It’s Narcissist Friday!
How do you help a friend who is in a relationship with a narcissist? Maybe you see the situation and your friend doesn’t. She makes excuses. She explains. She gets defensive. Maybe she sees the truth but doesn’t know what to do. What do you say? How do you help?
Narcissistic relationships are almost always toxic and almost always addictive. In other words, the victim has many reasons for maintaining the relationship, some of which may even make sense. He may stay for the kids or because he made a commitment when he married his narcissist. She may feel that she is the only one who understands her narcissist and cares enough to stand by him. Narcissists threaten and manipulate. Leaving the relationship may bring more anxiety for the victim than staying.
So how can you help?
- First, the victim of the narcissist needs someone who cares for her. Narcissists tend to pull life and purpose from their victims so the victims almost lose their sense of identity. Having a friend who cares “just because” is important.
- Second, be a friend without trying to fix the problem. Don’t be dishonest. Share your concerns, then back off. Victims of narcissism live in denial and it may take time and patience for them to see the truth. They may just need someone to dump problems on, someone who will listen with compassion. A friend can listen without interfering. At the same time, you can give information. Naming the problem and helping the victims understand that there are others who have been through this kind of situation, people who understand, can be a lifeline when troubles come. Warning someone who is not yet committed to a narcissistic relationship is certainly something a friend should do, but the decision will not be yours.
- Third, believe the feelings. If he shares his confusion or anger or sense of loss in the relationship, acknowledge those feelings. Victims of narcissism are often told that their feelings are not valid, silly, or just wrong. But people feel what they feel. If she says she is afraid, but shows no willingness to leave, understand that she feels just that. Tell her that she has a place to go and someone who cares, but allow her to struggle with conflicting feelings as she sorts things out. You may be the one person to whom she can reveal the struggle in her heart.
- Fourth, help your friend to set boundaries by letting her set them in your relationship. Be an example of someone who values her right to say no or set limits. Setting a boundary in your relationship, where she is safe, may give her strength to do it more in her relationship with the narcissist.
- Finally, understand that not every narcissistic relationship will end or should end, but every victim of a narcissist needs someone who will stand alongside and remind them of their value as a person and the legitimacy of their feelings. No one wants to see a friend hurt, but sometimes interfering friends make things worse. You cannot decide the future of the relationship, but you can be a point of reference and truth in the midst of it.
Over the years I have learned that people can handle many things I feel I would not be able to handle. Many times I have been caught trying to help people out of situations simply because I could not understand how they could continue in them. But I have come to believe that the Lord gives special grace in the midst of trials that we cannot access outside of those trials. So it is not my place to tell people what they should do. My place is to take their concerns to Jesus (to pray) and to be a friend.
A word of caution: victims of narcissists can become narcissistic themselves. They may look to friends and family for life, to draw out of others what they are losing in themselves. You must also set boundaries and protect yourself. In fact, you can model that for your friend. Not every crisis of hers is a crisis of yours. She needs to understand that so she can see that not every crisis of his is a crisis of hers. Make sense?
So. . . I would like to hear from some of you who have been in narcissistic relationships what you think of these ideas and what you would have liked from your friends in the midst of the struggle. Ideas?