You’re such a narcissist! What does that really mean?

An overbearing mother who seems to only think about herself; a co-worker who shows a lot of arrogance and confidence in a meeting; entitled friends or siblings –these are all characters that we’ve probably all had to deal with in our daily lives, and it can be frustrating and exhausting. It seems natural, then, to toss the term narcissist or narcissistic around when venting about how they treat us but what does it really mean to be a narcissist, and how can we deal with someone who is narcissistic?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, people who display narcissistic tendencies appear to have a grandiose sense of self-importance, entitlement, arrogance, and superiority, and may show a lack of consideration and empathy for others. While narcissists may not exhibit all these behaviours at once, consistently, or in all contexts, they often tend to be self-absorbed and driven to protecting their own self-esteem and self-image, thereby causing any negative feedback to be ill-received, leading to aggressive and combative responses. This can be mentally taxing and emotionally draining to deal with. What can you do if you have a loved one with narcissistic tendencies in your life? Here are some things to consider:

Establish boundaries: Although it may not be a conscious intention, narcissistic individuals tend to think of their desires first and put other peoples’ needs on the backburner. What this means, unfortunately, is that they may speak over you, be adamant that certain things be done their way, and can get easily irritated if you do not comply. Establishing boundaries in those moments is vital for your own mental and emotional well-being, and can help to re-introduce a level of respect and consideration in their routine. For example, if a narcissistic parent resorts to yelling when you don’t do as they say, then vocalizing a boundary such as “I will only continue this conversation and all other conversations in the future if you do not yell” will both honour your self-respect and health and will encourage them to take responsibility and control their behaviours.

Conversational reminders: When speaking to a narcissist, always try and let them speak first. Often, they are so focused on what they want to say that they will either interrupt or ignore you and half-listen until they can say what they need to. Allowing them to go first, therefore, will help reduce communication obstacles. In these conversations, it is also important to keep requests short and simple, and remain very direct when speaking, so no confusion takes place and the narcissist does not have the opportunity to manipulate you or deter you from making your point.

Empathy for others and for yourself: Remind yourself that narcissism is not a conscious decision that your loved one is making. While they are responsible for their behaviours, remembering that their actions are a challenge associated with their mental state could help you have empathy for them. You also want to forgive yourself: there may be times you say and do the wrong thing because having a narcissistic loved one can be very difficult, but having empathy for yourself is vital.

Seek professional help and support: Getting therapy for your loved one where they can speak to someone and develop better tools to help identify and battle some of their own obstacles is crucial. If necessary, recognize your own struggles and seek help as needed: whether that is support groups, professional therapists, or friends and family to lean on, knowing your own limits and recognizing that you don’t need to handle this on your own is important.

–Nazila Tolooei
From Share&Care Spring 2023

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