Are you divorcing a narcissist? Oh, No! No fun, hon. Or maybe your boss or someone else you know has this problem. I can help. First, let’s look at what it means to be a narcissist.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissists are extremely difficult to deal with. They are usually cunning and manipulative. They lack empathy, they don’t have insight into themselves, and they blame anything negative on others. Narcissists are gifted at creating conflict. Check out the Mayo clinic’s definition of the narcissistic personality disorder if you are unsure this is someone you know.
One of the key strategies in dealing effectively with a narcissist is knowing what they are triggering in you. Once you are aware of this, you can be much more effective in detaching and responding versus just reacting.
What’s Your Coping Style?
We all have coping mechanisms that we have developed from childhood. Some are good, but some are what’s called maladaptive and they’re not real useful. Jeffrey Young, PhD, describes these as schemas, more precisely as the 18 different ways people react (and they’re detrimentally self-defeating).
Narcissistic types are great at tapping into our self-defeating schemas, which explains why it is so hard to respond with aclear head. It’s just baggage, ladies.
8 Common Reactions
A book, Disarming the Narcissist, does a good job of describing the most common reactions to narcissistic people. I can relate. Maybe you can relate. It’s easy to get stuck in one of these dysfunctional schemas and then keep reacting over and over, if unaddressed.
- Self-sacrifice: you get stuck feeling guilty or bad for asking for what you need or want.
- Subjugation: you have trouble demanding for your rights and opinions.
- Abandonment: you are fearful of rejection or being alone.
- Defectiveness/shame: because you feel inadequate or undesirable, this gets triggered.
- Emotional inhibition: you are overly controlled in your emotions, stoic, you feel bad without being able to express.
- Emotional deprivation: you already don’t believe that you can find someone who will love you and care about you the way you deserve. This is familiar.
- Mistrust/abuse: this is a reenactment of the past,you feel powerless and like you just should give in.
- Unrelenting standards: you try harder and harder to do better, be better, because you feel like you can somehow get to that place of what is expected of you. You can’t be spontaneous and have pleasure with this, though, because you will never measure up. Nobody will. But you are stuck on this cycle.
When I am not paying attention to myself, I can completely fall into the No. 8 category of reacting when I deal with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, maybe a little of the No. 2 too.
One of my first important learning experience with a narcissistic person occurred when I was a new grad student, I had a boss who had this problem. I was completely unprepared.
No matter how hard I tried or how competent I was, he would be cruel and horrible, always pointing out my supposed “deficiencies.” This blindsided me and I internalized these “deficiencies.”
A gifted EAP counselor I enlisted knew the manager and explained to me what was happening. That insight completely erased the low self-esteem feelings I had and provided me with the ability to detach. I still didn’t perfectly escape from the crazy bullshit, but I got better at detaching and responding. To improve your responses in your relationship with your narcissistic ex (or anyone else with this problem), it will take hard and steady practice. Have hope, though, because having insight helps shield you from the painful darts.
Always Take the High Road
Unlike a boss, where you only have to see them for a specific period of time, an ex-spouse has a much more powerful impact on your emotions. When you are divorcing, a narcissistic ex will be enraged with you. This means lots of painful darts. In addition, it is more difficult to detach when you have to see deal with more personal issues financial logistics or children. Being mindful of your reactions can help to depersonalize the hard stuff. The more you learn about this type of personality, the more you will be able to empathize too. This majorly helps to not take the acting out so personally.
I always recommend to my divorcing clients that they get tons of support and that they always take the high road, when in doubt. Otherwise, it will be more harmful to them and their children in the future. Having a therapist or coach could be essential in making this to happen. It is just too stressful to do on your own.
Know the Rules
For those new to the narcissism game, you need to get educated. Read up. Consult with experts. Know your stuff. With divorce comes the things that trigger a narcissist most: rejection and shame. Be aware of this and try to respond not react. Get a therapist if you don’t already have one, read about this issue, and work on taking care of yourself within the toxicity that may be being hurled at you. It isn’t your fault. You didn’t cause this person to act in these ways. You can’t cure them either. Just do your best.
In my 20+ plus years of counseling and social work experience, I’ve seen hundreds of women (men too) learn to set boundaries and break the codependency that kept them tied to unsatisfying relationships and circumstances. Learn more in my book, Stop Giving It Away.
Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, which is on sale now at Barnes & Noble.
Join the conversation and get tools and tips for how to stop being a Giveaway Girl on my other blog at www.stopgivingitaway.com.
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