- Regina Tippets, LCMHC
The Narcissist in Your Life
Okay, this is going to be a long one... there is a lot to say about Narcissism. I have had many people tell me that they feel bullied by someone in their lives; a boss, a business partner, a spouse, partner, parent, sibling or friend. It's frightening how common this is – it seems we all know someone who does not use healthy communication - the most healthy of relationships have conflict and disagreements - the difference is that these people make us feel like we are going crazy.
Those with Narcissism say things that are incredibly wounding – that we would never think of saying to someone. These relationships are fraught with conflict and confusion. You end up feeling like you are going crazy. You try to talk things out – you apologize, but they don't – and they continue to mistreat you. One client told me, “she used to be so nice - I don't know what happened.”
I think of Narcissism as being on a spectrum or continuum – from someone who makes all conversations about themselves, brags, name-drops - to the more severe person who will do whatever it takes to be in charge or win – including being verbally abusive. They want to be in control of you and your mood.
Here are some common traits:
Are only interested in you for their own gratification. They are charming and treat you as if you are special at first. Once they've won you over - (typically after they’ve gotten what they want, including marriage) they stop being nice and start being manipulative or mean.
Can be very engaging and sociable - as long as you’re fulfilling what they want and give them all of your attention.
Often believe that their feelings are the priority – not those of their partner. They are not interested in how you feel or think.
May withhold information; you ask when they want to meet and they give a non-answer; “when do we usually meet?”
Withhold support; You tell them you had a rough day and they do not respond or just say, “uh-huh.”
Stop conversations by ignoring or deflecting. You ask when they want to meet and they do not answer and walk away, or they ask about something else. Or they may say, “why are you so controlling?” “It's annoying when you ask me a million questions.” Notice that you are trying to communicate and they are not.
They may turn the problem around to make it your problem; You tell your spouse that it bothers you that she flirts with other men and she tells you that “you're insecure” or that “jealousy is unattractive.”
They make you doubt yourself, feel crazy, or confuse you with Gaslighting. Gaslighting is when they deny saying something that they said.
They often hide money from their partner – they have Human Resources send part of their check to a personal account that you know nothing about. If you ask them why their check was lower they say, “Is it? I don't know anything about that.” And they never find out.
Are constantly looking for the validation or the high they get when someone is attracted to them – and often pursue this by flirting, and even having affairs.
They want a family, but not the responsibilities. They want their spouse – who they view as their personal assistant – to manage the home and take care of their children.
Or they are often the “fun” parent. They want to be the favorite of the kids without actually showing up or doing any parenting.
They can be charming and nice to you in front of others, and to others, but withdraw affection and approval when others are not present.
They love to be leaders. They don’t make better leaders, but they want to do it, so they’re more likely to end up in those positions. Depending where they are on the continuum – they may lie and manipulate to get there.
If something bad happened to you – they had something worse, even tragic happen to them.
They attribute their failures to them being victimized. They were not understood or their value was not recognized – they were great, but others did not realize or see it.
Feel entitled to have whatever they want – to have the best, to be given preferential treatment.
Expect others to cater to their needs without being considerate in return.
Want to show that they have status - and this is often done with material items.
They get angry if you do not agree, do not give them their way, or do not give them the accolades they feel they deserve.
Love getting away with breaking rules and social norms, such as cutting in line, under-tipping, stealing office supplies, breaking multiple appointments.
Enjoy spreading and arousing negative emotions to gain attention, feel powerful, and keep you insecure and off-balance. They enjoy planting seeds of disharmony at work by spreading rumors about coworkers. As bosses they might pit coworkers against each other and create competition for their favor.
Manipulate through guilt, such as telling you, “I’ve given you so much, and you’re so ungrateful.”
Remember, some people have a few of these behaviors, others have many or all. Narcissism happens as a result of unhealthy parenting – their parents did not meet their emotional needs and were likely abusive. Those with narcissism have no understanding of unconditional love.
If you are married to, or friends with somebody with narcissism, it is likely that you are highly caring and compassionate. Those with narcissism are drawn to those who would not intentionally hurt others- and are therefore slow to recognize it in the narcissist. As the relationship progresses and the person with narcissism blames or gaslights, the caring person looks at themselves to see if they caused it. Over time their self-confidence is worn down. If you are confused by the Narcissist's behavior, it's because you would never think to treat someone the way they do.
How to deal with Narcissism:
You can't use reason, problem solve or change them. Remember, they do not see that they have a problem – it's your problem. They rarely go to therapy because they do not think they have any room for growth.
Leave the relationship and put up boundaries. Being in a relationship with one can be emotionally abusive. If you are being abused by them (manipulated, constantly talked down to, treated like you have no value) you need to get out immediately because they are dangerous for your health.
Leaving will likely make this person pull out all the stops to make you stay and that will make it even more difficult. They may beg, cry, attack, threaten.
Find support; friends or a counselor who will help you deal with their behaviors, and help you recover. You may need to grieve the loss of what you thought you had, of your marriage or relationship and you may need to repair your confidence and self worth.
If you are unable to leave or they are a coworker or boss, here are some suggestions:
Accept that this is how this person is - telling them how you feel will not matter to them and will not be effective. This allows you to stop exhausting yourself with trying to fix the relationship or work it out. Remember, their goal is to put you off balance and elevate themselves.
Identify what is happening in the moment. Why am I feeling this way? Take a moment to observe what they are doing. “Oh, they've turned it around on me... she's not answering... he's blaming... “ Just become aware of what is happening.
Then; breathe and calm - a series of four deep breaths (short inhale, long and slow exhale).
To stall for time while you think and self-calm – you can nod or say “that's interesting.” You are not agreeing - you are calming and observing.
Do not argue, defend, correct or confront
It will not work. Remember they do not care about your feelings, and they will deny, blame, attack – basically they will escalate. They want to put you off balance and make you feel like you are going crazy.
If you are dealing with someone who gets pleasure from watching others suffer, then seeing the pain they cause will likely encourage them be to more aggressive.
You can say, “I understand that you feel that way.” You can calmly correct or state your truth.
If they tell you that crying is weak and that you use it to manipulate, you can calmly say, “I'm sorry you feel that way. I cry when I'm sad.” Typically this disarms them. They may not want to engage with you if they cannot put you off balance or control you. They look for people they can control, make angry or defensive. Over time, depending on your situation, this may decrease their behaviors.
Accept how they feel, while not owning it. Some people recommend that you say, “I accept that is how you feel,” or “I accept that is how you see me.” While holding in your mind that you do not agree – that you know it is a normal emotion and you do not have to feel bad for it. You cannot control how they perceive you.
Stick to the facts; "Here's the inventory count that shows we need more paper."
When possible you can ignore the person. If you have a narcissist in your life, there will be jabs, put-downs, and lies. Don't respond. Let the insults and mind-games go right past.
You can simply listen. Since a person with narcissism demands constant attention, smiling and nodding is a good way to give that to them without having to commit yourself to further interaction. This works well for coworkers, a casual friend or a relative you see on holidays.
If you are in a relationship with someone with narcissism and you recognize that you are being mistreated but are still struggling with leaving, you can cope with your stress through; Mindfulness or Guided Meditation, developing relationships with healthy people, or you may want to consider seeing a counselor. You may be overly owning the problems or you may have an over-active sense of responsibility. Abuse is never okay. A counselor can help; restore or increase your confidence, become more assertive in setting limits, and/or move on in your life. Check out our blog on Mindfulness here. Or give us a call at 801-455-0361. Have a great day!