Your Role In A Narcissist's Life
We've covered previously that relationships with narcissistic people are transactional, so for a brief refresher here, that means that every relationship they have is one they get something out of. If they cannot get something from the person or the situation, they are generally not interested. You might say, "But they're not getting anything out of their relationship with me or with someone else! No one buys them anything, etc." But just because you don't see what they are getting doesn't mean they aren't getting it. People in general and narcissists in particular don't engage in relationships they get nothing out of at all. The difference is that most people understand they need to give in return and narcissists do not believe that, nor do they do it. They may initially seem to give but it's only to get something in return and usually it doesn't last long. They have very little to give - if anything - and they certainly can't waste it trying to finagle you into doing what they believe you should be doing anyway with no input or return from them whatsoever.
We've also covered how pathologically narcissistic people cannot take responsibility for anything. As a refresher on that, they essentially interpret responsibility as blame. Blame triggers shame in pathologically narcissistic people and shame is tolerated extremely poorly - to put it mildly. You have to be perfect. If you're not perfect, you're worthless. Period. They hold everyone to that standard, including themselves. That's why they blame and deflect and rationalize and justify and do absolutely anything they can to keep from admitting they did or said something that would be considered wrong, a failure or even just a mistake. It isn't that they actually believe they are perfect. It's that facing they're not is intolerable. Part of your job in a narcissistic person's life is to take the blame. For everything. Whether they consciously realize they are recruiting people for this position or whether they are simply automatically doing what is required to survive doesn't matter. The end result is the same.
In any relationship of any kind, there are times when the people teach each other. However, you can't teach a narcissist anything. They don't want to learn. Learning means changing or doing things differently. They don't want to do that. Many probably can't. This coupled with the things we've discussed already here and a few others we've discussed in previous articles means you cannot correct or call them on their behavior, no matter what. They don't allow criticism even if its true, even if it's designed to help or create positive change. They will reject, deflect, twist or deny anything they don't want to or cannot listen to in one way or another.
This means that the only role you can ever have in a pathologically narcissistic person's life is as an enabler. It is all they will allow and all they will tolerate. Even so-called vulnerable narcissists who may accept the blame for everything are recruiting enablers, because they don't use criticism as a catalyst for growth. They change nothing and therefore accept no true responsibility. They want people to enable their pathological self-sabotage, helplessness and masochistic grandiosity.
Now, some people might say that they are not enablers because they don't condone or agree with a narcissistic person's behavior. But the truth is, you don't have to do either of those things to enable someone. If you are in any kind of relationship with a narcissist - whether it's romantic or family or friendship - you are enabling them somehow even if you don't realize it because this is the only kind of connection they will tolerate. For example, if Bobby's brother uses drugs in Bobby's house and Bobby doesn't approve, he may think that voicing his displeasure ensures he is not an enabler. However, unless he puts an end to the situation, he is still enabling it. Yelling at the brother or having arguments over the drug use is simply what Bobby's brother has to put up with to do what he wants. It's not a consequence. It's just a necessary annoyance, like the fee you have to pay to drive on a toll road. There are often other roads you could take, there are usually other ways you could go, but this way will get you where you want to go faster. So you pay.
Drug use is a very obvious example used to illustrate a point, of course. Not all situations are that obvious. But even if there is no blatant abuse or misuse of other people or themselves at all - a rarity with narcissists but it can happen sometimes - anyone in a relationship with a narcissist is still enabling the narcissist's false image and false reality. There is no way not to, because no matter what you do or say, it will be twisted to fit the narrative of that false image and that false reality so that they can live with it. This is the toll you must pay to drive on this road. For many, it's too much.
People often ask, "OK, so what can we do about this? What do we do to fix it?" The answer is nothing. You cannot make someone think, feel, believe, say, do or perceive the way you want them to. Many people cannot even do this themselves, let alone for someone else. The only thing you can do in any situation is understand the reality of the situation and decide how you are going to respond. This is where your power is, and it's huge. You have to make a decision: is the toll too high?