We’ve all struggled with at least one narcissist in our lives whether in the form of parenthood, a friendship, a boss, or a romantic relationship. And whether we have had one or several experiences with someone who has a narcissistic psychological disorder, the experience always leaves us feeling emotionally exhausted and completely energy drained.
In some cases, it is easy for us to notice this tendency and say “Bye bye!” to that person at the cost of a friendship, job, or relationship. But what if that is a cost we simply cannot or do not wish to pay? What if the rejection or removal of this person from our lives is simply impossible because “Hey, that’s actually my father/mother/sibling and I love them and do want them in my life” or “Hey, I can’t afford to lose this job opportunity over this”?
It takes great courage to want to make these relationships work despite the amount of weight it may take on you. But believe it or not, there are steps you can take to help cope when dealing with a narcissist and to keep your relationship with them at as much ease as possible. Below we’ve compiled a list of steps all taken from psychologists and therapists who have focused their academic studies on this disorder.
Identify the type of narcissism you are dealing with.
Previous researchers have categorized narcissism into two main types: grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose people have a very high self-esteem and believe themselves to be superior to everyone else, whereas vulnerable people have a very low self worth, high amounts of insecurity and often overcompensate through self absorption and self centred tendencies. There are several quizzes you can take online to test the degree of narcissism a person in your life has and help you analyze what type they are.
Once you have established what type of narcissism this person is, you can adjust your ways of dealing with them accordingly. Grandiose people may be great when you steer them in helping you achieve your goals if you assign tasks of great importance to them and that keep the line of belief that they are the best, whereas vulnerable people may take constant reassuring from you and words should be carefully chosen so as to prevent offending them in the heat of a discussion.
Think about the origins of their behaviour.
Yes, it’s frustrating and/or annoying to have to think so much about where they are coming from when the literally are not able to think about what your concerns and feelings are. But if we consider their background, where they are in their own lives, the context of the situations, perhaps the sympathy and empathy they cannot feel for us, we can feel for them.
When we put some thought and consideration into what’s going for them it may be easier for us to handle their anger bursts. Knowing that we are being the bigger person always helps us retain our patience and tolerance.
Look within yourself and acknowledge your own limits, boundaries and triggers.
While it is important that you think about where that person is coming from, don’t forget to recognize what you’re feeling too. What actions and behaviours of this person bothers you, annoys you and/or triggers you the most? Is there something in particular that hurts you? What are the goals that you have in maintaining this relationship and how far are you willing to push aside your own feelings for these goals?
Once you have looked within and acknowledged what your discomforts are, then you can move forward towards a plan where you decide where you will draw the line and form some boundaries, and where you will choose to cope with feelings and grow from it. Overall, the experience might teach you great lessons about yourself and how to handle your own character in times of struggle. Perhaps this experience will teach you great communication strategies, coping skills and improve your relationships overall.
Come up with a plan to help you stay sane.
In order to keep peace and maintain this person happy or at least content as possible with you, you must put yourself first. This may sound counterproductive, but you will not be able to form a sustainable relationship with a narcissist, unless you make sure your own mind is at peace and your emotional health is not at stake. This involves having a plan where your patience and energy will never get drained.
Come up with a plan in which your established boundaries are respected and make sure you will follow through with the consequences if these lines are crossed. This could mean removing yourself from heated discussions that you see no solution to, keeping a distance from that person and/or limiting communication of certain subjects. Make sure you stay true to yourself with this plan to avoid blow ups and uncomfortable situations for both you and this person.
Use a gentle approach, always.
With narcissists of any type, you need to make sure your communication style is as gentle as possible. Unfortunately, you cannot communicate with this person as openly and honestly, or in such a straightforward way as you would with anybody else as they can get defensive really quickly. This is due to the insecurities, sensitivities and lack of empathy this person may have. You never know when a situation is going to backfire on you when you give them constructive criticism because you made them feel inadequate in any way. Even though your intention was always to help!
You do not want to be put in a position where you are in direct conflict with them, but at the same you do not want to compromise your own values. So be sure to communicate yourself as gently as possible, so as they do not ever feel attacked in any way. Again, this does not mean you should not be prepared to back out and put your foot down when you have reached your endpoint, as long as it is always done peacefully and respectfully.
Be prepared to face the consequences.
You must be prepared to be “punished” by this person once you have set your foot down on a boundary. Remember, any kind of disagreement you have, this person will take as a direct attack on them no matter how gentle you are about it. Depending on the situation, they may or not resent you. But it is important that you realize that this is a part of the process and that it might mean you don’t get the best treatment from this person as someone else who always obeys them does, but that is a far better consequence than sacrificing your own needs.
Sense of humour may save the day.
Yes, laughing goes a long way and finding the humour in a narcissist’s behaviour will help you. No, we don’t mean that you should laugh at the person in their face, but sometimes, especially with grandiose types, you can call on their behaviours through a smile or a joke. Be careful what situations you choose to use humour as they will not appreciate it in a moment of high stress or anger. But if they are doing something naturally, and you are not okay with it, pointing it out with a sense of humour may help keep the tensions at bay.
Accept that they may need extra help.
Depending on how close this person is to you, you must decide whether this person needs an intervention or not if you want a more impacting change on your relationship dynamic. Especially on cases where this person is really close to you and keeping a distance is not an option. Many psychotherapists focus on helping people with this disorder and it may be something you can seek guidance on with outside help from a professional.
Keep your positive eye.
Obviously, this person has positive qualities too, or you would not even be caring enough to maintain this relationship. Keep in mind the reasons for why you want to keep them in your life. Focus on what their good qualities are and what you enjoy about them. It should be a part of your plan to maintain situations where you can enjoy the most out of the positive side of this relationship/friendship. For instance, if you know there are certain places, activities or people that will trigger them, do your best to avoid these. If you know that certain conversation topics will get them going, then avoid talking about those things.
Instead, go for activities you both can take pleasure on, and talk about things you know you can both agree on. And always remind yourself of why it is this person holds great value in your life, despite their disorder.
Accept them, and come to terms with it.
Yes, it may feel like you are literally walking on eggshells in everything and anything you do with this person. But it is essential that you remember that this person is not doing things intentionally. It is not that they are not willing to see things your way for once or attend to your needs/desires, it is that they are simply not able to. If you have to mourn the wonderful and equal relationship you will never have with this person, do it. You must be willing to accept them for who they are, and come to terms with the type of relationship you will have, if you want to maintain it. Expecting that they will someday change or that perhaps you will be able to change them will never end good for you or for your relationship. In this case, you cannot change them or the relationship, you can only change your own attitude and strategies to maintain them in your life while keeping yourself as sane as possible.
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“Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Tips for Spotting and Coping with a Narcissist, www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm. Accessed 7 Sept. 2017.
Caprino, Kathy. “How Being Raised By A Narcissist Damages Your Life And Self-Esteem.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 8 June 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/07/09/how-being-raised-by-a-narcissist-damages-your-life-and-self-esteem/#1ff5f9302c67. Accessed 7 Sept. 2017.
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