Narcissism is an increasingly common trait. It is estimated that 6,2% of the population suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, but the figure increases if narcissism is only referred to as a marked personality trait. Dealing with a narcissist is often complicated because that person can become very self-centered, selfish, and manipulative.
The problem is that the narcissist has an exaggerated perception of self, tends to be presumptuous and often believes himself superior, thinks that others should praise him and gets angry if they don't. Hence, people who have a narcissistic partner or parent end up maintaining a toxic relationship where only they give and sacrifice, while the other just receives and asks for more and more.
How to recognize a narcissist?
- Constantly criticizes others or he despises them because he thinks they are inferior. The narcissist believes they are superior to others, so they continually underestimate the work and effort of others to put themselves in a better position.
- Think the world revolves around him, because he has a too self-centered outlook on life. This person focuses on their own needs and wants, so they are often very insensitive to those of others and will always try to be the center of attention.
- Needs exaggerated attention. A narcissist will always try to be the center of attention, positively or negatively. No matter how much you tell him you love him, admire him or approve him, it will never be enough, deep down that person doesn't feel confident and seeks validation through attention.
- It may seem fascinating at first, because he generally has a seductive personality and inspires confidence, attracting people, until it turns out that he is actually a very selfish person.
- Think you have the truth, therefore he often develops an attitude of intellectual superiority which becomes very uncomfortable. The narcissist believes he knows everything and that everyone else is wrong.
- Adopt an uncompromising attitude, is almost never willing to give in to the demands and needs of others, especially if it implies that he has to make some personal concessions.
- He doesn't know the word "humility", so it often nurtures such lofty goals that they border on the irrational.
- He boasts of himself, his skills, profession or lifestyle. The narcissist tries to show others that he is the best in everything.
- He does not accept criticism and can react very aggressively when he feels attacked.
- Don't hesitate to blame others. When things don't go well, the narcissist usually doesn't take responsibility but blames others. Generally his target is the closest, friendliest and most helpful people. In this way he protects his ego from the feeling of failure.
Fortunately, "born" narcissists are often easy to spot, but there are also what we might call "masked narcissists," who at first glance seem humble, innocent and charitable. But under the "sensitive" mask lurks contempt and a sense of superiority that are much more difficult to detect, so dealing with these narcissists is often more complicated because you suddenly become the victim of the situation.
However, both types of narcissistic personality share the same profile as a psychological abuser and his goal is: to despise, humiliate and reduce his victims, who end up submitting to this psychological violence that invalidates them emotionally.
How to deal with a narcissist without losing emotional balance?
Knowing how to deal with a narcissist is essential to have an in-depth knowledge of their manipulation techniques.
1. Blend of humiliation, double intentions and coded language
When a narcissist feels that his intelligence, successes or personal appearance are threatened, he will throw himself on the other without hesitation. His goal is to get the victim off the pedestal. He can do this through a compliment followed by an emotional "slap" or vice versa. For example, you can tell us that we do something right and right after that we do something else wrong making us feel very bad.
He can also resort to sarcasm or give a condescending tone to his compliments, as if we didn't deserve them. Obviously, the criticism will always be directed at one of our sensitive points. With this strategy, the narcissist makes his attack seem like a legitimate truth, forcing the victim to approve and validate his idea. If we don't do this and react by attacking him, he will immediately become the victim and we will be the "bad guy".
This technique is known as “gaslighting” and is based on a series of subtle mental games that border on ambiguity, to undermine the victim's confidence in the perception of his own reality and of himself. As a result of this strategy, the victim is often confused and doesn't quite understand what happened.
We usually try to reduce cognitive dissonance and confusion by choosing to "believe" in the narcissist's version. The problem is that gradually these hidden humiliations, coded messages and ambiguous comments, are integrated into a deformed reality with which the narcissist dominates his victim.
How to deal with this narcissist?
Keep your emotions in check. When the narcissist criticizes you, try not to react because the more you get emotionally involved, the more you will be at his mercy, because he will understand what your weakness is and will not hesitate to attack you again in that point in the future.
If the narcissist says something using coded language, threats indirectly, or tries to distort reality, ask him to be more specific, because you can't understand what he is saying. In this way you defuse his indirect strategy of psychological submission and humiliation.
2. The ambiguity
Anyone with a narcissistic personality will do everything possible to humiliate their victim, but without them realizing it, at least initially. To do this, he will resort to all the strategies that hide his intention to take control and subjugate. The result of these manipulation tactics is that you can feel that you are walking on a minefield all the time, and this creates a lot of tension.
The narcissist may make a sour comment about who you are and soon afterward will soften the blow by saying something sweet about you. This ambiguity has a specific goal: to make sure that you focus on your behaviors and "flaws" rather than analyzing his own, which are the real problem. This way you will end up feeling guilty if the relationship goes wrong.
In fact, you will notice that the narcissite suddenly changes the subject when it touches his ground. When you scold something, he will say phrases like "I don't want to argue with you" or "it's not worth talking about". The truth is, it doesn't matter what you do because the narcissist will never be satisfied and unwilling to take responsibility.
How to deal with this narcissist?
It is essential that you stay true to what you think and feel, that you observe your behavior patterns from an objective and detached point of view. Don't stare into words, but into his behavior. When you don't let yourself be seduced by his words and compliments, you will realize that his behavior is fickle and manipulative.
If you need to clarify a point, don't get into emotional arguments, stick to the facts, and don't allow the narcissist to ramble. Bring the discussion back to the main topic.
3. Tunnel vision
Tunnel vision is a strategy that uses the narcissist to focus on some irrelevant or not directly related detail, either to downplay something you have accomplished or to offload the responsibility. For example, if you have just finished your master's degree, the narcissist will congratulate you and ask you when you intend to do your doctorate.
This minimizes your achievements and makes you feel bad, highlighting what you are missing or the downsides of what you have already accomplished. With this strategy the narcist does nothing more than limit your field of vision, so you will only notice what he points out. It is a very subtle technique that can generate deep dissatisfaction in the victim, who can succeed in many things but will continue to think that he is not capable of anything.
How to deal with this narcissist?
Don't get carried away in its limited vision. Enjoy what you have accomplished and emphasize the effort and skills needed for it. Find out how to turn a deaf ear when someone wants to downplay your accomplishments, or make you feel guilty about something you haven't done yet or haven't done "perfectly".
You can also unmask him, tell him that his criticism seems excessive to you and you don't feel any need to impress others. If you say that you are very sorry about his opinion, but you do not share it and you feel satisfied with what you have accomplished, the narcissist will understand that he cannot emotionally manipulate you.
Can a narcissist change?
We can all change, grow and overcome our weaknesses if we want to. However, one of the main problems with narcissists is that they don't usually recognize that they have a problem, so they don't have the motivation to change.
The very characteristics of narcissism are at the root of the problem. On the one hand, the narcissist is not fully aware of the impact of his or her behaviors, attitudes and words. On the other hand, he does not take responsibility for the consequences of his feelings or actions, but blames others for them. This means that if there is a problem in the relationship, he will blame the other and free himself from any responsibility.
Therefore, for the narcissist to change, he must first recognize his share of responsibility, be aware of those traits that cause harm to others or hinder his interpersonal relationships.
Keep in mind that narcissism often arises from vulnerable environments where the person has felt in danger, usually from early childhood. Indeed, there is a correlation between narcissism and an insecure attachment style. Narcissists have learned to ignore, suppress, deny, project and / or reject their vulnerabilities in order to be accepted in their environment.
Change involves allowing that vulnerability to re-enter their lives, it means opening up to the feelings they have learned to avoid at all costs. Therefore, it is not that narcissists cannot change, but that change scares them because it threatens the self-image they have built and forces them to break down the psychological barriers they have built to protect themselves. We must understand that change can be terrifying for the narcissist because it is equivalent to erasing all his certainties.
It is also important to understand that narcissists cannot be narcissists in a vacuum. They need the audience to make them feel like a star, which implies that, in a certain way, those around them also contribute to the staging. In fact, often the narcissist himself is trapped in the vicious circle of the character he has built.
Over time, as its flawless facade begins to crumble, the fear that people will find it uninteresting becomes a terrifying prospect. To maintain his interest, the narcissist tries to improve his show, which involves hiding his flaws by resorting to lies and becoming more demanding.
How to help a narcissist?
Narcissists usually don't ask for help. They struggle to recognize that they have a problem because they are not particularly comfortable with the idea that there is something "wrong" with them. So, in order to help a narcissist, it is important to be very sensitive.
- Try to figure it out. The placement of a label is generally limiting. This means that you should make an effort to see that person in their entirety, beyond narcissism. We all have a life story that, in one way or another, has marked us. Trying to understand pivotal events in the narcissistic person's life will help you feel more empathy.
Remember that narcissism can sometimes be the result of emotional hurt and low self-esteem, a response to hiding the paralyzing feelings of insecurity and insufficiency. On the other hand, a person who has only received compliments and approval during his childhood and adolescence will not be able to behave differently thinking he is superior.
- Determine what kind of narcissism you suffer from. To help a narcissistic person, it is important to understand what kind of narcissism they suffer from. Broadly speaking, we can refer to two categories: the grandiose and the vulnerable.
A grandiose narcissist focuses on his own glory at the expense of what others think. It tends to be happier and more stable, making it easier to help. Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, actively work to downplay those around them in order to feel better. This type of narcissist is harder to help.
- Use empathic comparison. It is a psychotherapy technique in which an inconsistency is shown to the person, but always with respect and acceptance. In this way the narcissistic person will be able to see the discrepancies and restructure their self-image, giving way to a more fluid integration.
For example, you can show them the contrasts between good and bad behaviors and / or attitudes, those that are beneficial to everyone and those that cause harm because they are deeply selfish. The key to overcoming the defenses is the full acceptance of reactions, even dysfunctional ones, because this is how the person can accept the discrepancies and begin to change.
- Try to put yourself in his place. If he is a significant person to you, you can try to address the problem so that he understands that his attitudes and behaviors are inappropriate and hurting you. Remember that there is never a single culprit in a relationship because relationships are built in two.
Avoid attacking him and recriminating him because you will only put him on the defensive. Instead, explain how her attitudes and words make you feel bad. And tell him what you would like him to do instead. Criticism, without an alternative plan of action, is often sterile.
- Offer positive stimuli. A narcissistic person has a hard time asking for favors or apologizing. So when he says "I'm sorry" or "thank you," you can use that moment to reinforce the positive behavior. Tell him how much you appreciate his effort with words like “thank you. It means a lot to me to hear you say this ”or“ I know how hard you're trying, I really appreciate it ”. Try to stay positive.
- Kindness and love. Sometimes narcissism is a way to protect yourself from a world that seems hostile, so to mitigate defensive behavior you only need to show them that we love and value them, despite the fact that there are limits they shouldn't cross. It is about ceasing to be his audience, so that he understands that he will make more money by changing than by exacerbating his narcissistic attitudes.
When narcissists are approached in a more kind and compassionate way, many are more emotionally open and committed to change as they experience safe love. Change does not happen because we "scold" them, because they think they are the center of the world or because they are manipulators, but it is about letting them see the benefits of understanding and collaboration.
Phrases like "I care a lot about you" or "you are very important to me" can give him the kind of reassurance that many narcissists need. They also push them to think about the relationship, shifting the focus from "I" to "us".
Finally, it's important to be aware that when narcissism is a true personality disorder, these people may need psychological help to maintain healthy relationships. It is also important to preserve our psychological balance, so if you have done everything in your power and that person is not committed to change, you should consider ending that relationship.