Narcissist in your life? Here’s some tips to manage the relationship
There is a common misconception that it's impossible to have a workable relationship with a person who has narcissistic personality disorder (NDE) or with someone who is seriously difficult to deal with.
However, armed with the right information and insight, we can not only survive but we can do well. We can learn certain universal principles about narcissistic personality disorder and gain the insight we need to manage this relationship while reaching our own goals.
What if you land a job that will advance your career but you discover that the boss is a narcissist? Would you want his behavior to keep you from reaching your career goals? What if you discover that you've unwittingly married a narcissist? Do you want the embarrassment of seeking a divorce the first month? What if your spouse has a close relative who is particularly difficult and interfering with your home life? Do you want a riff in your marriage simply because you can't figure out how to deal with this person?
According to PhychAlive.org, about 75% of narcissists are men. So for simplicity sake, we'll refer to our subject narcissist in masculine terms. If you're dealing with a woman narcissist, the same principles apply.
A good principle to remember is that a narcissist exhibits certain definable characteristics, which we can come to understand. She will also have predictable behavior in certain situations. Understanding that the narcissist's words and actions are predictable is vital for our success. Knowing what to expect makes our lives so much easier.
If we do a certain thing, she will respond in an expected way. If we say a certain thing, we know exactly how she will react once we know she rules. With this understanding, we can work or live with this difficult person.
1. Know the Characteristics of the Narcissist in Your Life
The first step to surviving contact with a narcissist is to thoroughly know and understand the typical traits of this clinically- recognized personality disorder.
The Mayo Clinic's website lists the symptoms of a narcissist. Although it's important for us to know them all, there are a few specific ones that need to be recognized first because they are typically the most difficult to deal with. These traits are:
. taking advantage of others to get what he wants
. being unable to recognize the needs and feelings of others
. belittling other people, especially if he feels challenged or criticized
The other characteristics are annoying but not as critical for us to understand. Mayo Clinic also includes:
- “talking incessantly about himself and his achievements
- exaggerating his achievements
- requiring constant admiration
- having a sense of entitlement
- behaving in an arrogant and haughty manner
- having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- believing that she is superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with his expectations”
To be happy in a relationship with a narcissist, we must understand these traits and how to deal with each one appropriately. Taking time to learn all we can about narcissistic personality disorder will help us cope and protect ourselves from the abuse for which narcissists are famous.
Before realizing that we're dealing with a narcissist, we can experience a great deal of self-doubt. What did I do to make him so angry? Am I really as incompetent as she makes me feel? Once we recognize the common characteristics of narcissistic behavior, the confusion and anger lifts and all that's left is to play the role as we need to play it.
One of the problems we have is that the narcissist can look and act very normal most of the time. In fact, she can look better than normal. She may be rich, handsome and well-dressed. Outwardly, she seems perfectly fine, but inwardly she is in great turmoil. No matter how good she looks, know that she has a personality disorder. Once we fully understand this truth, we are on our way to managing the relationship.
2. Never Expect Her to Fully Understand She's a Narcissistic
This point is so important that it can't be stressed enough. Very few narcissists are truly self-aware, due to the nature of their condition. Since a narcissist believes she does all things well, she cannot and will not entertain the idea that she has a flaw that needs to be corrected. It's a catch-22 – why would you want me to improve when I'm so incredibly superior already?
One sure way to identify a narcissist is to ask him this simple question, “What are some things you'd like to improve about yourself?” She may say something like, “I need more expensive clothes” or “I should get a new car,” but she will never sincerely admit to any defect within himself.
A narcissist may realize that she is arrogant and prideful, but she believes she has every right to be. It's not that she doesn't hear himself bragging. It's that she does it because the rest of us are unable to recognize how brilliant she is. This is one of the reasons a narcissist has trouble keeping long-term friendships. People tend to bow out – or storm out – of their lives.
3. Never Challenge a Narcissist
This item is high on the must-understand list because once you criticize the narcissist the honeymoon is over and the romance may never recover.
In order for us to have a peaceful relationship with a narcissist, every diplomatic effort must be made to avoid confrontation. Don't tell him that he did something wrong, unless you are prepared for abusive comments. She won't believe you anyway so don't waste your time. If you're going to work well with a narcissist, you must remember this rule.
Bill Eddy, attorney, mediator and former therapist, writes about this phenomenon in his article called, “Don't Diss the Narcissists!” In it, he mentions that the way to handle a narcissist is the opposite of what we would normally do but the results are worth the effort. When we'd like to tell the narcissist where to go, we do ourselves a favor to keep our emotions in check and say something positive.
We must always remember that she's incapable of believing that she does anything poorly. It's not that she's unwilling, it's that she's not able. She lives in two false realities – one about himself and another about the world around him. Although they are false, they are very real to him. If we challenge those perceptions of realities, we will be met with verbal abuse or coldness. Neither of these reactions will bring us closer to our personal goals, so there's no point in taking the chance.
4. Shower the Narcissist with Compliments
Assuming we have our own reasons for wanting to continue a workable relationship with the narcissist, there are some actions we can take to make it less painful. To relate to the narcissist, we must meet him where she's at. He thinks she's as perfect as humanly possible, so let him know that you recognize the things he truly does well.
The Narcissists Bite website clearly describes the role of compliments when dealing with a narcissist. At the beginning, she will compliment you regularly. It's part of his first-impression charm. But over time, his compliments will cease – but she will expect yours to continue. His thirst for adoration from other people is called narcissistic supply.
Like any other addictive substance, she needs it and will lash out if she doesn't get it. In spite of our inclination to stop the niceties, we should continue to praise our narcissist for the sake of maintaining a relatively peaceful workplace or social relationship.
By his very nature, the narcissist believes he never makes a mistake. To the people around him, this is so outrageously untrue that it's almost impossible for them to understand how she can believe it. Not only is this belief set in stone for him, no amount of proof to the contrary will make a whit of difference to him. She will simply believe that we are unable to see his greatness and that we're probably jealous of him to boot.
Since pointing out the narcissist's shortcomings is a colossal waste of time and energy, the only logical course of action is to do the opposite – compliment him. Somewhere way down deep inside, the narcissist is profoundly insecure. Compliments sooth him and his ego, which may already seem of monumental proportions to us. Normally, we would not tend to compliment a person who is already so over-inflated in his own eyes, but to survive and do well with a narcissist, giving compliments leads to our own peace and success.
5. Appreciate What She Does Well
Many narcissists are very good at some things and pitifully bad at others. Since they are good at something, they often get many sincere compliments about their work in that field. Unfortunately, they take those compliments to mean that they excel at everything, which is part of their delusion.
Truthfully, the high-functioning narcissist can do many things well. In his profession, she may be the best in the company. For example, she may be an excellent paramedic. She may have aptitude and intelligence to consistently perform his duties with life-saving precision. As a result, people look up to him to teach them what they need to know. In most cases, this goes pretty well.
But if she muscles his way into a position she's not good at, things do not go as well. She will not take correction or advice. She can make a mess of things and refuse to step aside or take responsibility for the chaos. She will blame others for the failure and be livid at them for making him look bad.
To survive these scenarios, we must have as little to do with the troubled areas as possible. We praise him for the work that goes well and feign empathy for the rest. “Oh, I'm so sorry that they are interfering with you in that way. That's so unfair.” It may be the exact opposite of what we'd like to say, but telling him that she's messing up royally will not cause him to improve. In fact, it will make him dig in deeper to prove that the failure is not his fault. It's best to agree with him. You may feel like a phony but keep in mind that your objective is to have a workable relationship with the narcissist, not reform or cure him.
6. Don't Expect Empathy, Praise or Compliments from the Narcissist
Here is where our survival skills are truly tested. We all want compliments, especially for what we do well. We also need encouragement when we're struggling. However, if we're dealing with a narcissist, we must get these needs met by someone else.
The Society for Personality and Social Psychology did a study to determine the degree to which persons with various degrees of narcissism could demonstrate empathy:
“The researchers examined whether narcissists are capable of empathizing with another person in distress by having participants read a vignette describing a recent relationship break-up. Regardless of how mild or severe the scenario was, high-narcissists did not show empathy for the subject.” (High narcissists were defined as those who exhibited a high degree of narcissistic traits.)
Although the narcissist craves empathy, praise and compliments from us, they seemingly refuse to reciprocate, no matter how badly we are hurting. This coldness can feel abusive. Therefore, we must guard ourselves and not expect something that will not be forthcoming.
7. Hide What's Important to You
It may seem odd that hiding things will improve a relationship. Remember, we're not talking about having a normal relationship; we're talking about having a workable relationship with someone who has a personality disorder.
If we're determined to be successful, we must find a support person that understands our predicament. A close relative or friend may not be ideal since they suffer when they see us suffer and their advice will be to flee the scene, which is not our objective at the moment.
Finding a good counselor, one who is very familiar with narcissistic personality disorder, can be a great benefit to us during this difficult period in our lives. The counselor will give us the empathy and encouragement we need. We'll have a sounding board that will defuse our anger so we can have comfort during the trials of life. Just be certain that the counselor has experience with NPD and the effects of this behavior on people in his life or you might find yourself more frustrated and confused than when you started.
The University Rochester Medical Center confirms that journaling is good for mental health. In our case, the journal must be kept top-secret. We'll be writing some scathing things just to let off steam. Our unhappiness and vulnerabilities will be exposed by our own hand. This information would be like matches to an arson if your narcissists got hold of your journal. You mustn't let anyone except your counselor know that you keep a journal and where you hide it.
8. Don't Waste Your Time Giving Your Opinion
A narcissist is not a good team player and will rarely ask for our opinion about anything. As mentioned before, she believess he is smarter than the people around him. Unless your opinion is identical to his, she will take your input as an affront or challenge.
However, if we're working on a project with him, our input may be necessary. Our best course of action is to let him think it's his idea. For example, “Do you think it would be better to put our second ambulance into service now that the tires on the first ambulance need replacing soon, or should we just get the tires replaced now?” Give him the choice and she'll believe that the right decision was made.
Unfortunately, we must let him have the reins, since we'll spend a great deal of effort trying to wrestle them away from him due to his obsession for power. The goal of a malignant narcissist is to get his way, whereas our goal is to get through this period of our life with the greatest amount of grace and dignity.
Furthermore, we must be very careful regarding gossip. It's so tempting to whisper around the water cooler about the impossible guy we have to work with. A co-worker may want some sympathy for the injustice done to him by the ranting narcissist. Guard your tongue. Assume that everything you say will get back to him because it often does. Remain neutral or positive when his name or project is mentioned. If you play this card right, the phrase “Works well with people” that will appear on your resume and it will be the understatement of your life.
9. Accept That Rules Were Made Only for the Common People, Like You
We must be prepared to experience a world where the narcissist has one set of rules and we have another. In their minds, rules are made for people who are not smart enough to run their own lives correctly. If this sounds like politicians you know, it's because many narcissists gravitate toward politics. It feeds their sense of superiority, importance and entitlement.
Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author, explains in a Forbes article that narcissists believe they are so special that rules that govern the masses don't apply to them. They bypass rules and do things their own way. When they get away with it, as they often do, their belief that rules are made for other people is confirmed.
Many life situations involve give and take. However, the narcissist wants to be in charge of everything because she believes she can do things better than everyone else. Why try to bust his bubble, which is made of tear-resistant mylar anyway? If our goal is to survive and thrive in the situation, we must understand that we won't be able to change his view of himself.
10. At Work, Politely Avoid Your Narcissist as Much as Possible
In order to survive, we must limit our exposure to the narcissist, his overblown ego, his false realities and his sometimes abusive behavior.
Does our narcissist get along better with men or women? Many male narcissists are misogynists, meaning they regard women as lowly and subservient. Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D., expert on the Narcissistic Personality, writes that misogynistic narcissists can cause psychological harm to women.
If we belong to the less-than-favored group, we can still survive, at least on a temporary basis. Our first step is to realize that we must play a secondary role in the home or in the workplace. This, too, can be played to our advantage because we can leave all the unpleasant work to the narcissist and accept the easy work for ourselves.
In reality, it won't be much better for the men on the team. In the narcissist's view, the team is there to serve him. If they correct or challenge him, they will get the same treatment as the women receive.
We need to put all notions of equal status and equal work on the shelf during this stretch of time; we won't be needing them while working with the narcissist. To enjoy life, we can make ourselves as scarce as possible and get our gratification from people who treat us as valuable human beings.
Can a narcissist be changed? Almost never. Even if she is self-aware of his disorder, she rarely wants to change. In order to survive living or working with a narcissist, we must recognize the narcissist's false view of himself and the world. What's more, every temptation to point out his flaws must be resisted.
What do we really want? To have a peaceful life? To advance toward our career goals? Without a doubt, getting embroiled in the dark side of a narcissist's life and the battle he rages with the world will not benefit us. If we're well informed about narcissistic personality disorder and if we arm ourselves with the weapons needed to build a defensive barrier around our emotions, we can brush up against this any difficult personality and not be critically wounded.
We mustn't let any person with a personality disorder prevent us from fulfilling our dreams. If we face each situation with knowledge, courage and self-control, we'll grow in inner strength and wisdom, which will serve us well for the rest of our lives.