Navigating Narcissistic Relationships
I am very grateful to Jackie Reilly for writing this guest post for me, with lots of useful information.
Navigating Relationships with Narcissistic Parents: Unconventional Coping Strategies
“There is a reason why narcissists don’t learn from mistakes, and that is because they never get past the first step—which is admitting that they made one.” — Keffrey Kluger. These wise words capture one of the reasons why, when it comes to narcissists, sometimes, the only way to deal with them is to cut ties altogether. When you clash with a narcissist—be it a narcissistic colleague, sibling, partner, or parent—they don’t own their part in the problem and they never apologize. And that means that it can be very hard to make progress and establish a healthy relationship with them. For many children of narcissistic parents, however, cutting ties is something they do not wish to do. This can be the case for various reasons—for instance, one of their parents may be a narcissist and the other a supportive, loving parent. Or perhaps your narcissist parent is older and in need of help—and you want to ensure their essential needs are met. In either case, know that there are certain things that need to be accepted. First, your narcissistic parent may never love you unconditionally—especially if they don’t accept that they have an issue. Secondly, dealing with a narcissist takes plenty of creativity and resolve. Below are a few unconventional coping strategies you can try out.
When you think of a rock, what does your mind conjure up? Perhaps an image of stillness, resilience, and impassivity. Grey rocking is a technique that is used to stop a narcissist from getting what they want out of you. By showing no emotion, giving your narcissist parent little information, and not reacting to their provocation, you can stop being the brunt of their abuse—since they see that their manipulation and gaslighting tactics don’t work with you. Bear in mind that when you try this out for the first few times, the narcissist may get upset, act like victims, or resort to triangulation. That is, they may try to get their flying monkeys (or enablers) to pressure you to succumb to their ways. Be resilient and prepared for their resistance. Keep in mind that after the escalation change, their behaviors will most probably improve, since they will simply have to accept that they won’t get what they want out of you.
Choosing the No-Guilt Approach
There are several categories of narcissism/ narcissist types to watch out for. Overt narcissist are the ones you can spot from a mile away. They demand attention, come off as arrogant and entitled, and openly exploit people for their personal gain. There are, however, two other narcissist types that can easily go under the radar. These are covert narcissists (who tend to use passive aggression, guilt-tripping, emotional manipulation, and gaslighting to get what they want), and vulnerable narcissists (who seek attention through pity). Be vigilant for any feelings of guilt or shame, and ask yourself if you have anything to feel guilty about. Have you intentionally hurt your narcissistic parent, or are you simply defending your boundaries? Instead of trying to reason with them, remember that you do not owe them explanations for your personal choices.
Just about the last thing you may feel like doing when a narcissistic parent is trying to stir you up, is being humorous, but doing exactly that can be a powerful and unexpected way to shift the mood of a conversation. This doesn’t necessarily mean trying to get the narcissist to laugh (they may not find what you are saying funny at all). Rather, it involves trying to see the funny side of things so that you feel better about the situation. Strategies you may want to try include self-deprecating humor (not taking yourself too seriously), reading books that tackle narcissism from a humoristic perspective (try Joke’s on You Narcissist: Laughter is the Best Medicine by Helen Bauman), and sharing funny stories with the narcissist to deflect their self-centeredness.
“What? You expect me to be empathetic to someone who doesn’t are about my own thoughts and emotions?” you may ask. And you’d be right to question this unconventional strategy, since it certainly goes against what logic would dictate. When you really feel like losing your cool, however, understanding that narcissism often arises from deep-seated insecurities can help you regulate powerful emotions like anger, without having to give in to the narcissist. Using phrases like “I understand,” “I see your point of view,” or “I can see why you are asking for this,” are not incompatible with standing your ground and saying “I’m afraid I won’t be able to,” or “This time I have to say no.”
Victims of narcissistic abuse sometimes come to the conclusion that they have to completely cut a narcissist from their life in order to survive. However, some choose to maintain relationships with key members of their family—such as a narcissistic parent. Just a few strategies you may like to try are grey rocking, the zero-guilt approach, using humor, and practicing empathy. You may find that trying a blend of conventional and unusual approaches works best in the case of the specific narcissist in your life.