‘Just Kris’ Asked:
I have a sister in law that I believe according to the definition of narcissism has narcissistic tendencies. We don’t spend much time together, but our relationship (along with all of my in-laws that feel they need to tiptoe around her) is strained because it feels like she makes every issue about her, no matter how clearly it is not. She also handles any kind of criticism very poorly, lashing out and if possible demanding a retraction and apology. For instance, I recently gave birth to my second child and we asked her and my brother in law to wait to come down to visit because a lot of my side of the family was down at first and we wanted them to come at a time we wouldn’t be overwhelmed with company. She took this very personally, even though I explained I was struggling initially postpartum and needed to spend time with my immediate family, whom I do not see regularly. Do you have any advice for how myself and my in-laws can relate to her in a healthy way moving forward?
Dr. Zoe Answered:
There’s not a lot of health going on when you’re relating with a narcissist, so the first thing is to give up the idea that you can somehow solve this. You can’t.
Narcissists tend to pair up well with co-dependents because they will “happily” do the tiptoe dance around them, feeding their narcissism.
The healthiest thing that you can do is to stop trying to make the relationship healthy, but instead, make sure that you always show up as healthy as you can.
Narcissists become wounded easily because any hint of criticism makes them feel completely inadequate and devalued. This is what is called a narcissistic injury. They react defensively by deflecting and blaming in order to repair their false sense of superiority. There is no space in this process to consider or think about the other’s feelings. This is what makes you feel so uncared for in interactions with her.
If she is indeed a narcissist, you are not likely to ever develop a deep, meaningful relationship with her, but you can help yourself by knowing how to navigate the relationship.
Rules for maintaining “healthy” relationships with narcissists:
1. Speak Your Peace Without Confronting
You can’t successfully confront a narcissist in a relationship. You will get nowhere because their goal is to flip and blame. They will deflect, project, gaslight or devalue you, but they will not accept their own feelings unless someone else is to blame for it.
Instead, state clearly how you are feeling and why. Use I statements, not you statements, and make it clear that you are not requesting a response. You just need to express how you feel.
When you’re not sure how someone will react, it’s easy to start avoiding and keeping your thoughts close to yourself. But that creates extra issues. Don’t censor yourself. Just avoid blaming.
2. Don’t Give In
She may push back and blame. Don’t back down and don’t engage. Focus on keeping your boundaries firm and not concerning yourself with her reaction to your boundaries. Set limits on how much of your energy you will give to her reactions and hold firm.
3. Her Feelings Are Not Your Feelings
It’s hard to avoid absorbing someone else’s extreme feelings, but that’s what you have to do when a narcissist tries to pull you into their world. What she’s feeling has nothing to do with you. This is a long standing, deep-seated issue that is hers and hers alone.
Stay grounded by imagining that you have a warm hedge all around you and her feelings can’t penetrate it.
4. Know Yourself Well
Sometimes interactions with a narcissist may trigger deep wounds from your past that you haven’t dealt with. Remind yourself that this current interaction has nothing to do with a similar one from your past and focus on remaining present and responding as the adult that you are—not the child.
5. Remember The Truth
It’s easy to get twisted around and doubt yourself when you bump up against a narcissistic injury. Remind yourself of the truth and move forward in confidence.
It’s not easy to be in relationship with a narcissist. Make sure you are seeking and receiving support from family members. Hold your boundaries tight and don’t absorb their emotions.
You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace.
You may want to learn a little more from Dr. Zoe about dealing with a narcissist in this video!
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