Narcissism isn’t simply vanity or egotism or selfishness. It’s when a person
is driven almost entirely by his own self-image and how he is perceived by
others. His overly inflated ideas of his own prestige, achievements and
all-around importance need constant reinforcement. He requires admiration and
can’t handle criticism. When chided, even gently, he can erupt into anger and
name-calling. Trying to maintain a relationship with such a person can be
exhausting. There’s also the danger of falling into his web, subsumed into his
egocentric worldview. Still, it’s possible—especially if you understand what it
is that you’re dealing with. Bear in mind that even though insecurity and low
self-esteem may be the underlying causes of a man’s narcissism, they’re often
buried so deeply that he’s convinced himself to believe his own bluster. At any
rate, if he is in your life for any reason, you need to deal with his
behaviors, not undertake his psychoanalysis.
Dealing With Him Without Losing Yourself
Preserve your own core values, your own character,
your own personality when dealing with a narcissist. Don’t let his steamrolling
ego flatten you. Narcissists are notoriously thin-skinned, with values that are
only skin-deep. Don’t attempt to convince him with rational arguments. Logic
has nothing to do with his behavior. He’ll see your rational argument as an
attack, and he’ll strike back. Keep cool and don’t let him flimflam you. If you’re trying to get an ex or current spouse to
do the right thing, make a point of emphasizing what great
“publicity” it will bring. If it’s possible, let him believe he
thought of this ego-boosting maneuver himself. Avoid direct criticism. It
doesn’t work and might bring on rage, vindictiveness and spite. Keep your own
identity intact through any interaction. Stay on-topic. He may try to re-frame
the conversation to gain control and/or change the subject to something more
agreeable to him. At the same time, for the conversation to proceed at all, you
may need to give him little affirmations along the way. Stay calm, even when he’s
trying to shut you down. Don’t give him any excuses to blow his top and thus
bring the dialogue to a halt. Sometimes, humor helps, but sarcasm never does.
Is This Relationship Worth All the Work? Beware the narcissist disguised as Prince Charming.
He may sweep a person off her feet. His charming behavior will win him
admiration and respect—at least in the short run. Unfortunately, a charismatic
narcissist can draw a well-meaning, loving soul into his own fantasies. She may
even be convinced that he’s as devoted to her as she is to him. But the lovable
veneer wears away after a while as his deficiencies become more and more
apparent. What this guy is really looking for is an acolyte, not an equal
partner. He isn’t good at the give and take that define a stable relationship.
He can see other people (including you) only as extensions of his own ego.
Therefore, he doesn’t see anything wrong with crossing personal boundaries. He
is capable of going through your mail, your belongings, your activities
online—just to make sure you’re staying within his tight little orbit. Define
your own personal space in a firm but non-threatening manner. Stick to your
When Silence Isn’t Golden The popular image of a narcissist is the blowhard
who brags incessantly and obnoxiously to anyone who’ll listen, but quieter
versions exist too. Make no mistake; they still need others to prop them up,
but their hostility comes across as more passive-aggressive, even furtive. It
can take longer to pinpoint such a person as a narcissist, and in the meantime,
you might be wondering what it is you’ve done to merit his scorn. In fact, this
guy expects you to support his ideal idea of himself with no prompting. In
other words, he expects you to read his mind through the layers of obfuscation wrapped
around his damaged core. He can be very manipulative, in a behind-the-scenes
kind of way. Once you’re figured this out, you have the upper hand. As with any
other narcissist, be firm, state your case, but don’t let yourself get baited
into an argument.
Co-Parenting With a Narcissist Perhaps you need to keep up a connection with an ex
because of your children’s bond with him. He is an important figure in their
lives, whether he’s their birth father or not. Unable or unwilling to see
through his bravado, to them, he’s an apparently confident, popular, generous
guy. They’ll shower him with unconditional affection—which, of course, is the
perfect relationship as far as he’s concerned. At some point, though, his
bubble is almost certain to burst. The children will inevitably start to show
their own spirit of independence, therefore, in his eyes, “betraying”
him. Be prepared. The narcissist whose self-image has been shattered can
retaliate in nasty ways. Make sure your kids understand that this is not a personal
attack aimed at them.
Children in “high-conflict” parenting
situations sometimes think they are the ones to blame, that they’ve somehow
done something wrong. Reassure them that this is not true, but do it without
casting blame on the narcissist. Don’t vent your feelings about him to your
kids. They’re children, not bargaining chips, and they’re in a very vulnerable
place right now. If you use them as sounding boards against your ex or use them
to send him messages, he’ll just turn it against you. Be the calm, stable
parent. Set firm boundaries for visitations and interactions with the children.
If he refuses to adhere to these rules, you may have to seek help from the
court system. If the kids are consistently anxious and/or upset because of the
co-parenting situation, consider family therapy.
No matter what level of interaction you’re going to have with this man, it’s important to carve out space in your life only for yourself. If you have a supportive network of friends or family, utilize it. If you have a skill or an artistic bent, express yourself with it. Take a course in a subject you’re interested in. If nothing else, confide in a journal; keeping a record of your own thoughts and feelings throughout a difficult relationship can be of enormous help. And speaking of help, don’t be afraid to seek it from a mentor, a therapist or a sympathetic pastor.