One of the most frustrating and damaging aspects of being in a relationship with an NPD person is that you can’t get closure on any of the things that are bothering you or upsetting you about the relationship.
You can often find yourself locked in a kind of mental ‘tug of war’, where you feel you’re being constantly pulled out of your own version of reality, and of truth, over to seeing things from the NPD person’s warped perspective of what’s really going on. (I.E, you’re to blame for everything, and they are perfect.)
The main reason this happens is because NPD people can’t accept that they are wrong, flawed or imperfect. They can’t take responsibility for their own negative actions, thoughts and behaviours, and they have to see themselves as the ‘victim’ of circumstances.
And not infrequently, you can have overlapping personality disorders, with NPD and BPD habits, for example, present in the same person. When a person is simply unable to accept, under any circumstances, that they have done something wrong or hurtful, or acted incorrectly, that’s the single biggest signpost I know of flagging a potential NPD problem.
I think NPD people were probably unfairly blamed, criticized, shamed, punished and eviscerated so much as children - by the NPD people in their own lives - that the thought of taking responsibility for anything they do as adults, even the really bad things, simply overwhelms the brain too much, leading to their mentally-ill behavior. (Again, I’ll describe the science describing how the brain reacts in another post, God willing.)
But for now, we’re still looking at how YOU can disentangle yourself from these very emotionally disturbing relationships and people, without having to go for the ‘no contact’ nuclear option. One of the single best ways of defusing the emotional fall-out from dealing with these people is visualisations.
Visualisations allow your brain to process all the upset, hurt, anger, fear etc that is part and parcel of dealing with emotionally-abusive people, so that all that negative energy doesn’t get ‘stuck’ in your own physiology and soul, where it can start disrupting your own emotional and physical health, if its left to accumulate.
The following visualization, called ‘The River’, will help you to stop playing emotional ‘tug of war’ with the NPD people in your life, where you’re endlessly reliving their last comments, and the last ‘confrontation’ you had with them, because you’re trying to re-establish and re-assert your own truth in the face of all their lies and evasions. It’s helped me a lot, and I hope it’ll help you, too.
THE RIVER VISUALISATION
As with all visualisations, it’s best to do this when you are alone, sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, and where you feel safe - i.e., no-one is going to barge in on you, or interrupt your experience. Also, turn your mobile phone off!
As I mentioned in the last post, my personal view of going ‘no-contact’ with personality disorder-ed family members is that unless they are literally a threat to your life (and sometimes, things really can and do get that bad), you should go the ‘least possible amount of contact’ route instead.
If you take that route, you don’t have to make any big announcements telling them why you’re stepping things down so much and not answering their calls / attending their events / responding to every Facebook post.
Narcissists can’t hear the truth anyway, so you’re wasting your breath. And worse, if you try to tell them that their behavior is affecting you in a negative way, they will (ironically…) start treating you even worse, accusing YOU of all the things you’re suggesting they’re doing to you.
That’s just how it is with NDP people.
So what can you do instead? In a nutshell, you have to learn to ‘play their game’ a little bit and simply ignore anything they say that you don’t want to respond to, or your feel is a lie. (I know, that’s usually most things.)
This will leave you with a few very superficial topics - the weather and the news are often big hits, or alternatively the latest shopping bargains or celebrity gossip, depending on what type of NPD person you’re dealing with - but these superficial topics are the ‘safe space’ where the narcissist can still show off, opiniate, put other people down etc - but it won’t be you on the receiving end of all the criticism.
Keep your true feelings and your true emotions away from the NPD people, because they can’t handle ‘real’ and they can’t deal with ‘truth’. Every time you break these rules, you will pay for it dearly even if you have the very best intention of trying to air things out in order to ‘fix’ them.
Again, take a look at this post on acceptance, because while it’s taking you a couple of minutes to read this post, it could well take a few years before you really integrate what I’m describing into your handling of NPD people, especially those who are very close family members.
The feeling of being let down, having your feelings invalidated and blamed for ‘everything’ that’s going wrong in the relationship with an NPD person can be completely overwhelming. While you’re struggling to accept that there is literally ‘no one to talk to’ on the other side of the equation, you will probably feel enormously angry, vengeful, hurt and disappointed.
The single best way of dealing with all these negative emotions, that still need to be expressed, validated and then let go of in some way, is by talking to God about it all (click HERE to download a free book I wrote about how to do this, called The How, What and Why of Talking to God).
As part of your talking to God sessions, I highly recommend incorporating a few visualisations to help acknowledge and then release all these highly distressing feelings. The part of the brain responsible for the fight / flight / freeze response doesn’t differentiate between a real experience and an imagined one. (Which is why you can scare the pants off yourself by watching a horror movie, or reading a scary novel, or even just listening to the news.)
So when you say whatever you want to say to the NPD person as part of a purely mental visualization, and take whatever actions you feel you need to defend yourself (in your head…) - the brain considers the whole experience as ‘real’. As far as your brain is concerned, you just defended yourself, validated yourself, protected yourself, asserted yourself - whatever it is you need to do to stop feeling so helpless and like a victim, vis a vis the NPD person or people in your life.
So in the next post, I’ll share one a very powerful visualization for dealing with NPD people, called ‘The River’.
Up until now, I’ve been sharing a more or less ‘standard’ view of Narcissistic Personality Disorder-ed people, how they act, what they say, and the sorts of things they do, particularly to their non-NPD family members.
Here’s where I’m going to depart from the usual secular description of dealing NPD, to bring God firmly into the picture. Why am I doing this? Because the only way to truly deal with NPD people, and the only way to leave the cult with your mental health intact, is by accessing and acknowledging the spiritual dimension to the problem.
Many secular NPD experts will recommend going ‘no contact’ with emotionally-abusive NPD people. This is often the best approach when it comes to dealing with acquaintances, friends, distant relatives, or other people it’s fairly easy to cut out of your life and not have anything to do with.
But when it comes to close relatives, and especially parents and siblings, then the ‘no contact’ approach doesn’t really work. As mentioned, NPD people create ‘cults’ around them in their families, so if you go ‘no contact’ against the cult leader, who is usually a parent (or both parents), by default you’ll end up losing contact with the rest of your family, too, who will either:
Another reason why no contact generally doesn’t work for close family members is because of the often overwhelming feelings of guilt. Again, NPD people, and family cults generally, excel at instilling guilt and shame in people as a way of controlling them.
Until and unless you do the work of uprooting all those toxic feelings of guilt and shame that are already inside you, going no contact will usually make you feel too bad about yourself, and play into the narcissist’s picture of how ‘bad’ you are, to be of much help in actually healing the problem.
An additional reason no contact often can’t work is because your children and spouse - who haven’t grown up traumatized by the emotional abuse - often can’t understand why you’re cutting poor old grannie and grandpa out of your life, and will also start to blame you for your actions.
Explaining how bad NPD behavior is to others who haven’t experienced it for themselves is almost impossible. You generally just sound like you’re making a big deal out of things, being oversensitive, or making trouble for no real reason.
So what can you do to get out of this terrible bind?
Here’s where believing in God, and understanding that everything that’s going on in your life is tailor-made for you, comes in.
Spiritually-speaking, the whole world is a mirror. For as long as you have NPD people in your life, and no obvious route of being able to completely and happily avoid them and ignore them, that’s because God is using them to show you something about yourself that you still need to work on.
Sometimes, it’s a straight ‘mirroring’ experience. For example, NPD people are routinely angry and abusive. The more anger you still have inside of yourself, that you haven’t yet managed to uproot (particularly if you’re someone who tends to ignore and deny your own negative emotions) - the more God is going to put these angry NPD people in your face. NPD people excel at sparking off every negative emotion known to man. Whatever your particular ‘negative emotion hot button’ is, they’ll find a way of pressing it.
So the first thing to do is to work on your own negative character traits, particularly anything that appears on the list (below) of personality disorder-ed traits. The less bad habits and behaviors you yourself have, the less God will surround you with the crazies.
But sometimes, things really aren’t that straightforward. Sometimes, even if you’ve worked on your own character for years, and dealt with most of your issues, God will still send some horribly abusive NPD into your life to tell you a bunch of hateful things about yourself.
But even here, the spiritual principle that these people are simply delivering messages in someway still holds. For example, if an NPD person calls you a ‘parasite’, that doesn’t mean that you are. But God is using that person to highlight some aspect of your life where you’re maybe scared to act more independently, or where you consider yourself to be very lowly in your own eyes.
God wants you to move forward in some way, or to start to lift your head up a little higher and to believe in yourself, so He arranges for some NPD person in your life to call you a ‘parasite’, for example, in the hopes of sparking off the soul-searching that’s going to lead you to a much, much better place.
This subject requires a lot more clarification, as the devil is always in the details when dealing with NPD people. They excel in building their huge, soul-destroying lies around a 1% of truth, so we have to be extremely careful when we start searching for ‘the message’ in all their abusive words and behavior to understand that the message is NEVER that we’re bad / awful / unforgivable / horrendous / disgusting / terrible people.
God never writes people off like that, only mentally-ill NPD people do. God also doesn’t diss the totality of a person. By God, the discussion is always and only about actions and individual traits, not global descriptions of how ‘bad’ and ‘mentally ill’ and ‘loathsome’ a person might be.
God doesn’t label! He also only sees the good in us, and understands how difficult it is to stand up to our evil inclinations and choose to do the right thing. So the message is only ever about a trait, behavior or belief that needs changing in some way, and is NEVER about how ‘awful’ we are.
can't tolerate being questioned, challenged or disagreed with
As with all cults, if you only had the cult-leader themselves to deal with, it theoretically wouldn’t be that hard for a lot of people to eventually shrug off their brainwashing, and return to being a fully productive, alive and emotionally-healthy member of the human race.
What gives cults their power - from the ‘big’ cult players like the Moonies and Scientologists right down to the small mom-and-pop family cults that we’re talking about in these posts - is the other cult members.
Going against one person, however scary, is doable if you have a bunch of like-minded people on your side. There really is strength in numbers. But here is where we hit a huge problem for the people who want to leave the ‘mini cults’ that develop in a narcissist’s family: if you leave the cult and stop seeing your parent as ‘perfect’, then it’s not only your parent who’s going to come after you; it could be your whole brainwashed family.
Remember, the parent is perfect. That’s the main and central tenet, or belief, of the personality-disordered cults that build up around narcissist parents. As soon as you challenge that belief, you become the cult’s Public Enemy One, and your sister, your brother, your dad, your aunty - pretty much everyone you know who is also part of the cult - is going to come after you, to try to get you to admit that you’re completely wrong about the cult leader.
This next bit sounds counter-intuitive, but the easier ‘cult members’ to deal with are the obviously poisonous and nasty ones. They are the ones that write you emails telling you that unlike the cult leader, you’re a bigoted maggot, and an evil and cruel person. They also like to threaten you with all sorts of consequences for disobeying the cult leader, like dying a lonely, miserable death because you’ve isolated yourself from all the people who ‘really love you’ by leaving the cult.
As it’s pretty obvious that you’re dealing with an unhinged, mentally-ill lunatic, it’s much easier to reassure yourself that you’re really not the problem, here (although this still takes some practice, as malignant narcissists excel in identifying your weak spots, and zoning in on them with their eviscerating comments. If you secretly fear you’re a bad mother, for example, that will be the area they zone in on, as they tell you ‘you’re incapable of raising your children’ and other pleasantries like that.)
By far the more difficult characters are the two-faced cult members who pretend to be on your side, while all the time working overtime for the cult leader. These are the ones who keep persuading you to go against your best interests, or keep telling you to get back in touch, or try to guilt you out of leaving the cult by making it clear that ‘mom is about to have a BIG operation!!!’ and other manipulative moves like that.
They’ll ‘explain’ how the cult leader, or other cult member only said those disgustingly awful things because you started it! You made them do it! You suggested the cult leader wasn’t perfect and broke the cult’s sacred commandment! It’s all your fault that things are such a shambles because you have a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, and you’re mentally ill, and everyone else in the cult thinks that mom is THE BEST MOM EVER! So clearly, you are the only one at fault and the only one to blame for the family not being perfect.
Because the more two-faced cult members are great actors, they can make it seem that they really get your complaints, and your pain, and your hurt, while still turning it all around on to you and deflecting the problem away from the cult leader. “You’re just saying things to make it seem like mom is bad,” they’ll explain. “You set dad up and got him to act like a raging animal, when really he’s always so kind hearted,” they’ll tell you. “Unlike you, I know that mom only cut you out of the will because she has your best interests at heart, and if you weren’t so greedy and selfish you would understand that, too.”
The two-faced ones are much, much harder to deal with, because part of you hopes that once you lay everything out for them clearly, they’ll also come around to a more realistic view of what’s going on in the family-cum-cult.
A BROAD RULE OF THUMB FOR DEALING WITH OTHER CULT MEMBERS
Here’s a broad rule of thumb for dealing with other family members who are in the cult:
Any family member who is a narcissist themselves will be 100% committed to preserving and protecting the cult of perfection. They will abuse, cajole, lie, manipulate, threaten, attack and evade the truth at all costs.
When a family member is in the cult, but not a narcissist themselves, they will experience some severe cognitive dissonance around you, and do their best to steer the topic away from your ‘subversive’ views, and troubling heretical statements about the cult leaders not being as perfect as they seem. But they will not attack and abuse you in defence of the cult leaders.
When a family member is not in the cult, and not a narcissist - they’ll be so relieved to finally hear someone else telling the truth about what’s really going on! But it can take years for non-narcissist cult members to get to this stage, if it happens at all.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at how best to deal with abusive family members who are trying to stop you from ‘leaving the cult’.
When people have a ‘Cluster B’ personality disorder like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) they have an overwhelming need to be seen as perfect and whiter-than-white. They also siphon off other people’s attention and energy with one shameless manipulation after another; cannot empathise with or ‘see’ anybody else’s viewpoints or needs; and will lie shamelessly to cover up their own failings and flaws.
When the parents in a family have NPD, the family unit tends to function like a sort of ‘mini-cult’.
Remember that the main (but by no means only…) ‘issue’ for people with NPD is maintaining an external appearance of complete perfection. That means they can’t acknowledge any mistakes, bad behavior, bad character traits or anything else that will mar the appearance of perfection to the outside world.
Of course, narcissists are probably some of the most poisonous, toxic people to be around, particularly for their kids, as they’re full of anger, spite, vengeance, soul-destroying put downs, hatred and other types of emotionally abusive behavior.
For as long as you’re towing the narcissist’s line and not challenging them, the true extent of their mental illness isn’t obvious. It’s only when you start to challenge the picture of perfection that they’re painting for you (and everyone else) that the narcissist’s mask really comes off, and you get to see the scary monster lurking underneath.
Because narcissists can never admit to anyone, especially themselves, that their poisonous behavior and attitudes to others are the cause of so many of the difficulties occurring in their relationships, they fall back on two things to shore up their appearance of perfection:
It’s hard to appreciate just how big the lies get when you start challenging the narcissist’s false picture of perfection, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Here’s a few examples to give you a flavor:
They’ll send you an email telling you that you’re nothing but a parasite, an evil person, and mentally ill - all the while claiming they have no idea ‘where all the hatred is coming from’ or why you want them to apologise for their awful treatment of you, because they’ve never done anything horrible to you, or said anything bad to you.
And yes, you’ll get both of these statements sandwiched together in the same email.
You get accused of all the terrible things they’re doing. So they’ll cut a child out of their will for daring to suggest they aren’t perfect, and in the same breath lecture that child that they still have so much to learn about unselfish giving that doesn’t expect anything in return.
And if the child reacts in any way other than being grateful for the narcissist’s timeless advice, they’ll be accused of being ‘mentally-ill’ and told to GET HELP!!! for failing to appreciate how AMAZING, kind and loving their parent really is.
Anything you say (or email) that doesn’t fit in with the narcissist’s view of themselves as perfect and infallible will be routinely characterized as ‘horrendous’, ‘disgusting’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘hateful’ - even if it contains nothing more offensive than asking for an apology for the hurt caused by the narcissist’s behavior, or pointing out the inconsistencies in what they’re saying.
Anything they say (or email) is always perfect, full stop. And this is true even if they’re saying the most soul-eviscerating criticisms, lies and insults.
If you try to point any of this rank hypocrisy out to them, you will be blamed for [whatever it is the narcissist is actually doing themselves]. I.e.: ‘destroying the family’, ‘acting like Jekyll and Hyde’, ‘emotionally-blackmailing’, ‘being completely unbalanced’, ‘causing nothing but pain and shame to the family’, etc etc.
Again, it’s hard to do this topic real justice in a few lines. Those unfortunate people who have experienced the deceit, warped logic and ‘projected blame’ that comes with narcissists know only too well what I’m talking about. And those that haven’t (or haven’t acknowledged what’s really going on with these people) are probably scratching their heads and pondering how on earth people could lie in such a blatant, brazen way and expect to get away with it.
But they can, they do, and that’s a big part of a narcissist’s mentally-ill behavior.
Which brings me on to the next subject: because you can’t get a narcissist to admit any ‘truth’, however obvious, that doesn’t accord with their self-image of being perfect, sooner or later you have to make a choice with enormous ramifications for your relationship with the narcissist:
So why do people continue to go with Choice 2, even when it causes them to disconnect from their souls and their own true selves? To put it very simply, when you are being raised by narcissists - the effective ‘cult leaders’ - you can’t go against them. If you try, you will be mercilessly tormented and punished until you fall back into line, and go back to believing that the narcissist parent is only ever completely perfect, and you are the one causing all the problems.
So Choice 2 is the ‘default’ option that nearly every child of a narcissist parent has to struggle very hard to escape from.
Children of narcissists undergo a sort of self-induced ‘brain-washing’ process where they literally jettison their own subjective sense of self, and disconnect from what they really feel and what they really know in order to ‘fit’ into the fantasy world created by the narcissist parent. It’s almost impossible for a child to go against their narcissist parent, as the parent is the one defining reality for that child.
Which is how you end up with a whole family of individuals, children and grandchildren, who are effectively part of a brainwashed cult that the narcissist has built up around them, with a central belief that ‘the narcissist is perfect, and can do no wrong.’
We’ll continue this discussion in the next post, where we look at the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ that occurs amongst the children of narcissists.
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.