In my previous post, I talked about how to identify the narcissist in your life. Now it seems only fitting to offer suggestions of how to deal with them.
A caveat: Every suggestion will not apply to every situation. For example, if it’s your child, you can’t necessarily threaten to end the relationship. When it’s your spouse with whom you share children, you might also feel more limited than if, say, it’s someone you’re more casually dating. But hopefully, there will be a little something for everyone.
1) Recognize that your feelings are valid and important.
Narcissists have a tendency to downplay the feelings of others. And they can be awfully convincing. If they truly believe their feelings are more important, you can start to get caught up in that, too.
If you have enough exposure to a narcissist, you may also start to doubt the legitimacy of your feelings. Their conviction can be contagious.
You’ll have to fight this, though, in order to take Suggestion #2.
2) Stand up for yourself, again and again, even if they’re not listening.
That might seem counterintuitive. Why talk to someone who’s not listening?
Because some of what you say might begin to get through. At the very least, they’ll have to see that it’s important enough to you for you to repeat it. If you give up, it lets them believe that their own reality has triumphed. They’ve beaten you into submission.
Also, it’s important for your own self-esteem. Assertiveness isn’t just about what you assert to others; you’re asserting it to yourself, too. Sometimes we need to hear our own voices, especially if they’re getting drowned out in the relationship.
3) Devise clear boundaries, explain them, and enforce them.
Narcissists are entitled, by definition. That means they’ll overstep and take over without giving it much thought.
By drawing your boundaries clearly, you make them think (or rethink.) Then once you’ve set them, DO NOT WAVER. Think of it like a two-year-old with tantrums. If you ever give in to a tantrum, you’re back to square one; it’s reinforced that if they stick to their guns, they’ll win and you’ll relent. Narcissists are much like two-year-olds in their egocentrism.
4) Don’t give up things that matter to you, no matter what the narcissist thinks about it.
Narcissist give their own opinions way too much credit, and they are often very sure of themselves. This can create insecurity in the people around them, who begin to second-guess themselves.
It’s easy to lose yourself in a relationship with a narcissist. That’s why you need to hang onto your own interests, and make sure you have other relationships that validate those. If you like tennis, find a tennis partner. Find other people to talk to who are accepting.
5) Give an ultimatum (but only if you mean it.)
Narcissists won’t change simply because of how you feel. That type of change rests on empathy, and that’s in short supply.
They’ll change based on how things impact them (or their fear of how something might impact them–for example, losing certain privileges or the entire relationship.) They’re about consequences rather than empathy (again, much like a two-year-old.)
If you give an ultimatum and back down, that’s worse than never having given one at all. It affirms their superiority and importance; it says you need them so much that you’ll accept any treatment.
So think carefully about your level of unhappiness, and let this dictate your commitment and follow through. Perhaps have another friend support you in moments of weakness (for example, you can call them when you’re tempted to back down and they’ll help you stay the course.) Or maybe they can just remind you that you matter as much as the narcissist in your life, because it can be easy to forget.
** If you or someone is struggling in their relationship, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Initial Assessment.