I am sitting in a quiet apartment all by myself writing and sipping on a blueberry smoothie. I haven’t had any in person interactions in well over two weeks except for a bank teller and the grocery store clerks. While taking my brief walks by the water (because we are not in full lockdown in Vancouver, Canada)I often feel alone and frustrated seeing the couples social distancing together.
Yesterday, I sat in English Bay and realized that this could be a whole lot worse. I may be single but I could have been in quarantine with any number of my exes or worse, in the situation many of my clients face everyday — living with a toxic person, especially one that meets criteria for being a narcissist.
We have probably taken for granted those moments when our partner goes to work and we go our separate ways. We probably miss getting out of the house just to avoid another long and unnecessary argument. It was never enough space to begin with but many people, my clients included, were in the process of choosing to love themselves enough to contemplate leaving these toxic relationships. You can’t just pack up and walk out the door. For safety reasons, you need to have a pretty grounded action plan to have the best chance of moving forward.
We are in unprecedented times now. Covid-19 has forced all of us behind closed doors. We no longer have the safety of our therapists’ offices. We no longer have a way to take a break and leave the house. We no longer have the space to get out of the energy of the toxic person. We are likely living 24/7 in our worst nightmare and the very things that may have made it possible to survive the relationship, have been stripped from us. We have been thrown into the deep end and so many of us are struggling to stay afloat. Stressors have increased and dangers that may have been put on hold are back, lurking just around the corner.
For far too long we have all believed that we did not have our own answers. We have gone to therapy, hired a coach (or 5), sought help from DV experts, attorneys, medical doctors or whoever would listen to the severity of our needs. Today, we do not have anyone other than ourselves. It is in these moments that the resilience of the human spirit can truly be seen. It is these moments that every tool we have added to our self-coping bucket needs to be put into action. Every self-help book, article, and blog post you have read on how to deal with your narcissistic partner, you now have to use in real life.
This time may be dark, but all regrowth starts in the darkness of a seed.
― Daris LaPointe
The transition from learning to action is not easy. Sometimes it may not be possible. However, more and more of us are going to be asked to step up and at least try. We need to try for the sake of our children, for the sake of our sanity and in the most serious cases, the sake of our lives.
Moving from Identifying the Narcissist to Dealing with the Narcissist
Our culture and society has done an amazing job of teaching the general public what narcissism looks like. There are probably a million quizzes on the internet and an equal number of facebook groups catering to the topic. Yet, none of this prepared us for dealing with the narcissist during a never-ending quarantine. What you do now could be the most empowering moment of your life to date. You are going to choose you and you are going to choose love.
Part of dealing with anyone with any type of toxic behavior is to not allow the inevitable emotional triggers spiral into an argument especially when you are living in close quarters. The safest place to catch your breath will be the bathroom. Make it your sanctuary for those moments when you need to calm down. Staying at least 6 feet from each other is not just a Covid-19 thing — energetically, if you are highly sensitive or an empath, you’re emotions are going to be tossed around by your partner’s toxicity simply being in his energy field. Hide in a closet if you have time-spending time away from your partner’s energy will be a necessary survival strategy.
You will have to find ways to clear you own energy as well. Meditation can be done while it looks like you are taking a nap or just washing the dishes in a more mindful manner. Physical exercise of any type is helpful. Finding ways to communicate with safe and supportive people can be a lifesaver.
Communication with a narcissist is a lot like dealing with a child — the more you can focus on the positive and stay away from the negative, the better the situation will be. During my time as a child psychologist, I trained parents to verbally validate everything that their child did that was positive and to ignore the negative behavior.
We don’t realize that for behavioral change or simple management, the ratio is a 10:1 ratio. You need 10 positive comments for every one negative comment to make things better. This can seem impossible until you learn that there are many ways to validate behavior rather than just “kissing” someone’s backside. Moving into this mindset can feel empowering — you are learning a new skill.
Finally, adjust your expectations. You are locked in a home together with a ton of financial stress. It is okay to set a minimal goal of staying safe and keeping the arguments to a minimum. You will always play a supporting role in the life of a narcissist. The more quickly you understand what this type of relationship really is about, the more quickly you can use the strategies above to help you get through this difficult time.
Be prepared to listen but don’t expect an equal conversation. While you are going through this experience, you can also take a look at yourself and begin to question why this person is in your life. Narcissists often show up to help us learn boundaries and heal from a toxic parental relationship in our childhood. A little contemplation about what you are learning can also help you feel less scared and more empowered.
How to Learn More about Yourself in this Process
We are often most triggered when our personal values are violated in an interaction with another human. We, however, don’t often know what exactly is being violated. If you want to explore who you are and what your core strengths are, take the VIA survey. This character strength survey can be eye opening and you may conclude you are in a relationship with someone who has the complete opposite values. No wonder there is so much conflict — your futures are not aligned.
Dealing with a narcissist may be the biggest interpersonal challenge you face as an adult. Learning to overcome it or at least survive it will be your source of future empowerment. It may take years but we all do come away with a new understanding of why that relationship was necessary for our growth.
We become brave by doing brave acts.
Previously Published on Medium