As part of their desire to control and manipulate, narcissists like to see you become emotionally disjointed and flustered.  When you are openly agitated or tense or argumentative, they think: “I can definitely use this to my advantage.”

There are two distinct mindsets that could be in play during such moments.  One can be described as emotion over mind, and the other could be called mind over emotion.  As you might imagine, the latter allows you to remain steady while the former keeps you in a dysregulated state.

To get an idea of the need to examine which mindset you use, let’s consider some common scenarios and the dysregulation that accompanies them:

  • The narcissist repeatedly tells you how inappropriate you are, leaving you with the chronic frustration of knowing you will never please that person.
  • That person carries ongoing feelings of contempt and disdain toward you, and even when it is not expressed openly, you know it is there just beneath the surface.
  • When you are with groups, the narcissist can spout hard opinions, creating friction with anyone who disagrees.  You feel exasperated.
  • You have had many conversations with the narcissist about the need to accept others as they are, only to be told you are naïve or that you don’t know what you are talking about.
  • The narcissist can and will argue about trivia, and you just shake your head due to the absurdity of it all.
  • Or it could be that you want the narcissist to participate in constructive dialogue but all you get is disinterest and non-cooperation.

In these types of scenarios, your emotions can be triggered and you might nurse thoughts like:

  • I can’t believe you are so stubborn.  What’s wrong with you anyway?
  • You are absolutely impossible.  When are you going to learn that it’s not always about you?
  • I truly don’t like you.  In fact, I just wish you’d go away.
  • It’s useless trying to talk with you because you are so negative!
  • Why do you have to be such a jerk?

It’s in moments like this when the emotion over mind response dominates.  You are not wrong for harboring your emotions.  After all, narcissists are difficult people who are chronically dismissive, and no one likes being treated as a nuisance. 

But let’s think carefully about what happens when your emotions rule, leaving you in an unwanted ditch of despair. Does the narcissist seem curious about why you feel as you do?  Do your pleas ever result in constructive adjustments?  Is that person appreciative when you offer a different perspective?

Of course, once your emotions to take over, you become putty in the narcissist’s hands, prompting that person to think: “Game on!”

It is in potentially volatile moments like these that you will need to apply the mind over emotion response.  You’re not required to ignore your emotions, nor do you have to feel guilty for feeling whatever it is that you feel.  But there are simply times when common sense needs to veto the emotion of the moment.

To stay out of the narcissist’s clutches, it can be beneficial to remind yourself about the truth, then building your behaviors and attitudes upon those truths.  For instance, it is true that:

  • The narcissist cares about one person, and it is not you.
  • Their contrarian behaviors have been in place for decades.  They will predictably continue.
  • The likelihood of you convincing the narcissist to be more accommodating is close to zero.
  • When you ask the narcissist questions or offer suggestions for change, there is an extremely high likelihood you will be met with defensive reactions.
  • Listening is not a narcissist’s strong suit.
  • Arguing or non-cooperation is the narcissist’s strong suit.
  • Once you become emotionally triggered by the narcissist, you will be labeled as the problem…every single time.

It can feel unnatural to turn off your emotional reactions to allow reason to take over, especially when you are in the thick of strain and stress.  But that is a necessary discipline if you want to stay untriggered.  It indicates your willingness to concede that you are dealing with a dysfunctional situation.  But it also implies how you are committed to your own mental health over reforming one who is not a healthy influence.

So, as you determine to stay emotionally steady, first, remind yourself of the most common situations requiring your focus.  Then apply the mind over emotion tactic.  Refuse to be shocked or surprised by the narcissist’s boorish behavior.  Choose calm assertiveness over aggressive anger.  Let go of hate, contempt, or vindictiveness.  Instead, let the facts guide you, and remain true to your common sense.

When your mind is in charge of your emotions, you can determine that it is futile to join with the narcissist in any competitive exchanges intended to gain an upper hand.  Instead, you will accept the regrettable truth that you are engaging with a deeply insecure, unstable person, and the last thing you need is to let such a person set the pace for your personal well-being.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

You can watch the video version of this article here.