Author: Veronica Lichtenstein, LMHC
Jun 8, 2023
Mary and Jim decided to go away for a few days to process and mourn the loss of Jim’s grandmother. They were both very close to her and Jim had been her caretaker during her final years. With permission, they retreated to Mary’s best friend’s lake house. On their first night there, there was a loud knock at the cabin door. Mary opened it to her best friend, Sara. Sara and Bill had decided that since it was their place, they did not need permission and wanted to surprise the two.
Mission accomplished! It was clear upon entering that they had interrupted a very private moment. Tissues were scattered everywhere and it was clear Jim had been crying. Sara downplayed the tense scene with attention-seeking behavior. She created drama by talking about the set of keys she could not find. Mary’s and Jim’s attention shifted to her, as they scattered to help her find her keys.
Mary attempted to explain to Sara their need for privacy and quality time together, but to no avail. The very quiet Bill just stood there, while overbearing Sara asserted her entitlement, showing no regard for their boundaries. “We’re like family; we should be able to join you. Besides, it’s our cabin,“ Sara retorted. With that, she left the room to go make herself something to eat.
The above is an example of what narcissistic people may look like. Dealing with difficult relationship dynamics can be challenging, especially when it comes to navigating relationships with narcissistic friends and family. These signs can help you identify potential narcissistic traits in the close people in your life, but it’s a good idea to consult with a mental health professional for a proper evaluation. Here are five common signs of narcissistic friends and family ( Please remember that they are not definitive proof of narcissism, but they can indicate the presence of narcissistic traits):
Constant Need for Attention: Narcissistic people often crave attention and will go to great lengths to ensure they are the center of attention in social settings. They may dominate conversations, interrupt others, or turn discussions back to themselves, seeking validation and admiration.
Lack of Empathy: One hallmark of narcissism is a lack of empathy. Narcissistic people may show little concern for the feelings or needs of others. They may dismiss or invalidate your emotions, consistently prioritize their own needs, and be unable to comprehend how their actions impact others.
Sense of Entitlement: Narcissistic individuals often have an exaggerated sense of entitlement, believing they deserve special treatment or consideration. In the context of close friends and family, this may manifest as demanding excessive involvement in your life, disregarding boundaries, or expecting constant admiration and praise.
Manipulative Behavior: Narcissistic people may engage in manipulative tactics to maintain control or power in relationships. They may use guilt-tripping, emotional blackmail, or gaslighting techniques to distort reality, shift blame onto others, or maintain their desired level of influence.
Lack of Boundaries: Narcissistic individuals often struggle with respecting boundaries, both emotional and physical. Your friends or family might invade your personal space, overstep your boundaries, or make decisions without consulting you. They may also disregard your wishes and expect you to prioritize their desires above your own.
Dealing with manipulative behavior from a narcissistic person in your life can be challenging, but there are strategies you can employ to combat it and protect yourself. First, it’s important to acknowledge and validate your own emotions and experiences. Understand that you have the right to your own thoughts, opinions, and decisions, and that your feelings are valid. This self-awareness can help you maintain a sense of clarity and confidence when facing manipulation.
Mary and Jim should practice establishing and maintaining firm boundaries. They should clearly communicate their limits and expectations, and be consistent in enforcing them. They can practice assertiveness by setting limits with Sara on the amount of time spent together, what topics are off-limits, or when and how they will engage with the manipulative behavior. The use of “I” statements to communicate how they feel and what they require, without blaming or attacking the manipulative best friend can be helpful in asserting their autonomy and reduce their narcissistic friend’s ability to manipulate them.
Of course, all of this is best achieved if Mary and Jim first maintain open and honest communication with each other about the manipulative behavior. Ensuring each other that they are both on the same page and working together as a team to address the issue can be instrumental in navigating these challenging dynamics.
If the manipulative behavior becomes overwhelming or harmful to your well-being, consider limiting contact or exposure to the individual causing stress. This could involve reducing the frequency of visits, setting stricter boundaries on communication channels, or even seeking distance for a period of time. Prioritizing your mental and emotional health is essential.
Each situation is unique, and the strategies that work for one person may not be suitable for another. It’s important to find the approaches that align with your values, needs, and circumstances. Consulting with a professional will provide personalized advice and support tailored to your specific situation.