Monday, November 26, 2007

How To Cope With A Narcissist

by Sam Vaknin

No one bears any responsibility whatsoever to the Narcissist’s predicament. For him, others hardly exist - so enmeshed he is in himself and in the resulting misery of this self-preoccupation. Others are hangers on which he hangs the clothes of wrath, of rage, of suppressed and mutating aggression and, finally, of ill disguised violence. How should the persons nearest and dearest to the Narcissist cope with his eccentric vagaries?

The short answer is by abandoning him or by threatening to abandon him. The threat to abandon need not be explicit or conditional ("If you don't do or if you do something - I will desert you"). It is sufficient to confront the Narcissist, to insist, to shout back. The Narcissist is tamed by the very same weapons that he employs to subjugate others. The specter of being abandoned looms large over everything else. Every discordant note assumes the monstrous proportions of solitude, abandonment, and the resulting confrontation with his Self. The Narcissist is a person who was irreparably traumatized by the behaviour of the most important adults in his life: his parents. By being capricious, arbitrary, sadistically judgmental - they molded him into an adult, who fervently and obsessively tries to recreate the trauma (repetition complex). Thus, on the one hand, the Narcissist feels that his liberation depends upon re-living these experiences. On the other hand, he is terrified by this prospect. Realizing that he is doomed to go through the same harrowing experience, the Narcissist distances himself from the scene of his own pending emotional catastrophe. He does this by using his aggression to alienate, to humiliate and in general, to be emotionally absent. This behaviour brings about the very consequences that the Narcissist so derides. This way, at least, the Narcissist can tell himself (and others) that HE was the one who controlled the events, that it was truly fully his choice. Of course, governed by his internal demons, the Narcissist has no choice to talk about.

The Narcissist is, therefore, a binary human being: the carrot is the stick in his case. If he gets too close to someone emotionally, he fears ultimate and inevitable abandonment. He, thus, distances himself, acts cruelly and brings about the very abandonment that he feared in the first place. In this paradox lies the key to coping with the Narcissist: If he has a rage attack - rage back. This will provoke in him fears of being abandoned and the resulting calm will be so total that it might seem unbelievable. Narcissists are known for these tectonic shifts in mood and in behaviour patterns.

Mirror the Narcissists actions and repeat his words. If he threatens - threaten back and credibly try to use the same language and content. If he leaves the house - leave it as well, disappear on him. If he is suspicious - act suspicious. Be critical, denigrating, humiliating, go down to his level - because that is where he permanently is. Faced with his mirror image - the Narcissist will always recoil.

We must not forget: the Narcissist does all these things to foster and encourage abandonment. Reflected at him, the Narcissist will see the imminent, impending abandonment, which is the inevitable result of his actions and words. This sight will so terrify him - that it will induce an incredible alteration of his behaviour. He will instantly succumb and try to make amends, moving from one (cold and bitter, cynical and misanthropic, cruel and sadistic) pole to another (warm, even loving, the sort of fuzzy, engulfing emotion that we feel on a particularly good or successful day).

The other way is to abandon him and go about reconstructing your life. Very few people deserve the kind of investment that is an absolute prerequisite to living with a Narcissist. To cope with a Narcissist is a full time, energy and emotion-draining job, which reduces the persons around the Narcissist to insecure nervous wrecks. Who deserves such a sacrifice?

No one, to my mind, not even the most brilliant, charming, breathtaking, suave Narcissist. The glamour and trickery wear thin and underneath them a monster lurks which sucks the affect, distorts the cognition and irreversibly influences the lives of those around it to the worse.

Others delineate a more sweeping dichotomous strategy. Both philosophically and pragmatically, we cannot and should not assume responsibility for other people and their lives. Narcissists are incorrigibly and notoriously difficult to change. Trying to change them is a wrong strategy. The two viable strategies are either accepting them as they are or avoiding them altogether. If one accepts a narcissist as he is - one should cater to his needs. His needs are part of what he is. Would you have ignored a physical handicap? Would you not have assisted a quadriplegic? The Narcissist is an emotional invalid. He needs constant adulation. He cannot help it. So, if one chooses to accept him - it is a package deal, all his needs included.

Also, narcissists cannot love. If you love only in order to be loved back - this is narcissistic love. Loving someone is not dependent upon emotional reciprocity. If your child stopped loving you - you do not stop loving him. You simply cannot NOT love him. The same applies to narcissists. They are incapable of loving. Does this render you incapable of loving them? If your answer is positive, then how different from them are you really?