Is there a narcissist in your life? Do you know someone who prioritizes their own needs over yours, with no apology? Maybe you feel like you can’t get their attention or feel like a priority? Do you often walk on eggshells around this person because they’re easily offended, and God forbid you give them feedback or criticism because they blow up? Or maybe you know someone who is always acting like the victim and blaming you when things aren’t going the way they want? Then you, my friend, might know a narcissist.
Today you’ll learn what narcissism really is (yes, you need more than your Google degree to start throwing that word around) and the most effective ways of dealing with narcissists.
I must admit, I don’t like how people are throwing around the word narcissist. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a diagnosable mental health condition, meaning someone with an actual degree in psychology and training should be the only one making that diagnosis. Now, I can’t diagnose your boss, partner or mom from afar (and neither can you with your Google degree) BUT I can tell you that if you’re using that word to talk about someone who seems high on self-centeredness and victimhood and short on empathy and thinking of other’s needs first, then this blog is for you.
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Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is actually divided into 4 subcategories:
- The Antisocial Narcissist whose overarching traits are that they are completely self-centered/absorbed, very difficult and will misuse or exploit any relationship for their own benefit. They will boldly lie and get pissed off if you confront them. They believe they’re in competition with everyone and everything and will do whatever it takes to win.
- The Prosocial Narcissist is the opposite. This is a person who’s all about feeling good and getting credit for their positive accomplishments. They actually strive to do good things in the world and want others to like them. They’re generally fun to be around and their intentions, mostly, are harmless. These people show empathy and will hone in on what makes you happy and that’s how they find their validation.
- The Malignant Narcissist doesn’t care about you at all and will even try to take down others to prop up their own fragile egos. This is the worst of the bunch and often described as a combination of regular narcissism and antisocial personality disorder. They tend to lash out or become aggressive easily and are generally thin-skinned. You might make a harmless casual remark, and they’ll see it as an attack on their grandiose view of themselves.
- The Covert or Vulnerable Narcissist also believes they’re superior to you, but they don’t let you know they feel that way. These people are just as self-absorbed as the other types and think they’re entitled to more attention than they receive because they’re brilliant and special. Due to this, they feel and act like victims and are prone to depression and high sensitivity.
People can exhibit NPD traits without actually having a diagnosable condition. There are some more general traits that you might observe that are driving you crazy, such as:
- Self-centered: it’s all about them, all the time
- Have a sense of entitlement
- Passive aggression
- Needing constant praise or reassurance
- Doing things for themselves that might hurt others (or takes advantage) but doesn’t notice or care
- Acting like a victim and blaming you or others when things go wrong
- Exaggerate their successes and achievements
- Monopolize conversations
- Belittle or put down others in an effort to make themselves superior
- Minimizes or trivializes your opinions, wants and needs
- Reacts negatively to any feedback or criticism
- Projects their own shortcomings onto you
- Has little or no self-awareness about these ways of being
- Is Teflon for feedback. Whenever you’re in a conversation and try to call them on their stuff, they turn it around and either make it your fault or have a completely different story about what’s happened.
But Narcissists Can Be Loveable Too!
Having said all that, narcissists can also be quite lovable! They’re often charismatic and can be funny and engaging. When they completely turn their attention to you, you feel bathed in the glow! At work, the narcissist might be really good at what they do, so you like having them on your team, but they’re driving you crazy otherwise.
At home, your narcissistic partner might be completely dedicated to coaching your son’s baseball team and the other parents can’t stop raving about him! Or your narcissistic mom might brag about you to all their friends and was the one who went to bat for you at school when a teacher gave you an undeserved grade.
These moments are what can make it easy to believe them when they lie to you or say you’re overreacting.
Gaslighting by Narcissists
You’ve likely heard this term, but you might not be 100% sure what it means. Basically, gaslighting is a form of manipulation where someone acts in such a way that you start doubting your perceptions, your memory or your own judgment. You often walk away from the conversation feeling like the crazy one. Gaslighting is a common theme among narcissists.
Gaslighting can show up in a bunch of ways:
- Criticizing or putting you down, often in subtle ways: “Late again. You’re so disorganized I guess I should be happy you showed up at all.”
- Complete denial of the “facts”: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. That never happened.” “You weren’t at the restaurant with me when I said that.”
- Telling you what you’re feeling or invalidating your feelings: “You’re just being paranoid.”
- Telling actual lies and making you question reality
- Projecting onto you what they’re doing: “You keep asking me if I’m lying. I think you’re the one that’s lying and you’ve got a guilty conscience!”
- Accusing you of being “too” something: “You’re too emotional. I don’t know why you’re overly sensitive.”
- Thinking they do more than they do. “I’m always driving the kids to practice. I’m the only one who cares about what they’re doing!”
- Attacking or denigrating people or activities that are important to you. “No wonder you like that pathetic reality show, your mother was flaky too.”
- Trying to turn other people against you or hurt your credibility with them. “I’m worried about Rachel’s drinking. I wouldn’t trust what she’s saying right now if I were you.”
In the end, you’re likely dealing with someone who is a narcissist or has narcissistic tendencies if you find yourself feeling like you’re always the crazy one, always apologizing (but you’re not even sure what for) and feeling a heightened level of anxiety when you’re interacting.
But Why are Do People Become Narcissists!?
The short answer? We don’t really now.
What we do know is that NPD affects more males than females and often starts in teens or early adulthood. It’s also believed that it’s got genetic components as well as environmental ones such as:
- childhood abuse or neglect
- Overprotective parents or excessive parental pampering
- Unrealistic expectations from parents
OK Abby, What Can I Do About the Narcissist in My Life?
1. Focus on You, Not Them
It’s easy to get pulled into the gravitational pull of a narcissist. It’s all about them. You’re going to need to make things about you. Get out of the emotional blackmail of trying to keep them happy. Regularly remind yourself of your strengths, wants, desires and goals. Take time each day to focus on yourself and calibrating your energy so that you’re in control of you and not calibrating to their energy.
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Doing this will also help you trust your gut. So much of a narcissist’s behaviors are covert or under the radar but you feel icky. You just know something’s off, but you can’t seem to name it. When you’re doing the calibration and alignment work, those nagging self-doubts start to disappear as you become stronger and more confident.
Do not focus on changing them. Focus on changing your reaction to them.
2. Set. Those. Boundaries (and Keep Them)
They might think they’re entitled to go where they want, snoop through your personal things, or tell you how you should feel. Maybe they give you unsolicited advice and take credit for things you’ve done. This is them, not you, and does not give you permission to take a victim stance or blame them.
Your job is to be abundantly clear about boundaries that are important to you.
This means that you must give consequences when your boundaries are trampled. Be upfront about this with the person.
Here’s the best part. Not only will you feel empowered and confident when you hold a boundary, it’s just about the only way I’ve seen a narcissist actually get into therapy! Because they start to finally pay attention when things start affecting them personally! Your consequences will likely be the only thing that will drive them to actually get help. Not you explaining that there’s something wrong or telling them you’ve had enough. It isn’t until you take action that anything will change.
Don’t make idle threats – keep your boundaries and be consistent with consequences.
You will absolutely get push back so expect it – don’t be surprised. There you have it — I hope this post helped you understand how to deal with a narcissist.