This comes up so often in client sessions, that I thought I’d share how best to navigate it. The word narcissism gets tossed around a lot, and unfortunately, it’s fairly prevalent today. You’ll be better prepared to handle this challenge with grace if you have some tactical advice. 🙂
You’re in love with an amazing man, with a past. He’s divorced and shares custody of their children, seeming to co-parent amicably.
Then, you begin to notice boundary issues. The ex asks a lot of him or texts him at all hours. She makes a lot of demands, bulldozes her way, and your nice guy seems to just shrug and comply.
Is she overstepping? Are you overreacting? Why does this bother you so much?
Welcome to the world of navigating a narcissist, and unfortunately, he’s probably been under her thumb for some time.
Narcissists are very good at posturing. When a man has fallen for a narcissist, he may believe his relationship was ‘perfect,’ until it ended. It’s mental manipulation, and narcissists are self-trained experts at distorting reality.
Even when family or friends warn him, most trusting men would quickly validate her behavior in some way because she validated it to him, repeatedly. She may have given him some very convincing reasons to why she acts the way she does. She felt lonely as a child, her parents ignored her, she didn’t have friends, whatever.
No one wants to believe they’ve been manipulated.
Your wonderful man continues to compensate for her bad behavior. He wants to ‘keep the peace,’ and prove himself to be the ‘good guy.’
His ex knows how to pull on these heartstrings. She may do whatever it takes to be the center of attention.
In order for him to move forward with you in a loving, supportive relationship, however, he needs to end this draining neediness on him.
Narcissists have cripplingly low self-esteem. For a variety of reasons, they didn’t develop a sense of security with their caregivers to make them feel loved and accepted. Instead of exposing that fear of unworthiness, they hide behind a projection that they are better than others, superior, and therefore, lovable.
They are constantly trying to prove themselves, both to others and to their unconfident inner selves. They often deceive, devalue, and even show disdain for others in order to feel better about themselves.
Narcissists have a desperate need for attention, to be envied, and to feel included.
Now, most counselors, experts, or advisors will say to just ignore narcissism, but that doesn’t always work. Remember, narcissists have spent their entire lives learning how to garner attention.
Instead, here’s how to counter narcissism and bring the focus back to the present (you):
- Focus on your family. Any chance to plan fun experiences for your family and to turn off the phones – board game night, movie night, or making dinner together – creates your own memories and builds your family’s connection.
- Find joy in the moments and let happiness emanate from you. Be the exciting, lighthearted, fun woman your man was attracted to in the first place. A narcissist wants to get under your skin. Nothing turns the tables on a narcissist than your being an absolute delight to be around.
- Give attention to your partner in ways where he can serve you happily. Ask his help on things – walk that pickle jar right over to him, touch his bicep, and say, “Ugh, can I borrow your muscles for a minute?” When he opens the jar, wink and say, “My hero.”
- Give him a bird’s eye view of narcissism. The next time there’s a demand that crosses boundaries, you may say, “Wow, that’s really strange. I can’t imagine how my ex would feel if I asked that of him.”
- Share the kryptonite to counter manipulation. Narcissists crave attention. His best response on unnecessary phone calls or texts is simply, “Hmm – interesting,” or “Hmm, you may be right.”
These tips combined do several things: first, they consistently show him your loving, joyful side. Especially when building trust in your own relationship, you want as many consistent, positive experiences as you can to build connection and intimacy.
It also puts bad behavior into perspective, which weakens the power of the distraction. With time, it will also subtly let her know that this behavior is not welcome here (without raising her insecurity flags).
When you can lovingly focus all of your attention on the two of you, your family, and the here and now, your relationship will grow in care and commitment, where nothing can come in between. ♥️