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Most of us have experienced the draw and aftermath of those with narcissistic tendencies in our lives from time to time.
If we harbor unhealed emotional wounds, we tend to attract them.
The term “narcissist” gets thrown around a lot. It’s often used as a catchall label to describe people with any traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
“Tendencies” are not a medical diagnosis, and this article is not about that. Truth be told, those with narcissistic tendencies win control of relationships quite a bit, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
I knew someone in college who was super vivacious and fun. It was easy to make excuses for some of her bad behaviors. Others in our group described her as a “drama queen” or “self-centered,” but I realize now she had heavy narcissistic tendencies. That’s why there was always turmoil swirling about and hardly any peace in our friendship.
Those with narcissistic tendencies are often the ones who manipulate, patronize, and make demands in the relationship. They are the blame-shifters and finger pointers. They regularly employ the silent treatment or express their needs in a passive aggressive way.
They create a toxic web that tangles us, using their innate charm, demonstrative confidence, full attention, and sharp wit, so it’s difficult to manage how we behave around them because, for all their flaws, we love being around their charisma, and we always think we can fix the other side of their personality—the not so good side.
The push and pull of being in a relationship with someone who leans heavy on the narcissist scale is a viscous cycle, until we break it.
The way to “survive” someone with these tendencies is to recognize the signs early, and adopt the following rules:
1. Establish and maintain a healthy distance. Or, in other words, walk away (and keep on walking). The further away we get from the toxic connection, the better off we’ll be and the less prone to the setbacks and “caving in” that often happens when we let ourselves remain in their snake pit.
2. Set impenetrable boundaries. When we stop responding to bread-crumb texting (or what I like to call “knocking”), the constant cry for attention begins to slow down. Once they know they can’t get in, they actually do finally leave (to go find their next victim—someone who “understands” them and “accepts” them). But, beware: if we answer the door, even once, she will keep showing up like a stray cat looking for food.
3. Understand fully that they will not change. The only healthy change that can take place is the one we set in motion: our ability to really maintain the first two tactical rules on this list. Apply the word “no” liberally without offering justifications.
4. Continue to remind ourselves why the relationship isn’t healthy. Seriously, make an actual list of all the reasons why this person isn’t good for our mind, body, or spirit. Read the list often, especially in the early stages of withdrawal. All the slights, all the ways we gave until it hurt, all the things we sacrificed to “make it work” just to end up feeling lonely and taken for granted should be written down. Make the damn list and refer to it during moments of weakness. The reason why we were attracted to this person in the first place is because of her ability to manipulate us into believing she is “inherently” good and we can change her ways. Yet, the list of empty, energy-depleting moments, and all the self-doubt created by the person with narcissistic tendencies is long, and most importantly, repetitive. Reminders work to give us both perspective and strength.
5. Don’t mistake the newfound peace we feel (without her in our life) for boredom. We’re not bored, darling; we are simply existing without the excitement of toxic attraction. Life may feel dull without the chaos, but that feeling is often short-lived. Peace opens doors to fruitful relationships and authentic love, which is what makes life worth living.
6. Speaking of love: know they will never love you the way love is meant to feel. They love themselves, period. We begin to survive the experience when we finally come to this conclusion. A person with narcissistic tendencies needs constant praise. She needs lots of “fluffing.” Compliments and validation on a continuum. This is extremely detrimental to a healthy relationship because it becomes a “chore” to keep her “up” and functioning. We win when we stop stroking her ego with our attention, just to keep her happy enough to deal with. Those with heavy narcissistic tendencies like to throw around words like “love,” but make no mistake, what they love about us most is our ability to “take” what they are dishing out. We become the “only person who truly gets them” and therefore a receptacle for their ever-present demands. We excuse their bad behavior just to stay connected to their “good” side. This isn’t love. Love should never feel like a trap.
Don’t play along. Shedding someone with these tendencies is difficult work, and it can take time. Adhering to some rules helps us move past relationships that aren’t serving us emotionally, spiritually, or mindfully. Once we move past it, or rather, further away from it, we often see quite clearly all the ways it was way more wrong than right. Our ability to discern healthy human relationship problems from truly dysfunctional ones becomes more powerful.
Adhering to these rules helped me move on from the exciting connection I once had with my all-consuming “once upon a time” friend.
To really “survive” and come out stronger, we must have a rational game plan and follow it, without looking back.