Would you consider the narcissists in your life as flexible, agreeable, and easy to please? Ok, that was a trick question since you already know the answer is no. People on the spectrum of narcissism are known as controlling, overbearing, bossy, and quite difficult to please. Or to summarize, narcissists are a stubborn lot.

How often have you felt trapped by the need to keep that narcissist appeased, meaning you have become too pliable? Too willing? Overly defensive? Too wishy-washy? And how commonly have you found yourself pleading with that person to ease up, only to feel like you are speaking to a brick wall?

The stubbornness inherent in narcissism can indeed lead to all sorts of unpleasant exchanges. Undoubtedly, if you have had extended engagements with a narcissist, you know how it robs you of resolve. Simply put, when narcissists come toward you with stubbornness at the core of their character, it can bring out your worst, which is what the narcissist desperately desires.

But what if you decided to turn the tables? What if you decided to be a bit stubborn yourself? How would that work? Now, the kind of stubbornness I refer to is not of a mean or condescending variety, but a mind of positive determination. You can have such a resolve to be your best version of yourself that when narcissists attempt to rob you of yourself, you will stand firm.

We’ll call that sense of determination positive stubbornness.

I want to challenge you to think carefully about some of the many ways the narcissist has stubbornly thwarted your efforts to engage well. Then, next I want you to consider how you might respond if you applied your own healthy, positive version of stubbornness in reverse. It could represent a major change of course for you but could certainly be well worth the effort. Let’s take a look at how it might play out. For instance, as you consider your responses to the narcissist, in your mind you might think:

  • You’ve made it clear that you want to be the one who defines me. You have so many demands and requirements that you push onto me. I stubbornly refuse to play along with that program.
  • You have deemed me unacceptable, and for too long I’ve worried about what I should do to reverse that attitude. But I’ve figured out that you need to see me as inferior, I get it. So, I’ve stubbornly determined to waste no more of my emotional energy worrying about whether I’ll meet your standards.
  • History has illustrated how you have no inclination to manage your anger cleanly. Your habit of being irrationally agitated and then holding me in contempt has worn me out. I’m stubbornly committed to dignity, respect, and civility. That’s something you may know little about, but that’s my go-to way of managing life.
  • Speaking of anger, I know you’ve held grudges and resentment when you’ve been unable to change my differing opinions and preferences. I have a good mind, and when you infer otherwise, I’ll stubbornly hold onto my good reasoning nonetheless.
  • I have to admit I’ve had times when my own bitterness has taken hold as I’ve obsessed over your mistreatment of me. But in my maturation, I’ve learned that it harms me to let that happen, plus it keeps me unnecessarily tethered to you. I’m stubbornly committed to being a person of peace.
  • You become annoyed when I choose not to make excuses on your behalf when others have doubts about you. I am neither your enabler nor flying monkey, and I’ll stubbornly determine that you get to explain yourself to others without me being a weak apologist.
  • You are prone to mood swings and immature reactions, you know, just like you were at age six. I used to tiptoe around those moods, but now I’ve stubbornly decided to simply be me despite you channeling your inner child like that.
  • One of your favorite tactics is playing the role of The Victim. It used to work, in the sense that I’d actually apologize or shift my plans. But I’m onto your game, and if you want to remain The Victim, knock yourself out, but I stubbornly refuse to assume the role of The Villain.
  • You seem to be bothered when I spend time with people who love me and know me well, as if that will somehow diminish your power over me (which is actually true). I will remain stubbornly committed to people who know me well and make healthy efforts to harmonize with me.
  • When you feel like you’re losing your grip on me, you’ll dredge up the old tactic of heaping shame and guilt upon me. That used to have an impact, but no more. I’ll stubbornly cling to my inherent worth despite your presumptions to the contrary.
  • Whether you’ll ever admit it or not, I see how important it is for you to hold yourself as superior over me, but I’m no longer willing to play along as the inferior dupe. I stubbornly hold to my conviction that equality is the best way to approach relationships.
  • Sometimes you like to create the impression of a pensive person, but I certainly haven’t seen the benefits of what that might imply. I’ve done quite a bit of my own pensive thinking, and I have stubbornly committed myself to initiatives like love, kindness, and goodness. If you want to mock me, so be it, but I’m still going to be that way.
  • I’ve stubbornly decided that I’ve defended myself for the last time, no matter how strongly you wish to back me into a corner. Why should I keep justifying myself to someone who isn’t really interested in my perspective in the first place?

As part of your positive stubbornness, you can maintain a powerful commitment to the best traits that life has to offer. Someone in this world needs to stand strongly for the healthy way of life, so it’s reasonable for you to resolve to be one of those somebodies.

To that effect, you can resolve to:

  • Drop the illusion that the narcissist will behave as a big boy or big girl in the midst of conflicts. It won’t happen.
  • Step away from the hope that the narcissist will cease being a bully.
  • Establish consequences when that person has crossed the line into abusive or inappropriate treatment of you.
  • Listen to your inner voice when red flags pop up, prioritizing self-care.
  • Trust yourself despite the narcissist’s inability to trust in reverse.
  • Be assertive as the situation warrants, and when the narcissist dislikes it, be assertive anyway, no justification necessary.
  • Be a person of integrity, even as the narcissist moves in the opposite direction.
  • Drop the presumption that the narcissist owes you goodness, especially as you remind yourself that goodness can’t be forced.
  • Live as a free person, someone whose lifestyle practices truly reflect what resides within.

Positive stubbornness means that you begin with the presumption that you are less effective when you are trying to live according to someone else’s agenda. You are positioned to thrive only as you remain true to who you really are. It means you do no one any favors by trying to satisfy one who does not have your best interests at heart. And it means that even as you listen carefully to the feelings and ideas of others, you and you alone are responsible for your life’s trajectory.

And when the narcissist predictably protests that it is not okay for you to be you, in positive stubbornness you can proclaim, “Watch me.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video version of this topic, please click here.