How to respond to narcissism.
Do you get drawn to narcissistic relationships with people who abuse you? The types of people who, whenever you try to assert yourself or raise issues with their behavior, react with abuse?
If so, it is important to learn how to deal with a narcissist and prevent narcissistic abuse from happening to you.
What is a narcissist?
A narcissist is a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). According to the Mayo Clinic, "Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism."
Perhaps you’ve encountered a narcissistic friend, boss, or partner who adored you when you were meeting all their needs. Once the supply source stops, the narcissist will disregard you or devalue you. If you stand up for yourself in some way, you will be hijacked.
The narcissist perceives any form of self-expression that does not serve the their needs as a threat to them. Once they feel attacked, they will fight to defend their interests and defeat anyone who gets in their way.
The narcissist sets out to destroy you to avoid the deflation of their grandiose self. They fall apart when they feel criticized or wounded by you. They may launch a vicious smear campaign to rise above you.
If you expose their narcissistic character flaws, they will portray themselves to be the victim in order to recruit others who can pick them up. They might turn their mother against you or get your friends or colleagues on their side with gossip that distorts the truth, so they do not look bad.
It is pointless trying to reason with a narcissist because they feel they are always right and will prove others wrong. Life is about winning and defeating others, so they do not fail.
When life does not live up to their high expectations, it causes them to crumble and hit hard, since they have no way to pick themselves up. They lift themselves up by seeking supplies and devaluing those who question them.
Many people lose themselves entirely when they buy into the grandiose illusion that the narcissist portrays themselves to be, as part of the grandiose false self. Many are left feeling betrayed, fooled or deceived by the narcissistic false persona, until their narcissist personality becomes unmasked.
What are the signs of narcissistic abuse in relationships?
Narcissists can only form relationships when feeling fused to others who meet their needs, agree with them, or who are on the same page as them. Their parents weren’t able to gradually deflate their grandiosity for them to re-align their expectations in accordance with reality, so they still expect perfect mirroring or supplies.
They expect the world to revolve around them. Therefore, they lack a separate sense of self and feel disconnected when others are not fused with them. They will push for fusion and pressure for supplies in order to keep their false self-esteem intact, depleting those around them.
This can mean pressuring a partner to stay and telling them whatever they want to hear to win them over. They cannot function as a whole person.
The struggle for the partner is when they express their own separate views, causing a break infusion. Many are not allowed to have a mind of their own, because they feel they have to agree with the narcissist or be on the same page as them.
The narcissist suffers from a state of psychological one-mindedness, thinking that others share the same mind as them. What they see in others is often a reflection of themselves. They project the unwanted parts of their mind onto others and think others are acting like them.
They think others are ruthless or out to get them. They think others are jealous of them or cheating on them. They put their own inadequacies and insecurities onto others. They are judgemental and highly critical of others, because they are critical of themselves and judge themselves harshly, deep down.
They project the critical part of themselves onto others and attack them for it, so they can feel better about themselves. As long as they find fault in others, they do not have to face the self-critical part of themselves.
As soon as the narcissist feels wounded, they will become abusive — so it is important to know how to handle narcissistic abuse in order to prevent harm.
The ideal way of handling a narcissist is to have no contact with them, but this is not always possible. Therefore, having some understanding about them can help in dealing with their behavior.
Since the narcissist avoids feeling inadequate by being critical of others, it is beneficial to not take their personal insults or devaluing comments on board. Otherwise, it will diminish your self-worth.
Rather, it is useful to not take on board their criticism, but to see it as a reflection of their own state of mind. What they say about you most likely reflects more about them.
By understanding their deep feelings of inadequacy that underlay the mask, you can protect yourself from a ferocious attack. By putting their inadequacies onto you, the problem gets turned around to be your fault.
This causes them to feel better about themselves by making you doubt yourself, so they can stay on top. This means proving you wrong, so they can be right.
You will never win if you try reasoning with the narcissist or confronting their behavior, it will leave you feeling slaughtered because they cannot handle being exposed as not perfect. To avoid the shame or humiliation, the narcissist will usually gaslight, use smear campaigns or devalue to avoid feeling injured.
To protect yourself, it is important to separate yourself, by creating boundaries to avoid being in the firing line. If you do not absorb the attacks by not taking it personally, you do not take in any insults.
This allows you to function for your children, perform at work and hold yourself together. Do not reveal your cards or vulnerabilities, since this gives them bait to hook into you. Instead, shield yourself and limit contact, if you can.
Here are 19 ways to cope with narcissistic abuse in relationships.
- Be careful when exposing the narcissist’s behavior because they are likely to perceive it as a threat to their grandiosity. They cannot hear anything when they perceive it as criticism. Instead, they will attack the injuring source. Trying to get through to them can be destructive.
- Remove yourself from abusive behavior.
- Do not feel pressure to do things their way. Ask yourself, how does this affect me or my children?
- Do not give in because you feel worn out or depleted. The more you submit, the more you lose yourself completely.
- Avoid doing things, if it goes against your values.
- Stay true to yourself and see their behavior for what it is.
- When raising issues, be aware that you could be triggering a narcissistic injury, which causes them to feel inadequate or ashamed. Try talking when things are calm.
- Sometimes, communicating via emails or texts can shield you from emotional abuse.
- If they devalue your feedback, they are most likely defending to avoid feeling inadequate.
- Be careful taking on criticism which may not reflect you. Do not take it personally, it often reflects how they are feeling deep down. Do not allow them to cause you to doubt yourself.
- Try to express how you feel with "I" statements, not "you" statements that can cause them to feel blamed or judged. If they are less defensive, they are more likely to hear you. If they perceive you as attacking their character, then they will become defensive and not hear you.
- State facts and observations about their actual behavior rather than labeling or judging the person’s character. Be firm and not passive when addressing how their behavior impacts you. Otherwise, your words will have no conviction.
- Do not let them get away with addictions or affairs, because it will give them permission to treat you this way. Be sensitive to their feelings, but let them know where you draw the line.
- If you want to raise an issue, it can be useful to acknowledge their feelings or show that you understand their point of view, to get them to warm up to what you are about to say. This makes the narcissist much less resistant because they feel somewhat understood. This means fusing with them somewhat, not necessarily giving in to them, but showing that you are not against them.
- If you can center yourself and be mindful about your own reactions, this will prevent you from reacting towards them so you can better defuse the situation.
- When they are obviously projecting by criticizing or accusing you of things you haven’t done, help them to see things from other points of view.
- Let them know if you feel they have high expectations of themselves and expect the same for you, which will lead to disappointment for them.
- Learn to not take on board their criticism, but find ways to let them know that you understand how critical they feel deep down, so they can own this part of themselves.
- Listen to yourself and understand when you are being manipulated or controlled, so you can take back control of yourself.
These are basic guidelines on how to deal with narcissist abuse, depending on the severity, so you can keep the abuse at bay when no contact with a narcissist cannot be achieved.
However, the grandiose of the malignant narcissist is more challenging. If you are struggling to cope or feeling fearful of expressing yourself, then it is advisable to seek counseling to build ego strength to help recover from an abusive relationship with a narcissist and rebuild yourself.
After all, if you cannot function for yourself, this will limit your ability to be there for yourself and even your children. If narcissistic abuse prevails, then no contact is the best way to deal with a narcissistic relationship.
Nancy Carbone is a relationship therapist and psychodynamic psychotherapist. To find out more about her services, visit her website.
This article was originally published at bestinau.com.au. Reprinted with permission from the author.