HOW TO STAY IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH A NARCISSIST (If You Must)

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

-Or- The Proprietor Is Always Right



Don’t.


Have a wonderful day.


Thank you for reading my blog.


Ha ha! Well, you can’t blame me for starting with the best advice first.


If you don’t yet know if you are bearing the burden of having a narcissist on your hands (and not sure why you are unlucky enough to have caught ANOTHER ONE despite being sure it was different this time), I would start here, here, and here (if you are, you’ll be laughing and clapping by the end of the 3rd link because that is EXACTLY how it is!)


I’m assuming that you’re stuck with an emotionally unavailable/narcissist because your survival depends on it (emotional, physical, financial--there is literally no other reason you would). If you are basing your emotional survival on such a person, just know that in the end (and there will be an end), the fallout won’t be pretty at all if you built your emotional house/identity on them. They are wrecking balls.


I live by the words: If you know the rules, you can play the game. This is important because if you *don’t* know the rules, you are going to keep losing and wondering why you have no idea what’s going on, what’s wrong with you, and why, despite all your efforts, you keep "failing".


RULE NO. 1: BELIEVE WHAT THEY DO, NOT NECESSARILY WHAT THEY SAY.


These people are one big contradiction. They walk and talk like they own the place (the place being planet Earth), some have astonishing charisma and charm (when you first get to know them), probably quite a few “friends” (many are usually shady), and perhaps even impressive accomplishments (which they will let you know ALL about). Covert narcissists are a bit different, so they may not follow all the "narcissist identifying rules".


It won’t take long for their insecurities to shine through, and they have I-N-S-E-C-U-R-I-T-I-E-S. You may find yours to be the (closeted) most insecure person you know.


Know that there is nothing you can do to cure this or any other of the zillion emotional ills they have:


their unavailability,

distance,

lying,

preference for manipulation,

lack of true care or concern,

lack of self-love,

lack of self-esteem,

fondness for judging others (positive or negative),

enjoyment of off-color jokes,

lack of ambition,

excess of ambition,

lack of true connection,

disgust for those around them,

inflexibility,

ingratitude,

lack of recognition or appreciation for those around them and things that they have done,

perfectionism,

apparent obliviousness or outright disdain for how they make others feel,

taking advantage of others,

callousness,

degrading others,

devaluing others in the cruelest ways possible using confidential knowledge about them against them,

preying on others’ fears,

raging at small slights,

finding ways to trigger others and then crazy-labelling them,

always demanding more,

dehumanizing,

BLAMING IN EXTREME EXCESS,

EXCUSES FOR *EVERYTHING*,

disappearing when responsibilities come around,

ducking accountability,

or doing things to help you and then exacting "payment",

and on,

and on.


They will have good traits of course, because every human does. I’m not saying that.


What I AM saying is that the above qualities ARE WHO THEY ARE PROUD TO BE (although they will deny all of those behaviors and make you look crazy for pointing them out). It is "everyone else who is a problem".


This is because they carry a cruel inner critic who constantly makes them feel worthless, and they have since childhood. Wherever they got this inner trauma, it never left because they learned to survive by convincing themselves that they are grandiosely amazing, to counter the default feeling of suffocating sh*tiness. They do this by wounding and devaluing everyone and everything around them when they don't feel so good. There are only 2 states of being for narcissists, how they try to control the world around them: godlike perfection, or abhorrent revulsion.


So...


Nothing the Emotionally Unavailable/Narcissist does is ever their fault and they almost NEVER apologize (if they do, it’s usually a tool to get what they want). Or they apologize with loads of guilt- and blame-inducing qualifiers and backhanded insults. Or they apologize and don't even attempt to change.


They will pass out blame and demand apologies like…I have no analogy because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.


The people around them (who don’t leave) start to question their own sanity (I can speak from experience, both being in relationships with narcissists and having had narcissistic tendencies myself).


Narcissists usually stop short of breaking the law because THEY CAN CONTROL THEIR BEHAVIOR they just choose not to and THEY ALREADY DO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING AND HOW IT AFFECTS OTHERS so no, you don’t need to explain, in fact, explanations will lead to punishing consequences. I've been there, tried that…again, and again, and again s.m.h. NO.


Their emotional survival (not feeling like a pile of sh*t) will always outweigh the needs of others. It isn't personal, it is how they feel in the moment. If you truly believed you would always be a worthless no-hoper if you didn't make sure other people could see themselves as the problem and you as flawless, what would you do?


They can't regulate their emotions either. If they feel bad, EVERYTHING is bad, including you, Innocent Joe Bystander who loves them.


Don't be realistic right now, you and I both know that isn't how the world works...but what if you were an alien on a planet where that was literally the case? That your life was ruined forever because someone "did you wrong" (you feel bad for whatever reason, and they happen to be there), and if you didn't "set them straight" and "take control" immediately, you would lose everything, forever, and be anathema, an eternal powerless pariah laughingstock? Life wouldn't be worth living anymore. You'd be better off dead. That's what a narcissist seems to experience. And why collateral damage (your feelings) is "negligible" in the face of those stakes. And also why they can't seem to remember, in those moments, all the good you have done, or that they ever loved you.


Moral of the story: accept this is exactly what you are dealing with, sometimes it only intensifies and worsens over time, and, besides praying, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO CHANGE THEM. They can change themselves, if they can ever face their inner imperfections, which they have a very difficult time doing because they have no sense of proportion; their flaws seem all encompassing, they can't bear to be wrong, it would be too big to forgive (they are very grandiose and see in strict dichotomies), so they have to try to pretend their mistakes and flaws don't exist in practicality--and convince everyone else of the same. Sometimes you can gently build trust and rapport, but the horrible programming they devised as a childhood adaptation is fundamental, and only they can discover the over-ride key for themselves.


The good news is that it is also never YOUR fault or about you, so never blame yourself (they will do that for you plenty enough, I guarantee it). You may push their buttons, but THEY decide what actions those buttons will output. This is true for all of us.


The other good news is that you will never be able to do enough or well enough to make them happy (since their problem is with themselves and only they can fix that), so don’t kill yourself trying. If you are trapped in this situation, try to find a middle ground while LOOKING like you are bending over backwards for them.


The best news is (if you’re like me and you need the pressure of a deadline to motivate you), know that most Narcissists are always looking for “the next best thing”/”the one who finally won’t be such a massive disappointment”/”the one who won’t bore/irritate me”/”the one I finally won’t be ashamed of”/"the one I need for the image I currently want"/etc., so keep in mind that you don’t actually have unlimited time with this person.


Not all are like this, some will settle down, but most have an "expiration date".


Most will always value quantity of admiration/attention over quality and consistency because more feels safer when at your core, you feel cheap and disposable. If you don't believe you are actually lovable, staying safe and warm under a nurturing mother hen feels little better than bouncing from basket to basket at a farmers' market (to use an egg analogy). The more "popular" you are, the less worthless and more desirable you feel if your inner worth is that compromised. It's a way to make others feel the need to work harder for scarcer love, and have alternative plans if you need/want to bounce. It bolsters ego while mitigating risk of having no where else to go. This is obviously very shallow, but none of this thinking is logical because the dichotomy premise is delusional.


RULE NO. 2: YOU NEED TO PUT EMOTIONAL SPACE BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU WITHOUT MAKING IT *TOO* OBVIOUS


If you can’t put REAL space between you, definitely put emotional space between you.


This is waaaaay trickier than it sounds because you may be sssssssSSSSSUUUUUUUPPPPEEEEEERRRRRRRR emotionally involved with them. You have needs and they meet those with just the right amount of intermittent reinforcement (a.k.a. crack for needy people). In this case, the thing you need most is the thing you want least if you don't love yourself.


Even if you aren’t emotionally attached, keep in mind that you are dealing with energetic and emotional vampires. Since they can't connect with their own emotions, people who are emotionally unavailable are super attuned to emotional actions of others.


They prey on your well-being—this is literally their ego’s livelihood and they are ALL ego, all the time.


They aren’t oblivious or ignorant, they are predatory "to survive".


Even if you don’t make some declaration about how you will no longer be putting up with their sh*t and you don’t give a personal f*ck about them anymore (save yourself the explosive argument and inevitable kick-to-the-keister-hard-landing-on-the-concrete-pavement-outside-cartoon-style eviction and DON’T), they will still immediately notice and give you hell for becoming cold, indifferent, or withdrawn. They're HANGRY!


IF this person truly is key to your current survival, then they are no different than gainful employment.


Most of us have had to work jobs that we hated, that exhausted us physically and emotionally and paid poorly.


Relying on a Narcissist is no different (except, sometimes they can be fun).


Do what you would do at a minimum-wage job you had no heart for but still needed to survive: put on a smile and follow the rules (it probably involves lots of ego-fellating, I’m sorry) as best you can and don’t take one iota of the customer’s complaints personally.


That is your relationship. Expect to be asking how you can assist them/how they are doing/care for their needs/thank them/wish them a good day. Just as you never expect the customer to do those things back (after all, they aren’t working there (emotionally invested), why would they?), save yourself the madness and view any reciprocity as an unexpected bonus in your paycheck and a complete exception to the unwritten rules of engagement.


You can NOT be truly emotionally engaged with this type of person because you will end up broken and insane. They would rather set their house on fire then give into someone as beneath them (in their opinion) as you. Or face their misdeeds and flaws.


I saw a quote that said, "I will lose you before I lose an argument." Yep. Yep yep yep, that's life with a narcissist. That, or they will assively-aggressively make your life a living hell in retaliation.


When dealing with their crap, respond in a cool manner, never react emotionally. Be a wall.


Keep in mind that they will often attempt to goad you, control you, and hurt you since they feed off of this to feel better about themselves and take out their frustrations towards a life that, at least momentarily, seems interminably, impossibly awful and out of control.


Starve them.


Let them become emaciated from the lack of drama you give into.


This is going to take baby steps and it can be easy to slip up (I’ve been there!), so forgive yourself and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every victory is a VICTORY.



“That’s enough of me talking about myself; let’s hear you talk about me”

*sigh* another day, another dollar



RULE NO. 3: IF YOU ARE EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED TO THIS PERSON

If you already are deeply emotionally involved, i.e. you love this person and are completely and totally devastated by their cruelty and are euphoric over the emotional scraps they toss your way...


Know that you have a problem (the BIGGEST!) but...


The GREAT news is that you can fix it without anyone else’s permission or money.


You have to start loving, validating, esteeming, and valuing YOU.


Currently, you have built your emotional refuge, your emotional house, your identity as a person at the top of an active volcano (them).


It’s not a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for being left with nothing but heartbreak and “homelessness”.


Loving yourself is NOT a feeling you can magically give yourself.


Love is the actions you take to protect, strengthen, and mature the absolute most vulnerable parts of you: the parts that keep getting wounded repeatedly, the parts that are never satisfied.


You demonstrate the higher value of yourself to yourself. You can read what actions to take and how here.


It’s a process. If you mess up, do better next time.


RULE NO. 4: DELAY THE INEVITABLE BY GAMING THE SYSTEM


It probably goes without saying, but if at all possible, try to find ways/excuses to put physical space between you and this person too. Remember that you need sunshine, fresh air, open space, and a change of scenery to be healthy too.


Also, Narcissists NEED control and have a terror of being smothered AND don’t value what they don’t have to work for.


They enjoy calling the shots and that includes being the one to pursue, not be pursued or deal with clingy anything (they may deny it but listen to their actions and patterns).


If you can find the sweet spot of making them slightly work/pursue your time/attention/commitment, they will probably treat you better longer.


REMEMBER, they don’t want what they can freely have, there is no status and no “winning” in that (the status may be in their mind only, it doesn’t matter—they view approval as either a trophy to be won or garbage).


They constantly have to prove to themselves and others that they are worth something, otherwise they wouldn’t talk like they were the most valuable, clever, insightful, strong, powerful, scrupulous, knowledgeable, (insert virtue the audience would applaud here) person in the room to everyone they meet because healthy self-actualized people don’t do that (because they don’t NEED to do that because they have self-validation inside and thus don’t need to suck it out of other people to keep living a sad emotional half-life hisss).


Working to get *you* is part of proving that they can have whatever they want (but they don’t want it if they have it), so if you can play hard-to-get while giving their ego the feeling of being a winner, you will do as well for yourself as you can in these circumstances. This is my experience, anyways.


Remember, this is a fine line. The goal here is to give them the opportunity to feel completely in control and give them the opportunity to make themselves feel good about their abilities. You are not begging for something you actually want (like respect).


You also are not trying to prove a point and you are not supposed to “win”. You are simply demonstrating some very dilute higher-value or resistance (DILUTE is key, almost be teasing about it, NOT confrontational) to let them play a game designed to let them “win” (no matter how shallow the victory), with ego stroking at the end of every session. If you go too far or too hard, you will get put down again. They will get triggered and instead of feeling special they will lash out because they feel inferior somehow. It's a delicate dance for you, should you choose to try. Asking a few questions and letting them convince you of their point of view is an easy example.


The only reason I’m telling you this is to help you buy time to get out of there and avoid as much emotional and verbal abuse as possible because this relationship will be 100% on the Emotionally Unavailable/Narcissist’s terms.


RULE NO. 5: HAVE AN EXIT PLAN AND GET TO WORK:


Make progress on it, no matter how small, every day.


I read something similar today that was worded so well, I just had to add it in:


"How to deal with a narcissist: Keep going during devalue cycles and silent treatment.


In my opinion, this is the crux of the self-preservation you must commit to when dealing with a narcissist. You will feel awful when you are put down, ignored, and abandoned. This will occur in cycles – some short, some long. For some people, these cycles go on for an entire lifetime. Do not waste your life as you wait for someone to self-regulate back to seeing your value.


Put down the bottle of wine. You may be depressed, but consider using this time as a break. Parent yourself. Make a dentist appointment. When dealing with a narcissist, you will be worse for the wear, no matter how well you believe you are handling this situation. Your body absorbs the stress, and this will inevitably become symptomatic eventually. Take this as an opportunity to take care of yourself. Go through an inventory of how you feel. Address what you have been putting off.


Do not put your life on hold. Even if you believe that the relationship will undergo some miracle transformation, think about what you need to do today to take care of the future you – physically, emotionally, and career-wise. Take deliberate action, because you may be disappearing so much that this type of action may not come naturally to you anymore.


Think of this as your insurance policy for whatever the outcome." --Irena at P.M.S.


The best kind of exit is the door that opens in the direction you want to go in anyways, so put your energy into finding *that* one, even if it seems stupid or impossible.


Committing is magic.


I’m not saying you won’t have to do things you don’t want to do, or things won’t suck for a while, or you won’t have to deal with problems, or you won’t be poor because unfortunately, all of those things are probably absolutely going to happen, so don’t get discouraged when your mettle is tested because you know what?


Those things are going to happen anyway. They happened to me. They happened to all of us!


But once you commit to something, miracles will start to happen that will astonish you to the point of your hair standing on end!


True story: I committed to getting to Arizona or die trying and within a month, on about $2,000, I had a job and purchased a HOUSE. IN A SAFE NEIGHBORHOOD. It was incredible. And the best part? It was Yuma, Arizona, a day trip away from San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Lake Havasu, and a weekend trip away from the Grand Canyon!


It worked out better than I could possibly have planned it!


That’s why committing to ending up somewhere you WANT to be, do something you LOVE and FULFILLS you is so important, because you WILL get what you committed to.


I was committed to living somewhere awesome and having a nicer house than I had ever lived in. That came well and truly TRUE!


Unfortunately, I thought that would be enough to get me through a horrific job I never wanted to do in the first place. It wasn't.


That doesn’t mean you will never ever be able to take your life in a different direction (you can, you aren’t trapped), but it does mean that it will take longer and be more costly when you could have saved yourself some trouble.


I did! I changed careers after 2 misery-making years...but I ended up back where I started for a little while (that *felt* like a long while).


I tell this story to give you hope! If you don’t know where you want to be or what you want to do, you probably still know where you DON’T want to be or do, so DON’T go in those directions unless you find them at least somewhat tolerable/doable. A tolerable/doable situation is another baby step instead of a wrong turn.


“If you’re miserable, you’re doing something wrong” has never led me astray.


TRUST YOUR GUT.


Also, don’t beat yourself up if “progress” doesn’t happen fast or if the effects have no visible impact for weeks or possibly even months. THAT’S OKAY. Once they finally add up, it’s usually with dam-bursting everything’s-happening-so-fast-wait-what-just-happened?! effects.


Be ready 😊


Progress includes cleaning up your space so you don’t feel overwhelmed or depressed (so that you can think clearly and feel able to work), saving money, networking, research, creating things even if you aren’t satisfied with the result--you made a thing and you LEARNED from doing it!.


You accomplished SOMETHING instead of nothing at all!


And don’t be too harsh on yourself because, to paraphrase Austin Kleon, it’s okay to put something aside and come back to edit it later.


You can not create and critique at the same time.


Baby steps are moving forward, and moving forward, however minute, is a zillion times better than the death of stagnating.


Just remember not to stay on any baby step longer than you need to just because you are stalling, afraid to take the next step.


RULE NO. 6: GIVE UP HOPE, BUT DON'T GIVE UP TOO MUCH HOPE


Really what I mean here is there is a magic to surrendering and resigning yourself too; really basically the “Accept the things I can not change” part of the prayer that goes hand-in-hand with the “Courage to change the things that I can”.


"Acceptance is awareness", as Jessica Lanyadoo says.


In my own life, after I had done (with frenzied desperation) just about everything that I felt that I could do, and exhausted all decent, real, feasible options...


I was STILL stuck in a miserable, hopeless, hideous situation.


After a point, you kind of go limp and just kind of give up this delusion of control. You run out of the proverbial "f*cks to give" when you feel you've done all you can do and things just keep getting worse.


I accepted that things had always sucked and were only going to get worse and there was nothing more I could do about it because I had done my best and I just had to accept now that I was just made to suffer.


I really, honestly surrendered everything because it was finished and there was nothing left but to grind out the rest of my existence as a prisoner to the miserable fate I had evidently been created for.


It was a point even beyond feeling suicidal because with suicide (whether you want to attempt it or just wish you would die but not actually be at fault for your own murder) at least you are hoping to control your own fate and have something (the afterlife) to theoretically look forward to (hopefully not a bad one).


I didn’t even have that anymore.


I had nothing at all except a sh*t-ton of (what I thought was) completely useless preparation behind me.


I did not have even hopes and dreams because I really and truly believed that those were never ever going to happen and were over forever (not just like, I-feel-sorry-for-myself, this-is-taking-too-long-to-happen-but-still-possibly-will—nope, NEVER).


There have been several points in my life where I just let go of everything I had wanted and hoped for (not as profoundly as this last time) and surrendered, but EVERY TIME something completely unexpected happened with literally almost no additional effort on my part, and I got what I not only needed but really really wanted.


This isn’t something that you can really choose or make yourself feel…it’s more of an exhaustion that kind of just happens to you.


Otherwise this would be a magical fail-safe formula for having your wishes granted, right? But if you really have exhausted all options and feel that frenzied, terrified, sad desperation I felt, there does come a point where you have to choose to let it all go and just accept so that the chaos inside becomes a vacuum to be filled. And it will be filled with all those things you drove yourself to the edge trying to get yourself. The Invisible Hand takes over.


Wu wei wu.


But I think it goes even beyond that, and I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I do know that it is a gift and for some reason this subject always makes me think of the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem: “Love, to every heart will come, but like a refugee”.


This does not happen if you are just lazy because that isn’t a vacuum, there’s lots of dreams and responsibilities there, it’s just bad housekeeping; and you’re not sincere, you just can’t be bothered.


However, don’t give up too much hope (as in, don’t let it stop you from living).


RULE NO. 7: LIVING ON BORROWED TIME


Understand that if you don’t get out of there soon enough, they are going to eventually throw you out.


At some point, no matter how well you played the game with them, they are going to realize they have you (and will subsequently no longer want you), get bored, or just have a bad day and need to take out some frustration (they are incredibly cruel people deep down because they lack empathy for themselves, much less anyone else).


Who knows?


The point is, the more desperate your situation, the bigger kick they will get out of your reaction, so even if you are going to have to walk to a homeless shelter, give them no signs of emotion.


This will be impossible if you don’t steel yourself for the possibility now.


(They might not really want you completely gone yet, they might just want to see if they want to pursue you or not. However, even if they let you stay, this is the sign of the end times. This “game” will continue and continue to get worse and more frequent, in my own painful experience).


Hopefully, however, it won’t come to that because you will have worked on your exit plan enough to disappear on your own terms or have at least a few decent-to-good options in your back pocket.


Hopefully also you will have worked on your own emotional issues so that you now have a very healthy and strong sense of emotional self and self-love backed by consistently enforced boundaries. This will provide you a okay (as opposed to traumatic) emotional aftermath so that you can function well and move on with as little pain and as quickly as possible to that wonderful future you always dreamed of (but almost gave up hope on).


Things will take longer than you like, but happen sooner than you expect. And that includes the passing of all pain (which is never here to stay) and the accomplishment of goals.


Disclaimer: If you don’t give them any emotion or contact afterwards, don’t be surprised if they come crawling back to you. Be warned: Whatever they say, they want an ego stroking and to ease the pathetic remnants of their guilty conscience with some validation (after all, if they were *really* so awful, you wouldn’t even entertain the thought of responding to them). Well, and they are human, so they may be lonely.


8.) WE’RE HERE FOR YOU SO DON’T THROW ANY OF YOURSELF AWAY


Last but not least, remember that you ARE NOT and WILL NEVER BE alone. There are a lot of us survivors and thrivers out there, and there are a lot of people clawing their way through what you are going through too!


Not only do you have a best friend who went through every single exhilarating or excruciating moment (YOU), you also have whole communities of people to rely on.


Remember your experiences as a gift the Future You will be able to help others with in some way, and will--believe me, I know this sounds insane right now--even be grateful for--not because you enjoyed it, but because your destination was worth going through it to get to.


Remember this experience and let it shape you into a better, kinder, and wiser person.


As Austin Kleon says, “Don’t throw any of yourself away”. You have no idea how this whole thing is going to pay off for you later down the road.


I believe in you and we're rooting for you!


All My Love,


R.


More Invaluable resources that saved my life:


Article:

How to De-Escalate a Fight with a Narcissist by: Doctor Elinor Greenberg, Ph. D., Gestalt Therapist


Books:

Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety by: Doctor Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D., G.C.P.


The Covert Passive-Aggressive Narcissist: Recognizing the Traits and Finding Healing After Hidden Emotional and Psychological Abuse by: Debbie Mirza


Image Credit:

Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

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