Okay, more or less everyone knows not to poke a stick in a wasps’ nest or the consequences can be dire. We may not like those little stripy critters, but we treat them with respect or it leads to pain. Generally though, we are really much less good at applying those principles when we deal with people and if by accident or bum choice you have a professional or personal relationship with a narcissist, you will know that it is all too easy to provoke narcissistic rage and it can hurt as much as 100 stings.
Narcissists, particularly vulnerable ones are prone to anger and rage. That rage in most cases comes from a deep self-loathing and vulnerability to the fickle feedback from the world, which they are so dependent upon to bolster their fragile self-esteem. In some cases, though the rage can be an indicator of a frame of mind which is more pathological. A narcissist with a sense of entitlement and exploitativeness are closer to sociopaths in their behaviours and may rehearse angry behaviour because they can.
So how can you stop yourself getting stung?
1. Become an editor
A vulnerable narcissist, like an actor, hates bad reviews. As a partner, work colleague or employee, you need to focus on what will help protect your narcissist’s ego from taking a nock. It may be changing words, or selectively editing “the truth” to more closely fit their view of the world. If bad news has to be delivered try putting it in a sandwich. Give them a favourable comment first, then the difficult element and quickly follow it up with a better bit of news for them. This psychological trick relies on the fact that we often focus on the first and last items in a list rather than the middle ones.
You can also edit the language. Keep the negative factual, bland and boring and even use figures – narcissists get bored easily. Relate the positive in as much sensory and detailed language as possible. This makes it more vivid, real, and more likely to grab attention, be felt and remembered.
2. Be less smart
A narcissist has a big ego which needs to be fed. Because he or she is vulnerable, they won’t be able to deal with those who are smarter with equanimity. You cannot afford to let them find out that you may be smarter than them. Nor can you allow anyone else to behave like that either. Whatever the situation, you must let them think the lead or idea has come from them. So figuratively speaking, even if it means giving them all the pieces of the jigsaw with only one piece missing, that is what you must do.
You must always use the language of “we” whereas the narcissist will use the term “I”. You must never use the phrase “I think” and under no circumstances correct them. Visualise yourself in the role of a butler to a rich but slightly stupid aristocrat and you won’t go wrong.
You may even subtly remind them of the great idea which they had, knowing full well it was not their idea at all.
3. Keep other narcissists at a distance
There is only room for one narcissist in a room or domain. You need to develop a narcissist radar to minimize or prevent any close encounter with another narcissist. Since both of them will need the same thing out of an encounter – to be the centre of attention, the focus of compliments, the only one to be on display, to be right – like matter and anti-matter they have to be kept apart. If such people have to come together then it needs to be through intermediaries who can deal with each separately.
Whilst some aspects of social encounters with narcissists can be managed and controlled, there are times when it can’t be. Bombshells can be accidentally dropped. The wrong words can be used and it is inevitable that some of the time their confidence will be sapped. If a narcissist is showing signs of anger from their vulnerability, which may lead to an attack on someone, the best strategy is to make them focus on something else. If they feel threatened, use something as a distraction which is known to make them think well of themselves – a trophy of some kind, a compliment repeated, new clothes or an experience to take their mind of the negative feelings which haunt them and which could easily turn to rage.
Another distraction might be turning back to a time when they felt good, powerful or in control and reminding them of that. It might even involve replaying former victories or surrounding them with friends / colleagues who can be relied on to give the narc their “narcissistic supply”.
5. Protect yourself
As a partner, colleague or friend of a narcissists, you may bear the brunt of the anger and rage of a narcissist. The emotional rollercoaster you may ride will sometimes feel like that of a person living in an abusive relationship. Trying to anticipate when a narcissist may react or blow and even putting them back together again can be exhausting.
You need to keep mentally healthy and maintain a level of detachment which will enable you to stay in control. You may choose to stay with a narcissist, but remember you do not have to and they are responsible for their pain and what they do with it. As long as you retain the power to walk away, you can deal with anger better and not walking becomes a choice.
However, if their anger reflects that which is shown by the type of narcissist who has a sense of entitlement and exploitativeness, then you may have to consider leaving. No matter how good you are, no matter how much pain you can stand Know this: such a person is inflicting pain, not because of their own vulnerability, but because they believe they are entitled too. This is a different type of creature for whom there can be no sympathy since such acts are seen as a sign of your weakness and inferiority.