Narcissism Unmasked– Part 3 – Coping with the Narcissist in Your Life
By Dr. Debra Trevisan, Ph.D., C.Psych.
Dealing with Overt and Covert Narcissists
In Parts 1 and 2 of our series on pathological narcissism, we identified the personality traits that characterise narcissists, uncovering two types, the overt and covert narcissist. Now that we know more about how to identify these individuals, how do we deal with them?
The best way to handle a narcissist, is to remove them from your life altogether and have no contact. This is not always easy to do, especially if the narcissist is a close family member, your boss, or even your partner. If you have to preserve the relationship with a narcissist, here are some ways to cope:
Don’t Fall for the Fantasy
Narcissists can be very charming and are incredible at painting flattering pictures that draw us in. It’s important to remember that narcissists aren’t looking for partners, but obedient admirers. Your sole value to the narcissist is to build up their insatiable ego. Your needs and feelings are insignificant.
Seek counselling from a therapist, if necessary. The reality is that narcissists are very resistant to change, so you must ask yourself whether you can live like this, indefinitely.
Set Healthy Boundaries and Stand Firm
Healthy relationships are based on mutual respect and caring. Narcissists aren’t capable of either. They don’t recognise you as someone who exists outside of their own needs, and they will violate your boundaries if you let them. By pointing out their hurtful or dysfunctional behaviour, you are damaging their self-image of perfection.
Try to deliver your message as respectfully and as gently as possible. If they respond with anger and defensiveness, try to remain calm. Walk away if need be and revisit the conversation later. Narcissists will feel threatened and upset by your attempts to stand up to them and to take control of your life. To compensate, they may distance themselves to punish you, or manipulate you into giving up new boundaries. Stand firm.
Don’t Take Things Personally
To protect themselves from feeling guilt and shame, narcissists often deny their mistakes and shortcomings. They will do this by projecting their own faults on to others. It’s very upsetting to be blamed for something that’s not your fault, or to be characterised with negative traits that you don’t possess. Try not to take it personally. Don’t let their blame game undermine your self-esteem. Refuse to accept undeserved responsibility, shame, or criticism.
However, no matter how rational you are, or how sound your argument, they will not hear you. Simply disengage from them, tell them you disagree with them, then move on and let go of your need for their approval.
If you’re going to stay in a relationship with a narcissist, be honest with yourself about your expectations. A narcissist isn’t going to change into someone who truly values you, so you’ll need to look elsewhere for emotional support and personal fulfilment. Learn what healthy relationships look and feel like, spend time with people who give you an honest reflection of who you are, and cultivate new friendships of your own.
Dr. Debra Trevisan is a Clinical Psychologist with special interests in mood and anxiety disorders, insomnia, and personality disorders. www.drdebratrevisan.com, www.qwellness.ca