Category Archives: Conflict

Narcissism Part 5: How to Deal with a Narcissist.

“Roar of the Raptor” by Mimi Stuart©

Don’t Trust a Narcissist

Avoid seeking a trusting intimate relationship with a narcissist. If you decide to enjoy the narcissist’s charm and charisma, do not get carried away into trusting him or her with inner secrets. Do not set yourself up for betrayal and hurt by having confidence in his or her loyalty. Do not let your feelings of self-worth depend on a narcissist’s love, actions or behavior.

Speak to the Narcissist’s Self-interest

It is generally helpful in a relationship to express your feelings or needs. But if you are dealing with a true narcissist, do not expect empathy and understanding. You will be more effective in communicating with a narcissist when you show how certain actions or behavior might benefit him or her.

Don’t Disagree

Beware of disagreeing with or contradicting narcissists. They behave as though they are strong and confident but they are easily offended. They do not want to be viewed as inadequate. If you confront their weaknesses, they may become vengeful and punishing. Keep your discussion focused on practical goals rather than personal accountability.

Be on your Guard

Narcissists hide their own flaws and project problems on to other people. Beware of allowing them to blame you for too much. If you are doing business with a narcissist, keep a paper trail. In marriage or divorce, hire a good attorney.

Separating from Narcissistic Parents

It is sad to be raised by narcissistic parents, because they view their children as extensions of their own false self-image they present to the world. If the child disagrees with a narcissistic parent, that parent becomes hostile and volatile. If the child does not embrace the family image or the image the parent projects onto the child, the narcissistic parent rejects or loses interest in the child. It is helpful not to take this personally, but rather to see that the parent’s callousness and preoccupation with family image are caused by his or her own low self-esteem.

Don’t hope for Change

It takes a lot of motivation for anyone to change. Unfortunately, narcissists rarely have the desire to change because they don’t think they need to, as they are not self-reflective. Their underlying problem is a weak sense of self. Thus, they focus on developing a strong outer shell consisting of their image. They rarely seek counseling, but if they do go, they tend to manipulate the situation in order to look good rather than become self-aware to improve their lives.

If you are in relationship with a narcissist, it is helpful to recognize their traits in order to protect yourself. You can then choose when to encourage the narcissist’s self-image, when to fortify your sense of humor, and when to avoid dealing with him or her all together.

Avoid being Narcissistic

Note that it is natural and healthy for a child to go through a narcissistic stage. Even as adults, most of us still have some mild narcissistic tendencies. So while it feels good to be praised and complimented, we should beware of becoming dependent on others for their validation, admiration, and approval to boost our feelings of self-worth. Psychological dependence on others comes at a cost. Thus, it is important to be reflective to make sure we are considering and balancing our own self-interest with the wellbeing of others.

There is a big difference, however, between being simply insecure or self-centered and having the condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you are self-reflective enough to even wonder whether you are a narcissist, let alone read a psychology blog, it is highly unlikely that you are!

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read Narcissism Part 1: Symptoms

Read “Dealing with the narcissist.”

References: “Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.”

When is “distancing” beneficial to your relationship, and when is it harmful?

“Romance of Flight” by Mimi Stuart ©

There are times when “distancing” — seeking more space between partners — is the best thing you can do for the relationship, and there are times when it is harmful. Ideally, there is a balance between distance and togetherness, that is, between being self-contained and sharing thoughts and feelings. Too much of either separateness or connection will cause relationship problems.

Usually people who resist distancing are the ones who need to learn to become more self-contained, and those who crave distance would benefit from learning to balance their need for connection with independence.

When too much connection is harmful and distancing is beneficial

In general, people who are needy and eager to pursue connection may have one or more of the following characteristics:

• they need a lot of attention, approval, or validation,

• they express their thoughts and opinions without discretion, either complaining too much or making perpetual observations even if tedious or uninteresting,

• they are afraid to do things alone—e.g., to see friends or family, pursue interests and hobbies, etc., or

• they don’t have control over their emotions, and tend to express too many negative emotions to their partner.

When people focus too much on getting their needs met by another person, the relationship becomes fused, boundaries dissolve, and anxiety becomes increasingly infectious. The assumption of people who tend to fuse emotionally is that others are responsible for their own well-being. Such expectations increase pressure, anxiety, and disappointment, because people ultimately cannot provide well-being to another person without diminishing that person’s selfhood and independence.

When two people focus on getting their own needs met and become more independent, their relationship tends to flourish and become more reciprocal.

When is distancing harmful

If you feel hurt, angry, or resentful toward your partner, you might need a little time to calm down (to withdraw or seek distance) to figure out if you need to talk to your partner, let the situation slide, or take some sort of action. Hopefully, you will only need a few minutes to sort it out. In more serious situations you may need more time, or you may even need to talk to someone outside the relationship to get help.

Make sure, however, to avoid distancing when it is motivated by a desire to punish, to manipulate, or to avoid conflict.

• Distancing to punish

Beware of using distancing in a punitive way. If you withdraw to punish your partner, you will only further exacerbate the negative relationship dynamic. Your aim should be to understand and respect each other, not to hurt each other.

• Distancing to manipulate

Beware of distancing as a means to manipulate your partner. Causing your partner to fear abandonment may get your partner’s attention, but it will damage the relationship in the long run. Controlling someone through their emotions creates resentment and prevents open, honest communication.

• Distancing to avoid conflict

If your fear of your partner’s reactions causes you to become distant, you deny yourself the opportunity to develop true intimacy, which requires honesty, trust, and openness. Don’t shy away from expressing your feelings and desires but do so respectfully and be ready to listen and discuss.

In conclusion, appropriate self-containment is an important ingredient of a healthy relationship but it’s important to avoid using distance as a way to hurt or manipulate your partner, to avoid conflict, or to get attention. Learn to balance your emotional independence with candid, caring connection.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

“Stop nagging me about watching the game!”

“Sweetness” Walter Payton by Mimi Stuart ©

While some sacrifices need to be made in any relationship, giving up what you truly enjoy will only lead to resentment. It won’t enhance the passion and vitality between the two of you.

Make sure you find a balance between spending quality time together and pursuing your own passions. Your relationship will flourish if each person supports the other in pursuing their interests, while also making an effort to come together to enjoy each other on a regular basis.

Yet don’t expect you or your partner to behave perfectly. If your partner becomes controlling, be civil while expressing how important your own interests are to you. For example,

“Please don’t ask me to give up something that I truly enjoy. I’d like to watch the game without feeling guilty about it. But I really want to do something with you later when the game’s over.”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Related article: “Were you out on the golf course again? I’ve been here alone all afternoon.”

When texting is no longer reciprocal.
“Does she still like me?”

“Duet” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

It would be a miracle to find another person to whom you’re attracted and who shares the same expectations and attitude toward relationships that you do. One person may feel hurt when his texts aren’t responded to often enough. The other person may feel dejected when she doesn’t get a gift for her birthday. The list of small frustrations that can cause disappointment is endless.

To have a great relationship, these differences are of minor significance. Partners can and should differ as to their preferences in how much to text, as they do in every other aspect of life. Relationships succeed best when both sides accept many of the harmless differences. What is important is communicating your more important desires and wishes in a way that avoids the following:

1. Attacking the other person, which puts him or her on the defensive and closes off productive and meaningful conversation. “You’re so rude! Why do you wait so long to text me back?”

2. Controlling the other person, which is belittling and demeaning and ignores the other person’s point of view. “When I text you, I want you to get right back to me. Do you understand?”

3. Whining about the situation — a childish and needy attitude — , which is used as a means to manipulate the other. “I miss hearing from you. Are you too busy for me?”

4. Silently holding a grudge, which builds up resentment and resolves nothing.

You can manipulate or badger someone into a desired behavior. But when someone’s actions are emotionally coerced, the strength and autonomy of the individual is undermined. The result is resentment in lieu of passion.

It’s much better to entice the other person with your independence and full life. If necessary, express your desires honestly while being mindful of the other person’s feelings and autonomy.

When addressing your frustrations, start the conversation with a sense of self-respect as well as consideration for the other person. Most important are a tone of voice and body language that embody your respect for the other person’s autonomy as well as your own desires.

In summary,

1. Respect yourself and the fact that you have personal needs and desires.

2. Respect the other person’s autonomy and right to have different attitudes and freely make decisions.

3. Express your desires with a positive specific request.

4. Ask the other person what he or she thinks about your request.

For example, “Hey, I really enjoy hearing back from you when I text you. Lately, you haven’t responded very much. Am I texting you too much?”

Or “It seems as though you’ve been pretty busy lately. What’s going on?”

Some people think they need to be aloof and hard-to-get to be attractive. Others wear their emotions on their sleeve. Both can be off-putting. What matters is how you manifest your feelings for someone. You can express your desire as long as you aren’t desperate and needy, on the one hand, or controlling and manipulative, on the other. There is nothing more attractive than someone who can express desire or love while still maintaining a sense of self and having the self-discipline to resist engaging in a mediocre relationship.

“I really think you’re special and enjoy spending time with you. Lately, I get the sense that you are backing off, and would like to know if that’s right.”

Whether this relationship works out or not, it’s important to start relationships with clear and positive communication to to be able to figure out how to reconcile your different expectations. Whether you’ve just been dating for a month or married for 25 years, communicating openly with respect is the way to keep the relationship improving.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


How to Handle a Breakup:
12 Keys—What to do and what not to do.

Relationship break ups can be extremely painful because of the feelings of rejection, loneliness, fear of the unknown, and even be a loss of your sense of self. How you feel after a breakup depends on the relationship and the breakup itself. There may have been an unexpected event, or a gradual drifting apart.

The best way forward is pretty much the same regardless of how difficult the breakup was and whether or not you hope to get back together. This video illustrates 12 reminders to help you move from being angry and grief-stricken to feeling whole again.

The most effective way to deal with an ex is with an attitude of respect and self-respect. Whether or not you are able to restore the relationship, you will feel better about yourself if you can retain your composure and make your life more whole and fulfilling.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Making Assumptions: “He must hate me.”

"Question"—Einstein by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Question”—Einstein by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

Assumptions are the termites of relationship.

~Henry Winkler

When someone seems cold toward you, don’t assume the worst. It’s a pity to allow a misunderstanding to occur or to simply write someone off without knowing what’s really going on.

Instead take a moment to communicate clearly and without blame. Try to get to the bottom of the interaction in a kind and rational way.

“You seem distant/angry/upset. Is something wrong?”

That simple question asked neutrally, with concern, and without malice can eliminate misunderstanding and hard feelings.

There are many possible reasons for someone to be cold, distant or rude, including the following:

1. They might just have an impersonal personality – a defense mechanism.
2. They might have something on their mind, such as financial difficulties or marital problems.
3. They might really feel offended or threatened.
4. They might not like you.

Soliciting an answer will help clarify the matter, one way or the other. In the former two cases, it may be beneficial for the person to know that his or her energy has a negative effective on others. You will certainly know not to take things personally.

In the latter two cases, your question might open up more candid and productive conversation. If not, at least the negative energy will lose some of its power over you when its cause becomes less of a mystery.

Several years ago, I was getting a bid for some work from an acquaintance who seemed unusually cold to the point of rudeness. I was put off by his behavior and planned not to hire him. But I thought the right thing to do was to call him and find out what was going on.

I said, “You didn’t seem your normal warm self. Is everything all right? Have I offended you?”

To my surprise, he laughed nervously and said that he had been told that in the past he was too familiar and relaxed on the job and needed to be more “professional,” which he took to mean being serious—very serious.

What a relief that I checked out my assumption before taking his “professional” demeanor at face value.

We never look beyond our assumptions and what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves.

~Muriel Barbery

by Alison Pouslen, PhD

Read “Resentment.”

Read “Compassionate Confrontation: ‘He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”