For whatever reason, I seem to be obsessed with triggers this month. And that has me thinking a lot about how we who find ourselves on the wrong side of the business end of a narcissist’s goading, respond. From my observations we generally fall into 2 categories: 1) Those who feed up a feast for the senses delectable enough to satisfy even the most discriminating narcissist’s palate and 2) those who starve the narcissist’s hunger by choking off the emotional supply.
We are generally on one or the other end of the spectrum and there is rarely ever space for a middle ground here. What seems to determine where we sit on the spectrum is how well we are able to separate our condition from our identity; i.e., how well we are able to distance ourselves emotionally from the situation. No doubt, this is no easy challenge. And success only comes with time, insight, understanding, and constant vigilance. It also takes quite a bit of self-care, self-awareness, and empathy (for oneself as well as for the other party).
If you fall into the latter category, Mazel tov! But, if you fall into the former category, I offer the following strategies:
• Don’t take the bait: Don’t always be so eager to serve up red meat for your narcissist to feed on. Starve him or her of supply by being judicious in what you respond to. And also in how you respond. Remember, not everything requires an immediate response. And some things don’t require a response at all.
• K.I.S.S. your narcissist: If you find you must respond, do it with a K.I.S.S. That is, when you respond remember to, “Keep it simple Simon!” This is done by:
- Keeping the word count as low as is possible to convey the message. The more words you invest, the more energy the narc perceives you have invested. They get off on your investment.
- Ignoring all the blame speak and emotional attacks. They are trying to goad you into a cycle of escalation and your goal is to deescalate and/or neutralize the narc by leaving them with nowhere to go.
- Staying on topic. As they escalate (and they will – they need it to get to the discharge they are seeking), they will begin to throw everything at you to see what lands. Respond only to the topic at hand. You might try simply saying, “I believe the conversation we are having is X” and then to respond within that established context.
- Stripping your response of all emotions. A good strategy for engaging in high-conflict communications in general is to do it in writing. Email is a great tool for this because you can park the email in a Drafts folder and then come back to it at a later date when you are less revved up. Before sending an email to any individual you are in conflict with, it is worth going over it several times and cutting out (with surgical precision) any utterance that reeks of: emotion, judgment, blamespeak, attack… you get the gist. Keep the response civil, factual, and perfunctory.
When you stop reacting, over time you will notice a decline in the volume of interactions with your narcissist. As a coach, I have been privy to more than my fair share of email threads among divorced or separated individuals. What is coming to mind in this moment is a particular thread on one central theme that was 48 pages long when printed; clearly a lot of energy was being invested.
If this sounds like you, the strategies above, if applied consistently, should (at a minimum) help reduce the volume of exchanges. It should also help you experience more peace and control in your communications. If you opt to try the strategy, give it at least 6 months to see any appreciable change from the other side, though you will begin to feel an internal change on your side much sooner.
As always, I am eager to hear from you if you do decide to give it a try.