As we were discussing in the previous post, relatives of narcissists usually get caught in a hugely distressing Catch-22:
If they continue to hang out with their narcissist relatives– they usually get miserable, stressed, hurt and ultimately ill. If they don’t hang out with them – they end up losing their illusion of having a relationship with a close family member, and it can also cause them no end of difficulties with other relatives and acquaintances who have no idea why they’re keeping away from the externally wonderful narcissist.
There are no simple solutions here. If you haven’t got God in the picture, at least peripherally as spiritual back-up, the situation can literally drive you mad, because it’s the most ‘no-win’ situation imaginable. Whatever you do, there’s huge consequences, and there’s never going to be a real solution to the problem, because the ‘solution’ would be for the narcissist to acknowledge their own bad behavior and issues, and that’s simply never going to happen.
Over the years, I’ve found that the following 7 rules has helped a lot of people deal with their narcissist relatives:
The 7 Rules of Handling Narcissist Relatives
1) Adopt a ‘zero expectation’ policy with the narcissist. Sometimes they can be nice, friendly, generous, even. That’s when they can really hurt you, if you develop any expectation of them genuinely caring enough about you to put you first in the relationship. Whatever ‘good’ they can give you, be grateful for, but don’t start hoping that things are going to change. That’s a recipe for heartache.
2) Set firm boundaries – your mental health comes first. If you don’t want to attend their party / weekend lunch / holiday get together / golf day with their buddies – tell them. Yes, they’ll get upset and the illusion of them caring about you will get blown to pieces again – but you’ll start to feel so much happier and more in control of your own life, if you start to stand up to the craziness.
3) Don’t buy into the guilt and shame-inducing manipulation that YOU are really the problem. You’re not. But believing that really takes some doing. (The Talk to God and Fix Your Health Modules on healthy compassion, accountability and kindnesses are a great place to start. Click the links to take a look.)
4) Minimise the time you spend with them as much as possible. If the narcissist is nice for half an hour and then starts sniping– limit your visits with them to half an hour. Limit phone calls to once a week, or switch to emails (which lots of narcissists hate, btw, as it’s much harder for them to disown or twist their way out of things they actually wrote down in black and white.) The less interaction you have with them, the better it will be for everyone.
5) If they aren’t a close family member – walk away. Close relatives, especially parents, require at least a due measure of respect and consideration, even when it’s very painful (within limits…) Other people don’t. You can’t fix them, you can’t change them, and you probably have enough on your own plate in any case.
6) Work on your compassion. This is really only an option once you’ve taken the necessary steps to stop the personality disordered family member from still hurting you.
For as long as they’re still actively causing you pain and upset, you’ll have to work pretty hard on defusing your anger, and it’s unlikely you’ll have much energy left over to start feeling compassion for them (from a distance). But feeling compassion for them in the long-term only helps you, because then you stop blaming them, and you can start to forgive them more, and move past the problems they’ve caused you.
7) Talk to God about it. This is often the only thing that lets you stay in close contact with a narcissist relative whilst maintaining your own peace of mind and equanimity. If you'd like some help getting started, try the How, What and Why of Talking to God pocket guide.
Having relatives with narcissistic personality disorder is a very challenging situation, and it requires huge amounts of inner strength to acknowledge, deal with and overcome. But there’s an idea that God doesn’t give a person a test they can’t handle – even if stretches them way beyond their comfort zone.
If God gave you the test of having relatives with personality disorders like narcissism or anti-social behaviour, it's because He knows it's going to help you reach your potential some how, and that you can definitely overcome it, albeit with huge amounts of effort, sweat and prayer.