It’s Narcissist Friday!
How do you live with a narcissist? I suppose the flippant answer would be, “With difficulty!”
Narcissists are hard to live with. The more a person exhibits narcissistic characteristics, the more difficult he or she will be to live with. Now, notice that this is “to live with.” He may do just fine at work or she may be well accepted and enjoyed in the women’s group. Those who don’t really know the narcissists usually find them to be stimulating and intelligent and superior people. Those who live with them (or work closely with them over a long period of time) see the negative qualities much more clearly.
So what do you do if you are stuck with one of these people? Once again, not everyone who exhibits narcissist tendencies is a narcissist. On the other hand, your options are probably the same. You can leave them or stay with them. If you are married, you will probably try very hard to stay. If you are in a club with them, you may want to leave. It may depend on your level of commitment to the relationship. But here are a few rules for your health.
Forget trying to fix the person. Narcissism is developed at very early and usually very traumatic stages of life. These people have learned that life only works by manipulation. They usually do not understand the basic concepts of love and cooperation, although they are able to simulate either to get what they need. Most of the literature offers little hope for easy fixes. In fact, it just isn’t something you will be able to do.
Protect yourself. The best way to manipulate another person is through his or her emotions. Narcissists are often expert at manipulating your emotions. If guilt works, they will use it. If fear works, they will use it. If love works, they will use that. In fact, they will probably be able to find just the right combination of these emotions to trap you into doing what they want. So you will have to accept reality, know the truth, set clear boundaries, and be willing to fight.
Let’s look at each of these. First, you have to accept the reality of your relationship. The narcissist does not see you in the same way you see him. He may not even understand what it means to love you or treat you as a person. Very often the realization of this is painful. One author says that the most common response to this fact is rage. It feels like long-term betrayal, deceit, and abuse. To be fair, the narcissist doesn’t see this as deceptive at all. He simply lacks the capacity to care about you. Accepting that reality takes away the burden of trying to find real love or compassion from this person. You may be able to have a relationship based on something else, a functional life that really does work for both of you.
Second, know the truth. So much could be said here. If you know the truth about your narcissist, you might be able to deal with her oddities. You might begin to understand that she doesn’t really have anything to give you and you can lower your expectations. If you know the truth about yourself, you won’t be so open to being manipulated. Particularly for those who understand the Christian concept of grace and God’s acceptance, there will be less opportunity for guilt and shame based manipulation. Knowing the truth about what works and what doesn’t in your relationship can protect you from being hurt or used.
Third, understand that the narcissist is broken but don’t let yourself be manipulated by your compassion. He is not like you. He does not think the way you do. You will be tempted to try to interpret her actions and attitudes by your experience and perspective. Don’t. Something has happened to this person and his or her way of coping was different from yours. So don’t expect what you would consider normal. Be kind, but don’t trust. Be helpful, but don’t invest. Be careful always.
Fourth, set and maintain your boundaries. The narcissist does not understand your boundaries. If she sees them at all, which she may not, she will see them only as obstacles to be overcome. The narcissist has no hesitation to call you at 10:30 PM and expect to talk for a couple of hours. You will have to stop him. Either use your caller id or tell him not to call at that time. Cut the conversation where you want it to stop. Tell her you won’t serve on her committee or that you won’t be responsible to pick up her slack. Then do it.
Finally, be prepared to fight. Just like a little child, the narcissist does not like being told, “no.” He will continue to call you late. If you relax, he will assume that you have given in. If you agree, in a moment of weakness, to one of her demands, she will believe that you are back under control. You will have to keep up.
All of this sounds like work because it is. But all relationships are work to some extent. If you choose to stay with a narcissist, or if you don’t have any real choice, these are the kinds of things that will help. You may find some help from some of the books that are coming out. Again, Nina Brown’s books are particularly helpful.