Dealing with the narcissist in your life

The response to the last column I wrote on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been quite dramatic but also expected.

Many people indicated a typical perplexed response and were desperate for guidance in terms of how to deal with the person who has this type of character disorder.

As I stated, people with NPD often do not feel they have a problem, they believe it’s everyone else who is difficult and crazy, not them.

This links to their lack of capacity for insight and empathy.

According to the specialists in this field such as Wendy Behary and Dr Linda Martinez-Lewi, the narcissist will not respond in the socially expected way in terms of acknowledging and owning their manipulative and abusive behaviour. The following is advised:

Determine which type you’re dealing with. Vulnerable narcissists, who control others by playing the victim constantly, don’t feel particularly good about themselves at heart.

In contrast to grandiose narcissists, they’re less “out there” with their emotions, and so you might not realise when they’re undercutting you or getting in your way.

If you’re trying to put people in your family or on your work team to best use, the grandiose narcissist might be your best ally – as long as you can get that person on board with your overall group’s goals.

Acknowledge your annoyance. As noted above, narcissists can be antagonistic and get under your skin. If you’re trying to get something done, and one person is always interrupting or trying to shine the spotlight on himself or herself, recognising where your frustration is coming from can help give you the strength you need to put a stop to it.

Appreciate where the behaviour comes from. Vulnerable narcissists need to make themselves feel better about themselves, which is why they can become sneaky and undercutting.

They may question your authority just to create mischief. Once you recognise that they are coming from a place of insecurity, you can provide them with just enough reassurance to get them to settle down and focus on what needs to be done.

Too much reassurance and you’ll fan their egocentric flames, but the right amount will allow them to calm down and get to the task at hand.

Evaluate the context. Narcissism is not an all-or-nothing personality trait. Some situations may elicit a person’s insecurities more than others.

Let’s say a woman was turned down for a promotion she wanted very much, and now must continue to work with the person who got the job. Her insecurity will only worsen with time, leading her to become defensively narcissistic, vindictive, and spiteful.

If you know a person like this, it’s important to remember that the situation triggered the creation of the monster with whom you must now interact.

Sometimes this behaviour can be ignored, other times understanding helps but many times protecting yourself by moving away, either changing office or department, may help.

Maintain a positive outlook. If you are dealing with narcissists who derive pleasure from watching others suffer, then seeing the pain they cause will only egg them on to more aggressive counter-behaviour.

Don’t look ruffled, even if you’re feeling annoyed, and eventually that behaviour will diminish in frequency. Furthermore, by keeping the previous tips in mind, you may be able to help ease the situation so things actually improve.

Don’t let yourself get derailed. It’s easy to lose your own sense of purpose or goals when a narcissist tries to take centre stage.

You don’t need to attend to everything this person says or does, no matter how much he or she clamours for your attention.

Find the balance between moving ahead in the direction you want to pursue and alleviating the vulnerable narcissist’s anxieties and insecurities.

If it’s a grandiose type of narcissist, you may want to acknowledge his or her feelings but then move on anyhow.

Keep your sense of humour. Calling a narcissist’s bluff may mean that you ignore the person, but it might also mean that you meet that bluff with a laugh at least once in a while.

Without being cruel about it, you can point to the inappropriateness of the person’s egocentric behaviour with a smile or joke.

This would be particularly appropriate for the grandiose type of narcissist, who will probably find it entertaining and possibly instructive.

Recognise that the person may need help. Because some narcissists truly have low self-esteem and profound feelings of inadequacy, it’s important to recognise when they can benefit from professional intervention.

Despite the belief that personality is immutable, psychotherapy research shows that people can change even long-standing behaviours.

However, the narcissist often will not enter psychotherapy themselves but on the insistence of others, whom they are afraid of losing. This often includes setting an ultimatum regarding something they do not want to lose and value highly, if their behaviour does not change.

Bolstering the individual’s self-esteem may not be something you can tackle on your own, but it is something you can work on with outside help.

Seeking therapy for yourself can be helpful in finding ways to acknowledge how this person has made you feel over a significant period. It can be useful in finding strategies to cope with the NPD person.

This is best done with a mental health professional who is trained in dealing with this kind of problem.

Similarly, if you are referring the narcissist for therapy, I would advise that you explore with the therapist in advance if they have training and experience with this problem.

If not, the individual with NPD will in all likelihood try to bamboozle the psychotherapist too, and if they are not trained to deal with this particular problem, the therapist may fall for his/her “mind-games” and the therapy then becomes a futile undertaking and just another game played by the individual with NPD.

I would also advise you to google the blogs and websites of Wendy Behary and Linda Martinez-Lewi to gain more insights and guidance in dealing with these individuals.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za Send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.