In the previous Post we looked at the required criterions to officially diagnose someone with a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), as opposed to some of us who can show narcissistic traits when our self-esteem and sense of self is threatened. We talked about their inherent limitations as they relate to being self-aware and accountable for the effects their behaviors have on others. We listed their most commonly used defense mechanisms when their omnipotence and sense of self is challenged. We also addressed what to look for in each of us to avoid welcoming them as if they were our savior and soul mates only to realize that we are now locked in a very painful and often traumatic “dance” with a cellmate.
In this post, I want to give you some guiding principles to address the challenges that might arise when you, or someone you care about is in a relationship with a full-fledged narcissist who is abusive and demeaning. First and foremost, don’t expect him/her to read this post, or anything on the subject for that matter, and have an Ah-Ah moment. Remember, by definition, any problems an NPD encounters is never about him or her. Never! People suffering from NPD won’t admit having any of these traits and will most likely do what they do best, attack and shame you back for insinuating that THEY have a problem, or that they have a role to play in an unhealthy dynamic. This is a sad state of affairs for all involved, people suffering from a NPD diagnosis included. This is why it is such a difficult disorder to treat and a challenge (not an impossibility) to help couples who are in such relationships.
This being said, if you are in a relationship with a NPD, I can only encourage you to read more on the topic, and to find the proper resources to help and support YOU. If you can’t escape such a relationship, you will greatly benefit from getting all of the skills and support possible. Before you put any of the following suggestions in action, please first assess the genuine risks of putting yourself in danger of being hurt, physically, emotionally and mentally. Your desire to change the rules of engagement could prove to be threatening to the balance of power within the relationship, which could lead the narcissist to use all or most of his/her defense mechanisms to keep the balance of power tilted towards himself or herself. Your demanding to implement new ways of relating could turn an already difficult relationship into a living hell. Bottom line, if you choose to or must remain in a relationship with a NPD, proceed with caution.
Here are a few pointers when addressing what is not working for you anymore:
1) Make eye contact when you speak. We all become more threatening to each other when we have arguments and we can’t see the other person’s full facial expression. Please do not confuse this with being in someone’s face, which will undoubtedly escalate the situation.
2) Don’t let your arguments get amped-up and out-of-hand in tones and nasty/hurtful words. As the image of perfection of the narcissist is threatened, his or her needs to retaliate increases.
3) Speak confidently, but never in a demeaning or disrespectful manner. As much as part of you would enjoy letting him or her know what you really think and feel, and lash out, the result you wish for is very unlikely to happen. In fact, the likelihood it could make things worse will increase.
4) Do not question the status or sense of superiority of a narcissist. Just don’t go there. As we have seen in the previous Post, it will be experienced as a threat to his/her existence, and therefore, retaliation will become an option.
5) Be very specific for what you want to change in the here and now. Do not bring all of the things you have not liked in the past and should have been different a long time ago.
6) Be concise. Make short statements and do not over elaborate on each of them – the shorter your statement, the better. Narcissists don’t have time to listen to your laundry list. At their core, they don’t really care.
7) Be focused and stay on point. Avoid being tangential and go from one subject to another. Don’t bring more than one aspect of the relationship that must change at a time. Definitely don’t bring them all at once.
8) Keep the conversation on topic. If the narcissist deflects what you are addressing, which is very likely to happen, bring the conversation on topic and do so tactfully. Again, do not disrespect or mock him or her.
9) Appeal to his/her self-interest. What is in it for him? How will your requests benefit her? Remember, by nature a narcissist can’t put himself in your shoes. She has very little (read no) interest to find out why you want things to be different.
10) Never be wishy-washy. Be very clear with yourself on what must change and what you can live with. Once you bring one aspect of the relationship that must change, be willing to keep at it until the change has occurred. As in many relationships, do not expect that because you bring something up once, it will be resolved once and for all.
11) Keep your emotions in check. Showing your vulnerability will only feed the narcissistic defenses. Narcissists despise vulnerability and those who show any signs of it. When a person around them is vulnerable, it lowers their status. They will only use it to mock you further, and divert the attention on YOUR flaws.
Again, please don’t put yourself in any danger should you decide to work on your relationship with an NPD. While wanting a more equitable and balanced relationship is totally legitimate, putting yourself in danger will not get you there. Change is hard for all of us. But for those suffering from NPD, it is perceived as a life and death threat.
C. Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©