Over the past few years, the internet has exploded with articles and books about narcissism. In fact, I often wonder if the internet has turned us into a bunch of narcissism junkies.
It starts out innocently enough. Your partner (or friend, coworker, family member) has been engaging in behaviors that make you feel like Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. You turn to the internet to learn the reasons why and your search terms result in so many hits you feel like you’re in college preparing to write a dissertation.
Most of the material written about narcissists encourages readers to leave, if possible. But then, you come across other articles and books that depict the narcissist as a fragile human being who needs your sympathy and compassion. This advice seems more in line with what you had hoped to find. After all, leaving the narcissist and going No Contact seems so cruel and heartless. There MUST be something you can do to show them you are trustworthy and reliable.
Feeling determined, you vow to follow the seemingly well-meaning and hope-inspiring instructions doled out in the latest book written by a PhD. There must be a way around this, right?
Perhaps, but it’s not likely.
I’ve read material insisting there’s a way to “make it work with a narcissist”, giving out advice such as “be strong where the narcissist is weak”, but I’ve yet to encounter a success story by someone who has followed this advice and came out unscathed. While anyone who’s involved with a narcissist is certainly free to make their own decisions, I don’t advocate trying to salvage the relationship.
Below, I list the top five injurious recommendations for “making it work with a narcissist” and my interpretation of why they generally fail.
Anyone who’s been following my blog knows I promote the use of guided meditations. They’re a great method for dealing with stress, relaxing, and overwriting negative and false beliefs.
However, they don’t do much in the way of helping a target of narcissistic abuse to deal with the narcissist’s entitlement and grandiose behaviors.
Targets of narcissistic abuse generally have their own core wounds which are made worse by trying to direct their energies into the narcissist’s core wounds. Victims of narcissistic abuse are triggered frequently, staying in a near-constant state of panic and fight-or-flight. It takes great effort to overcome the physiological effects of this repeated trauma – which leaves little room to be someone else’s hero.
Energy cannot continue to flow in one direction over large periods of time, without negative consequences for the giver. Energy needs to be grounded, to find a healthy source to grow, to flow and to ebb or to be reciprocated. With a narcissist, it just disappears into a black hole, and such nutritious valuable energy is consumed without gratitude and with no appreciation of its value.
People tend to put far too much focus on “what kind of narcissist” they’re dealing with.
Ultimately, knowing whether a person is grandiose or vulnerable might satisfy one’s intellectual curiosity, but continuing to perform painstaking research into the subject and substantiating a person’s behaviors and traits to make sure they fit into a particular category is a waste of time. Why? Because this does nothing to erase the abuse or to change the outcome of the relationship.
Believing you can help someone who doesn’t want help is a self-defeating illusion. Narcissists, in general, are stuck in a state of arrested development. They care mostly for how they feel in the moment, which explains their erratic behaviors. They generally don’t reflect on the future or ways they can improve themselves to be better partners or friends. What they do reflect on is how they can better manipulate people in order to fulfill their own agendas.
In short, determining whether a narcissist is grandiose or vulnerable might help you understand their behaviors, but trying to appeal to their needs based on what kind of narcissist they are will only leave you feeling drained and unappreciated.
It’s one thing to take the high road and let someone else have center stage, but another entirely to give up your sense of self so someone else can feel better.
The reason it’s detrimental for abuse targets to cater to the narcissist, believing their disordered partner cannot control themselves, is because there’s no balance or reciprocation. Sure, there may be so-called good times in the relationship, but they’re so few and far in between (and often with an underlying motive), that by the time the narcissist is showing their “good side” it’s too little, too late.
This is precisely how targets of narcissistic abuse end up with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and develop clinical conditions such as depression and learned helplessness. Trying to compensate for the narcissist’s feelings of shame and inadequacy only leads to their targets adding to their own such feelings, especially given that narcissists are prone to verbally abusing their targets.
What happens after months or years of catering to the narcissist because of their “unconscious” behaviors and being their emotional punching bag? Many people who attempt this end up losing their jobs because they become dysfunctional, they lose their homes, custody of their children, or worse…they may develop terminal illnesses.
Is it worth it?
If you’ve come across material suggesting that setting boundaries with a narcissist (to include couple’s therapy) can help counter the narcissist’s aggression and lack of empathy, you’ll soon discover how futile this line of attack is should you choose to follow it.
In my experience working with clients who have been narcissistically abused–as well as the hours of research I’ve conducted–I’ve not come across one success story as it relates to setting boundaries or couple’s therapy with a narcissist. It sure did nothing to help me!
For starters, setting boundaries with a narcissist typically results in narcissistic rage directed towards you and/or their pretending to go along with you, only to come back later with a devastating sucker-punch when you least expect it.
Further, narcissists don’t go to therapy with goals in mind (such as improving their relationship with you). They go to therapy with agendas in mind. Therefore, setting boundaries and going to therapy with the narcissist will accomplish three things: 1) waste time and money, 2) keep you in a relationship that is doomed to fail anyway and 3) likely result in your feeling like more of the “crazy lunatic” your partner keeps claiming you are.
It’s important to realize that narcissists can be convincing in creating the illusion that they’re on-board with the whole therapy idea, but this is often to keep a source of supply strung along, to learn the lingo in order to later use it as ammunition, and to project the image they they’re the victim of abuse instead of the other way around.
When it comes to therapy, you would do well finding your own therapist to overcome your progressive anxiety and depression, but don’t bring the narcissist into the picture if you truly want to improve your well-being.
While this statement may be true, the irony is that no amount of help offered to the narcissist results in a positive outcome for the giver. Many wish, hope, and try fervently to make a positive difference in the narcissist’s life, but all they are left with is a gaping void. And since narcissists are such skilled actors, they keep their targets believing they are making progress, only to experience deep betrayal and disappointment down the road.
Throughout my years of coaching, those who chose to stay with the narcissist in their life – or broke up with them and got back together later believing time had changed things – have always regretted their decision.
Does this mean all narcissists should be shunned and made to live out their lives in solitude? That’s for you to decide.
The Catch 22 is that only people with a strong sense of self, who have healthy levels of self-assurance, emotional resilience, and a secure attachment style would have the reserves required to attempt to make things work with a narcissist. Unfortunately, these same people generally possess healthy boundaries and would quickly leave the narcissist due to his or her selfishness, exploitative traits, and various forms of abuse. Because of this, narcissists seek out those who are themselves vulnerable, who have inner wounds they try to rectify by garnering the narcissist’s approval, who have an insecure or anxious attachment style, and who are fixers/rescuers.
If any of these latter descriptors sound like you, you should not remain in a relationship with a narcissist.
It’s my belief that keeping space open for the narcissist to be themselves only leads to self-destruction for their targets. The most loving thing you can do for them is leave because this is the only way they will recognize that their actions won’t be rewarded, forcing them to seek out a different way of life. However, keep in mind that even then, this so-called shift is often short-lived and they revert back to their manipulative and exploitative ways because they don’t spend time self-reflecting or putting in the effort it takes to be a better person…and they generally don’t give two hoots about it.
Kim Saeed is a narcissistic abuse recovery expert on a mission to help abuse survivors to heal, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. She also hosts a podcast called Heal, Grow, Evolve, where she aims to help people create meaningful lives and relationships after emotional abuse. Listen and subscribe at www.healgrowevolvewithkim.com