“I’m in a relationship with a Narcissist. What do I do?”
This is the most common question I’ve received since I started writing on the subject. In this post, I want to give the beginning of an answer. Of course some direction regarding what to do involves direction regarding what not to do.
1. Don’t become narcissistic yourself. This is a fear based self protective way of living. If you’re living with someone like this you might feel attacked, crazy, isolated, invisible, controlled and deeply threatened at your emotional core. Don’t embrace fear and self protection as your way of living and doing relationships. Don’t join them in their darkness. Don’t try to control them out of being controlling. Don’t become focused on you and what you’re doing and how you’re feeling and where you’re headed. The answer to them being at the center of everything isn’t to displace them.
2. Stop enabling. Refuse to live your life protecting the status quo in an attempt to keep the peace. Step on some egg shells. Don’t control them; control you. Self manage. Start living your life as if you are a real person with real thoughts and opinions and feelings that include them, but are not centered around them. Their Narcissism requires the fuel of your enablement. Don’t fill that tank anymore.
3. Become an expert at boundaries and confrontation. Read books. There are tons out there. Don’t just read; implement. Learn to do boundaries and confrontation as an expression of self-management rather than as control. Learn to tell others what you’re going to do and then do it. Learn to let go of the need to control what anyone else chooses. Learn to give others the freedom to experience the consequences of their choices without your intervention to rescue them. Set boundaries in the relationship. If those boundaries are violated then confront. If confrontation doesn’t result in adjustment, then increase the boundary. This includes the possibility of separation and perhaps even divorce. Those are pretty hard core boundaries. Don’t start there. Just realize you’re powerful enough to set whatever boundary is necessary to manage yourself responsibly with health.
4. Pursue your own transformation. Get help. See a counselor. A good therapist might charge you $100-$150 a session. Your relational and emotional health is worth it. Find a way, even if it’s just once a month. If your church community offers a ministry process for personal transformation, dive into the deep end of that process. At our church we call that “Freedom Ministry.” Find out what your church offers for people who are ready to deal with their junk and become the person God created and redeemed them to be. Somewhere inside you there’s likely a strong need to finally be enough for a narcissistic person. This need has likely driven you in relationships for a long time. Find out how that got in there. Get it out. That’s not the real you.
5. Learn to recognize and negotiate alliances. As you begin to implement the above processes, you will discover that your Narcissist will form alliances to pressure you back into the status quo. They might do this with a pastor, leveraging scripture and your desire to obey God in a distorted way to manipulate you back into invisibility. I’ve seen them do it with a counselor, with family, with friends. In almost every toxic relationship, both parties have contributed to the present state of affairs. There are actually two sides to the story. For the relationship to become healthy, both of you will need to adjust. So, on one hand, you can’t live in fear that they will tell their side of things. On the other, you can’t be surprised if telling their side of things ends up being a strategy to control or punish you. You must remain open and empathetic toward them, willing to adjust toward health as that need is revealed. You mustn’t be pulled into the old pattern of fear and manipulation.
I’ve seen people implement the above strategies. Not perfectly of course, but consistently over time. I’ve seen this lead toward the eventual ending of the relationship. I’ve seen it actually result in total transformation and the healing of the relationship. Which will happen for you? I don’t know. But I do know that it will eliminate the status quo as an option. Things will not remain as they’ve been.