Living With A Narcissist: When Leaving is Not an Option

People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) can be found in all walks of life. Sometime you may find yourself working for them or living with them (spouse, sibling, or parent); you may find that you must endure their presence as you do not have a viable option of leaving-at least at that given time. Living with a narcissist can be distressing and depressing, their behavior appealing and appalling.  A narcissist can be charming, romantic and funny…and he can be arrogant, deceitful, hurtful and despicable. Some people are able to cope with the roller coaster ride, but many others find it difficult to maintain a relationship with a narcissist.

People who are ‘codependent’ but don’t have a personality disorder (like borderline or narcissism) can have a perfect, if somewhat painful, fit in a narcissistic relationship. A codependent also has low self-esteem but theirs’ is boosted by the narcissist’s extroverted personality and aura of success. Furthermore, their low self-esteem allows them to endure the narcissist’s abuse. They feel guilty asserting their own needs and loving/caring for a narcissist makes them feel valued. It is also a perfect fit because the codependent doesn’t feel worthy of receiving love for the individual that they are, only for what they give or do.

Another common narcissistic relationship that “works” is with an adult who was raised by a narcissistic parent. Children of narcissists often choose a narcissist for a mate. Due to their childhood experiences, it seems natural to them- psychologically comfortable- to be manipulated by a handsome, charming, tyrannical and abusive lover.

When a person becomes aware they are living with a narcissist, they have several options. The first option is leaving the relationship, the second is limiting the relationship (for example if it is a parent who no longer lives in the same house), and another is to stay in the relationship. If they choose to remain in the relationship and emotionally vulnerable to the narcissist, they need to learn coping skills in order to survive and maintain their mental/emotional health.

COPING STRATEGIES:

Develop a support system

People outside of the immediate family are often impressed by the narcissist’s charm and find it difficult to believe that your own experiences are so very different from theirs; this can result in feelings of being misunderstood and isolated. Reach out to others and develop a support system of adults who are in no way charmed by narcissistic behavior. They may have narcissistic family members of their own, they may have been hurt or manipulated by a narcissist, or they are people who have never met/been charmed by your narcissist.

Enforce boundaries

Don’t do anything that you are uncomfortable with just because you are being asked to. Be consistent and firm with your own needs, desires and limitations. Let the narcissist deal with his own disappointment when his wishes are not met. Be mindful of your own personal limits, needs, irritants, and aspirations. State these clearly to the narcissist and be consistent when enforcing them.

Create win-win solutions

Narcissists demand those around them to perform contradictory tasks or behaviors and then become angry when their demands are not met. Develop Win-Win solutions and apply repeatedly; the narcissist will eventually become bored with his No-Win situations and abandon them for another means to get his own way. You can go to “conflict resolution” websites for details on how to develop win-win solutions.

Manage emotional outbursts

Neither partner should be allowed to treat the other with disrespect. At times you’ll be upset with each other and need to let off steam. If one person needs to vent feelings, that person must take responsibility for those feelings, not blaming the other for “making” him or her feel that way. If you’re being spoken to with anger or disrespect, stop the action right there. Make how you are being treated the issue. If necessary, walk away, letting it be known that you’ll gladly pick up where you left off when you’re treated with respect.

Know when you’re being “gaslighted”

If the narcissist says something and then denies saying it or claims to have said something when he really didn’t, and blames you for not listening or having a poor memory, you are probably being gaslighted. It can make you doubt your own sanity. Narcissists do this to throw you off balance psychologically although sometimes he’s simply responding to his need of the moment, forgetting what he previously said.

Learn negotiating skills

Learn more about the skills of negotiation (it will help you in all areas of life). Learn what is and isn’t negotiable. Some behavior you may not like but it isn’t life altering if you let it slide. However, if you let everything slide you’ll find yourself in a situation that is simply intolerable. Just because the narcissist wants something doesn’t mean he needs to get it or if he forcefully expresses himself doesn’t mean you have to give in. 

Maintain your own Self Esteem

The narcissist is bent on satisfying his own needs and does not concern himself with yours; this behavior along with all the criticism can lead to a loss of self esteem, loss in believing in yourself and no longer trusting your own judgment. You need to maintain your self esteem by giving yourself something the narcissist won’t give you- positive reinforcement. Say kind things to yourself, congratulate yourself on achievements big and small, remind yourself that you DO have good judgment and spend time with others who think highly of you.

Don’t keep secrets

One of the most difficult things to do is to be honest with others about how the narcissist in your life behaves. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed, especially if you’ve been covering for him. But don’t isolate yourself-find a friend or family member whom you can confide in. You might also want to seek out professional help to assist you in strengthening coping skills and determination.

Learn to understand the narcissist

Monitor and learn the narcissist’s body language. A narcissist’s body language can reveal feelings which he or she is trying to hide (for example, anger at not getting enough attention or subservience from others). You can watch for anger in the narcissist’s face when something is said that might be perceived as criticism or a threat to his authority. If you can learn his body language, you may be able to alleviate some of the emotional turbulence and reinforce his positive feelings or associations.

Learn to identify the danger signs

Although not all narcissists are prone to physical violence, there are enough that are to warrant watching for this trait if the narcissist displays some of the warning signs. Potential signs of danger that might forewarn of physical violence:

  • Possessive or controlling behavior
  • Verbal abuse
  • Constant criticism
  • Undue control of family finances
  • Isolation from family and friends

Resources:

  1. http://narcissism-support.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-to-live-with-narcissist.html
  2. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/12/27/how-to-live-with-a-narcissist/
  3. http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Living_With_a_Narcissist