How to Deal With a Narcissist

“Narcissist” is a word many of us throw around casually, using it to describe anyone from an energy vampire to a friend who posts too many selfies on Instagram. But as Ramani Durvasula makes clear in her best-selling book, “It’s Not You,” the people who actually fit the bill are more complicated, wily and attention-seeking than we might imagine. She focuses on the ones who fall in the middle of the spectrum — those toxic charmers who, she writes, give you “enough bad days to take a toll and enough good days to keep you hooked.”

Durvasula is a clinical psychologist who has long been as fixated on narcissists as they are on themselves. In a phone interview, she said she wanted to take this personality type out of the “diagnostic weeds.” Durvasula explained, “When we hear ‘diagnosis,’ we think ‘treatment,’ which requires some level of motivation. Depressed people go to therapy because they’re uncomfortable with their depression; anxious people go to therapy because they’re uncomfortable with their anxiety. Narcissistic people lack self-awareness. They don’t walk into therapy saying, ‘I hurt the people around me. I want to stop that.’ That’s not the conversation.”

So how does a narcissist-adjacent friend or family member navigate a relationship with someone who won’t change? Durvasula lamented the lack of scholarly literature on the subject; she said it’s as if “there’s this acceptable collateral damage.” Her book provides detailed directions for people who find themselves in a narcissist’s passenger seat, and she shared a few tips for getting started.

First, Durvasula said, if you’re in a cycle where you keep having the same conflicts that never resolve, “take a pointed look at the other person’s behavior, instead of always trying to figure out what you’re doing wrong.” Then look for patterns: “How often are they listening to you compared to how often you listen to them? Are your needs and wants received warmly even if they can’t be met?” And finally — although this isn’t really the destination, just the part where you warm up the car — pay close attention to how these habits and norms affect you. It might sound like common sense, but the goal is to shift the focus away from the narcissist and onto your own well-being.

“Once you do that and you’re aware of what you’re dealing with,” Durvasula said, “then it’s time to shift attention to issues like radical acceptance and the grief that comes from loving someone who has this kind of personality. Because from this point forward, you will always navigate this relationship differently.”

Related Articles

Back to top button