We all have to deal with emotionally manipulative people, personality/mentally disordered individuals such as narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths, at one point or the other. They come in varying forms, shapes, and relationship styles. They can either be our snake in suits co-workers, enmeshed siblings, entangled and dysfunctional family unit, parents that emotionally blackmail their kids using Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG), friends and acquaintances in sheep clothing.
The Narcissist usually lacks empathy, self-awareness, obsessed with their appearance and how they are perceived by others. Having a relationship with the narcissist is a roller coaster of emotions, it involves walking on eggshells, drama, grief, unnecessary arguments, caretaking, and trying to rescue the narcissists.
The Narcissists use various strategies and techniques to get you sucked into their drama and unresolved trauma. Some of the favorite tools used by narcissists include emotional blackmail. Crocodile tears, gaslighting, love bombing, projecting, compulsive lying, triangulation, enmeshment, entanglement, co-dependency, smear campaign, etc.
Some of the strategies that can prove effective for dealing with narcissists include:
One of the roots of our unhappiness in life is our tendency to want what we are going through and our reality to always align. The key to dealing with the narcissists is to radically accept them for who they are. American psychologist Tara Brach writes in her book, Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame:
Part of the practice of Radical Acceptance is knowing that, whatever arises, whatever we can’t embrace with love, imprisons us — no matter what it is. If we are at war with it, we stay in prison. It is for the freedom and healing of our own hearts, that we learn to recognize and allow our inner life. Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is
We suffer when we cling to or resist experience, when we want life different than it is. As the saying goes: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
Dealing with a narcissist is a roller coaster of emotions, confusion, self-doubt, and walking on eggshells. The narcissist can be our spouse, parents, siblings, family members, and people very close to us, which makes it harder. Most narcissists are not conscious of their narcissism, they are operating on autopilot, not self-aware and the unintended consequence is hurt to their loved ones. Take them for who they are and become self-aware about yourself and other personality types.
“Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequence of any misfortune.” – William James
In Art of War, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu observed: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. – Sun Tzu
In his book, psychotherapist Bill Eddy and author of 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life: Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities remarked:
“You need to have personality awareness to protect yourself from and deal with potentially high-conflict people on a regular basis without getting hooked by them.“
Avoiding and deflecting high-conflict behavior is like avoiding illness. You can protect yourself from becoming someone’s Target of Blame by vaccinating yourself with knowledge of the personality patterns of high-conflict people.
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. – Carl Jung
Self-awareness is key in understanding yourself and personality awareness is needed in order to understand various personality types, disorders, temperament, behavioral patterns, attachment styles, and a host of psychological behavioral traits exhibited by narcissists. If you don’t understand why you act the way you do, your triggers, and unresolved traumas, you would be an easy target for the narcissist. Hence you need to know yourself and in turn, study various personality types.
“Life is a tragedy when seen in a close-up, but a comedy when seen in a long-shot.” – Charlie Chaplin
In her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin Dr. Kristin Neff asserts that people who are more self-compassionate lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical. She writes:
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
Rather than condemning yourself for your mistakes and failures, therefore, you can use the experience of suffering to soften your heart. You can let go of those unrealistic expectations of perfection that make you so dissatisfied and open the door to real and lasting satisfaction.
“When we judge ourselves for our inadequacies, we typically assume that there is in fact a separate, clearly bounded entity called “me” that can be blamed for failing. But is this really true? Who we are, how we think, and what we do is inextricably interwoven with other people and events, which makes the assignment of blame quite ambiguous.“
Having self-compassion for yourself when you are dealing with a narcissist can be extremely tough. You tend to blame yourself for attracting the narcissist, their love-bombing, gaslighting, hoovering, smear campaigns, projection, etc. You need to understand that it is not your fault, the narcissist is a trickster and they are usually attracted to intelligent people, they studied you, love-bombed, and entrapped you with their charm and aura. It is not your fault, have compassion for yourself.
Set Healthy Boundaries
In Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder, authors Randi Kreger and Paul T. T. Mason MS write about setting healthy boundaries and caring for oneself. They write:
Healthy limits are somewhat flexible, like a soft piece of plastic. You can bend them, and they don’t break. When your limits are overly flexible, however, violations and intrusions can occur. You may take on the feelings and responsibilities of others and lose sight of your own.
Personal limits, or boundaries, tell you where you end and where others begin. Limits define who you are, what you believe, how you treat other people, and how you let them treat you. Like the shell of an egg, limits give you form and protect you. Like the rules of a game, they bring order to your life and help you make decisions that benefit you.
Boundaries without consequences is nagging.
Setting healthy boundaries with the narcissist is one of the great ways of navigating the roller coaster of confusion, projection, and triangulation. The narcissist would not naturally respect your boundaries but you need to back it up with consequences.
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.—JON KABAT-ZINN
In Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse, author Jackson MacKenzie writes
Mindfulness is not about clearing your thoughts, but simply noticing what’s going on in a non-judgmental way. Identifying our own behaviors and habits is one of the most difficult things to do because our behaviors are so familiar to us that they seem normal.
Mindfulness helps us become aware of our default thinking patterns, so we can start to realize how we think. The goal is not to try to stop thoughts or feelings we don’t like, but instead to allow them to be there—without judging, changing, or avoiding them. This lets you build a friendly, curious relationship with the stuff going on inside your body and mind, even the stuff that feels awful.
It’s not your job to manage the emotions of others. It’s an exhausting role that may offer temporary bursts of self-worth, but ultimately will drain the life out of you.
Staying mindful about yourself, your environment, your mind and things that you allow in your life goes a long way. Mindfulness helps us spot patterns, toxic behaviors, reactions, attachment styles, etc.
In her book, The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide to Dealing with Toxic People, author Shahida Arabi shares various strategies for dealing with the narcissist. She used acronyms and acrostics as a guide for dealing with the narcissist.
When you suspect you’re dealing with a narcissistic individual, implementing the OFTEN acronym is a strategy you can use to remind you of your options to exit the situation:
- Observe rather than accuse
- Fade out
- The handy excuse
- Exit and make a safety plan
- Notice rather than react
Observe rather than accuse.
Narcissistic individuals tend to unmask themselves far more quickly when they think you’re not aware of who they truly are. Direct confrontation of their narcissism will result in further manipulation and narcissistic rage, which can cause you to remain entrenched in the cycle of their abuse as they begin love bombing you again. If you suspect you’re with a narcissist, the better route might be to mentally prepare how to leave while collecting more information about their character.
A narcissist will rage when they feel slighted or rejected. Rather than outwardly rejecting them, you can do a slow “fade.” Pretend that everything is as it was, but gradually give them less and less of your energy and time. Stick to one-word or neutral responses when in conversations with them. Incrementally pull out your investment so they get accustomed to not having you around.
The handy excuse.
When you fade out, it’s important to have a “handy excuse”—something the narcissist deems plausible enough to explain your withdrawal rather than recognizing that you are actually ejecting their presence from your life. Pretend to be busy with a work project, emphasize how stressful your new coursework is, talk about a new venture that is taking up your time. If they react with additional rage, proceed to the next step.
Exit and make a safety plan
Eventually, you’ll need to have a safety plan for your exit. Work with a counselor, your human resources department, or domestic violence advocate to devise an escape strategy. Depending on the nature of your relationship with the narcissist and whether you’re cohabiting with them, you may not have to make as many arrangements as you might think
Notice rather than react.
If you are forced to deal with a narcissist even after you’ve exited the relationship (such as in situations of co-parenting or family reunions), being emotionally in control is a must. As you know, narcissistic individuals enjoy provoking you. Notice their manipulation tactics, name them, and rather than giving them the reactions they are seeking, mindfully take a breath and refocus on your self-care. Know what they are trying to get from you, and you will achieve a sense of emotional freedom from their tactics.
Demand Action through assertive Communication
You can help the narcissist see how their behavior is affecting you and the people around them but until the narcissist is ready to change, nothing would really change. To get the desired change requires being assertive. Psychologist Craig Malkin in his book, Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists, describes the ABC of assertiveness as an effective way for communicating with the narcissist. He writes:
To be assertive, your statements should always include the ABCs:
•A is for affect, aka feeling.
Feeling statements use the word I liberally, as in I’m feeling uncomfortable, uneasy, unhappy. You can also use stronger words like sad, afraid, scared, but since you’re usually not in a friendship or romantic relationship with the person you’re speaking to, vaguer, less intense emotional language might be better. Follow your gut on that one. The main goal is to describe your experience only. Never use you in this step. Some examples: I’m nervous; I shut down and can’t think; I feel on edge.
•B is for behavior.
This is the experience, interaction, or action that causes the feelings. For example: When you raise your voice; When I hear only criticism; When you sound sarcastic; When you cut me off mid-sentence.
•C is for correction.
This refers to the change you’re seeking. Proper assertiveness always involves a request of some kind. It’s a form of coaching. You’re telling the listener what they need to do to improve interactions. Examples:
“Can you lower your voice?; Can you tell me what steps you want taken?; Can you use a kinder tone?”
The people you love can’t change if they’re unwilling to acknowledge their problems, whether they’re alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, or extreme narcissists. If they can’t push past their denial to some version of, “I think I’m in trouble,” then move on.
Seek professional help
If all the above strategies fail, try to seek professional help for yourself by talking about the issues with a psychotherapist or other trained professionals. Speaking with professionals allows you to connect the dots, understand what you are feeling better.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.