This blog post is the first of a series and discusses narcissistic personality disorder and relationships. To read the second half of this discussion and learn how to deal with a narcissist husband or wife, click here for part 2
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health diagnosis in which, generally speaking, a person has an inflated sense of importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.
People with NPD tend to see people either as all good or all bad. There is little to no gray area. When you separate or divorce from a narcissist, you inevitably fall into the all bad category.
You become the enemy.
You become evil, immoral, and/or crazy. This is the narcissist’s coping mechanism to deal with the injury to his/her self-image and loss of control.
Because the narcissist truly believes you are evil, he/she feels justified to harass, make false allegations, alienate you from the kids, or abuse you.
Communicating with a narcissist can be a challenge to say the least. If there are no kids, I often advise my clients to cease all communication. But when there are children involved or a justifiable need, appropriate communication is a must.
When your narcissistic partner emails or sends text messages with wild accusations and name calling, your natural reaction is to response in kind. Responding in a hostile manner will result in the narcissist becoming more hostile and continuing the rants.
In Splitting – Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD and Randi Kreger set forth an excellent strategy for responding to a narcissist’s written communications.
The acronym is BIFF – Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm.
Keep your communication brief, matter-of-fact, and to-the-point. Do not engage in personal attacks or debate. That entices the narcissist to continue the conversation and, very likely, to escalate it.
Address only what needs to be addressed. If it’s a child scheduling issue, address that issue and no more. If it’s an inaccuracy or an allegation, state the accurate facts and that’s it.
You don’t have to engage in unnecessary pleasantries or compliments. This is more of a reminder to the keep the conversation neutral and non-antagonistic.
Say want you need to say, then end the conversation. Don’t leave things open to debate or further discussion. Don’t ask for more information, and don’t invite a response.
Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD and Randi Kreger, Splitting – Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. (2011)
Remember that not all communications deserve a response. When you receive a hostile rant from your partner, the natural response is fire back.
Ask yourself, “Do I really need to respond to this email? Is there a factual reason to respond or an emotional need to respond?”
It would certainly feel good to fire back a scathing email. But two things are certain to happen.
First, the narcissist will ratchet up the emotion and continue the back-and-forth.
Second, your response will likely be “Exhibit A” in court, often admitted in to evidence without the proper context. Granted, you can give the judge the proper context and show her the other emails in the chain. But by then your credibility has taken a hit. You’ve stooped to the leave of the narcissist.
If you respond to the narcissist’s email or text message, there must be a purpose to the response other than an emotional feel-good.
If there is a child-related issue, respond using the BIFF approach. But “you’re a terrible parent” is not a child related issue.
If an actual allegation is made, briefly correct the narcissist in a brief, informative, friendly, and firm manner. Here is an example:
Narcissist: “You’re such a terrible mother. Timmy told me you left him the car while you when in to 7-Eleven to buy beer. I can’t believe you could be so selfish. Why don’t you think about my son for once? You need to have supervised possession!! I’m sure you left the windows rolled up!! Timmy could have died in the Texas heat!!”
You: “Just to clarify, the engine was running, the air conditioner was on, and my mother was in the car. Also, I was buying a bottle of water for Timmy to drink at his soccer game.”
This response is brief. It provides accurate information to rebut an exaggerated claim. It’s neutral in tone and void of negative comments, sarcasm and threats. And it doesn’t invite further response, argument, or discussion. The narcissist may very well respond. Just ignore it. You’ve said all you need to say.
If you need more information or would like to schedule a consult, contact us here or call 940-387-3518.