Narcissists carry unhealthy traits internally.  They have an inordinate need for control.  They are manipulative.  They are disinterested in knowing you well.  They are fear based, as evidenced by living behind a False Self.  They play games with truth…we call it their Alternate Reality. 

Those ingredients alone make narcissism a burdensome pattern to endure.  But making it worse, narcissists can be abusive as you try to figure out the best ways to respond.  Their goal is to rob you of your freedom, pressing you to stay inside their tight script.  They insist on your deference, and if bullying is required, they will do so.  Their anger can be overpowering, which is fine with the narcissist.   And as your exposure to them remains, you can feel like a shell of your real self.

The impact on you can be palpable.  You can become overly vigilant, worrying if you are going to set that person off.  Your desire for acceptance will be offset by the ever-present threat of rejection.  Your emotions can become a tangled mess as you wonder how to manage guilt, anger, shame, fear, and more.  You can feel powerless.

Furthermore, when you attempt to discuss your needs and concerns with the narcissist, it only intensifies that person’s condescending attitudes.  They tend to be hyper defensive, unwilling to listen or blend.  So, it leaves you wondering: “How am I going to manage the emotional impact caused by that person’s abuse and chronic dysfunction?”

In general, there are three ways individuals tend to respond to a narcissist’s impact:

  1. Imitate the narcissist.  Seeing how the narcissist is determined to remain perpetually overbearing, some think: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”  They will mimic the narcissist’s traits, sometimes as a compliant flying monkey, other times as a defiant “I-can-dish-it-out-too” counterpart.  Either way, the narcissist has succeeded in deteriorating that person’s quality of life.
  1. Dysregulate because of the narcissist’s influence.  Chronic exposure to the narcissist’s manipulations can deplete you of coping skills.  You can be in such a reactive mode that anxiety, bitterness, insecurity, contempt, guilt, shame, futility, or exasperation are ever-ready responses.  Narcissists love creating confusion.  It makes them feel proud of their prowess.
  1. Transform because of the narcissist’s example.  Some people take a healthy approach to narcissistic abuse as they think: “The narcissistic pattern makes no sense, so why should I remain entangled in it?”  They conclude (rightly) that they do not want to be like the abuser, nor do they want to move forward as little more than damaged goods.  They dedicate themselves to self-reflection, giving highest priority to the wiser path.

Narcissists are disconnected from their Real Self.  Their defensive structures do not allow them to self-reflect.  Instead, they are in an ongoing compensation mindset, trying to prove they are not nearly as unappealing as they fear.  Along the way, they have never learned to love appropriately, nor have they found rewarding heart connections.  Life to them is a series of transactions and competitions, so they seek to gain and keep the upper hand in any and all relationships.

Narcissism is a defeatist way of life, but in their juvenile thinking, they reason that if they can bring you down, all is well.  It truly is a pitiable way to live.

Three options:  #1. Imitate.  #2. Dysregulate.  #3.  Transform.

Let’s hope you can choose option #3…transforming because of the narcissist’s example.  Refusing to remain inside their vortex, you can take your priorities and efforts into a growth direction.  Here are some ways that can happen:

  • Ask yourself: “What insights do narcissists not have that I need?”  Turn your experiences into a type of schooling.  There are lessons to be learned, and your curiosity can be a major asset.
  • Discern what is healthy and what is not healthy.  Name it.  Focus on the traits, attitudes, and behaviors that will serve you best, and commit to them.
  • Dedicate yourself to the mastery of your emotions.  The narcissist wanted to place you into permanent emotional disarray, but you are under no obligation to comply.  Search out the meaning of those strained emotions.  What are your emotions trying to convey?  If necessary, seek formal or professional guidance.
  • Keep your eye on the supremacy of love.  What does it mean to connect in a wholesome way?  With yourself, with others?  How can your presence in this world make a positive difference with your significant others?
  • Prioritize heart immersion.  Just as abusive narcissists are cold-hearted, you can move into a very opposite direction.  Someone you know needs kindness, your kindness.  Invest in receptive individuals and worthy causes.
  • Remain a lifelong learner.  Narcissists are in arrested development, responding to life similar to the ways the playground bully did in grade school.  Resist their invitation to compete.  Instead, know there is so much more to learn beyond their chaos.

Narcissists are in pain, but instead of seeking their own healing, they presume they can “win” if they inflict pain.  

Transformers feel pain too.  But instead of collapsing, they think: “Someone in this world needs to prioritize dignity, respect, and civility.  That someone will be me.  I’ll spend the rest of my life learning about those traits and living into them.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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