1) Know Your Rights
You must feel entitled to be treated with respect and that you have specific rights, such as the right to your feelings, the right not to have sex if you decline, a right to privacy, a right not to be yelled at, touched, or disrespected. If you’ve been abused a long time (or as a child), your self-esteem likely has been diminished. You may no longer trust yourself or have confidence.
Be Assertive. This takes learning and practice to avoid being passive or aggressive. Try these short-term responses to dealing with verbal putdowns:
“I'll think about it.”
“I'll never be the good enough wife (husband) that you hoped for.”
“I don't like it when you criticize me. Please stop.” (Then walk away)
“That's your opinion. I disagree, (or) I don't see it that way."
“You're saying . . .” (Repeat what was said. Add, "Oh, I see.”)
“I won't talk to you when you (describe abuse, e.g. "belittle me"). Then leave.
Agree with the part that's true. “Yes, I burned the dinner.” Ignore “You're a rotten cook.”
Humor – “You're very cute when you get annoyed.”
2) Be Strategic
Know what you want specifically, what the narcissist wants, what your limits are, and where you have power in the relationship. You’re dealing with someone highly defensive with a personality disorder. There are specific strategies to having an impact.
Set Boundaries. Boundaries are rules that govern the way you want to be treated. People will treat you the way you allow them to. You must know what your boundaries are before you can communicate them. This means getting in touch with your feelings, listening to your body, knowing your rights, and learning assertiveness. They must be explicit. Don’t hint or expect people to read your mind.
3) Have Consequences
After setting boundaries, if they’re ignored, it’s important to communicate and invoke consequences. These are not threats, but actions you take to protect yourself or meet your needs.
4) Be Educative
Research shows that narcissists have neurological deficits that affect their interpersonal reactions. You’re the best approach is to educate a narcissist like a child. Explain the impact of their behavior and provide incentives and encouragement for different behavior. This may involve communicating consequences. It requires planning what you’re going to say without being emotional.
To respond effectively requires support. Without it, you may languish in self-doubt and succumb to abusive disinformation and denigration. It’s challenging to change your reactions, let alone those of anyone else. Expect pushback when you stand up for yourself. This is another reason why support is essential. You will need courage and consistency. Whether or not the narcissist makes changes, you’ll get tools to protect yourself and raise your self-worth that will improve how you feel whether you stay or leave. CoDA meetings and psychotherapy provide guidance and support.
If you’d like more information on narcissism and relationships with narcissists, see www.whatiscodependency.com/blog. Email me if you’d like a copy of a “Checklist of Narcissistic Behaviors.”
Warning: If you’re experiencing physical abuse, expect it to continue or escalate. Get help immediately. Read “The Truth About Abusive Relationships.”