This is my second blog looking at the difficult question of dealing with a narcissist, whether a partner, family member or in the workplace. (The previous blog is here) Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that we soon learn that to achieve any peace in the relationship, we have to continually accommodate or pacify them. Unfortunately, though, this defensive tactic only feeds their narcissism. It can easily make them even harder to deal with, since, however inadvertently, you may be prompting them to further dominate you by no longer offering any resistance.
If the narcissist is a romantic partner, therapists would often suggest that getting out of such a relationship is your best choice. But if, for any number of reasons, that’s simply not viable, what’s the best alternative? The following are some options:
1. Really understand what you are dealing with – and know you cannot change them
When they want to, people with narcissistic personalities are pretty good at turning on the charm. They can be very popular, especially in work settings. It’s important to observe how they treat people when they’re not “on stage.” If you catch them lying, manipulating, or blatantly disrespecting others, there’s no reason to believe they won’t, at some point, do the same to you.
Despite what someone with a narcissistic personality may say, your wants and needs are pretty much unimportant to them. Bringing up this issue with them may cause resistance. So the first step in dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality is simply accepting that this is who they are — there’s not much you can do to change that.
2. Stop focusing on them
Clients have often said to me that despite their best efforts, the narcissist in their lives takes up far too much space in their heads. They find it hard to think about anything else at times. Note that this is often by design — whether it’s negative or positive attention, those with narcissistic personalities work hard to keep themselves in your thoughts.
It can be easier said than done but don’t allow them to infiltrate your sense of self or define your world. Take care of yourself first and regularly remind yourself of your strengths, desires, and goals.
3. Pick your battles
There are times when ignoring something walking away is an appropriate response but a lot depends on your relationship. Dealing with a boss, a parent, or a partner may call for different strategies than dealing with a colleague, a sibling, or a child. Some people with narcissistic personalities enjoy making others feel uncomfortable. If that’s the case, try not to get visibly flustered or show annoyance, as that will only urge them to continue.
If it’s a partner or close family member, then you owe it to yourself to speak up. Try to do this in a calm, gentle manner. You must tell them how their words and conduct impact your life. Be specific and consistent about what’s not acceptable and how you expect to be treated. But prepare yourself for the fact that they may simply not understand or care.
4. Set clear boundaries
A person with a narcissistic personality is often quite self-absorbed. They may also have little sense of personal space, so they tend to cross a lot of boundaries. It’s common, for example, for them to feel entitled to snoop through your personal things such as your bedroom, your handbag or your phone. Therefore you have to be abundantly clear about boundaries that are important to you. Someone with a narcissistic personality typically starts to pay attention when things start affecting them personally. Just make sure it’s not an idle threat. Talk about consequences only if you’re ready to carry them out as stated. Otherwise, they won’t believe you the next time and your position will be substantially weakened.
5. Wait for the backlash
If you stand up to someone with a narcissistic personality, you can expect them to respond. Once you speak up and set boundaries, they may come back with some demands of their own. They may also try to manipulate you into feeling guilty or believing that you’re the one being unreasonable and controlling. Often expert at play acting, they can turn on the tears easily so be prepared to stand your ground. Again if you take a step backward, they won’t take you seriously next time.
6. Remember that you’re not at fault
This is where things can get very messy and being on the receiving end of narcissistic behaviour can make the most grounded person start to question themselves. A person with narcissistic personality disorder isn’t likely to admit a mistake or take responsibility for hurting you. Instead, they tend to project their own negative behaviours onto you or someone else.
7. Find a support system
If you can’t avoid the person, try to build up your healthy relationships and support network of people. Spending too much time in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality can leave you emotionally drained. Look for outside support from family and friends or consider talking to a counsellor.
7. Beware the unfulfilled promises
People with narcissistic personalities are good at making promises – especially around improving their behaviour in future. Take this with a pinch of salt. Once they get what they want, their motivation for better behaviour is gone. So insist that you’ll only fulfil their requests after they’ve fulfilled yours.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!