Sharon Chan, LMFT
How to Engage with a Narcissist When You Can't Fully Go No Contact.
Updated: Jul 2, 2021
Cutting off, distancing, disengaging, and going no contact with a narcissist can be important and necessary tools to healing. But..... what if you can't? What if you are in a situation where you have to remain in contact with or have to work through things together? What if no contact is not an option.
First off, if you are in this situation, I extend major compassion to you. This is not easy. It will probably take a lot of practice. Secondly, I want to be careful not to label everyone a narcissist just because they show narcissist traits. Heck, we all have them to some degree at at some frequency. The point of this blog is not to get into the qualities of narcissism or to figure out if someone has narcissistic personality disorder. Hopefully what this blog will do is provide some tips on how to engage with a narcissist if you have to.
Let's first start by highlighting a few key qualities that are often demonstrated in someone with this personality disorder which highly impacts their relationships and communication in order for others to be better equipped to engage with them. Narcissist typically demonstrate a pattern of strong denial and an unwillingness to change or reflect on oneself, inability to take responsibility for one's actions, and lack of demonstration of showing empathy to another. What does that mean in a relationship with another person? Well first let's looks at some examples of healthy communication and conflict resolution.
Person 1 and 2: Talk through the issues, listen to eachother, understand their boundaries and eachother's needs.
Person 1 and 2: Figure out together what they both need and how to respect and understand their boundaries and both come to a resolved place where both people feel decent about.
Person 1 and 2: Listen and reflect on other person's experience as well as their own.
Person 1 and 2: Taking ownership for their actions or imp
act of actions while apologizing for their impact on another's experience while working towards actions to grow together.
Person 1 and 2: Both being open to the changes and compromises that are taking place as people learn and grow together.
This is a simple version of an ideal conversation and situation. Even in the healthiest of relationships our own past, wounds, lack of sleep or ___________ gets in the way of having these healthier conversations. We as humans will constantly mess up/evolve in this process because none of us are perfect and we will have off days and we trigger eachother's "stuff". Repair of these moments become our best friend and we learn to not only grow but to forgive and hopefully extend patience and acceptance through the process.
But the key ingredients here in an equal and mutual relationship are: Both are willing to look at themselves, grow, learn to understand themselves and partner and take ownership of their "stuff" while working towards a compromising alternative/solution, and if needed taking actions and steps towards those solutions. We all fall in that spectrum of times where owning our stuff can be hard, or having empathy for another can feel impossible, but we come back to these concepts and we work on it.
However, when interacting with a Narcissist this can't be the framework that people engage in because the dynamic in conversation is not mutual between both people. Often times when a narcissist is confronted, challenged, or ask to "look at someone else or something about themselves that needs to be addressed in which they don't like or can't tolerate to look at" then it is often deflected, turned into gaslighting, manipulation, blame,etc. This means that the relationship will not be between two equals with mutual respect and understanding and hoping they they will give that mutual respect and empathy sets us up for heartache.
I have often seen interactions go something like this:
Person1: I am feeling so sad about the thing you just said and it really hurt when you called me that name.
Person 2: What are you talking about? I didn't say that? There you go again! Making crazy stuff up. Are you sure you're not needing help to take care of that memory problem.
Person 1: Can you please stop calling me names. That's not okay.
Person 2: What? Why can't you handle that? Are you such a baby you can't take anything! Seriously?
These are just a few examples. There are so many more. The key distinction is that when the narcissists' sense of self is challenged or reflected back in a way they can't tolerate they will often use many harmful ways to cope(seen in examples). Therefore our framework has to change because this can't lead to productive, effective or mutual conversations. In fact the more that we attempt to have a safe and vulnerable conversation the more that our sense of self is at risk to erode.
Instead I would recommend a framework similar to this when dealing with a narcissist:
Figure out your needs and boundaries first: What do you need? Where do you begin and where do they end? What are your needs and then what do you need to protect yourself? Identify that within yourself first. Figure out where you stand. I would recommend talking to a trusted person or professional to figure this out for yourself first and foremost. I would not recommend figuring this stage out with the narcissist as that will most likely not be helpful to you.
2.Figure out what the narcissists' coping or communication is. Are they gaslighting? Are they projecting? Do they put you down so they can feel good about themselves? Identifying what they are doing and why they are using it can help to depersonalize it but also then to know how to engage with them.
3. Figure out how to engage with them but not losing your own sense of self.
The grey rock method for this has been recommended: “Gray Rock Method” was first coined by blogger Skylar in this article on her website: https://180rule.com/the-gray-rock-method-of-dealing-with-psychopaths/.
They key here is to keep conversations brief and only on certain topics. I have also had certain people only surround themselves with the narcissist with others around especially because the narcissist may want to protect their image and may act differently with some versus others.
4. Have a "leave " plan. If you start to feel unsafe (emotionally or in anyway) have a plan to excuse yourself from the situation or conversation.
5. Don't expect to get your emotional needs met from the narcissist. Remember that is not because you don't deserve mutual respect, empathy or consideration it just means that you have to surround yourself with others who can. Your healing is important!
6. Lastly but mostly importantly, I would recommend that you center your decisions around your own healing. Being in consistent contact with a narcissist can really erode your sense of self. If your healing is the primary focus then you will also be more equipped to deal with the narcissist.
If you are experiencing these interactions and it is causing a great deal of pain for you, I would recommend that you seek out a professional who is knowledgeable about these topics. Experiencing these interactions can be extremely exhausting, confusing and painful even to the most resilient beings.
I wish there was a perfect formula here but unfortunately there is not. I am hoping this can provide some help and insight into a very hard situation.
P.S. I wrote this blog after seeing the interest in the previous blog(Love Bombing from a Narcissist or Not?) I hope these blogs can spread awareness and provide some insight. I recommend that if you are in these situations that you seek support.
Disclaimer: This information is being provided to you for educational and informational purposes only. The topics being discussed are meant as a self-help tool for you own use. It is not psychotherapy or counseling. This information is to be used based on your own judgment. If you need to speak with a professional, you should find one local to you and contact them directly.
National Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Sharon Chan, LMFT