Let’s suppose you’ve been proactive in getting away from a strongly narcissistic person. You’ve chosen to do a better job prioritizing personal initiatives. You’re less inclined to defend, holding your ground instead. You have a “this is me” attitude as you’re more forthcoming in your separate opinions. And you can say no when necessary, as opposed to buckling under the narcissist’s pressure to defer.
And yet, the narcissist continues to be, well, narcissistic. Despite your good intentions, the narcissist tries to bully you, telling you how inept you are. Efforts to punish increase, including non-cooperation on important matters. You learn about a smear campaign waged against you. And the narcissist remains critical and obstinate.
The realization hits…you cannot get away from a narcissist’s influence entirely, even though you would dearly like to do so. And even if you are physically removed from that person, the narcissist can attempt to manipulate others against you.
In such circumstances, two ingredients are in play, creating ongoing tension.
1.) The narcissist remains stubbornly devoted to irrationality.
2.) You wish to stay grounded in common sense and self-respect.
And neither of you is willing to let go of your position. How can you keep leaning forward in the midst of such an unresolvable equation?
The most difficult skill for staying free from a narcissist is learning to live with ongoing ambiguity.
As much as you’d like clean resolutions, narcissists are not mature or stable enough to accept relationship gaps. Their need for control and exaggerated entitlement won’t allow them to say: “Hey, let’s just move on despite our differences.” To them, your separateness, your independence is a direct affront to their self-impressed ego. No amount of hard logic will prompt a change of heart, and, if anything, they will become even more intransigent, like the ass on the end of a tugging rope.
If living with ambiguity involved no one beyond the narcissist, you could just move on and not worry. But that’s almost never the case. For instance, some will balk, saying:
- “But my kids have been pulled into the middle by the narcissist and I can’t let that happen.”
- “The narcissist is my work supervisor, and I can’t afford to lose my job.”
- “My daughter-in-law is an impossible narcissist, but she’s the gatekeeper to the grandchildren.”
- “Even if I don’t socialize with that person any more, we know lots of the same people and I know I’ll be unfairly depicted.”
Here is a hard truth: You will remain spellbound by that impossible narcissist as long as you insist that you can find peace if and only if the stubbornly irrational narcissist ceases being an ass. At some point you will be faced with the difficult task of letting go of any expectation that the narcissist will be fair. Will you accept that reality or insist it cannot be?
Many resist the notion of living inside the tension, the ambiguity, of accepting the narcissist’s worst traits, understandably so. Note, I do not suggest letting go of personal boundaries in deference to the narcissist, nor do I suggest being trembling and weak.
What I am saying is: “Despite a narcissist’s damaging ways and diabolical schemes, that person is not entirely in charge of your quality of life.” Even as they continue to control some primary externals in your world, you can retain internal character.
To remain stable even as your circumstances are ambiguously tense, certain truths will need to be embraced:
- You are limited in your capacity to make anyone change, especially a narcissist. This includes your wishes to change a politician, your mother-in-law, your significant other, your despicable ex, your kids who have been brainwashed by the narcissist, or your boss.
- Imperative thinking does not work. As much as you would like to issue orders about how another person must be, should think, ought to act, or can’t do, that other person still has the option of being disruptive.
- Parking on judgmental pronouncements is troublesome. Even when you are accurate in your judgments about the narcissist’s attitudes, you accomplish nothing good when you judge. Instead, you remain emotionally tethered to an unlikeable person, becoming increasingly vulnerable to bitterness.
- Codependent reactions to narcissists keep you trapped in dysfunctions. When your moods are contingent upon the narcissist’s latest behaviors, attitudes, and decisions, you enter the narcissist’s codependent dance. You are drained of the energy needed to be emotionally separate.
- Binary thinking is tormenting. When you cling to an all or nothing mindset, you cut yourself off from options beyond what you can control and measure.
Ultimately, all each of us has is our today. It makes sense to be assertive, to pursue fair results, to seek justice. Speaking up and prioritizing good is reasonable. That said, narcissists are still narcissists and they carry their inner chaos wherever they go. Even so, you can still decide how you will approach the day in front of you. Can you be honest? Kind? Patient? Resolute? Realistic? Focused on good? Respectful? Forthright? Restrained? Accepting of your tension? Peaceful?
Living on this planet requires living inside ambiguity’s tension. The decency of your desires is not negated when you accept that some people are persistently chaotic.
Evil exists. And perhaps the worst kind of evil comes from the ones who call it something more pretty than what it is.
I do know this. Love is real too. Kindness still matters. You can survive disappointment and hurt. Good people are still out there. You can be one of them. You can still maintain decency. Some assertions and initiatives can prove rewarding. Your own aching can prompt you to reach out to someone else who aches. You still matter. More than ever, not just in the absence of your pain, but in the middle of it, you can remain a voice of comfort for someone just like you who needs to hear the words: “I care.”
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
To watch the video on this topic, click here.