How to be more mindful when we relate with someone with narcissistic personality traits?
When we encounter someone with narcissistic personality traits in our social circle or in our family, it is difficult for us not to be trapped by their tactics of feeding their own narcissism hunger by boosting and bullying others in order to control. For instance, a client of mine tended to mindlessly satisfy the narcissistic needs of her friend in a recreation club by agreeing on his boostful posting in social media and chat group. She would give him positive reinforcement for his boostful act by praising him intensely. Another client of mine tended to escape from the group when being bullied by a friend with narcissistic traits. Whenever he bullied her, she would politely reply him without letting him know she felt uncomfortable and angry. This made him think she is accepting of being bullied and controlled by him in the group. If we tended to be trapped by these narcissistic tactics, we may feel small and helpless all the time. Our self image might also be affected and we could not even relate normally with other members of the group. How could we cope with these tactics of those with narcissistic personality traits?
When we face someone with such personality traits in social groups or in our family, we need to reflect on incidents in which we reacted automatically to satisfy the needs of these people. We need to learn to be more mindful in our automatic reactions, such as keep praising and reinforcing the boostful acts or be submissive and accommodating when being bullied. With regular mindfulness practice ourselves, we gradually become more capable in responding to them without losing ourselves and feeling uncomfortable and angry. In the face of their tactics, we could be mindful of our urge to react immediately and step back to hold onto our automatic reactions. When we gave ourselves some space, we could figure out a better way to respond to them without having to leave the social group or cut off from them.
For example, when my client’s friend was being boostful in a gathering of the recreation club, she could choose to ignore his boostful act without being too reinforcing by giving praise. On the contrary, she could give praise for the minor warm gesture that he gave to others in the gathering, such as praising him for pouring water for all the ladies in the group. In this way, she reinforced his adaptive gesture of serving others in the group as a positive way of relating with others without reinforcing his boostful act to feed his narcissistic hunger.
Another example is when my client was being bullied by a group member in a friends’ group, she did not reply him submissively. Instead, she said, “I understand that you may feel being disrespected for me being absent for the group gathering for many times. I did not want to cause you any uncomfortable feeling for being absent as I had some important matters to deal with these days. However, I feel uncomfortable when you teased me this way and it is not helpful for our relationship. I hope you tell me your feelings more directly next time.” In this way, my client did not say sorry to the bully in the group and did not say anything being too submissive. She respectfully empathized his feelings and had assertively set boundary with him. Of course, whether it is possible for someone to say something like this in a group depends on many factors. If it is impossible to be assertive, it might be better to ignore the bullying gesture rather than being too submissive and apologetic.
In the above scenarios, with mindful awareness of our automatic reactional tendencies, we learn to stop apologizing, or running away from the narcissistic peers. When we are able to understand that people with narcissistic personality traits behaved in a certain way due to their internal psychological issues, we can learn to relate with them without cutting off from them. We may also further helping them to develop more adaptive ways of satisfying their own needs.