Dear Virgie: “My Friend Is A Narcissist”
My best friend’s other best friend is deeply co- narcissistic, fed by a deep fantasy bond between the two. I realized that I had recently been pushed aside for people who fit her narrative and are willing to play along to her co-narcissistic dependency. I love her tremendously and have known her for a very long time. How do I talk to her about this? She shuts down every time I point out that she has done something to hurt someone and becomes extremely defensive. We have been friends for fifteen years. What do I do?
So. Many. Thoughts.
I grew up with a mother who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and for a long time I was drawn to people with narcissistic tendencies: people who were moody and unpredictable, who were caught up in narratives of both being the world’s biggest victim but also somehow the hottest shit ever (confusing), who didn’t care about my boundaries, and cared only about their needs. In short: some bullshit.
I am going to tell you something that is hard to hear. Are you ready?
You. Can’t. Change. Her.
I knoooow! I hate hard truths!
It sounds like you have already talked with her, and she is not open to hearing you. You can’t force anyone to listen. So, I have 4 suggestions for moving forward. And, yes, as per usual: they’re about taking care of YOU not other people.
- Ask yourself “What am I getting out of this relationship?”
We attract relationships that confirm patterns we feel comfortable navigating because that makes us feel safe. Yes! Even if the relationship itself is making us feel incredibly angry/hurt/preoccupied, if we know how to navigate those feelings the best, we are drawn to them. When we realize that we can actually create a sense of safety for ourselves and we don’t have to rely on others, we begin to pursue relationships that really inspire us. Are you staying in this relationship out of a sense of safety or because you are really stoked about this person?
- You’re a friend, not a fixer
I completely understand the desire to prevent this person from hurting other people and from hurting you. She gets something out of this fantasy bond, and it sounds like she’s pretty committed to getting that thing. Sometimes it’s hard to sit by and watch (especially if it really bugs the shit out of you), but take a second to realize that you can’t stop the behavior and you’re dedicating a lot of resources to something you ultimately have no control over. Try practicing detachment: don’t go into problem solving mode when you’re together. Just listen, breathe and be present.
- Manage the relationship
I learned this easy math formula in my late 20s: add more time with people who nourish you and subtract time from people who drain you. It sounds to me like this relationship means a lot to you and you don’t want to lose it. If it were a newer relationship, I would recommend keeping your distance from a suspected narcissist because you will get sucked into their shit – especially if you’re someone who grew up around someone like that. It WILL create situations where you WILL regress. And then all of a sudden you’re acting like your 5 year old self, and that’s just not cute. So, managing relationships often means minimizing the engagement that hurts you. If this person’s friend brings out the worst in your friend, then set a boundary that you won’t spend time with the two of them. Spend 50% less time engaging. For example, instead of talking on the phone for an hour, talk for half an hour. Instead of spending all day together, spend half a day together. After doing this for three months, assess where you’re at. If you’re way happier, then either stick with the 50% plan or cut the time in half again. After another 3 months, re-assess. And so on.
- Figure out what is at the heart of why this is bugging you & learn from that
When I was still in friendships with narcissists, I realized that what really bothered me about their behavior was really about unresolved stuff within myself: I was mad at myself for having fallen for a narcissist YET AGAIN. I was confused about why this kept happening. And then, I had to admit that I was addicted to the drama because it felt creepily comfortable and thrilling. I’m not saying this is what’s happening with you, but I’m walking you through my process of learning about myself. Once you figure out why her behavior sets you off, take that information and learn from it. Spend time thinking about what works for you and what doesn’t, and use that knowledge to strengthen your pre-existing and future friendships.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.
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