No one should feel responsible for the narcissist's predicament. To him, others hardly exist – so enmeshed he is in himself and in the resulting misery of this very self-preoccupation. Others are objects on which he projects his wrath, rage, suppressed and mutating aggression and, finally, ill disguised violence. How should his closest, nearest and dearest cope with his eccentric vagaries?
The short answer is by abandoning him or by threatening to abandon him.
The threat to abandon need not be explicit or conditional ("If you don't do something or if you do it – I will ditch you"). It is sufficient to confront the narcissist, to completely ignore him, to insist on respect for one's boundaries and wishes, or to shout back at him. The narcissist takes these signs of personal autonomy to be harbinger of impending separation and reacts with anxiety.
The narcissist is tamed by the very same weapons that he uses to subjugate others. The specter of being abandoned looms large over everything else. In the narcissist's mind, every discordant note presages solitude and the resulting confrontation with his self.
The narcissist is a person who is irreparably traumatized by the behavior of the most important people in his life: his parents, role models, or peers. By being capricious, arbitrary, and sadistically judgmental, they molded him into an adult, who fervently and obsessively tries to recreate the trauma in order to, this time around, resolve it (repetition complex).
Thus, on the one hand, the narcissist feels that his freedom depends upon re-enacting these early experiences. On the other hand, he is terrified by this prospect. Realizing that he is doomed to go through the same traumas over and over again, the narcissist distances himself by using his aggression to alienate, to humiliate and in general, to be emotionally absent.
This behavior brings about the very consequence that the narcissist so fears - abandonment. But, this way, at least, the narcissist is able to tell himself (and others) that HE was the one who fostered the separation, that it was fully his choice and that he was not surprised. The truth is that, governed by his internal demons, the narcissist has no real choice. The dismal future of his relationships is preordained.
The narcissist is a binary person: the carrot is the stick in his case. If he gets too close to someone emotionally, he fears ultimate and inevitable abandonment. He, thus, distances himself, acts cruelly and brings about the very abandonment that he feared in the first place.
In this paradox lies the key to coping with the narcissist. If, for instance, he is having a rage attack – rage back. This will provoke in him fears of being abandoned and the resulting calm will be so total that it might seem eerie. Narcissists are known for these sudden tectonic shifts in mood and in behavior.
Mirror the narcissist’s actions and repeat his words. If he threatens – threaten back and credibly try to use the same language and content. If he leaves the house – leave it as well, disappear on him. If he is suspicious – act suspicious. Be critical, denigrating, humiliating, go down to his level – because that's the only way to penetrate his thick defenses. Faced with his mirror image – the narcissist always recoils.
We must not forget that the narcissist behaves the way he does in order to engender and encourage abandonment. When mirrored, the narcissist dreads imminent and impending desertion, which is the inevitable result of his actions and words. This prospect so terrifies him – that it induces in him an incredible alteration of conduct.
He instantly succumbs and obsequiously tries to make amends, moving from one (cold and bitter, cynical and misanthropic, cruel and sadistic) pole to another (warm, even loving, fuzzy, engulfing, emotional, maudlin, and saccharine).
The other coping strategy is to give up on him.
Dump him and go about reconstructing your own life. Very few people deserve the kind of investment that is an absolute prerequisite to life with a narcissist. To cope with a narcissist is a full time, energy and emotion-draining job, which reduces people around him to insecure nervous wrecks. Who deserves such a sacrifice?
No one, to my mind, not even the most brilliant, charming, breathtaking, suave narcissist. The glamour and trickery wear thin and underneath them a monster lurks which irreversibly and adversely influences the lives of those around it for the worse.
Narcissists are incorrigibly and notoriously difficult to change. Thus, trying to "modify" them is doomed to failure. You should either accept them as they are or avoid them altogether. If one accepts the narcissist as he is – one should cater to his needs. His needs are part of what he is. Would you have ignored a physical handicap? Would you not have assisted a quadriplegic? The narcissist is an emotional cripple. He needs constant adulation. He cannot help it. So, if one chooses to accept him – it is a package deal, all his needs included.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East.
He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com