How To Deal With A Narcissist

If you’re wondering how to deal with a narcissist, well … the bad news is that it’s not easy. Narcissists are notoriously difficult to deal with. Normal rules are suspended. With a narcissist it’s always Opposite Day.

Deciding on the best way of dealing with a narcissistic mother depends on whether you still live with her or not.

If you still live with her, and you’re too young to leave home, then it’s very challenging. The best thing you can do, it seems to me, is to just accept her behaviour – you won’t change it, you won’t be able to reason with her, and trying to do so will only incur her narcissistic rage.

But while you’re accepting it and just getting on, try to keep your head together. Don’t buy into what she tells you about yourself. Don’t believe her invalidation or gaslighting. If she’s scapegoating you, know that’s what’s happening and again don’t let it mess with your head. (If you’re a Golden Child, same applies, of course.)

If there’s some flaw in you that needs fixing – in other words, if by wildest chance she is right about something – well, others will bring it to your attention in due course. Well-meaning others, who care for you and want you to solve it for good reasons, not like your narcissistic mother who uses your flaws as a stick to beat you with, and in fact doesn't want you solving them because then the stick wouldn't work any more. So don’t take on board anything of what she tells you. She’s not your friend, and nothing she says is for your benefit or growth or well-being.

The worst thing about being a Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother, in my opinion, is the head-wreckingness of it, the believing it’s us that’s crazy. (Which is why I called my book You’re Not Crazy – It’s Your Mother.) She tries to convince us we’re the crazy ones, and it’s hard not to believe that. So your job, while you’re stuck with her, is to not believe her lies, as best as you can.

Just bide your time, read as much as you can about narcissism, use the resources on this website and others –and plan your escape.Try to get a good education as your means of escaping well and thriving once you’re gone. You can justifiably see studying and working hard as an act of rebellion and defense.

If you’re living at home and are old enough to leave, then if you can, I invite you to consider that you do that very thing. It’s very possible that she’s set things up so that this is very difficult, e.g. by keeping you enmeshed or financially dependent. Honestly, no matter what trap she has created, no matter how gilded the cage, it’s not worth it. Start planning your escape. Create your own life.

If the tie is more psychological than financial – say for example she weeps and begs at the very possibility of you moving out, saying she can’t manage without you, and loves you so much etc etc – well, I offer you the possibility of recognising that for the manipulation that it is. It is the nature of child-rearing that parents make themselves redundant. Healthy parents want their children to leave them, to be able to live their own lives.

If you’re an adult woman living away from home, you may still have to deal with her.

You have three options as I see it. I don’t recommend any specific one, obviously, as that wouldn't be my place. I'm just itemising the options.

  1. See her as usual. Just give up any hope of ever having a normal mother-daughter relationship with her. Try to be amused by her behaviour (they really are so predictable and childish) rather than frustrated. If possible, don’t play her games. If she tries to provoke you, just agree with her and let it all flow over you. The aim here is not to win (because you can’t) or to improve your relationship (because you can’t do that either.)

    The aim is for the encounters to be more endurable for you. You may, or may not, look to set boundaries with her, such as insisting she phones before calling over.

  2. Or, go what’s called Low Contact. Severely limit the amount of time you spend with her. Make contact be on your terms. She may argue, or try to get over this – turning up uninvited etc, but you’ll need to be firm.
  3. Or finally, another possibility is to go what’s called No Contact, which is self-explanatory. This is a huge step, albeit very worthwhile, and I very much encourage you to read this section.

Another good strategy for dealing with narcissists in general is to try to avoid them as much as possible. Nobody ever comes off better with an encounter with a narcissist. If at all possible, remove yourself from the situation. Try to be uninteresting to them so they don’t want to engage with you. This might seem very defeatist advice, but it’s based on how narcissists operate, and it’s very hard to deal with them in any empowered way. 

How To Deal With A Narcissist You Can't Avoid

If it's not possible to avoid them - say it's a colleague, or boss, or ex-spouse, then document everything. Everything. Both in your own notes with details such as times/dates etc, and any corroborating evidence you can collect such as voice-mails and emails. This is because narcissists routinely lie and conduct smear campaigns against those they don't like. They can also bear grudges forever, and will, against people who didn't respect their wonderfulness enough or who thwarted them in some way. 

If it's a boss who in turn has a boss, or HR, to answer to, then the documentation path is essential. (It may not be sufficient, of course, as narcissists lie so well. But at the very least it's essential). If the boss has nobody above him/her, say they own the business, then the only solution is to leave that job as soon as possible. 

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