Narcissism is an increasingly common feature. It is estimated that 6.2% of the population suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder, but the figure increases if we refer only to narcissism as a marked character of personality. Facing a narcissist is often complicated because this person can become very self-centered, selfish and manipulative.
The problem is that the narcissist has an exaggerated ego perception, tends to be presumptuous and often believes to be superior, he thinks that the others ought appreciate him and get angry if they do not. So, people who have a narcissistic partner or parent end up maintaining a toxic relationship where only they give up and sacrifice, while the other just receives and ask for more and more.
How to recognize a narcissist?
- Criticizes continually the others or disprove them because thinks they are inferior. Narcissists believe that they are superior to others, so they continually underestimate the work and effort of the others to put themselves in a better position.
- Thinks the world revolves around him, because he has a perspective of life too egocentric. This person focuses on his own needs and desires, so often is very insensitive to others and will always try to be the focus of attention.
- Exaggerated need for attention. A narcissistic person will always try to be the center of attention, positively or negatively. No matter how much you tell him that you love, admire or approve him, it will never be enough, because deeply, that person doesn’t feel self-confident and seeks validation through that attention.
- At first he may seem fascinating because he usually has a seductive personality and inspires confidence, attracting people, until you find out he’s actually a very selfish person.
- He thinks he has the truth, so he often develops an attitude of intellectual superiority that becomes very uncomfortable. Narcissists believe they know everything and that everyone else is wrong.
- Assumes an intransigent attitude; he’s almost never willing to give in to the demands and needs of others, especially if it implies that he has to do some personal concession.
- He does not know the word “humility”, so often he has so high goals that are irrational.
- It boasts of himself, of his skills, profession or lifestyle. Narcissists try to show others that they’re the best in everything.
- He does not accept criticisms and can react very aggressively when feels attacked.
- He doesn’t hesitate to blame the others. When things doon’t go well, the narcissistic person doesn’t usually take responsibility but blames the others. Generally his target are the closest, friendly and available 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 narcissista”, which at first seem humble, innocent and charitable. Under the “sensitive” mask conceals contempt and a sense of superiority that are much more difficult to detect, so facing these narcissists is often more complicated because suddenly you become the victim of the situation.
However, both types of narcissistic personality share the same profile of a psychological stalker and his goal is to despise, humiliate, and reduce his victims, who end up submitting to his psychological violence that emotionally invalidates them.
How to deal with a narcissist without losing emotional balance?
To know how to treat a narcissist, it is essential to know in depth his techniques of manipulation.
1. Blend of humiliation, dual intentions, and coded language
When a narcissist feels that his intelligence, success or personal appearance is threatened, he will get to the other without hesitation. His goal is to bring down the victim from the pedestal. He can do it through a compliment followed by an emotional slap or vice versa. For example, he can tell us that we do well something and immediately after that we do something else wrong making us feel badly.
He may also resort to sarcasm or give a condescending tone to his compliments, as if we did not deserve them. Of course, criticism will always be directed to 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 do not and react attacking him, he will immediately become the victim and we will be the “bad” ones.
This technique is known as “gaslighting” and is based on a series of subtle mental games that skim the 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 often remains confused and does not understand well what has happened.
Usually we try to reduce cognitive dissonance and confusion by choosing to “believe” in the narcissist’s version. The problem is that little by little 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 under control. When narcissists criticize you, try not to react because the more you engage emotionally, the more you will be at their mercy, because they will understand what your weak point is and will not hesitate to attack that point again in the future.
If the narcissist says something using a coded language, throws indirect threats or tries to distort reality, ask him to be more precise because you can not understand what he is saying. In this way, you will defeat his strategy of submission and indirect humiliation.
Anyone with a narcissistic personality will do all they can to humiliate his victim, but without that this realizes it, at least in the beginning. To do this, they will resort to all the strategies that hide their intention to take control and subdue. The result of these manipulation tactics is that you can feel that you are walking all the time on a mined field, and this creates a lot of tension.
Narcissists can make an acid comment about your way of being and immediately soften the blow by saying something sweet about you. This ambiguity has a precise goal: make sure that you focus on your behaviors and “defects” instead of analyzing their own, which is the real problem. In this way you will end up feeling guilty if the relationship goes wrong.
In fact, you will notice that the narcissist suddenly changes the subject when it touches his ground. When you reproaches something he will say phrases like “I do not want to talk to you” or “It’s not worth talking about it”. The truth is that no matter what you do because the narcissist will never be satisfied and is not willing to take responsibility.
How to deal with this narcissist?
It is essential that you remain faithful to what you think and feel, that you observe your behavioral patterns from an objective and detached point of view. You do not star in the words, but in your behavior. When you do not 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, do not fall into emotional discussions, stick to he facts and not allow narcissists to digress. Return the discussion on the main theme.
3. The tunnel vision
“Tunnel vision” is a strategy that narcissists uses to focus on some details that are irrelevant or not directly related to the issue, either to minimize something that you have accomplished or to discharge their responsibility. For example, if you just finished a master, the narcissists will congratulate you and ask you when you plan to do the doctorate.
This minimizes your results and makes you feel bad, highlighting what you miss or the negative side of what you have already accomplished. With this strategy, the narcissist simply limits your field of view, so you will only know what he emphasizes. It is a very thin technique that can generate deep dissatisfaction in the victim, which can succeed in many things but will continue to think that he is incapable of anything.
How to deal with this narcissist?
Do not let be dragged in his limited vision. Enjoy what you’ve accomplished and emphasize the effort and skills you needed for it. Find out how to not listen when someone wants to minimize your achievements or blame you for something you have not done or that you haven’t done in a “perfect” way.
You can also unveil him, tell him that his criticism seems excessive and you do not feel any need to impress the others. If you say you are sorry about his opinion, but do not share it and you feel satisfied with what you have accomplished, the narcissist will understand that he can not manipulate you emotionally.
Can a narcissist change?
We can all change, grow and overcome our weaknesses, if we wish. However, one of the main problems of narcissistic people is that they don’t usually recognize that they have a problem, so they don’t have the necessary motivation to change.
The very characteristics of narcissism underpin this problem. On the one hand, the narcissist is not fully aware of the impact of his behaviors, attitudes and words. On the other hand, he’s not responsible for the consequences of his feelings or actions, but blames the others. That means that, if there’s a problem in the relationship, he will blame the other freeing himself of all responsibilities.
Therefore, for the narcissist to change, it is necessary that he first recognize his share of responsibility, that he becomes aware of those traits that cause harm to the others or hinder his interpersonal relationships.
We have to keep in mind that narcissism often emerges from vulnerable environments in which the person felt in danger, usually from early childhood. In fact, there is a correlation between narcissism and an insecure attachment style. Narcissistic people have learned to ignore, suppress, deny, project and/or reject their vulnerabilities to be accepted in their environment.
Change implies allowing that vulnerability to re-enter their lives, means opening up to the feelings they have learned to avoid at all costs. Therefore, it’s not that narcissistic people cannot change, but change scares them because it threatens the image they built and forces them to break down the psychological barriers they have built to protect themselves. We must understand that change can be frightening for the narcissist because it’s like erasing all his certainties.
It’s also important to understand that narcissists cannot be in a vacuum. They need the audience that makes them feel like a star, which implies that, in a certain way, those around them also contribute to that staging. In fact, often the narcissist himself is trapped in the vicious circle of the character he built.
Over time, as their perfect façade begins to crumble, the fear that people will find him uninteresting becomes a frightening prospect. To maintain his interest, the narcissist tries to improve his show, which means hiding his defects by resorting to lies and becoming more demanding.
How to help a narcissistic person?
Narcissists don’t usually ask for help. They have a hard time acknowledging that they have a problem because they are not particularly comfortable with the idea that there is something “wrong” with them. So to help a narcissist it is important to be very tactful.
– Try to understand him. Placing a label is usually limiting. That means you should strive to see that person in his entirety, beyond narcissism. We all have a life story that, in one way or another has marked us. Trying to understand the life events in the narcissistic person’s life will help you feel more empathy.
Remember that sometimes narcissism can be the result of emotional wounds and low self-esteem, the answer to cover up feelings of paralyzing insecurity and insufficiency. On the other hand, a person who only received compliments and approval throughout his childhood and adolescence, will not know how to behave otherwise because he thinks he is superior.
– Determine what type of narcissism he suffers. To help a narcissistic person, it is important to understand what type of narcissism he suffer from. In broad strokes we can refer to two categories: the grandioses and the vulnerables.
A grandiose narcissist focuses on his own glory at the expense of what the others think. They tend to be happier and more stable, making it easier to help them. Vulnerable narcissists, by contrast, work actively to minimize those around them to feel better. This type of narcissist is more difficult to help.
– Use empathic confrontation. It is a psychotherapy technique in which an inconsistency is shown to the person, but always with respect and acceptance. Thus the narcissistic person will be able to see the discrepancies and restructure his self-image, which will give way to a more fluid integration.
You can, for example, make him see the contrasts between good and bad behaviors and/or attitudes, those that are beneficial for everyone and those that cause harm because they are deeply selfish. The key to overcoming defenses is the full acceptance of reactions, even dysfunctional ones, because that 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 issue so that he understands that his attitudes and behaviors are inappropriate and are hurting you. Remember that in a relationship there is never a single culprit since relationships are built between two.
Avoid attacking and recriminating him because that will only make him defensive. Instead, explain how his attitudes and words hurt you or make you feel bad. And tell him what you would like him to do instead. Criticism, without an alternative action plan, 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 that 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 that” or “I know how hard you are trying, I appreciate it”. Try to stay positive.
– Kindness and love. Sometimes narcissism is a way to protect himself against a world that seems hostile, so to mitigate that defensive behavior it is only necessary to show them that we love and esteem them, despite the fact that there are limits that they should not cross. It is about ceasing to be their audience, so they understand that they will earn more by changing than exacerbating their narcissistic attitudes.
When narcissists are approached in a kinder and more compassionate way, many are more emotionally open and committed to change as they experience secure love. Change does not happen because we “scold” them, because they think they are the center of the world or because they are manipulative, but it is about making them see the benefits of collaboration and understanding.
Phrases like “I care so much for you” or “You are important to me” can give them the kind of reassurance that many narcissists need. They also push them to think about the relationship, shifting the focus from “me” to “us.”
Finally, it is important to be aware that when narcissism is a serious personality disorder, these people may need psychological help to maintain healthy relationships. It is also important to preserve our mental balance, so if you have done everything in your power and that person does not commit to change, you may have to value ending that relationship.