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How to deal with a narcissist

I have one rule of engagement when dealing with a narcissist:

 

DON’T.

 

Don’t engage. 

 

Just don’t. 


If engagement is absolutely necessary, let someone else do it. 

 

That’s why we called the cops on a narcissist last month. 

 

Let the cops engage.

 

Here’s what happened…

 

A dear 20-year-old friend of the family, let’s call her Abby, was having trouble with her narcissistic mother. Abby’s in college and has been living with her mom in an apartment while working, studying and trying to save money so she could move out on her own. 

 

Her relationship with mom is bipolar, she tells us. Sometimes it’s amazing; her mom is supportive, open and loving. And other times, Abby’s “afraid to breathe wrong” in fear her mom will snap.

 

Lately, life’s been more of the latter in their cozy, toxic apartment. 

 

A couple weeks prior, after a heated argument, Abby had tossed her essential personal belongings in a bag and came to stay with us until things calmed down a bit. During her time with us, she decided to make a permanent move. She called her mom and told her that she’d be coming on Saturday to get the rest of her things and move her bedroom furniture out.  

 

This was met with angry resistance and rapidfire texts of insults and demands that blew up Abby’s phone. Her texts were non-stop, like a machine gun on crack spraying bullets: 

 

You disappoint me. 

You’re a liar and cheater.

How can you do this me?

I’m your mother.

I didn’t raise you like this.

Don’t come over.

No.

No no no.

I said no.

This is crazy.

Act like an adult.

You’re being childish.

Do NOT come to my home!

This is not right.

I can’t believe you turned out like this.

I can’t believe you’re treating me like this.

I said you’re not allowed in my house.

No.

No.

No.

Please.

Don’t act this way.

You’re better than this.

Think about your actions.

Have some integrity.

Do the right thing.

What is wrong with you?

I’m so disappointed in you.

I have proof.

You’re a selfish person.

A liar and a cheat.

I didn’t raise you this way.

I’m going to tell everyone about you.

Everyone will see what I have to put up with.

You’re not fooling anyone. 

I bought you that stuff. It’s mine.

You can’t have it.

I’m so disappointed.

What did I ever do to deserve this?

I love you.

Everything I’ve ever done is for you.

How can you treat me like this?

 

And on and on and on the text-bullets sprayed. 

 

If you’re close to a narcissist, I bet this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

 

Do you recognize the blaming, shaming and victimizing?

 

Classic narcissistic tactics.

 

Fortunately (and sadly), Abby has learned from experience that engaging in this type of machine gun text warfare is futile. So she doesn’t respond and finally ends up blocking her mom’s number. 

 

Come Saturday morning, none of us were looking forward to what might transpire but we knew it had to be done. Abby had asked us and another good friend to help. She needed our truck and she couldn’t move her bedroom furniture by herself. We agreed that it would be best if Abby went into the 2nd floor apartment with her friend, they would bring her stuff down, and my partner and I would stay downstairs and take her stuff from the bottom of the stairs to the truck. 

 

Abby’s friend is a close childhood friend that her mom knows well and we figured this would be the least confrontational way to handle the move. We remained outside on public property so as not to invade her mom’s space by entering her home, while Abby and her friend went in. 

 

Before we arrived, we set the game plan and agreed that the best way to deal with this situation is to NOT ENGAGE. Everything that needed to be said was said in the days prior leading up to this moment. Like a team huddle before the final play where the quarterback spells out the next moves, we spelled out ours: 

 

Do not engage. 

No matter what. 

If you’re feeling angry, triggered, hurt, it doesn’t matter… do not engage. 

Get your stuff, get out. 

 

The #1 rule is DO NOT ENGAGE. 

 

We made sure everyone understood, and the phrase “number one rule” became our quick reminder and verbal cue to each other for the next two hours.

 

This is what “do not engage” looks like:

 

When her mom came huffing over to my partner, yelling at him, he turned and walked away toward the pool area. When she followed him until he was cornered by the locked gate and couldn’t go further, he stood his ground and responded, “Abby asked me to help. I’m here to help her. That’s it.” When she continued yelling and he said nothing else, she walked away. (It’s better not to have said anything at all)

 

When she came toward me and screamed at me, I stood my ground and simply looked at her. I didn’t say anything, make any facial expressions or cower off.

 

A narcissist is actively looking for fuel for their fire. If you don’t give them any, they’ll look elsewhere. 

 

This applies to your words, actions and more importantly, your energy. As much as possible, keep your energy calm, grounded and nonjudgmental.

 

This is when she went upstairs to find fuel from Abby and her friend.

 

A few minutes later, Abby came down the stairs. She was carrying a heavy wooden shelf on one end and her friend on the other. Her mom chased behind them, shoving her phone up to Abby’s face so whoever she had on FaceTime could see, and she was screaming, “See? See what kind of daughter she is? See what she’s doing to me? She’s so disrespectful. I’m so disappointed in her.” 

 

I noticed that Abby’s face was red and she was holding back angry tears so I went over to her and grabbed the middle of the shelf and repeated to Abby as the three of us scuffled toward the truck, “Number one rule, number one rule.” 

 

“Number one rule” had become like a mantra. 

 

As her mom yelled, screamed and chased behind her from the upstairs apartment, downstairs through the courtyard and all the way to the truck, shoving the phone in her face as she carried the furniture, Abby repeated the mantra in her head, “number one rule, number one rule,” and refused to engage.

 

When things escalated to the point where her mom barricaded herself inside and physically blocked them from entering the apartment by pulling on the doorknob to keep the door closed as Abby struggled to open it, Abby made the decision to call 911. 

 

They told her to wait in the truck until they arrived. Twenty minutes later, a cop came, had some words with her mother, and stood in the apartment doorway while Abby took the rest of her belongings out. 

 

Though it’s unfortunate that at such a young age, Abby has to deal with this type of behavior, I’m so proud of how she handled herself, and I know that this experience will serve her in the future when/if she’s forced to deal with other narcissists. 

 

If you ever have to deal with a narcissist, remember the #1 rule.

 

DO NOT ENGAGE.

 

Use our “number one rule” phrase as a mantra, a reminder of your objective. For us, it was to move Abby’s belongings. For you, it could be that you’re at your son’s wedding and your narcissistic ex, his father, is there. Your objective is to be there for your son and get through the event, maybe even have some fun. There are countless reasons that we sometimes have to be in the same vicinity as a narcissist. Always remember the number one rule.

 

Not engaging with a narcissist is more important than reasoning or rationalizing with them.

Not engaging with a narcissist is more important than satisfying your ego’s impulse to defend yourself when being verbally attacked. 

Not engaging with a narcissist is more important than trying to get them to understand you by explaining yourself.

 

This is all fuel for their fire. 

 

And that’s the last thing you want to give them.

 

They will turn any of your words against you and twist them to support their victimized perception, no matter how well-meaning you are. 

 

In the next months, I’m going to write a lot more about narcissists. 

 

Stay tuned.

 

In the meantime, “number one rule, number one rule.” 

 

To peace,

 

Tree

(header photo credit: Jason Hafso)