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How to handle narcissists

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
How to handle narcissists
Photo by Steve Harvey / Unsplash

Not talking about people who just have tickets on themselves, talking about it in the psychological thing of, unpleasant bragging, responds disproportionately to any perceived criticism, entitled, exploitative, dishonest, etc etc.

How you handle them is: get away, minimise interactions, etc etc. But you can't always do that, or not immediately. I just want to emphasise that this is how to get along with an abusive person, how to survive - not how to fix them, as though that was your job anyway.

According to the article I read, narcissists are people who are deeply insecure - they have no faith that people will just like them - affection has always been given to them conditionally. So they are constantly seeking praise, taking credit for things they didn't do, trying to control you etc. (This is obviously a terrible strategy for getting people to like you.)

So, 1. Begin by reinforcing the value of this person, and your relationship with them. (This is probably a lie: we're talking about surviving in a bad situation.) In the Werewolf game, I tried to make them see that their behaviour was making their own life worse: "You are making this game not be fun for people, people are going to not want to keep playing with you if you don't change how you act." That was a mistake, because it makes them feel more insecure, their relationships more tenuous, so they double-down.

I should have said something like "you're a good player and an important part of the team and so we need to be able to work together effectively."

And then also talk about how their behaviour makes you feel. (If it makes you feel contemptuous and angry you will maybe have to lie and say 'sad' - I would normally ever recommend lying about your emotional state, but this is a survival mode thing.)

"All psychopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are psychopaths. Psychopaths can’t feel empathy.

For narcissists, empathy is more like an underdeveloped muscle. Still there, but as you have probably experienced first hand, it sure doesn’t get used much. You need to help them build that empathy muscle.

Calling them a jerk or criticizing their behavior only makes them worse. But when they are compassionately reminded of the importance of their relationships — and how those relationships can help them achieve their goals — they can improve."

The researcher calls these "empathy prompts" - emphasise the importance of the relationship, and then tell them how you are feeling . It's also useful because when it doesn't work, you've found out way faster, and have a better idea of the kind of emergency you're in.

How to tell if empathy prompts are working:
"Malkin explains that you’re succeeding when your narcissist responds by:

  • Affirming: “You’re my best friend, too. I don’t want you to feel bad.”
  • Clarifying: “How long have you been feeling sad around me?”
  • Apologizing: “I’m sorry— I don’t want you to feel like a failure.”
  • Validating: “I know my sarcasm hurts you."

Other elements:

  • Use words like we, our, us. Reinforce relationships and being on the same team (this is all backed by research by the way).
  • Compliment them when they behave warmly or nicely (don't praise them for their achievements, but for prosocial behaviour)

Article goes into much more detail

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #31 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

Unsolicited AdviceEQ & Interpersonal


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