them is beyond their control.
Instead of reacting impulsively to a narcissist’s provocations, they maintain composure and focus on their own actions.
One of the main practices of Stoicism is negative visualization, which is essentially pre-training themselves on imagining the worst-case scenario in a given situation.
By visualizing the worst that can happen, and practicing their behavior to it, they remain prepared for any possible outcome and can stay unattached to a specific outcome. This helps them avoid being triggered by a narcissist’s manipulative actions.
Stoics also practice self-control via self-discipline, by setting daily goals, following a daily routine, and reviewing their day daily.
They believe that by developing good habits and sticking to a routine, one can achieve a sense of inner peace and self-control.
They also practice mindfulness, which is being fully present in the moment and observing their thoughts and emotions without judgment.
As Marcus Aurelius is supposed to have said,
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
This self-discipline allows Stoics to remain calm and collected in the face of narcissistic behavior.
3. Cultivating Empathy
Third, Stoics cultivate empathy. While it might be tempting to respond with anger or resentment to a narcissist’s egotism, Stoics strive to understand the motives behind such behavior.
Seneca advised, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”
By practicing empathy, we can gain insight into the narcissist’s struggles and potentially help them grow.
4. Knowing How To Set Boundaries
Next, Stoics establish boundaries.
They recognize the importance of protecting their own well-being, especially when dealing with toxic individuals.
As Seneca said, “Associate with people who are likely to improve you.” By setting limits on our interactions with narcissists, we can minimize their impact on our lives and maintain our peace of mind.
5. Practicing Forgiveness
Moreover, the Stoics practice forgiveness.
While narcissists can be difficult to tolerate, Stoics understand that holding onto anger or resentment only harms oneself.
Epictetus counseled, “When you are offended at any man’s fault, immediately turn to yourself and reflect in what manner you yourself have erred.”
By forgiving the narcissist, we free ourselves from the burden of bitterness.
Stoicism encourages practicing humility and recognizing that we are all interconnected and part of a larger whole.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, wrote in his Meditations, “We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.”
This perspective stands in stark contrast to narcissistic tendencies, which prioritize self-interest above all else.
6. Focusing On Personal Growth
Finally, Stoics focus on their own personal growth. Instead of getting caught up in the drama of a narcissist’s life, they work on cultivating their own virtues and becoming better people.
Marcus Aurelius reminded us, “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
By directing our attention inward, we can remain centered and steadfast in the face of narcissism.
How can a Stoic respond to a mean or selfish person?
A Stoic can respond to a mean or selfish person with:
- Practice detachment: Understand that the actions and words of the mean or selfish person do not define your worth. Recognize that their behavior is a reflection of their own struggles, not an accurate assessment of your character. They’re acting out of their own disturbing nature, not because you are a bad person.
- Exercise self-control: Maintain composure and avoid reacting impulsively to provocations. Focus on your own actions and response, rather than trying to change the other person’s behavior.
- Cultivate empathy: Strive to understand the motives behind the mean or selfish person’s actions. This will help you gain insight into their struggles and potentially help them grow.
- Establish boundaries: Protect your well-being by setting limits on your interactions with mean or selfish people. Limit the time and energy you spend on them to preserve your peace of mind.
- Practice forgiveness: Let go of anger and resentment towards the mean or selfish person. Holding onto negative emotions only harms your own well-being.
- Focus on personal growth: Direct your attention to cultivating your own virtues and becoming a better person, rather than getting caught up in the drama caused by the mean or selfish person.
- Seek wisdom from Stoic philosophers: Draw upon the teachings of Stoic philosophers such as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius to guide your response and help you maintain your inner peace.
How do Stoics Deal with disrespect, ridicule, or insult?
Stoics deal with disrespect, ridicule, or insult by following these:
- Detach from external opinions: Recognize that the opinions of others, particularly those who disrespect or ridicule you, do not define your worth. Their comments are reflections of their own beliefs and insecurities, not an accurate assessment of your character.
- Control your response: Exercise self-control and avoid reacting impulsively or emotionally to provocations. Focus on your own actions and response, maintaining your composure and dignity.
- Embrace rationality: Evaluate the validity of the insult or ridicule. If it contains a valid criticism, use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. If it is baseless, dismiss it as irrelevant and unworthy of your attention.
- Cultivate empathy: Understand that those who disrespect or insult others may be struggling with their own issues. Practice empathy and compassion towards them, recognizing that their behavior may stem from their own pain or insecurity.
- Focus on personal virtues: Direct your attention to cultivating your own virtues, like wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline. Strive for continuous self-improvement, rather than dwelling on the negativity of others.
- Practice forgiveness: Let go of anger and resentment towards those who disrespect or insult you. Holding onto negative emotions will only harm your well-being and hinder your progress.
- Seek wisdom from Stoic philosophers: Draw upon the teachings of Stoic philosophers such as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius to maintain your inner peace and resilience in the face of disrespect, ridicule, or insult.
Are Stoics narcissistic?
Stoicism as a philosophy is not inherently narcissistic, and it does not promote narcissistic traits. In fact, Stoicism’s core principles are focused on virtue, personal growth, humility, self-awareness, and empathy, which are fundamentally opposed to narcissistic tendencies of self-importance and egotism.
Narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Stoicism, on the other hand, emphasizes understanding one’s own limitations, practicing self-control, and developing empathy and compassion for others.
How to be Stoic with a narcissist?
Here are some tips on how to be stoic with a narcissist:
1. Focus on what you can control: In a relationship with a narcissist, it’s important to recognize that you cannot control their behavior or actions. Instead, focus on what you can control, which is your own thoughts and actions. This means being mindful of your own emotions and reactions to their behavior.
2. Practice detachment: Narcissists thrive on attention and validation, so it’s important to detach yourself emotionally from their behavior. This means not reacting emotionally to their provocations and not engaging in arguments or power struggles with them.
3. Set healthy boundaries: It’s important to set clear boundaries with a narcissist and stick to them. This means being assertive and communicating your needs and expectations clearly. It also means not allowing them to manipulate or control you.
4. Practice empathy: While it may be difficult, practicing empathy towards a narcissist can help you maintain your emotional self-control. This means trying to understand their perspective and motivations, without condoning or accepting their behavior.
5. Maintain perspective: Remember that a narcissist’s behavior is not a reflection of your worth or value as a person. Maintain perspective by focusing on your own goals and values, and not allowing their behavior to define you.
Stoicism offers invaluable tools for dealing with narcissists. By practicing emotional detachment from external events, self-control, empathy for others, and not blaming narcissists for taking advantage of us, we can protect our well-being and maintain our inner peace.
The wisdom of the Stoic philosophers serves as a guiding light, enabling us to navigate the challenging relationships with narcissists and emerge stronger, wiser, and more compassionate.
• • •
Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy. He writes on mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoic philosophy.
√ If you liked it, please spread the word.