When things are going well, life with a narcissist in your orbit can actually seem pretty awesome. They tend to have infectious personalities that draw you in and make you feel like you’re receiving the warmth and attention you always craved. When things are going well, that is…
Unfortunately, things tend to break down when one of two things occurs:
- Your needs fail to keep pace with the narcissist’s need for adoration and attention, or
- Your level of insight grows to reveal how the negatives far outweigh the positives (you get tired of the drama).
When one or both of these happens, things can go south pretty quickly with a narcissist. When their attempts to rope you back into the needing/adoring cycle fail, they can become manipulative and aggressive. If none of this works, they tend to go away pretty quickly, moving on to greener pastures.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting you reject the narcissist in your life. You have them there for a reason. Especially for those with codependent tendencies, having a narcissist in your life can actually meet a need. However, be aware that the ways we establish more proper boundaries with a narcissist can ultimately be destructive to the relationship. They may not tolerate these new boundaries and run away.
Stay on message
In conflict, the narcissist thrives on controlling the subject. When they can’t get a pretty quick win with the topic at hand, they change the subject (often with a subtle but tactically meaningful shift). Any time you feel the sand shifting beneath your feet in these situations, ask yourself “Is this exactly what we originally started discussing?” If not, you can calmly and intentionally steer the conversation back to your original concern. Be prepared to do this multiple times — you have to be persistent and stay organized. If you know a conflict with your narcissist is looming, note cards are not out of the question.Pro tip: Deflection and blame are primary tools for the narcissist in conflict. It’s always somebody else’s fault — usually yours. When you enter a conversation upset about their behavior, and hear arguments like “This is actually your fault because ...” or “You do that too”, you may have fallen down that rabbit hole.Click To Tweet
Don’t take the bait
Narcissists are masters of conflict. They use it to suck you back into the relationship by playing on your fears of losing them. To this end, they tend to be really good at getting you riled up while often remaining calm themselves (a pretty handy gaslighting technique). When you get sucked into this cycle, you can very often feel like the crazy person in the relationship, eventually giving into the “rational” claims being lobbed at you. This becomes a multi-faceted win for the narcissist. First and foremost, they maintain control in the relationship. Also, when you go to your crazy place, it’s calming for them. It quells their fears that their facade may no longer hide the ways they truly feel out of control in the world.
It can be hard to hold it together when someone is hitting on your hot-button topics. When you sense this occurring, zoom out. Change the internal conversation from “I’m upset about my sensitive XYZ issue” to “How is this person trying to control me? How am I being manipulated?” It takes practice, and we have to learn to multi-task in our own minds while staving off our internal reactions. But, the more you can do this, the less you’ll get sucked in.
Speak truth to deception
Deception is crucial to a narcissist’s method for controlling a situation. While this can take the form of an outright lie, many narcissists are too slick for that. We often find these deceptions in the forms of:
- not answering the question being asked
- exaggeration, often bolstered by hyperbole
- “facts” stated unequivocally (the more vehement the claim, the more you may want to scrutinize the claim)
- angry responses when challenged on accuracy of statements. This can often include the old favorite, “Are you calling me a liar?”
- claiming authority of the majority, “All our friends think so too”, for example.
When in conflict with a narcissist, it can be helpful to truth-test everything. “Is that true? Is it completely true? ALL of it??” It’s amazing how a calm correction of fact can disarm a narcissist. Be forewarned, it can also piss them off severely and inflame the situation because you’re committing the ultimate sin by reclaiming your power.
One of the most significant and destructive qualities of narcissism is the lack of empathy and compassion. Sure, narcissists can be self-centered, often while presenting themselves as humble and attentive to others. Don’t confuse empathy with perception. Narcissists are often incredibly perceptive, so be aware of whether the person is simply noticing things about you and your affect, or if they seem truly to be able to understand how you feel. Also, narcissists can reveal themselves when discussing people who participate in compassionate activities, like social services. They tend to be skeptical of compassionate people, criticizing them for this as some kind of weakness or character flaw.
Does this mean that being a compassionate person, or demonstrating true empathy for others may trigger the narcissist in your life? It absolutely can. True narcissists don’t know what to do with empathy and compassion – it can throw them off center. Again beware here. When faced with something they don’t understand and can’t control, the lack of safety for them can lead to angry outbursts or rejection.
In my opinion, one of the most significant changes in a relationship involving a narcissist is when the other person (often with codependent tendencies, which fit well with a narcissist) begins to develop boundaries and self-sufficiency. This is a complete game changer, and in my experience, can often lead to the end of such a relationship. Of course, your experience may vary considerably on that. Still, it is definitely a “Be careful what you wish for” proposition. The moment you stop allowing yourself to be manipulated may very well be the moment the narcissist in your life decides it’s time to move on.The moment you stop allowing yourself to be manipulated may very well be the moment the narcissist in your life decides it's time to move on.Click To Tweet
Developing emotional self-sufficiency is the most significant way (again, my opinion) to reclaim your power and avoid being controlled by others in these circumstances. When you begin to understand yourself, where you end and others begin relationally, and begin to be comfortable with that, you become your own master. This is generally not OK with a narcissist. It can be interesting to see the lengths a narcissist will go to in order to regain control of you. This can reveal that they actually need you more than you need them, and that’s the ultimate concession of power.
If you’re thinking “Chris, it sounds like you’re not telling me how to survive with a narcissist, but how to run one out of my life.” I am making no such suggestion. Again, you have those people in your life for a reason, and it’s entirely possible that the benefits this person brings to your life outweigh the negatives. If you have codependent tendencies (that’s not a criticism), your needs may fit very well with a narcissist. Personal growth with such a person in your life can be difficult, but it is possible under the right circumstances.
If you ever feel my perspective or approach could help you on your personal journey, don’t hesitate to contact me. I see adults and adolescents in Oklahoma City, and offer a free consultation to see if my work is right for you.
Note: No part of this website, including this blog post, should be considered psychological treatment, or medical/nutritional advice. It is information, only. If you feel you need counseling or other psychological/medical services, I encourage you to seek qualified, professional help.