Coexisting With Narcissists: 4 Things That Can Help
As you probably know, it really is best to simply distance yourself from the person or the relationship if you have someone in your life who is as toxic as pathological narcissists generally are, but for some, that is not always possible and others may not be ready to do that for whatever reason, so this information might be helpful in those situations.
Now, you may notice that this says "coexisting with narcissists," rather than something else. That's because this is all you can really do. There is no real relationship or other scenario that is possible with people who are this toxic or pathological. It is simple coexistence: you exist at the same time and/or at the same place they do. That usually means living with or otherwise being around them all the time, such as if the narcissist is a coworker.
This can be difficult. As many know, it is often your very existence that bothers a narcissist - especially during the devaluation phase of the cycle, or after they've decided you are their enemy. For whatever reason, whether it is misplaced or projected envy, jealousy, betrayal, anger, revenge, spite or whatever else they've come up with, they can feel compelled to attack you, smear you and compete with you. This makes coexistence with narcissists very difficult. In a "normal" situation where there is a problem, if you leave someone else alone, they will leave you alone. If they leave you alone, you will leave them alone. The two of you can coexist with relatively few problems. That is often not the way it plays out with pathologically narcissistic people. These are not usually people who can leave well enough alone - even when it is in their own best interest to do so. This is one of the things that makes them so toxic.
Because of this dynamic, if you decide to try to coexist with a narcissistic person, there are a few things you can to do in order to reduce the stress this situation will put on you. Of course, the most important thing you can do is realize that none of these things may help and they certainly will not control the narcissist's behavior. Narcissistic people are generally unfair, unreasonable, inconsiderate and illogical. It often truly does not matter what you do or don't do. They behave the way they behave for their own reasons. You do not, cannot and will not be able to do anything about that.
1. Learn to ignore them.
One of the most difficult things about dealing with narcissistic people is often their continuous provocation of others. They may consistently make snide, rude or sarcastic comments, cause problems and try to start fights. They may lie about you, lie to you, steal from you, disrespect you, make fun of you, yell at you, ignore you, sabotage you, sabotage themselves and generally do a million things both big and small that make dealing with them impossible and unpleasant. If you are going to coexist with a pathologically narcissistic person, you're going to have to learn to ignore these things and not react to them. Your reaction is usually what the narcissist wants. There is no way to stop a narcissist from doing these things if you're not going to leave and reacting to them only feeds into the situation, so you have to learn to just ignore them. This is not easy, nor is it fair, but dealing with narcissistic people is neither of these things anyway. That's just the way it is. There are several podcasts on this channel that teach about the Grey Rock Method. Practice that and remember that not reacting is not about repressing your emotions. It's about controlling your behavior. Your emotions should still be acknowledged and processed in a healthy way.
2. Learn not to rely on them.
Relying on narcissistic people is often extremely frustrating. Regardless of what you're relying on them for, chances are you will not get it. If you do, it will not be consistent or it will come with enormous strings attached. It is usually less frustrating and less stressful not to rely on them at all. It's a sad situation to not be able to rely on a loved one, but this is the reality of the situation. Narcissists are generally unstable, inconsistent and illogical. They may make promises they have no intention of keeping, or with no thought or knowledge of how they will actually keep them. They may make promises they have every intention of keeping but then change their mind with their emotions. They are often selfish, inconsiderate, spiteful and vengeful as well. Eventually, all of these things will get in the way and whatever they are supposed to be providing, contributing or helping with will not get done. Many pathologically narcissistic people contribute only the bare minimum to their families or teams and some contribute nothing at all. Others may jump to the rescue or create situations where they make themselves indispensable and attempt to force others to rely on them but there is a very high price to pay for their "help." Narcissistic people are only really capable of transactional relationships, so unless you want to give a lot more than you are getting, it's better to learn not to rely on them at all.
3. Learn to have realistic expectations.
Expecting anything from narcissists almost always ends in conflict, regardless of what it is. From taking out the trash to making a commitment, it seems that there is no expectation small enough or basic enough for them to succeed at it. There is no true give and take in these relationships. There is only take. If narcissists are required to give, they often become resentful, angry and seek to punish the other person or people requiring it. This is usually hurtful to those around them, who believe their expectations are normal and fair. That may be so, but there is no such thing as a fair expectation to a narcissist. This is very important to understand. If you are asking for anything, you are asking for too much. Period.
Most of the pain that people go through when dealing with narcissistic people - and people in general, really - is centered around their own expectations of what the relationship or person should be like or should be doing. Usually, these are things like the person should be respectful or loyal. They should not cheat or betray the relationship. They should be supportive and loving in the family. They should care about this or should care about that. However, what someone should be and what they actually are may not be the same. If your expectations for things are based on what they should be and not what they are, you are going to be disappointed. For example, you may feel that your spouse should be loyal and not cheat, but if they've shown you that's what they do, your expectation is only setting you up to be hurt. It's up to you whether you stay in this relationship or not, but if you do, you're going to have to move forward with the expectation that this particular person is probably going to continue to cheat on you. You may feel that your mother should not be so controlling and aggressive because you are now an adult, but if she is, then she is. To be perfectly honest, it doesn't really matter what you think someone should be. What matters is what they actually are. Learn to let go of "should" thinking and create your expectations based on what is actually happening, or how someone truly behaves. You may find that once you can do this, the narcissist no longer has a place in your life.
4. Accept the situation for what it is.
If you are going to coexist with a narcissistic person, you're going to have to accept the situation for what it is. Avoiding the truth, refusing to accept it, trying to change them and behaving as if you are in a normal relationship with a normal person will not work. It will only hurt you in the end because that is not the truth. The truth is, this person will not - and probably cannot - give you what you want. You also cannot give them what they want. It doesn't matter the relationship or the situation. If you are dealing with a pathologically narcissistic person, this is how it is. You can either live with the situation the way it is or you can't. Your narcissistic mother either will not or cannot be the parent you believe she should be. You also cannot be the child she thinks you should be. Your narcissistic spouse either will not or cannot be the partner you believe they should be. You also cannot be the partner they believe you should be. It's extremely important to accept these things, because if you can't, you are going to make yourself sick with denial and pain.
There you have it. Those are some things that can help reduce the stress on you when coexisting with a narcissist. They won't change the narcissist's behavior; nothing can do that. But if you are trying to coexist with a narcissist, they may help you change yours. Sometimes people say things like, "That's not fair! Why should I have to do that?!" Well, you don't. You can always walk away from the situation. If you're not ready, these things can help you until you are.
This is a situation that has no happy ending. Even if you are a fully independent person who accepts the narcissist exactly as they are and loves the narcissist with no expectations at all, it will still be a toxic, abusive situation because nothing you do or don't do is going to prevent the narcissistic person from behaving this way. People sometimes believe they can love the narcissist in their lives unconditionally, with no expectations and no empathy from the narcissist, but it's one thing to understand someone has no empathy. It's another to live with a person who is continuously trying to hurt and sabotage you. If you choose to live that way, that is 100% your decision. Just make sure you understand why.