“My daughter who is 18 fits most of these (narcissistic) examples. For the last year, after her second suicide attempt, I have probably been way too lenient on her because of my fear of losing her. I truly feel at my wit’s end with her unfair accusations and manipulative behavior and have now had to reconcile ‘losing her’ in one way or another in order to save myself. She lives with me. How can I support her while still enforcing safe boundaries? What strategies have helped others, especially when she wants to engage in a battle with me (at 1 am) and starts threatening to move out, sleep in the car, or harm herself?”
This is an excerpt taken from a comment on the article Narcissistic Abuse Cycle. The mother is struggling with how to cope, manage, and deal with an adult narcissistic child who threatens to harm themselves. Her concern is very valid as narcissists have one of the highest suicidal rates of any personality disorder. Here are some strategies she can use to help both herself and her child:
- Affirmations work. Narcissists need a daily supply of attention, affection, admiration, and appreciation. By giving them the affirmations that they need, their ego is boosted, their insecurities are tamed, and they feel noticed. Think of this a preventative medicine rather than a prescription afterward.
- Take a daily break. Even full-time jobs recommend several breaks during the day to rejuvenate, eat, and use the restroom, knowing that this increases productivity. The same should be done at home, especially when a narcissist lives there. Begin by adding 15-minute breaks into morning and nighttime routines. Find several safe places to “hide” that provide a time-out of sorts to think and reflect before reacting. One of the typical abuse tactics of narcissism is to generate confusion so that the only voice others hear is the narcissist. This break technique is extremely beneficial at counteracting that.
- Focus on recovery. The process of recovery takes time, patience, and energy; time to invest in sorting through the narcissist’s abuse and trauma, patience to go at a pace that allows for healing and doesn’t re-traumatize, and energy to release pent-up emotions, thoughts, aggravations, fears, and confusion. Some of this can be done alone, but much of this should be done in a therapeutic setting. This ensures the process is complete and lasting.
- Use other narcissists. Point out the narcissism in others such as political, sports, and entertainment figures. Once the seeds of the narcissistic dysfunction are planted, it is easier to help identify the behavior in the adult child. This is even more effective when the narcissistic figure is on the adult child has little to no respect for.
- Set absolutes. In the case of repeated suicidal threats, it is essential to seek out the assistance of a professional. A contractual agreement can then be generated that includes immediate hospitalization if a threat is made. For a narcissist, the embarrassment of being hospitalized is usually enough to keep them from making another threat again. But if they do, the agreement must be executed immediately and without extending a second chance.
- Go to family counseling. The best type of therapy is one in which the parents and adult child are equal participants. If needed, siblings can be added to the treatment as well. This allows for a level of accountability for everyone’s behavior, helps to mediate between disagreements, and provides a safe place to vent frustrations.
- Use the hamburger method. One of the best ways of confronting a narcissist is the hamburger method: compliment, confront, compliment. By sandwiching a confrontation in between two compliments, the likelihood that it will be heard and understood dramatically increases. Confronting head-on is never ideal. This makes the narcissist feel attacked and they become too defensive to be reasoned with.
- Don’t tolerate any abusive behavior. One of the main reasons for divorce in a marriage including a narcissist is the narcissist’s abusive behavior. There is no reason to tolerate any type of abuse. When dealing with narcissists, usually you should just walk away, hang up the phone, block them if needed, and/or call the police. Move the tolerance level to a more acceptable pace. Dealing with a narcissistic child is a little bit different, but you should still make it sternly evident that you will not allow any abusive behavior to continue.
- Counteract the gaslighting. A typical form of mental abuse commonly utilized by narcissists is gaslighting. This is where the narcissist denies reality and instead paints an entirely different picture so believable that the other person thinks they are going crazy. To counteract this tactic, it is useful to keep a journal of facts and incidents. For instance, writing down that the narcissist had a fit at Thanksgiving over an ungrateful relative. This is not to keep a record of wrongs, but rather to have some point of reference when the story is twisted into the relative losing it and verbally assaulting the narcissist.
- Don’t lose your identity. Narcissists have a way of trying to transform the people in their lives into mini versions of themselves. Their dominant ego dictates that other’s lives would be better if they were more like the narcissist. It takes a large amount of self-awareness to keep an ego intact in the face of such pressure. While it is difficult, it is not impossible.
These strategies can help when living with a narcissist. Whether you find yourself related to a narcissist through blood or marriage, creating these healthy boundaries and limiting the amount of control the narcissist has over you and others will help to create a safer environment for all involved parties. Remember, if you are having difficulty on your own, there are always resources you can use to seek help, something you should never hesitate to do if needed.