Wouldn’t you know it? As soon as I start writing on the topic, I hear the following story from someone in my circle:
“Hey Dr. K…maybe you can offer me some perspective? My sister-in-law called and demanded that I de-friend someone on Facebook that she had known in high school. I asked her why, and she essentially said that she wished it, and that if I loved her, that should be enough. I didn’t want to deal with her yelling and crying, so I just did as she asked.
The sad thing is, that person I de-friended was nice to me, even helpful. And I know it offended her to discover what I’d done, because she wrote to me afterwards and expressed confusion, since she could think of nothing she had done to deserve being de-friended. I tried to tell her without telling her, (It’s not about you, I can’t really say anything else but please forgive me)because I didn’t want my sister-in-law losing it with me for having said anything. But it really makes me mad that she keeps doing things like this and I keep giving in and letting her get her way. You asked me, last time we talked about her, what my motivation is for letting her manipulate me. I think it’s because it always seems easier than fighting with her. I don’t know how, but somehow she knows all my buttons, all my self doubt, and she doesn’t hesitate to use them against me if I cross her.”
Ever had to deal with someone who was hyper-sensitive, extremely emotional, reactive, and on a hair trigger, defensive and furious at even the hint of disapproval or criticism of something they’ve done, constantly making demands and projecting expectations and disappointment? Someone who reacts to things that happened long ago as if they’re happening right now? Someone whose pettiness is only surpassed by their sense of entitlement? Chances are, you were dealing with, and most likely being manipulated by, a narcissist.
But getting angry about it doesn’t fix it, and feeling sorry for the narcissist doesn’t fix it or help you (or the narcissist) in any way. The narcissist expects your empathy and offers none in return. You have to be able to face this behavior for what it is and deal with it as it is or you will continue to be the feedlot whenever narcissism wants to graze on a fresh supply of energy. Expecting a narcissist to change their behavior is a losing game. They don’t see the need for change. And they don’t understand your issues with how they are, simply because they lack empathy and view your issues as your problem. (Which, it turns out, is a healthy way for you to view their behavior - as their problem instead of making it yours.)
Narcissism is actually pretty easy to deal with, once you recognize it for what it is and make the decision to stop feeding it.
Stay and Do Nothing:
Your first choice is to stay and do nothing except what they want you to do. This will not stop you from being manipulated by narcissists! Indeed, it’s how they’ve been able to manipulate up to this point. Whenever they are around you, you keep your opinions and feelings to yourself, and stroke their ego at every turn, by offering assurances that they are just perfect the way they are. The downside of this choice is it will tear you up inside and eventually tear you apart, while feeding the narcissist’s need for a steady supply of enabling behavior.
If you’re dealing with toxic or malignant narcissism, RUN! Run far, run fast, don’t look back, don’t turn around. As difficult as extricating yourself from the relationship may seem to you, staying in will be more difficult and for much longer. The best advice I can give to someone whose life has been affected by this kind of behavior is to leave immediately. And on your way to the door, stop blaming yourself, because it isn’t your fault. There’s nothing you can do for them because they have to do for themselves, so no need to feel guilty. And if you feel like crying, let it all out. You’ll be alright.
Set The Boundary and Let Go:
Letting go of the struggle is actually a great option for anyone wanting to hold on to their sanity in the presence of narcissistic behavior. Rather than pandering to them or fighting with them, admit to yourself that it’s not your problem, that you don’t have to do anything about it. Don’t argue. Don’t engage. And whenever they try to rope you into some scheme or manipulate you into taking some action that serves them but not you, say “Yes, I understand. And this is your problem, not mine, I’m not willing to be in the middle of this/I’m unwilling to take this on.” You can sound as sympathetic as possible, but the boundary you set must be a firm one (no backing away from it on your part!)
Look Right Through Them:
That’s right. Stare at them in disbelief while saying absolutely nothing as they do their rage and tears routine. Then, when they’re done saying whatever they have to say, take aim at a direction and go do that instead. “I’m going over here now.”
Kill Them With Kindness:
Sometimes the best way to kill a monster that is consuming mass quantities of resources is to give them more than they can handle. The narcissist is addicted to your praise, so give it to them. Lavish it on them, thick as you can. You’ve seen what happens in the movies: It’s too rich for their blood and they explode from the overdose!
Stand Up To It (Deal With The Rage):
The main reason people let a narcissist manipulate them is to avoid dealing with the emotional outbursts that accompany every instance of their not getting their way. But if you know it’s coming, you don’t have to fear it, you can plan for it instead. But let me be perfectly clear: Standing up to a narcissist is not going to make your dealings with them easier, though it might feel really good to do it, and they may acquiesce (don’t hold your breath!)
More likely, they’ll set out on a rampage and try to get even with you, or undermine you, or in some way punish you for failing to comply with their wishes. Oh well. My feeling is, laugh it off and LET THEM DO THEIR WORST, because with most narcissists it’s just a lot of noise anyway.
Run Far, Run Fast
Just to reiterate: I wouldn’t stand up to the power obsessed malignant narcissist. There’s no payoff, and they may actually try a vengeance fueled scorched earth kill-em-all approach in reaction. With someone who is toxic or malignant, I advise you to RUN FOREST RUN!’
Pygmalion Power, Gentle Confrontation
You can read about these skills in my book, Insider’s Guide To The Art Of Persuasion.
Yes, No, Got To Go
The best strategy I’ve found for dealing with toxic narcissists is what I call ‘Yes, No, Got To Go.’ It’s the same way you would respond to a dinnertime telemarketer. It’s also the way the narcissist treats you. The yes is where you appear to agree with whatever they say to you, or not to show any resistance. After all, there’s no point in resisting what they’re saying to you, as arguing or trying to get them to empathize with you is highly unlikely. So you just go with it, nodding your head, grunting occasionally. Then when they try to manipulate you into doing something, or taking something on, say, “Um, that’s not going to happen.” Or, “I’m not going to do that.” Or “I’m not going to be in the middle of that.” Or, “I’m not going to take that on.” And then, exit stage left by finding some short term desired outcome that requires you elsewhere, and moving towards it. “Oh, got to go! Buh Bye!” The first part gives no resistance, so you’re not crossing swords with them. The second part is when you establish a strong boundary. And the third part is moving away, so as not to become their narcissistic supply.
Deal With The Real Issue: YOU!
If you find yourself preyed on and manipulated by a narcissist, then the real issue isn’t the narcissist. It’s your own self esteem issues, your own lack of confidence, your own psychic spaces where you feel inadequate (I can’t handle strong emotions), incapable (I can never think of what to say) and imprisoned (I either cooperate or she punishes me). That’s what they’ve been using for leverage with you. Deal with that, take away that leverage, and you’ll have the strength you need to take positive steps and end the manipulation once and for all. As you come to identify yourself with your creativity, intelligence, integrity and ability, you’ll find less space available in your life for the narcissist to get rent free.
Next post, what to do if you’re a narcissist who has (miraculously ) become self aware, and you’re seeking a different direction for your relationships and your life. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about your experiences with narcissistic behavior.