How do you deal with people who have NPD? Engage your heart and pay a little less attention to the spoken and written word for a change. (Or use your heart to see what is behind the word.)
Some people who have NPD can be perceived as engaging in bullying. That is why I talk about NPD on this site. Because I help people deal with workplace bullying.
First of all, being called a narcissist is not the same as having a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
People with NPD have a habit of trying to make others feel insecure and knocking them off balance. If that were not so easy to do, it would be much less of an issue.
On the other hand, people with NPD are terribly insecure deep inside, but because it is hidden under a lot of bluster, there is a lot less tolerance for their “antics” in the world than there should be.
This aggravates the friction. It can create a vicious cycle.
But “antics” is not what NPD is about. NPD is a brain-based state of being that people with NPD never asked for.
This morning I had a sudden thought. (It happens.)
Maybe you can see people with NPD as majestic cruise ships that on the one hand are terrified of being hit by an iceberg and on the other hand don’t want to know about it and may even deny it when they are hit by an iceberg or pretend that icebergs do not exist. As cruise ships, they are perfectly fine. It is their obsession with icebergs that the rest of the world does not know how to deal with. The way they toot about that. Part of that obsession is trying to make others believe that they have been or will be hit by an iceberg and that being hit by an iceberg means that you are an inferior cruise ship.
I have previously compared the manifestations of NPD as akin to sneezing. Does that mean that people with NPD are easy to have around? Not necessarily.
But if you see it as your own responsibility not to be made to feel insecure, knocked off balance or manipulated, you have already done half of the job.
Can people with NPD do what they can to make you feel miserable or create havoc in your life so that they can feel better about themselves? Sure, they can.
But ultimately, it is not what happens to you that matters. It is how you respond to it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Change the things you can change and ignore the things you cannot change.
Gaining some insight into NPD and knowing very well who you are and how you tick and controlling that (your own actions and responses) may be the other half of the job.
People with NPD do things such as needle you, target your insecurities and vulnerabilities – the iceberg – and blame you for things you bear no responsibility for, such as, say that your parents filed for bankruptcy when you were eight. Take a deep breath, count to ten and acknowledge that you bear no responsibility for whatever it is that you are being blamed for, acknowledge your own resulting feelings of powerlessness and then let go. Breathe out.
Another trick to dealing with people who have NPD is to pay much less attention to the written and spoken word. If I go back to the cruise ship analogy, then you could say that it is about learning to pay much less attention to its loud ship horn. We don’t generally value cruise ships for their ship horn, do we?
The value of the connection you can have with people who have NPD lies in the emotional (which remains mostly unspoken) and the practical.
Sure, people with NPD will often scorn emotions in others, but that is because they hate them in themselves. They do not know what to do with them and they do not like at all how powerless their emotions make them feel.
There is a two-sidedness as well as a reflectiveness in people with NPD that is so multifaceted it can be hard to comprehend. People with NPD tend to see themselves reflected; they may have a habit of externalizing what they can’t deal with internally. But once you get an intuitive feel for that, it gets harder and harder to for them to trigger your anger and trip you up. But it goes beyond projection.
I even have an answer for how to deal with what they may say about you behind your back. There is no denying that they tend to paint you as a highly flawed and/or horrible individual behind your back. (They may try to separate you from others, isolate you.) Does it mean that you have to hide parts of your life from the person with NPD? Probably.
People who have NPD tend to do their best to want to isolate their spouse/lover and I think that is because they fear comparing badly, because they see themselves as seriously flawed. This is where it gets really challenging.
Because if you tell your NPD spouse that you are meeting a friend, the spouse is likely to act up. If you say you are going to the grocery store and hide that you are meeting a friend, you feel like a cheat and a liar.
Education about NPD should perhaps extend to the friends of spouses of people with NPD so that the person with NPD will feel happy about having those friends around.
Is it really that much different from taking into account that the spouse of your friend has no hearing in his left ear so that you know to steand on his right side when you say something to him? No!
I guess I am talking about the rest of us using our empathy, whether cognitive or emotional, both of which we should have in abundance, while most people with NPD don’t have that luxury.
I have also learned to lower – or rather: change – my expectations with respect to them and value people with NPD a little differently. It is no use expecting a cat to have the long neck of a giraffe or the other way around or to be annoyed with someone because he or she is vision-impaired.
You can learn to value people who have NPD for who they are – the good things that they also have to offer; many are very good with money and have a good sense of humour – instead of moaning about who and what they are not. They have many talents and can contribute a lot to your life. But it requires adjustments.
That includes asking yourself whether some of the lies they may tell you are really such a big deal. You can do that without changing your own values.
If you come from a broken family in which your parents fought a lot, they may portray their own family background that way to make you feel sympathetic towards them. Or they may paint it picture-perfect so that they can look – feel – superior.
If they think that topics like astrology will draw sharp criticism from you, they may try to trigger that criticism and lure you into runaway argumentative discussions that you will not win. They may secretly despise astrology. Does it matter? If you are able to master your own responses, it won’t.
Does it matter that someone talks extensively about their (non-existing) civil justice work because they think it will make you feel appreciative?
They may claim that they come from the same region you or your parents grew up in.
The challenge lies in recognizing people with NPD so that you are able to guard yourself around them.
- They often say things like “what goes around comes around” or talk about karma. This refers to the reflectiveness that they possess and practice in so many ways. This way, they are essentially give you instructions for how to limit friction with them. They have an innate tendency to treat you the way you treat them. It can even go as far as “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” (You see this in Donald Trump’s way of talking about governors who he considers nice or not nice and perhaps also in Boris Johnson’s vindictive cut in Covid-19 support for Manchester from £60,000,000 to £22,000,000.)
- They may come across as loud and critical and insensitive. They may say things like “people are just too sensitive” (which is actually about them, about how they feel deep inside and that they usually do not want you to know about, at all).
- I think that they can also do things like communicate with you in private when it would be more appropriate to do so in public (for example, e-mail you to have a discussion about a scientific topic on your website rather than leave a comment and have a public discussion on the topic so that others might contribute their insights too) and then strangely attack you in public by leaving a public comment on occasions when it would be more appropriate to e-mail you in private (and even be supportive instead of criticizing you).
- You may notice that they strangely end up doing things that you do or that you value. Hobbies or professional activities. This does not have to be very obvious, but it can also happen in such a blatant way that it strikes you as strange.
- They can be clingy, focus on you in a way that comes across as a little obsessive and their focus on you can really surprise you. I think that this mainly occurs when you don’t know them well (yet).
- I think that they may also complain that (other) people are always playing games, but I am not sure about this as there is a strong cultural component to this, too.
A little kindness and a little mindfulness go a long way. See the person underneath the NPD and focus on that. That makes it much easier for you not to get angry. Then you know whether or not you really want to be friends with the person in question. Some people with NPD are still people who you can value highly whereas others are only annoying or, hey, boring people with whom you have little in common. Just like goes for people without NPD.
Part of how people with NPD contribute to the world is that they are great at teaching others to have a lot of patience. It makes the world more peaceful.
If you need one extra little bit of motivation, consider this. When they try to knock you off balance, they are trying to make you experience how they feel deep down inside.
This can be the result of having been showered with cruelty and contempt from birth or growing up, when their brains were still developing. It can also follow from growing up in an environment with huge contradictions in treatment. The lack of consistency and the resulting confusion keeps them seeking for how to elicit positive behaviours in others in a consistent manner for the rest of their lives and it probably also forced them to hide their own feelings from a very young age.
I have read here and there that people with NPD do not want to talk about their NPD with you, but love it when talk about their NPD openly in public. I don’t think that that is true and I may have learned that the hard way. I think that some people may love it when you talk about their NPD openly, in public, but that many others hate it but don’t mind opening up a little about it with you in private.
Some are blind to their own NPD whereas others have a lot of insight into their condition and do their best to manage it as well as possible and for instance deliberately seek out environments in which they expect to cause and encounter the least amount of friction.
They are still individuals, like you and me.
Bottom line? People with NPD exist and most of them genuinely can’t change themselves (though some are able to adjust their behaviour somewhat). You protesting the fact that they exist only makes life harder for yourself, just like protesting against rain does not make the rain go way. Grabbing an umbrella is more useful.