In the last blog I wrote of 4 principles involved in pursuing our healing and growth which I believe are necessary if we are to navigate relationships, including relationships with narcissists.
As we pursue healing and growth, what are our goals?
1. Our goal is NOT to get the narcissist to ‘see it’ and change.
2. The Serenity prayer captures wisdom and guidance:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”
3. We must do our own work in healing and growth- individually and as a community.
4. Seek God’s guidance in how to respond.
In this blog I am going to revisit point number 3, offering some practical ways to tailor purposeful changes in our own personal healing, ways to communicate with someone who is narcissistic and how to respond when they do not make needed changes in their lives.
I personally, as well as others I have interacted with, have benefited from what I have learned from my friends, Darrell and Debbie Brazell. They have a ministry, New Hope, in KS where Darrell offers help to men struggling with sexual addiction. ( There is a significant overlap with narcissism and those struggling with addictions.) Darrell’s wife, Debbie, has a group working with the wives of sexual addicts. They have an understanding of the trauma of sexual betrayal that many do not have. The impact of the deceit, the message that you are less than enough, the gaslighting is taken seriously as the spouses are cared for.
Debbie works with the wives using a ‘3 legged stool’ approach which I will attempt to succinctly capture here..
Leg one– Do your own work! Reclaim your identity and your voice. Grow your capacity. This includes the things we have been talking about up to this point.
Leg two– Bring into focus: your ‘bottom line’ and your needs. Some examples could look like:
You to get a counselor who specializes in….
You to read (give suggestions)
You to journal at least ‘10 minutes’ a day regarding what you read or your interactions with your therapist
You to not speak for the next “3 minutes” but listen to what I have to say. And then I need you to voice back to me what you heard of how I am experiencing you or a situation.
You to express what you have done and the recognition of the harm It has brought to me. (gaslighting, make belittling comments that are demeaning, act like you are the most important person, demand attention at the expense of others, demand I and others live to make you happy without your consideration of our needs, excuse and justify yourself… )
You to give me back my honor, dignity and respect you destroyed.
Thus I need you to show you understand your behaviors and have the courage to own how you have harmed me and others. Own up to our children/ others in our circle of friends and not excuse yourself.
It will take considerable effort to pull these ‘needs’ into focus in a way that is tailored to your situation and I recommend you interact with someone regarding them before you voice them to the narcissist in your life. It will also take much courage, emotional capacity and stamina to express your ‘bottom lines’ and needs! You must prepare for the backlash that will inevitably come in one form or another.
Leg 3– As you have worked to reclaim your value and identity, it is important for you to go forward with an appropriate sense of personal empowerment. You are not able to control the other person’s reaction, but you are able to present some consequences they will experience if they do not work with your need for being treated with honor. This brings us to the next ‘leg’ of the stool. In actuality, this may be the most difficult one to go forward with due to the risky repercussions. Following are some ideas to get your brainstorming going. (Some of these it may not be wise to voice to the narcissist. You may need to have someone with you for the interaction along with a place to remove yourself to for safety.)
If you will not or cannot give me what I am needing, then I will…
Go talk with our pastor and disclose the situation.
Look into legal advice.
Sleep in the other room, having us become housemates.
I will no longer pay the mortgage on your house that you have refused to sell since our marriage.
I will not attend the wedding of your daughter where there is the pattern of drunken brawls in your family.
Pursue legal separation.
Margalis Fjelstad has written a book, Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist, which I find has excellent insights and practical ideas to incorporate into the concepts written above.
She writes of the common dance that includes living to pacify the narcissist resulting in losing one’s identity, while enabling him to continue his brutal ways.
The first part of the book goes along with ‘Leg 1’, helping an individual to reclaim and develop their own core self.
While not using the Serentiy Prayer, she encourages a person to own one’s own part in the dysfunctional dance, recognize what is not in their wheelhouse to change, and to grow in assertiveness with both voice and actions. (This correlates with Legs 2 and 3.)
Starting around page 96 she gives some practical communication ideas to get started. She wisely suggests practice voicing them with self, children and friends before expressing them with the narcissist. (leg 3 of the stool)
When _____________ happens [the observable fact] I feel_________________ [clearly state your own feelings] I would like ______________ [voice what you want/need. Leg 2 of the stool] STOP AND LISTEN TO SEE IF THEY ARE WILLING TO CHANGE Or I will need to ______________ [Leaning into Leg 3, claim and use appropriate empowerment and consequence]
If the narcissist shifts to blaming you for something, you may want to say something along the lines of “I am hearing what you are saying, but that is not the focus of this conversation. If you like we can come back to it at another time.”
The Good Shepherd will not only be caring for those wounded by a narcissist, but also will interact with the eternal best interest of the narcissist in mind. To relate from a grasping for significance rather than a confidence of being special reflects the woundedness within the individual. To live in a way that destroys relationships sabotages him from getting his heart’s desires. There will likely be a cost to us as we partner with the Good Shepherd, going after the narcissist to bring him from his own lostness, towards the salvation of his own soul and those whom he has harmed. It will take courage. It will also take capacity.
As we grow in maturity and develop the capacity to remain standing and relating well while in conflictual situations, we can continue to intentionally stay connected with a narcissist. As we focus on our own growth, and our ability to stand firm in the face of evil, knowing that any condemnation directed at us is not from God, we grow in not accepting words of condemnation. We can lovingly remind them that they are not living from their best self, attempting to help draw out their original loving character.
The theory is great, but it is more challenging to know what to voice when we enter into interactions with a loving flavor. Often we feel inept to communicate with an individual who is great with words, and intellect. And how do we go up against something that is dressed in ‘god words’ and a guise of spirituality? We might sense something is ‘off,’ but do not know how to address it.
Please join me in my next blog where I will again strive to bring some practical ways we can pursue bringing the theory into life.
Hello Maribeth! It’s Linda (Hickox) Pfeiffer. We did a book in one of my small groups that included a book that you co-authored.
It was so fun to see your picture on the book and to benefit from some of the wisdom you have gleaned in your work over the years.
Someone in my group just forwarded me this link. Since my sister has just separated from her narcissistic husband of 39 years after an increasingly abusive pattern. Found your article so interesting, and I’m forwarding to my dear sister. She is living with one of her daughters and is in counseling and praying that her husband will get help that he desperately needs. But so far it seems (tho only two months have gone) by that he is not taking the needed steps to address his issues.
Hello Linda. I appreciate your taking time to read my blog(s) and write me. The impact of living with a narcissist is so harsh! I care about your sister and hope she is able to receive significant healing and help!! And I wish the same for her children and husband!