How to cope with a Narcissist?
No one bears any responsibility whatsoever for the narcissist’s predicament. To him, others hardly exist – so enmeshed he is in himself and in the resulting misery of this very self-preoccupation. Others are hangers on which he hangs the clothes of wrath, of rage, of suppressed and mutating aggression and, finally, of ill disguised violence. How should the persons nearest and dearest to the narcissist cope with his eccentric vagaries?
The short answer is by abandoning him or by threatening to abandon him. The threat to abandon need not be explicit or conditional (“If you don’t do something or if you do it – I will desert you”). It is sufficient to confront the narcissist, to insist, to shout back. The narcissist is tamed by the very same weapons that he uses to subjugate others. The spectre of being abandoned looms large over everything else. Every discordant note assumes the monstrous attributes of solitude, abandonment, and the resulting confrontation with his self. The narcissist is a person who is irreparably traumatised by the behaviour of the most important adults in his life: his parents. By being capricious, arbitrary, and sadistically judgmental – they moulded him into an adult, who fervently and obsessively tries to recreate the trauma (repetition complex). Thus, on the one hand, the narcissist feels that his liberation depends upon re-living these experiences. On the other hand, he is terrified by this prospect. Realising that he is doomed to go through the same harrowing experience over and over again, the narcissist distances himself from the scene of his own pending emotional catastrophe. He does this by using his aggression to alienate, to humiliate and in general, to be emotionally absent. This behaviour brings about the very consequences that the narcissist so derides. But, this way, at least, the narcissist can tell himself (and others) that HE was the one who controlled the events, that it was truly fully his choice and that he was not surprised. The truth is that, governed by his internal demons, the narcissist has no choice to talk about.
The narcissist is, therefore, a binary human being: the carrot is the stick in his case. If he gets too close to someone emotionally, he fears ultimate and inevitable abandonment. He, thus, distances himself, acts cruelly and brings about the very abandonment that he feared in the first place. In this paradox lies the key to coping with the narcissist: If he has a rage attack – rage back. This will provoke in him fears of being abandoned and the resulting calm will be so total that it might seem unbelievable. Narcissists are known for these sudden tectonic shifts in mood and in behaviour patterns.
Mirror the narcissist’s actions and repeat his words. If he threatens – threaten back and credibly try to use the same language and content. If he leaves the house – leave it as well, disappear on him. If he is suspicious – act suspicious. Be critical, denigrating, humiliating, go down to his level – because that is where he permanently is. Faced with his mirror image – the narcissist always recoils.
We must not forget: the narcissist does all these things to foster and encourage abandonment. When mirrored, the narcissist dreads imminent and impending abandonment, which is the inevitable result of his actions and words. This prospect so terrifies him – that it induces in him an incredible alteration of his behaviour. He instantly succumbs and tries to make amends, moving from one (cold and bitter, cynical and misanthropic, cruel and sadistic) pole to another (warm, even loving, the sort of fuzzy, engulfing emotion that we feel on a particularly good or successful day).
The other way is to abandon him and go about reconstructing your own life. Very few people deserve the kind of investment that is an absolute prerequisite to living with a narcissist. To cope with a narcissist is a full time, energy and emotion-draining job, which reduces the persons around the narcissist to insecure nervous wrecks. Who deserves such a sacrifice?
No one, to my mind, not even the most brilliant, charming, breathtaking, suave narcissist. The glamour and trickery wear thin and underneath them a monster lurks which sucks the affect, distorts the cognition and irreversibly influences the lives of those around it for the worse.
Others delineate a more sweeping dichotomous strategy. Both philosophically and pragmatically, we cannot and should not assume responsibility for other people and their lives. Narcissists are incorrigibly and notoriously difficult to change. Trying to change them is a bad strategy. The two viable strategies are either to accept them as they are or to avoid them altogether. If one accepts a narcissist as he is – one should cater to his needs. His needs are part of what he is. Would you have ignored a physical handicap? Would you not have assisted a quadriplegic? The narcissist is an emotional invalid. He needs constant adulation. He cannot help it. So, if one chooses to accept him – it is a package deal, all his needs included.