If you’ve read my two previous posts Narcissism – Symptoms and Narcissism – Now What, you may be wondering whether it’s possible to have a successful relationship with someone on the narcissism spectrum.
Both my research and my clients tell me it is possible. I’m always a little surprized by the number of people who knowingly continue to live with, or work for, a narcissist once they understand why they’ve been feeling so awful for so long. However – knowledge really is power. This post is for those of you who, for whatever reason, are choosing to stay involved with someone suffering with symptoms on that narcissism spectrum.
3 Key Practices for Surviving (Even Thriving in) Life with a Narcissist
- Inform yourself fully ~ Learn all you can, scour the local library and internet, so you may fully understand the sort of pain, hurt, sadness and possible abuse you will be up against.
- Decide where you will take your stand ~ As you review the list of “Things You Cannot Change” about a narcissist below, identify any you feel you need to take a stand against. If it’s the rages you hate, then figure out how you will behave in the face of the rages. And stick to it.
- Commit to on-going self-care ~ Daily contact with a narcissist can be crazy-making, isolating and lonely. If you are in this for the long haul you’ll need to identify how you’ll stay healthy, not burst a blood vessel, keep your self-esteem/self-compassion tanks topped up and meet your emotional needs outside of this relationship.
According to Dr. Judith Orloff, if you are to live or work with a narcissist, it is wise to accept that there are some things you cannot change. As you review this list below, notice if any of these inevitable traits are particularly bugging you. It is OK – even wise – to take a stand against those traits that you find most draining. As we might respond to any bullying behaviour, if you say “I find your rages too huge for me and the kids. When you raise your voice I will leave the room,” and if you stick to this, you will eventually get that pattern changed between you. (Note – the narcissist does not stop raging. But what you do in the face of the rages is what can change.)
- Be aware that the narcissist can respond negatively if you complement other people while you are in the narcissist’s company. The narcissist is likely to see a compliment paid to someone else as an indirect insult to the narcissist (e.g. the narcissist might say something like “you are always saying good things about X but you never say anything good about ME”).
- Don’t expect the narcissist to understand jokes the way that non-narcissists do. Just accept this and go and enjoy telling jokes to people who are not narcissistic.
- Give the narcissist what he or she wants when he or she wants it and do not expect the narcissist to reciprocate any favours.
- Don’t expect the narcissist to take any real interest in you (unless he or she is very eager to please you, in which case the narcissist will be very good at pretending to be interested in you).
- Do not expect the narcissist to apologise or to show any consideration for your feelings.
- Be careful about making any expression of affection towards the narcissist as the narcissist might respond to this in a nasty manner, particularly if the narcissist thinks that you are becoming dependent upon him or her. Also, do try to keep your independence and, if possible, try to make the narcissist to some extent dependent on you.
- Expect to have to clean up after the narcissist but don’t expect the narcissist to clean up after you.
- Expect the narcissist to try to demand all of your time but don’t expect the narcissist to give up his or her time for you.
- Expect the narcissist to be impossible to please. Just think how unfortunate you would be if nobody was able to make you happy.
- Expect the narcissist to be unhappy when he or she discovers that you actually want to do what they want you to do. When you actually want to do the task which the narcissist has given you the narcissist may perceive this as being a bit like sharing, and this can make the narcissist feel disappointed.
- Don’t ever say to the narcissist anything like “please have a heart”. Trying to appeal to the narcissist in this way is likely to make matters worse rather than better.
- Never invite a narcissist to apologise.
- Don’t expect a narcissist to pay attention to things which do not affect them personally (unless, of course, the narcissist is eager to impress the present company, in which case he/she will try hard to take an interest in the topic of discussion).
- Don’t expect the narcissist to tell you the usual personal information about themselves (e.g. the narcissist may be reluctant to reveal much information about his/her childhood other than those things which he/she chooses to reveal).
- Accept that most of the time (but not all of the time) the narcissist will find it difficult to remember back to events in his or her childhood.
- Accept that narcissistic women will try to force their daughters to be exactly like them.
- Don’t expect the narcissist to give you what you ask for (unless the narcissist is very eager to please you). If you actually do want what he/she gives you it will not be fun for the narcissist to give it to you.
- Often remind members of your family that you genuinely love them. This will help to heal the family rifts which the narcissist is continually creating through his/her backbiting.
- When a narcissist walks off in a rage, expect a return appearance with questions and criticisms. Use this time before their return to ready your answers and responses to them. Try to maintain a low tone, raising it over them will only increase the intensity of the conversation (and lead to a full-on argument).
And some helpful tips? Adapted from Connie Dieken’s Talk Less Say More
- Give them options. Beneath their bluster, narcissistic people fear being left out of the loop. They crave control. It’s far better to offer them options to choose from, rather than feeding them ready-made decisions. They’ll tear other people’s decisions to shreds. Giving them options helps them feel respected and in control. It also prevents nasty hissy fits.
- Focus on solutions, not problems. When you explain a problem or a challenge to a narcissist, direct their attention to the solution. Don’t allow them to dissect the problem over and over again. Narcissists love drama and revel in the chaos. They’re easily agitated when frustrated. Define problems and present possible solutions, so they don’t smell blood in the water and tear you apart.
- Make them the hero. Narcissists are preoccupied with power and truly believe they are special and unique. They live for attention and admiration. Want them to do something? Tell them how great they are at it and watch them perform. Better yet, praise their performance in front of others. Just keep it real, please.
- Let them think it’s their idea. Narcissists often steal the credit for ideas that aren’t theirs. Why do they do that? Strangely, they truly believe that hijacked results are their own. Grabbing credit is a driving force for them. If this gets things done, I say learn to live with it. Over time, everyone will catch on — wink, wink. Meantime, graciously transferring credit for ideas to them makes things happen.
- Manage their emotional blind spot. Egomaniacs lack empathy. They’re so caught up in their own world that it doesn’t occur to them to consider your feelings or viewpoints. It’s a huge blind spot. You must put your own feelings on the table, if you choose to do so. Just be smart about sharing feelings with a narcissist. Brace yourself for the guilt trips and disparaging criticism that narcissists often dole out when others explain how they feel.
I am running a 5 part mini series ( 25-29 March 2013) on Narcissism. I am seeing more and more clients impacted by living with someone who suffers from NPD and the first step in the healing process is to learn as much as you can about this disorder. I’ll print a list of helpful resources in Part 5.