Resolution, Not Conflict

The guide to problem-solving.

A Short Course for Overcoming Narcissism and BPD

A few critical skill upgrades can massively improve relationships for folks who act in ways that get labeled narcissistic or borderline personality disorder. This Short Course suggests skills for the folks with the labels and also for their loved ones and work colleagues. Read More

Come on now...

I have had too many experiences with narcissistic and BDP folks. It doesn't matter what you do, you will never have your way. They will be nice to manipulate you into doing whatever they wanted you to do in the first place. And if you don't, there will be hell to pay. You will have to sacrifice too much of your soul to deal with people like this. Move on if it is partnered relationship if you can. If family, move to the other side of the country and screen your calls.

A loose/loose situation. Narcissistic and BDP folks perfect misery and are happy to let you join them.

Exactly. Radiate sunshine?

Exactly.

Radiate sunshine? Seriously? Maybe we should give them gold stars and a pat on the head no matter how selfish and horribly they act.

My advice, run if you can. If not, limit contact and never kid yourself that they will be there for you, you are only asking for disappointment. They will say what they think you want to hear and promise the moon, they will apologize if you corner them, maybe even on their own, and then they will repeat the behavior. Again and again.

exit strategy

I love your exit strategy. So simple and pleasant. I'll be using it frequently.

On exit strategies...

Yes, when exit strategies have been mutually agreed upon by a couple, fighting ends.

Iterstingly, when people are really good at graceful exits, people really think they just left the room for a drink of water. I have had at least two clients who took exits because they were getting overwhelmed in a marriage or family session and did it so smoothly that even I who had taught these techniques to them thought they just needed water.

Thank you, "socialpsyche," for highlighting the simplicity and potency of exits. Wishing you all the best with adding these techniques to your repertoire.

By the way, I've used exits like this in business meetings with difficult people. They've worked superbly in this context as well.

drheitler

I agree with the above

I agree with the above comment.

These tips are good if the narcissistic person is only a little narcissistic and necessary that they at the same time want to change and/or realize their interpersonal problematic way.

If you do this to a narcissistic individual who has been so their whole life and/or shows key signs of deep rooted narcissism, such as low empathy and inability to show mercy, then you will be feeding your soul to the happy (or miserable...), endless and gobbing abyss. Narcissist love people who play on their tricks with them. You cannot love a narcissist to stop being a narcissist, if their narcissism is not as much learned behavior, but kinda the way it has always been and the same behavior that the person repeatedly falls into and shows no signs of wanting to change or saying they have a problem that they don't know how to control.

The narcissist will simply endlessly gobble and feed on your soul till all is drained or the relationship ends. I think you should try to do what is sensible and that is in all cases to do what betters you and/or your situation, in my opinion.

Feeding your soul to a narcissist I would advice very much against. There is no glory in useless or disadvantageous martyrdom.

If someone has learned narcissistic behavior then love is good to help them learn that they don't have to fight all the time and protect themselves against the narcisstic person in their life from whom they learned the behavior. Taking time outs from rage outbursts and setting some boundaries and talking about things in a calm, normal manner will help the person with narcissistic learned behaviors to relax and find a new pathway to discuss issues.

Key signs of narcisstic "genes" so to say really are low empathy and inability to show love and mercy. They will gobble on your soul and lifeforce til all is drained.

If someone has some empathy and shows mercy or can show love and other things, then it is likely that they are less narcissistic and their narcisstic type patterns are learned behaviors from someone else.

Two points of agreement

1) I agree with the observation that these "short course" skills will only make a difference with narcissism lite. My experience is that there are many folks out there who fit that category. If the narcissist is among the, say, 20-30% of folks who are on the healthier end of the narcissistic spectrum, these changes can make a difference.

2) I agree also that there are biological narcissists and there are second-hand narcissists who have learned these behaviors, probably from narcissistic parents. The latter have growth-potential. The biological folks are unlikely to make changes. When they do learn new skills, they make changes superficially and eventually return to their former ways.

3) As to borderline personalities, there also seems to be a spectrum, similar to the narcissism spectrum, of those with potential to learn and grow and those who will always be difficult to deal with, to say the least.

Warmest thanks to all of you who have contributed thus far to this discussion. It greatly enriches the article to hear these perspectives.

I do think, having read your comments, that I may need to add more of a caveat to the article explaining that in some ways the skill improvements I describe can become diagnostic. Relationship with narcissists or bpd folks who are not able to make these basic changes are doomed to be eternally difficult.

cut them off?

It seems awfully easy for the people commenting here to say, "narcissists and bpds never change. cut them out of your life." But what about when the difficult person is your child? Have you ever heard of unconditional love?

Beware of either-or solutions

I agree with you that totally cutting a child out of your life is in most instances an excessively either-or solution. There's lots of in-between options.

One key starter is doing what you are doing here, i.e., learning all you can about the disorders. That way you at least won't get taken so much by surprise. Also, knowledge helps prevent taking the bpd or narcissistic's behavior personally, i.e., prevents feeling hurt by it.

With knowledge comes ability to become increasingly realistic about the ways in which continuing to sustain a relationship will be feasible and what specific kinds of interaction to cut off.

thanks for the addendum

Growing up with a bpd mom, I have to agree with the posters above who said you can never make them happy. It will never be enough. They will suck all the life out of you and then chew on your bones.

Anon - I'm so sorry your child has bpd. I can only speak of my own experience with my mom. I love her unconditionally, yes. But my interactions with her are very limited. She refuses to get any more help (nothing worked).

It's awful and tragic, but I refuse to spend the rest of my life feeling guilty for the relationship I don't have with my mom. Every phone conversation will be about her. And it will last about ten minutes long before I hang up, and move on and devote the vast majority of my life to real relationships and people I love and can be loved by in return.

I'm glad you added the addendum in the comments section. I think the one danger of this list is that it puts this burden on the non-bpd person to TRY TO MAKE IT ALL BETTER by being different. Which is pretty much how I spent my childhood, only to discover that it would never be enough.

People who live with bpd people don't need any more guilt.

the non-bpd or narcissistic person cannot fix the other

You are so right.

If the bpd or narcissistic person is genuinely interested in change, then doing your part as I suggest in the article makes sense. The partner alone however--whether they are a parent, a child, a friend, a boss or a spouse--can only do things that better protect themselves. Thinking they can change the other is a huge mistake.

Thanks so much for adding your experience in this dimension.

drh

Walk Away...

I'm with you chewy taffy. As the youngest child and the only girl dealing with a NPD mother and two older brother that "walked away" and a Dad who utilized these techniques, including walking away from the conversation and addressing it at a later date, I can tell you the anger inside of a NPD is not that of a rational person. The anger she had didnt' go away once the conversation was over it was deflected to the helpless one (i.e. me). Do you know what that does to a child? What do you do when everyone else has walked away and you are 4-5-6 years old left to stand there and take the verbal abuse? To anyone who is reading this article and taking this advice I beg you to look at who is left. Children can't walk away. I tried and I was punished for it on numerous occasions. These techniques work with individuals that CHOOSE to stay with a person with BPD or a NPD but what about the person (child, invalid, or whoever) that doens't have a choice. Then what?? You should write an article on that.

You raise a hugely important point: WHO IS PROTECTING THE CHILDREN?

Yes, children are far too often left to cope with a parent whom adults can't cope with.

If you know any kids currently in this situation, please do reach out to them. Talk with them so they understand what is going on. And talk with relatives to see if they can get help of any sort to the child.

drh

BPD/NPD can be a dangerous combo in a parent

As the adult child survivor of a borderline pd/narcissistic pd mother, I can tell you that the traits that define and diagnose bpd and npd are *exactly the opposite traits of a "good enough" parent.*

Someone who can trigger instantly into a screaming, volcanic rage that can progress to physical violence, someone who lacks the capacity for empathy, someone who sees others as either all good or all bad, someone who is highly impulsive, someone who under stress will break with reality and descend into paranoia and delusional thinking, someone who is a pathological liar, who chronically projects, blames, and cannot or will not take personal responsibility for their own words and behaviors ... seriously... you would NOT hire someone with these traits and characteristics to be your child's nanny. I hope.

Just my own personal opinion, but a person with moderate to severe borderline pd and/or narcissistic pd who is undiagnosed and untreated can be physically and psychologically dangerous to a small, vulnerable child or even a teen. My younger Sister and I are lucky to have survived our formative years with as little damage as we did. Both of us were terrified of our own mother and learned very early to walk on eggshells around her. Sister and I both have some ptsd symptoms, Sister still has big chunks of childhood amnesia, I disconnected from my emotions (although my memories are intact) and neither of us has ever sustained a long-term adult relationship. I have traits of avoidant pd, and Sister is more than a little obsessive-compulsive pd. But at least, thank God, neither of us seems to have wound up with a Cluster B pd.

Maybe your strategies work on those who are only very, VERY mildly affected by these horrible personality disorders (like, sub-clinical, or not really bpd or npd) but the only thing that kept my mother from triggering into a hysterical, violent rage or crying jag was for Sister, and and me to just switch off all emotions and totally agree with her and totally obey her. Period.

Such people should not even be alone with children, let alone raise them. In my opinion. And for the life of me I can't figure out why anyone in their right mind would even entertain the idea of marrying someone with these characteristics.

-Annie

Vivid description and a conclusion I agree with 100%

As I mentioned earlier there are many people out there with mild bpd and narcissistic patterns. The suggestions in this article apply only to them, if they are willing to learn and grow, and to those who live with them.

The more severe the pd patterns, the less appropriate the person is for either partnering or parenting. How to protect children of such parents is a very real issue.

Protective services in Colorado, and probably in other states as well, look only for physical scars in assessing child abuse. Big mistake. Emotional wounds from emotional abuse such as you describe can last far longer.

drh

And how are we supposed to recover?

My mother was a classic bpd who always relied on my enabling (and narcissistic) father and me to keep her reality the way she wanted it. As an adult, I have so little knowledge, awareness, and experience of healthy relationships that therapy doesn't make sense. My therapist seems to assume I know what "healthy" looks like, when all I know is I'm completely incapable of maintaining any kind of relationship. It isn't out of fear that BPD children inevitably avoid relationships, it's total and profound ignorance as to what "intimacy" even is! We have no idea what the real thing looks, tastes, smells or feels like!

You are movitivating me to write more...

I wrote my book The Power of Two for this very reason. People who grew up with parents who modeled dysfunctional marriages need to learn as adults what healthy relationships look like. So the book on almost every page gives examples of sensitive situations, shows how a dysfunctional couple would handle it, and then shows what a healthy couple would do in response to the same situation.

My adult children then turned the information in the Power of Two book into a website that similarly gives lots of examples of what healthy people in a couple do that keeps their relationship positive.

I appreciate your comment Dr.

I appreciate your comment Dr. Heitler, but the biggest problem both growing up in it and keeping an eye open to recognize it in others is that it is a form of abuse that can't be proven. It is literally your word against your parents word and when that parent makes you out to be a pathological liar (because your words put them in an unflattering light) then what options are you really left with? And if the parent was anythign like mine, they don't let you out of their sight for more than 5 minutes in a personal or private setting which makes the act of opening up even less likely to happen. Not to mention fear of the adult figure you're opening up to going back to the parent and trying to rationalze with them like they are a normal adult. That just increases the wrath that they wiill never see.

Then, as anyone with an NPD/BPD parent knows, they are not like that with other people only the ones closest to them. To everyone else they just seems like a normal person/parent and the stress is coming from dealing with a difficult child. I was so with drawn in elementary school that my teachers wanted me to see a counselor but that was stopped before it even started for fear that I would be "catagorized as crazy". Sadly, most of the people who really need to read this article are in denial that there is anything wrong.

Protecting the children

Your comment reminds me again that our society needs to seriously reassess what we offer in the way of child protection vis a vis emotionally damaging parents.

It took the military a while to see the importance of treatment of psychological wounds from ptsd. Similarly our society as a whole needs to come to grips with the problem of children who grow up with ptsd and worse from having had the misfortune of living with severe npd and bpd parents.

Quick Fix?

These tips may be helpful but they can't do much but rearrange the Titanic deck chairs of a NPD or BPD person. They probably work best for people who are no partners but who causually interact with BPDs and NPDs -- like co-workers.

Still, thank you for adding to the coping skills of those of us who deal with NPDs and BPDs.

rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic

The most important thing partners of NPD's and BPD's can do is protect themselves. Double drownings don't help anyone.

If rearranging the deck chairs is an act that in your situation could make a difference in keeping you safer, it's worth doing. If not, you are the best judge of what's feasible with your particular challenging person.

Narcissistic Tendencies

Keep up the good work. Very good post, highly appreciated. Hope to see some more of your stuffs.

Warmest appreciation.

When someone called Narcissistic likes a post of mine on narcissism I feel especially glad to have written. Your encouragement is motivating me to go ahead and publish soon a next article I've written but not yet polished on therapy for narcissism. Coming soon....

drh

Dealing with the splitting & blocking

I have been in a relationship with a man for 35 years. The majority of time, the interpersonal dynamics are great, we get along more than fine, and life is good. Then, out of the blue, in a random conversation about something very trivial, he will turn on me with a vengeance, announce that it is over between us, and rant about how horribly I have treated him. He will then shut me down for a period of time- will not talk, will not meet with me, will not answer emails, text messages- nothing. Total silence and alienation. Is there, in your estimation, any way to break through during these periods, and why exactly does he insist on doing this time and time again? Once he decides he wants to see me again, all is well, he seems very happy to be back together and we go for a long period of time (i.e. 3 years or more) without incident. I might add that he is on Paxil to help mellow his mood, but sometimes I wonder if it is always working as it should.
Your article was very helpful to me. Reading your words, it was as if you had been along with us on vacation last weekend when a major blow-up occurred; one that my emotions are still reeling from today. Thank you.

if you want advice....

So here's my advice, based on what I would work on with a couple with the problem you describe.

Enjoy the good times. When a bad episode begins, treat it as you would a physical illness. Offer to help and mostly keep your distance so it doesn't become contagious.

Explain in a good time what your new plan will be. My guess is that giving your partner space and time to work his way out of his dark place will be a relief for him.

ONe more part of the plan. When your partner is in a dark period, you do not also have to feel bad. Use the time when you'll be on your own to do some special things that normally you wouldn't have time for. Reassure your partner that though you'll be enjoying yourself the fun will stay monogamous...e.g., fun with family members, girl friends, projects you've postponed, etc.

thanks for good text

Hi,
there is a lot on the Internet on how to get rid of narcissist, how do deal with one and so on, but it is so hard to deal with own narcissistic traits. Great info! Thanks a lot.

Great set of articles on this

Great set of articles on this subject, thanks.
I just wanted to add that the stress management technique known as Transcendental Meditation (TM) has been shown in studies to be effective in improving personality disorders. In addition TM is now recommended by the American Heart Association as the most effective self-development technique for reducing blood pressure and thereby the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Importance of a calmer neurological system

I agree that TM and other techniques that quiet the neurological system can make a big difference in enjoying a calmer life.

In my office suite Dr. Heather McQueen does a technique from Australia called Body Talk. There's videos about it on YouTube. Even in just the first session clients feel radically more calm, and the calm seems to last.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.

more...

Subscribe to Resolution, Not Conflict

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?