Self absorption and selfishness are normal parts of human behaviour. The difference between narcissistic behaviour and someone with a narcissistic personality disorder is that someone going through a narcissistic phase is still capable of considering the feelings of others; a narcissist is not. If you are dealing with a narcissist, be it a friend, relative or acquaintance, you may find his behaviour unfathomable. He may be cold, calculating and hyper critical. He may take advantage of your kindness and deliberately hurt your feelings. There are ways, however, to cope with his behaviour and stay sane.
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Set boundaries. The narcissist feels that his wants and needs are more important than those of others. He may expect you to be at his beck and call and to drop things at a moment's notice to accommodate him. He may also impose upon your personal space, time and resources. Let the narcissist know exactly what you will and will not do and let him know the consequences of pushing your boundaries.
Keep your word. Establishing your boundaries is only half the battle. Sometimes drawing a line in the sand only gives the narcissist incentive to push those boundaries. If you say "Show up on time or I'll leave without you," make good on your promise. If not, then the narcissist will continue to test your boundaries.
Keep your cool. Narcissists are very good at pushing buttons; but it's important to remain calm. First, by getting upset you've given the narcissist ammunition to use against you. Second, the narcissist is incapable of believing that she has done anything wrong and the situation will only escalate. This is not to say that you shouldn't feel upset; but you should confront the narcissist calmly.
Trust your feelings. A narcissist can easily have you believing that you are hypersensitive, have anger management issues or are prone to histrionics. Remember, the narcissist is incapable of realising that there is anything wrong with his behaviour. When you confront him, he may twist things around and insinuate that you are the problem. If you feel abused, mistreated or taken advantage of, chances are, you are. Trust that your reaction to the narcissist's behaviour is genuine, appropriate and within the realm of normal.
Get support. If you are dealing with a narcissistic parent or guardian, you may feel as nothing you do is good enough. You may have been heavily criticised as a child or made to feel that you were worthless and insignificant. You may even find yourself, now, trying to get the narcissist's approval. If the narcissist is a spouse or partner, you may have similar feelings of inadequacy. Talk to a counsellor or find a support group. You won't feel so alone, you'll have a better understanding of what you're going through and it will help you to reclaim your own strength and value.
Lower your expectations. Realise that the narcissist is not likely to change. As far as she is concerned, she's fine the way she is. If you have set your boundaries, and followed through with the consequences, she may change some of her behaviours. Realise that she has made those changes because they are beneficial to her, not you. Don't try to appeal to her higher nature or her sense of empathy. Accept and acknowledge the changes she does make, but recognise that they are rare.
Walk away. Relationships with narcissists can be very draining and exact a heavy emotional toll. If he is a family member, you may not be able to completely sever all ties but you can limit your interaction with him. The point of walking away is not to punish the narcissist but to protect yourself. Ultimately, you don't own his feelings and neither are you responsible for his happiness. Your first job is to take care of you, even if it means ending your relationship with him.
Tips and warnings
- Use caution when severing a relationship with a narcissist. Some narcissists react very badly to rejection. If you feel that your narcissist is likely to behave violently, seek assistance up to, and including, involving the authorities.
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