We’ve all dealt with a narcissist at one point or another in our lives whether from a co-worker, family member, friend or lover. It’s a draining experience, leaving you emotionally fatigued and sapped of your energy. Sometimes it’s easy to notice the signs and leave before getting hurt, but sometimes there is a cost to leaving that we cannot or do not want to pay. This is most common with family, friends and job situations. It takes a lot of courage to make these different relationships work despite feelings of needing to leave so you don’t get hurt. However, there are steps you can take to help you cope with the narcissist in your life and keep your relationships intact as much as possible or necessary.
So, how do you identify the type of narcissist you’re dealing with? Researchers have categorized narcissists into two different categories: grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose narcissists have incredibly high self-esteem, believing themselves to be superior to everyone else. They are the stereotypical narcissists that people think of when they hear the word narcissist. Vulnerable narcissists have low levels of self-esteem, high levels of insecurity and tend to compensate by focusing only on themselves. This means they have high self-absorption and self-centered tendencies. Once you know what kind of narcissist you are dealing with, you can change your interactions with them to keep your relationships healthy. For instance, grandiose narcissists are wonderful helpers with goals if you give them an important job and praise their work often. Vulnerable narcissists need constant reassuring that they’re doing a good job, though you’ll need to be sure not to accidentally offend them in the heat of a moment.
While it can be difficult or frustrating to think about where people are coming from, or why they are the way they are, it is key to helping you understand them. There are always more events in a person’s history that have affected them more than they let on. Figuring out someone’s motives and why they lash out the way they do can also help you handle their angry outbursts and regain patience and tolerance. While it is important to find out where the person is coming from, it’s equally as important to listen to your own feelings and thoughts. What actions and behaviors of theirs bother, triggers or hurts you? What goals do you have pertaining to your relationship? Are you willing to push past your own feelings to maintain it? After you take a look inside yourself and evaluate how you feel you can figure out where to draw the line and form boundaries. Where to push forward and cope with your feelings. In the end this experience will teach you a lesson about yourself and how to handle things in times of distress.
Unlike any other people, narcissists require a gentle touch when communicating with them. It won’t be as honest and open as with others, nor will it be as straightforward. They may get defensive quickly but this is because of insecurities, sensitivities or an inherent lack of empathy they might have. Be careful not to let things backfire on you as you’ll end up in a direct conflict, which is never fun and was never your intention. Communicate as gently as possible without compromising your own values and recognize if and when you should gently step back, or put your foot down, as long as it is done respectfully. If and when you put your foot down to draw some boundaries between you, be prepared to face the consequences. No matter how gentle you were in laying down the law, they may take it as a direct attack and treat it as such. depending on the person and situation, they may or may not end up resenting you. It is important to remember that this is part of the process. It is better to recognize your own needs, values and limits than to compromise these things for someone else
While humor isn’t called for in some situations, it might just be your saving grace. Finding humor in a narcissist’s behavior may help you cope. You can also use these moments to call out their behaviors with a smile or a light joke. Remember to choose your time carefully so as to not accidentally offend them and make the situation worse. Choose to keep humor to a minimum in moments of high stress, anger or distress. However, when a narcissist does something naturally, without thinking, if you point it out in a light-hearted manner it is more likely to be well received, listened to and potentially corrected. Depending on how close you are to the narcissist, you may have to decide if they need more help than you can provide.
Sometimes in order to maintain or regain a healthy relationship with people who are close to you, keeping a distance doesn’t always feel like an option. Many psychotherapists are trained to help with this disorder and can help them. Remember that loving someone is sometimes is not enough. If possible, put your attention on the positives, as this person obviously has positive qualities, or else you wouldn’t be trying to maintain your relationship with them. Focus on the good qualities and the reasons why you want or need to maintain things when you feel overwhelmed or stressed. Integrate this into your plan so you can enjoy the most of this relationship. For instance, if you know a certain place or situation may trigger them, avoid it to the best of your ability. The same goes for conversation topics; if you know of a subject that gets them going, steer clear of it and talk about something else. Go out to places you both enjoy and focus on the things you both enjoy discussing. Always remind yourself of why this person holds great value to you and that no one is simply the sum total of their disorder.
Lastly, it is most important to accept them as they are. While it may feel like you’re walking on eggshells at times, it is important to remember that nothing a narcissist is necessarily doing is about you entirely. It is not that they do not want to see things from your point of view for instance, but that they are unable to. You must accept that you will never have an equal relationship with this person if you choose to maintain contact with them. This is all up to you as you may have good reason to try and keep an equal balance with this individual. You cannot expect them to change for you and instead you must change yourself and the strategies you use to keep them in your life. If you choose to do so, it may help to remember that they are more than their shortcomings.