The Therapy is Dandy Guidebook to having a Narcissist for a Parent. Chapter 18.
An ongoing survival guide.
This one is a special delivery: for all the approaching weddings, summer barbecues, graduations, coming of age rituals, or whatever that the summer season is going to unleash upon us all.
Survival guides typically talk about strategy. This is certainly going to be true here. Perhaps more specifically or hands on than I have ever been in previous chapters. If in reading this dandy little note you come across the impression that the narcissist in question, be it a he or a she or an unknown, is construed as the villain in this fable, you would be correct.
The narcissist is the villain. And a person. A person that hurts others whether by action or inaction and out of awareness or lack of awareness is still a villain. One, as a therapist, I do believe can be rehabilitated. But the rehabilitation has to be wanted. By the narcissist. Not you, and certainly not by me. So, in this particular entry, I will not be using veiled euphemisms. Or poetry. Or subtlety. I am the one who compared your narcissistic parent to Darth Vader after all. And I stand by that.
And obvious to me already, it has been far too long since I have had the time to write about narcissists.
So, fall out onto the Field of Mars.
Any exposure to a narcissist will bring on the psychic armor. Don’t fight that. At least not yet. Wearing less armor around your narcissist is only a skill for those very experienced and mindful at negotiating the narcissist environment. We ain’t there yet in Chapter 18. Or, if you like, a quote from Ygritte from Game of Thrones, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
Wearing the armor comes from our earlier exposure and wounding by the narcissist. So, it comes on without us asking. But we can prepare for it. That means resting your body and mind the night before. It means self care. If you don’t know what that means, then you need to find out. It means if you have a partner or spouse or whatever you like to call each other, that you let them into your emotional world and you share how you are worried and bothered and annoyed, and all the other things that come up for you when you must interact with the narcissist. And then maybe you have lots of sex. Because that’s nice too. And, you know, sex.
It is going to be really difficult to work around the narcissist all on your own. You will need allies, and you will all need to communicate and stick together. Never let a narcissist isolate one of your team. You must look out for each other because the narcissist will not. This team may be your friends, your other family, or whomever, but you all should know what the plan is.
What is the plan?The plan very simply is to enjoy the day, the event, the whatever, and to have happy and mostly positive memories about it. Despite the narcissist. In fact, if done right, the narcissist will be feeling pretty good too. But for reasons different to why you and yours will be feeling good.
If we approach the big day with the narcissist at the top of our to do list, then they have already won. Keep that in mind.
This is the one time, and the one kind of event, where I am going to disagree, in a sense, with Don Vito Corleone. You will not be doing yourself any favors keeping the narcissist close in a situation like this. But you can give the impression to the narcissist that you are.
I know. It sounds shady. I agree. But here is what we know about narcissists:
1) Narcissists tend not to respond well to direct confrontations (lots of people don’t actually). So we can’t just tell them to butt out.
2) Narcissists love to feel important, and if we can make them feel that way, then our problems might just disappear. More on this next.
3) Outside of the immediate family, others may not know or see the narcissist as a narcissist. They are just that charming, lovely if eccentric person, etc, etc. That illusion can be helpful in how you plan around the narcissist.
4) Engaging with a narcissist often involves dealing with all their drama. We want to minimize that for your peace of mind.
If at all possible, keep the narcissist away from the event’s location until the event itself. Some of the more extreme stories I have heard include the narcissist wanting to give their expert opinion on matters like the decorations, the food, the help, the whatever.
Encourage the narcissist to believe that their exclusion to the preparing of the event is because you want them to feel special. And they are too important, too special, to be involved with anything as menial as event planning (Refer to #2 above).
If that isn’t enough, plan something specifically for the narcissist to keep them away from what you want to keep them away from. Again, encourage them to see this as your gift to them. It’s absolutely true, even if it isn’t. The only other options, as far as I can tell, are to not invite them—and they might show up anyway, or tell them what you really feel about them and possibly precipitate an emotional blowout. On a day that is supposed to be about a celebration. Bad idea.
If you cannot keep the narcissist away, then keep the details from them. Anything to do with timetables, timing, coordinating, managing and supervising. Unless you specifically want them to do these things (But why would you?), conveniently forget the details when asked. The less the narcissist knows, the more you and your team can do without worry of interference.
Expect thoughtlessness. Expect cruel comments that are given in the false bloom of expert opinion. Narcissists are not above criticizing brides on their wedding day, or brutalizing graduates on graduation, or any other number of grossly disturbing behaviors. We—and I mean you—cannot afford to be shocked by their tremendous lack of empathy or concern for others. That is what a narcissist does. And to be brought to tears by it, to be terrorized by it, is like hitting your thumb with a hammer and not expecting it to hurt. Narcissists hurt others. And they don’t take responsibility for it, and furthermore they have a fancy excuse in their back pocket in order to blame you for everything anyway. You must expect this when in their company. Not doing so if you don’t know about narcissists or never read this guidebook is understandable. Not doing so after reaching Chapter 18 is naïve at best. You cannot allow yourself to be held an emotional hostage anymore. Certainly not at a party.
So, don’t respond when they get nasty. Not at this event. Let your psychic armor take the brunt of it. You will need a day (or more) to recover from the event. And you will need to recover from the narcissist. If you have to, and can, get up, smile, and walk away. Walking away from a narcissist with a smile on your face that they can’t understand is a special kind of joy. Cerebral, but still a joy. We need more cerebral pleasures, if you ask me. If you can’t walk away, change the subject. Talk about why you are there. Be on the lookout for a member of your team, your wingmen, and try to flag them down. If you are stuck, and can’t leave, and can’t think of anything else to talk about, get the narcissist talking about themselves—it is their favorite subject after all. Maybe they have a new car, or an addition to their house. Ask them about their job, their weekend, their television preferences, whatever. It takes the pressure off you, and they won’t know you aren’t really listening to them. Chances are they are not even listening to themselves. Am I right or am I right?
You cannot win against a narcissist if you play by their rules. But, as described above, you can use their beliefs and behaviors to your advantage. Is that really sneaky? Or is it being smart? And effectively understanding your environment?
If you want to rehabilitate, confront, cut out, isolate, or altogether forget the narcissist in your life, that is your choice. And a very important and difficult choice to make. This guidebook wants to cover all of those options, and provide you with as much information as possible in making that very important and difficult choice. But think long and hard about how good of an idea it is to confront a narcissist and try to upset the status quo on the day of an event much bigger than you or them.
Choose your battles wisely. Learn how to handle the narcissist in your life with more skill and prowess. If Luke had listened to Yoda and Obi Wan on Dagobah, he would have probably not lost his hand to Vader on Cloud City. I think you know what I mean.
Next time: Should I stay or should I go now? (Hint: not about me praising the discography of the Kinks—but one day I could do that too.)