I recently wrote about why you can’t win with a narcissist. Many readers asked what steps one would take to handle the narcissist in their lives. However, that all depends on the situation.

Relationships are complicated. There’s no one surefire way to deal with a narcissist, but you can focus on yourself and heal the hurt they have caused.

The narcissist in your life may be your elderly mother, the father of your children, your boss, even your adult daughter. No one can tell you when to leave your job, your relationship, your town. These are all decisions a person has to make on their own. Likewise, no one is going to tell you exactly how to handle a narcissist. It’s a personal choice.

Can you throw this toxic person out of your life for good? Of course, and you don’t need permission to walk away. On the other hand, there are a million reasons why you would continue to have contact with the narcissist, and there are many ways that relationship can offer some level of satisfaction. That said, it’s time to finally put the narcissist aside and deal with yourself first. If you do that, you will begin to reorient your life.

First and foremost, setting healthy boundaries is key to self-care. If you’ve been emotionally abused and manipulated, it’s time to set very clear boundaries in the relationship. This means taking time for yourself.

Are there things you stopped doing because the narcissist didn’t approve? Are there old friends or family you avoid? Maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to try. Perhaps you just want to paint your kitchen purple. It’s time to embrace the things you like, even if you’re not sure what they are.

Don’t let the narcissist’s opinion bring you down. If you finally join a bowling league, keep them out of your head. Don’t worry if you never make a strike, if your bowling shoes are hideous, or if you ate a chili dog and fried macaroni and cheese on a stick between frames. If you feel that ever-present mocking gaze and grow painfully self-conscious, remind yourself, “I’m just being me, and I have a right to be me.”

If it turns out you kind of hate bowling (I always leave with broken nails), don’t beat yourself up about it. The narcissist likes to scoff at anything new, especially when it excludes them or is something they aren’t familiar with. But unlike the narcissist, you’re not afraid to pursue your interests and try something new.

These activities are identity-affirming. Remember that if you subjugate your needs long enough, you’ll begin to lose your sense of self. Years ago, I went on a trip with a woman who had separated from her husband just six months earlier. Despite the fact that she knew he had been cheating for years, she still spoke about him with great enthusiasm. Nearly everything that came out of her mouth for the entire two weeks was about her ex’s life. Everything she saw, every story she heard or person she met reminded her of something her ex did or saw or said. It was as if he was there, not her. It was like she had no personal history of her own.

Go looking for you. Find what makes you happy, no matter what anyone else thinks. You know the saying, “Let your freak flag fly”? Well it’s really a “I’m just being myself” flag.

Keeping the narcissist’s overblown black-and-white judgment out of your head might actually be the hardest part. As I wrote in this piece: Narcissists make you feel guilty when you experience happiness because they expect you to put their happiness first. If you’re not busy praising them, accepting put-downs so they can feel superior, and catering to their every whim, they’re not going to be happy at all.

I understand the anxiety that envelops you in this situation. Focusing on them is enough to make you want to give up. Stop thinking, “What do I say if this happens? What do I do when the narcissist does that?” There is no blueprint for navigating these relationships. It’s not about winning an epic battle or finally putting the narcissist in their place. Keep the focus on you.

I know the difficulty of shutting out the narcissist’s judgment. It’s hard to weed out the pollution of disapproval. Sometimes every pleasure seems like a guilty pleasure. All I can do is keep my compass trained on my own happiness and follow it. I trust that doesn’t mean I’ll hurt people because I’m a good person. In fact, that’s probably what the narcissist saw in me in the first place and wanted so desperately to extract.

Bowling team photo available from Shutterstock