When you’re with a narcissist, do you ever get the feeling that you are being scrutinized? That there is a fixed agenda you’re supposed to follow? That it’s not ok to just be you?
Narcissists, in their self-importance, have decided it is in their vested interest to take charge and call the shots when relating with you. Feeling entitled, having little regard for your perspectives, and needing to be superior, they view you as a giver of narcissistic supply. It is your task (they presume) to do their bidding, giving them your deference.
Over time, you can become hyper-vigilant as you try to read that narcissist’s mood. You don’t want to, but you might often filter your decisions through that person. You can feel less than effective since your good traits are so commonly minimized. You can become defensive, and arguments become too frequent. Has that ever happened?
At some point, this needs to stop. Narcissists are not mature people, and they certainly do not have your best interests at heart. So why would you work overtime trying to make that person accept you? It makes no sense. You need to reclaim your dignity and live into your version of what you wish to be.
To that effect, you first need to become aware of unhealthy patterns that you may have inadvertently fallen into. That awareness becomes the first step toward true change. As you eliminate those patterns, you will be freed to move forward with cleaner initiatives.
With that in mind, let’s identify seven of the most common mistakes you can make in your reactions to a narcissist.
1. Going into a battle for control.
Narcissists, by definition, need to feel as if they have control over you. Being controlling is first nature to them. This explains why they are so bossy, critical, and stubborn. Ironically, they do not understand that the need to be in control is the very ingredient that causes them to become out of control. So, as you respond to a narcissist, it would be wise to ask, “Why would I play along with a course of action like that?” You only worsen your situation when you get pulled into the flow of counter control.
2. Pleading, persuading, and convincing.
Taking the control problem a step further, you may find yourself ensnared in circular debates and arguments with the narcissist. Understandably, you wish the narcissist could use common sense and decency. But that is not going to happen. Narcissists feel they must have the final word, meaning they will invalidate your ideas. When you persuade and plead your case with that person, the outcome is predetermined. You will lose. You cannot convince a jerk to not be a jerk.
3. Putting guilt and shame onto the narcissist.
Admit it, there are times when you are so exasperated with the narcissist that you can resort to shaming comments. You can chide that person for being intransigent. You can point out how absurd they are. You can remind them of their character defects. Not only does this not work, but narcissists make heavy use of “boomerang communication.” They will sling shame right back at you every time. You gain nothing, and in the end, you feel even greater exasperation.
4. Shutting down emotionally with crying, sulking, or collapsing.
Narcissists can be so intent on wielding power that it can leave you feeling defeated. They relish the idea of reducing you to a shell of your true self. When this happens, self-doubt can settle in as can emotional exhaustion. Through many repetitions, narcissists will remind you that they have no interest in knowing you or empathizing with you. Then, if you collapse emotionally, they think: “Too bad…this just proves how inferior you are.” At some point you will need to stop running your emotions through their filter system.
5. Entering into the appeasing, people pleasing mode.
Sometimes, you can decide that the best course of action with a narcissist is to go along to get along, even if it means catering to their whims and foul moods. You can suppress your valid feelings, needs, and initiatives. You can cease efforts to live with reasonable boundaries. And inadvertently, you can play an enabler’s role. This is a classic case of “kicking the can down the road,” and the net result is your own denigration. You would be trading in short term considerations for long term disasters.
6. Sharing your needs, hopes, hurts, and dreams.
At times, you may think that if you appeal to a narcissist’s compassion, you could successfully alter the course of the relationship into a better direction. You might make yourself vulnerable by sharing your most personal revelations, thinking the narcissist will relent from harshness, showing kindness instead. These mistakes can be disastrous since narcissism is accompanied by an absence of love. Narcissists are data gatherers and your disclosures will surely come back to haunt you when the narcissist feels the need to fire “emotional bullets” in your direction. Remember, they are not safe people.
7. Taking their insults personally.
An ongoing feature within a relationship with a narcissist is criticism and insults. In their efforts to maintain a superior edge, this is what they do. Of course, it stings when you receive their rebukes. After all, it is quite normal to desire encouragement and respect. But when narcissists persist with their negativity, it will be essential to remember…you are an actor on their stage. If you were not the person being insulted, the next person in line would receive it. They insult you because they insult. You will not be the one to make them cease this dysfunction.
It’s disillusioning to accept the ugly truth about narcissists. You can wish for purity, but with narcissists, their immaturity and impropriety perpetuate permanent impurity. So, the first step will be to individualize your efforts to find peace.
Prioritize self-care. Appreciate the meaning of “no.” Minimize your need to make the narcissist become reasonable. Greatly adjust your expectations. Make plans based upon what is seen and known about that person, not upon what you wish might be. And when the narcissist becomes displeased by your independence, make room for that displeasure. It’s indigenous to who they are.
Narcissists bring so much brokenness into any relationship that they are incapable of ongoing healthy exchanges. Your greatest mistake of all is the assumption that you will be the one who will provide them the necessary breakthrough.
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
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