If you think you may be hanging out with a narcissist then the sooner these rules are applied the better. Even if you don’t know for sure whether the person is a narcissist or not, applying these rules may be a good way to find out. These rules are a helpful way to set boundaries with people in general. To the opportunistic narcissist, boundaries are nasty little barbs that interfere with their need to be in total control. They don’t like making the extra effort to step over these pesty barbs either, so they will tend to avoid a person with strong boundaries.
The very best way to alleviate suffering for the long term is to get rid of the narcissist altogether. But if you are anything like me, when you find yourself already immersed in a relationship then you might feel compelled to stick around for the fun and games. Because while you are enmeshed with the narcissist, leaving can feel worse than staying.
There are all sorts of reasons for this, but one I will mention is that there is so much confusion that it is incredibly difficult to navigate this type of abusive relationship and yes, my friends, it is abusive.
It took me a while to come to the realization that yes I was being abused because I always said to myself ‘it takes two to tango, I am an aggressive button pusher, all relationships are 50/50. To make matters worse, a narcissist has a lovely way of enhancing these beliefs and making everything feel not just 50/50, but 100 to 0 in their favor.
Rule #1 Observe the behavior. Stay in the present
Never try to convince myself of something other than what is there in the moment. Do not under any circumstances create a story around a situation. I have a tendency to care take and also have a very kind imagination, so I will come up with excuses or reasons for behavior and spin stories out of them. For example, I will say to myself, the person is just afraid of intimacy or maybe they had a hard childhood. Even if it is true the person is afraid or something painful from their childhood was triggered, does it really matter what caused their behavior if they treat me badly? When I look at the behavior without the reasons or excuses, I can swiftly set boundaries. Again, it is important to observe the behavior in general without a story line like ‘oh he thinks I am so special, we have everything in common’. Do not fall for romantic hype or ego stroking anymore than making excuses for bad behavior. The romantic hype also called love bombing, usually occurs in the beginning of an intimate relationship with a narcissist. The narcissist studies its prey very carefully. The N can seem incredibly interested in you, your interests, they are like a chameleon and will even mold themselves to be the ideal match for you. They will charm you, make you feel loved and adored. It will feel like you met the best listener in the world and the person who really gets you. It is difficult to discern what is going on at this stage, but the relationship will seem too perfect and too good to be true. The N also will want to get close really fast, like wanting to move in together or even get married. Keep your wits about you during this phase also known in narcissist land as the Idealization phase and try not to get hooked.
It is important to be present to the situation in order to be able to observe. To be tuned in to my feelings, my body, and investigating myself as much as I can. Early on in my relationship I had feelings of hair standing up on the back of my neck that I ignored, feelings of fear in my stomach and chest, not knowing why. I knew I was having these feelings, but I was completely following a story that I allowed to override all of the signs that something was wrong. I told myself this relationship is going to work no matter what he does or how he behaves. Because he doesn’t mean to be mean. He was hurt as a child. I went so far as to eventually believe that all bad things that happen must have to do with my faults and weaknesses, therefore I have to fix myself in order to make this relationship work.
Being tuned in and able to observe without attaching myself to a story is something I have really had to practice. I use Tara Brach’s RAIN as a mindfulness tool. She adapted this acronym from her book ‘True Refuge’. Even when I have a hard time tuning into my emotions and feelings in my body, I try to keep it simple using the acronym as my prompt. I state the behavior.I observe first using the R in RAIN to Recognize what is going on , A is to Allow things to just be, I is for Investigate: how do I feel, think, believe about a situation without identifying with or judging any of it, the N is for Non-identification. All stories explaining behavior eventually cause suffering, so stop right there. Stick to the facts please.