By Carol Juergensen Sheets, MSW, ACSW, LCSW
|What can you do if you have a narcissist in your life?|
I recently met with a woman who came in to discuss techniques she could use to improve her relationship with her boss. She described him as a cool, aloof, unavailable and angry man with whom she had difficulty dealing. She explained that he ranted and raved when things did not go his way and that everything needed to revolve around him. She stated he could do no wrong and seemed to be self-inflated. He had become especially difficult when he made advances toward her and she did not sleep with him.
Once she refused him sexually, his whole demeanor changed. She was no longer important and he pretended that she did not exist. This left her feeling puzzled, confused, and eventually she even doubted herself. She couldn’t figure out why, months after his sexual advances, was he still continuing to ignore and discredit her as an employee. Her feelings shifted from being angry with him about his inappropriate sexual advances to questioning what she had done to make him dislike her so.
As my client described this man, he seemed to fit perfectly into a specific personality type called a narcissist. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have a pervasive pattern of grandiosity. Their self-importance keeps them from acknowledging their weaknesses. People with NPD are typically very arrogant. They generally require excessive admiration. Despite the fact that they appear arrogant, their self-esteem is t invariably very fragile. They may be preoccupied with how well they are doing and how favorably they are regarded by others. This often takes the form of a need for constant attention. They may expect their arrival to be greeted with great fanfare and are astonished if others do not covet their possessions. They may constantly fish for compliments, often with great charm. A sense of entitlement is evident in these individuals, as well as unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment.
The narcissist expects to be catered to and is puzzled or furious when this does not happen. This sense of entitlement, combined with a lack of sensitivity to the wants and needs of others, may result in a conscious or unwitting exploitation of others. Narcissists tend to form friendships or romantic relationships only if the other person seems likely to advance their purposes or to otherwise enhance their self-esteem. They expect great dedication from others and they overwork them without regard for the impact on their lives.
A person with NPD is a master of turning the table back on you. Once you challenge them, they will have to discredit you to diffuse the situation. Since it is ego dystonic (not compatIble to how they think they are), to have made a bad choice, they have only one alternative, which is to discredit your character.
Since a person with NPD will likely never change, it is generally advisable to get out of the situation or minimize contact whenever possible. Here are some tips to keep you sane while you figure out your coping plan:
- Create your own supports to validate and encourage yourself, because an NPD won’t.
- Develop that “Teflon” approach, so that the NPD’s criticism won’t stick. Never internalize the criticism; don’t let it affect your self-esteem.
- Find ways to validate yourself.
- Create distance or remove yourself from the situation whenever possible.
- Know your boundaries. Don’t expect appreciation from an NPD because you will not get it.
- You may need to play the game … to survive. In other words, to minimize the dysfunction you may have to boost the NPD’s ego, complimenting him or her on their appearance, their performance, or their abilities.
Just remember, an independent person is threatening to someone with NPD. It is almost impossible to have a normal relationship with him or her. Know that this is not a personal issue against you, it’s a personality issue with them.
Narcissists are not likely to change therefore it is imperative that you develop a good coping plan and learn not to take it personally. Don’t let a narcissist validate your worth as a person! Learn to minimize their impact in your life.