One of the most popular shows on British TV when I was growing up 30 years ago was a show called ‘Dr Who’. Dr Who was a space-travelling eccentric who happened to always have a very attractive female sidekick coming along for the ride, and he used to zip around the universe fighting the forces of evil wherever he found them.
One of Dr Who’s more regular adversaries were the Daleks, a bunch of motorised evil robots that were powered by human brains. (If you've never heard of a 'Dalek' here's a short clip to introduce you.) The Daleks were kind of like little personalised tanks on wheels, and they were extremely rigid thinkers: once they locked on to a target for destruction, they would pursue it single-mindedly repeating their mantra of ‘ex-term-in-ate!’ over and over again until the job was done.
Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely…) the image of the daleks popped unbidden into my head when I was contemplating my latest round of dealing with some of the apparently unfixable narcissists in my own life.
Because you see, daleks and narcissists actually have a great deal in common. While powered by a human brain, narcissists are also very tough, insensitive and often inhuman (and inhumane). They also have a huge amount of external ‘cladding’ or armaments, and are able to shrug off unpleasant situations, upsets, the truth, and (other people’s) hurt feelings with tremendous ease.
Narcissists are also very ‘fixed’ in their ways, and in their beliefs (particularly about the fact that all the nasty things they do to other people are always justifiable and ‘good’ somehow) and once they have you down as a target, they won’t rest until they’ve followed through and ‘ex-term-in-ated!’ you, in whichever way they feel they need to.
The one key difference between daleks and narcissists is that it’s very easy to spot a dalek (and to defend against them) but it’s comparatively very difficult to spot a narcissist, particularly if you grew up with them and you still think that their mentally-ill guilt trips, lies, manipulations and attempts to portray themselves as perfect at your expense are ‘normal’.
So how did Dr Who use to deal with his mentally-ill daleks? He had two main methods, both of which I think can teach us something useful about dealing with our own mentally-ill narcissists:
So the best strategy to adopt initially is to disappear out of the narcissist’s picture. Don’t show up for their parties, family get-togethers or other events. Spend as little time as possible in their company. Avoid their phone calls.
But remember - DON’T tackle a narcissist head on, because while you are a sensitive, feeling human being and consequently easily hurt by insults, invective and emotional abuse, they are effectively robots who feel nothing.
It’s a post for another time, but the best way to deal with narcissists (if you can’t just disappear out of their picture) is to couch everything in the twisted, warped logic they themselves use, and to fool them by effectively ‘acting like a dalek’ yourself.
Again, this is not an approach for novices. I’m not sure if it can be easily put across in a post, but I will do my best to explain how to ‘act like a dalek’ when dealing with narcissists, and if I manage to set it out properly, I’ll stick it up as the next post.