“That’s enough of me talking about myself - let’s hear you talk about me!”
― Anonymous narcissist
“It’s not easy being superior to everyone I know!”
― Anonymous narcissist
Psychologist Stephen Johnson writes that the narcissist is someone who has “buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.” This alternate persona to the real self often comes across as grandiose, “above others,” self-absorbed, and highly conceited. In our highly individualistic and externally driven society, mild to severe forms of narcissism are not only pervasive but often encouraged.
Narcissism is often interpreted in popular culture as a person who’s in love with him or herself. It is more accurate to characterize the pathological narcissist as someone who’s in love with an idealized self-image, which they project in order to avoid feeling (and being seen as) the real, disenfranchised, wounded self. Deep down, most pathological narcissists feel like the “ugly duckling,” even if they painfully don’t want to admit it.
What can you do if you have a pathological narcissist in your life? Below are seven important keys, excerpted from my book (click on title): "How to Successfully Handle Narcissists". Not all of these tips may apply to your situation. Simply utilize what works and discard the rest.
1. Keep Your Distance and Pick Your Relationships
One of the best ways to spot a narcissist is to measure his (or her) actions and results against his words. No matter how charming, persuasive, or coercive they seem to be, if there is a consistent pattern of incongruity between what he says versus what he actually does, you could be dealing with a narcissist. Typically, narcissists are also quite clever in explaining away their broken promises, unsubstantiated claims, rule breaking, sudden neglect, phony merits, or boundary violations. Don’t be suckered in by the manipulation. Keep an eye on whether this person has a consistent record of following through and keeping agreements, both to you and to others. Evaluate the narcissist based on facts and substance, not showmanship and persuasion. In personal situations, be sure the relationship is genuinely two-way and reciprocal, not one-sided and exploitative. Be careful not to be used.
When you identify someone who exhibits narcissistic behavior on a regular basis, keep a healthy distance if at all possible, and avoid engaging with this person unless you absolutely have to. If you find that your narcissistic manager, friend or romantic partner exploits you repeatedly, give serious thought to leaving the relationship. Take your life back.
2. Avoid Being Sucked In. Expect Disappointments and Have a “Plan B”
Since narcissists can be very charming and persuasive, it’s easy to fall under their influence and do what they want, for it might feel good to do so, at least initially. Very soon, however, you may discover that what you do with the narcissist is almost always on his or her terms, or the narcissist may begin to place upon you an ever increasing list of unreasonable expectations and demands. He or she may start to show a clear pattern of inconsistency, being there for you one moment and disappearing the next, breaking agreements and not following though, and generally being highly self-centered. If you confront the narcissist on their behavior too directly, he may offer a convenient excuse, sometimes become extremely upset, followed by a quick exit out the door (emotionally if not physically). You’re the one left hanging. Such is the pathological machination of the narcissist.
In these situations, avoid being sucked in by trying to “work things out” with the narcissist. Don’t try to placate their unreasonable expectations and demands. Keep your own expectations low, and have a “plan B” in all your interactions with them. Importantly, avoid being swayed by their charm, superficial image, prodigious promises, or emotional coercions. You’re only setting yourself up for a letdown, when you realize how self-absorbed they are, and how little you really mean to them.
3. Don’t Try to Change Them
Some people try to change chronic narcissists through time-consuming dialogue about their behavior. Such attempts are admirable, but often end in frustration and disappointment. With some deeply pathological narcissists, your efforts at arguing or conflict resolution actually feed their vanity, for you’re giving them the attention and power they otherwise wouldn’t possess. For certain socially deficient narcissists, in the absence positive feedback, provoking negative feedback becomes a wretched alternative, for any attention is better than no attention at all. To them, it’s better to be disliked (which holds power and makes them feel superior) than to be a nobody.
Reasons for pathological narcissism are complex and deep-seated. A narcissist changes only when he or she matures and becomes more self-aware (often through difficult life lessons). It’s not your job to change the person. The best way to deal with a narcissist is to set healthy boundaries, and take back the rein of your own life.
4. Know Your Rights and Set Boundaries
No matter how charming, persuasive, or coercive the narcissist comes across, be aware of how far the narcissist has absorbed you (physically, emotionally, and/or materially), and where your own identity and individuality need to emerge. Since a narcissist will often see you as a mere extension of him or herself, it’s crucial to remember your own humanity when dealing with them. Importantly, remind yourself of these fundamental human rights:
You have the right to be treated with respect.
You have the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants.
You have the right to set your own priorities.
You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.
You have the right to get what you pay for.
You have the right to have opinions different than others.
You have the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally.
You have the right to create your own happy and healthy life.
The Fundamental Human Rights are grounded in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, laws in many democratic nations protecting against abuse, exploitation, and fraud, and, if you’re in the United States, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
These rights represent your boundaries. As long as you do not harm others, you have the right to stand up for yourself and defend your rights. On the other hand, if you bring harm to others, you may forfeit these rights.
Of course, many narcissists do not respect that you have these rights. They believe that your world revolves around them, and that you should be at their disposal. However, you have the power and moral authority to declare that it is you, not the narcissist, who’s in charge of your life.
5. Utilize Assertive and Effective Communication
As mentioned above, avoid interacting with narcissists unless you absolutely have to. When you are required to deal with one, strengthen your position by utilizing assertive communication skills. In (click on title): “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists,” you'll learn how to quickly shift from being reactive to proactive, eight ways to say “no” diplomatically but firmly, and strategies to successfully negotiate with narcissists.
6. In Mild Situations, Show Compassion and Maintain Humor
The next time you encounter a clear pathological narcissist, instead of being swayed positively (charmed, seduced, enticed, bribed) or negatively (used, marginalized, violated, coerced) by their manipulative machinations, keep in mind that the person with whom you’re dealing with is basically a wounded child. If you have the opportunity to know the history of the individual, there’s a very good chance you’ll find that at some point in the narcissist’s life (usually childhood) his or her humanity was denied. In order to avoid the pain of being the real, injured self, a false self was constructed as a facade to better cope and survive in the world. It isn’t easy being a false self because one believes the real self is ugly. Such is the narcissist’s hidden and buried pain.
In relatively mild situations, show compassion by not over-reacting to the narcissist, either positively or negatively. When you observe the narcissist calling for attention or not following through, respond with a smile rather than a frown. Say to yourself with some humor: “there he goes again,” and then get on with your own business.
When a narcissist upsets you, instead of feeling angry, irritated, or anxious, give yourself some distance, take a deep breath, and complete the sentence “it must not be easy…” For example:
“My colleague is always seeking attention…It must not be easy to be constantly needing approval.”
“My partner is very inconsiderate…It must not be easy to come from in a family where people were inconsiderate to him.”
“My boss is so arrogant…it must not be easy to lack the interpersonal skills to relate to people genuinely.”
To be sure, empathetic statements do not excuse narcissistic behavior. The point is to remind yourself that most narcissists suffer within, and mindfulness of their struggles can help you handle them with more detachment and equanimity.
7. In Serious Situations, Deploy Consequence(s) to Lower Manipulation, and Compel Respect and Cooperation
When a narcissist insists on violating your boundaries, and won’t take “no” for an answer, deploy consequence.
The ability to identify and assert consequence(s) is one of the most important skills you can use to "stand down" a difficult person. Effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the narcissist, and compels her or him to shift from violation to respect. In (click on title) “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists,” consequence is presented as seven different types of power you can utilize to affect positive change.
In conclusion, although pathological narcissists are not pleasant to deal with, there are many effective skills and strategies you can employ to minimize their damage, gain their cooperation, while increasing your own confidence, composure, and problem-solving prowess. It’s one important aspect of leadership success!
For more on dealing with difficult people, see my book (click on title):
© 2015 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
* The Fundamental Human Rights are grounded in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, laws in many democratic nations protecting against abuse, exploitation, and fraud, and, if you’re in the United States, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
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