How to Deal with the Narcissist in Your Life
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Well, get used to them, because you're stuck with them. For the most part, there's no divorcing or quitting or firing your family. Even though you only see them at holidays, weddings and funerals, they'll always be a fixture in your life. That means finding ways to deal with them.
The answer, most psychologists say, begins with the same advice that applies to dealing with a narcissistic boss: Don't personalize it. The self-adoring family member is responding to an inner script, which is very often a painful script. That's worth keeping in mind.
It can also help, say therapists, to establish your boundaries: Make clear what you expect from a relationship, or at least a conversation, and that it must include some reciprocity. Narcissists are characteristically obtuse, but they do have a learning curve. When your relatives make short work of you often enough at family gatherings—turning away to have a rousingly good conversation with the person seated across the table—the message does get through. "It's possible," says psychologist W. Keith Campbell, PhD, of the University of Georgia. "But it's not the natural course of things."
Better still—if you can abide it—is simply to wait the narcissist in your family out. The old wisdom about personality disorders like narcissism was that they're intractable. Once you've got the diagnosis, you're stuck for life. But in 1990, psychologist Mark Lenzenweger, PhD, of The State University of New York at Binghamton launched a 16 year longitudinal study and found that it's possible for people simply to age out of narcissism —at least a little.
"We did see something that was not so much spontaneous remission as it was maturation," Lenzenweger says. "The disorders just seem to clear for some people."
Spending the next few decades waiting for the narcissist in your family to shape up is not a pretty prospect. But if compassion counts for anything, remember: It is far easier to know a narcissist than it will ever be to be one.
Jeffrey Kluger is the author of The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed— in Your World andThe Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us. He is also an editor-at-large at TIME Magazine and TIME.com.