Sometimes leaving a narcissist is not an option. A parent recognizes their adult child as narcissistic but desperately wants to maintain a basic relationship. A spouse is uninclined to leave their narcissistic partner for several reasons such as economic, commitment, or (dare I say) love. A child realizes their parent is a narcissist but is unwilling or unable to cut them out of their life.
So how can a person learn to live with the selfishness, arrogance, superiority, and entitlement every day without losing their mind? How do they tolerate the narcissist using bullying to control, intimidation to convince, silence to avoid intimacy, anger rages to hide insecurities, and gifting to show love? It is possible and here are a few suggestions:
- Study them. None of the following tips will work unless a person is willing to step outside of the relationship and study the narcissist. This is essential for gaining more information, learning how to detach emotionally, and resetting old habitual arguments. When a person is able to analyze and systematize the narcissistic behavior in a dispassionate manner, it brings clarity of thought and restores emotional balance.
- Call it out. Most narcissists are proud of their narcissism citing it as the positive aspect of their personality. While the initial sharing of diagnosis might not go so well, the after effect tends to be much better. Statements like, “careful your narcissism is showing,” done with a non-sarcastic tone can be quite effective as long as the relationship is trusted and valued by the narcissist.
- Understand the abuse cycle. The narcissistic abuse cycle is unique and involves four phases: feeling threatened, abusing others, becoming the victim, and feeling empowered. Learning the identification features of each step, allows a person to stop the cycle. For more information, read this article: The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse.
- Discern abuse tactics. Fortunately, narcissists are creatures of habit so when they have discovered an abuse tactic that is effective, it is repeated. There are seven ways a person can be abused: physically, emotionally, verbally, mentally, financially, sexually, and spiritually. Some examples include aggression, confusion, twisting the truth, gaslighting, limiting access to money, sexual coercion, and dichotomous thinking. Observe the tactic as if it were a show instead of taking it personally.
- Play a game. Narcissists use their charm to draw others in by asking a question about the other person. However, they frequently don’t bother listening to the answer and often interrupt with a story about themselves. Instead of becoming angry, time this. Play a game to see how quickly the topic changes and try to better the time with each engagement.
- Be wary of surprise gifts. The tale of the Trojan horse is a fitting example of narcissistic gift-giving. In order to enter the Greek city of Troy unnoticed, a wooden house was filled with army men. Once the horse was within the gates, the men came out and overtook the city. Every surprise gift-giving by a narcissist should be treated with caution instead of naivety.
- Fed the ego. In order to thrive, narcissists need a daily feeding of attention, affirmation, affection, and adoration. A simple comment of, “you look amazing,” “you are so good at that,” or “you are impressive” goes a long way. Discover ways to show appreciation and thanks to the narcissist daily and the raging will subside greatly. This is not manipulation, rather it a basic understanding of how the personality disorder works.
- Reset expectations. Narcissists are known for their lack of empathy for others. While they expect sympathy for themselves, they won’t reciprocate. This empathetic absence is a blinder which keeps others at a distance and limits intimacy. When compassion is needed, find another source instead of demanding it from the narcissist.
- Protect the insecurities. All too often when a person learns of the hidden insecurities of the narcissist, they bring it up in retaliation as an offensive attack. This only increases the narcissistic reaction because they are forced to be on the defense and it adds to their perceived shame. Instead, help the narcissist protect their insecurities by seeing it more like a hidden treasure that is not to be exposed.
- Establish boundaries. One of the easiest boundaries to establish is avoiding the blame game. Narcissists won’t apologize for their mistakes but will require such humility from others. They might even exaggerate another’s wrong to minimize their own. Instead, put every error in its’ proper context, refuse to apologize just to keep the peace, and resist the temptation to shift blame back to the narcissist. Don’t become like them while in the process of trying to learn how to live with them.
- Avoid embarrassment. The ultimate evil for a narcissist is to be publicly humiliated. Sometimes this is unavoidable as with politicians and their countless scandals. Hilary Clinton chose to “stand by her man” and this did not harm her reputation at all. Narcissists appreciate loyalty especially when it is done at their most embarrassing moment.
- Find the good. A personality disorder doesn’t make a person bad; it just changes their ability to accurately perceive reality. Some days may be harder to find the good in the narcissist than others, but with a bit of practice, this exercise becomes easier. For every thought of frustration directed at them, counter it with a positive statement. Even simple ones will do such as, “they clean up good,” or “they tell great stories.”
It is important to have someone outside the relationship that is supportive when things get rocky. Whether it is a counselor, friend, or family member, their encouragement can rebuild strength in times of weakness.