Friday, January 20, 2017

My chat with a narcissist

This morning, I had a not-so-charming chat on social media with a narcissist. Given that people often report struggling with folks who have his Personality Disorder—and other Personality Disorders in the same categoryI thought I'd share my experience.

So, I realized in the first typed lines that I was dealing with this kind of troubled individual. Trying to exit from the conversation gracefully and quickly, I said, Have a wonderful day! 

This person replied, I always have a wonderful day. Feeling irritated and not quite ready to exit, I responded literally with an empty sentence, typing just a period ("."). There was a slight pause in response; I'd like to think it was because I surprised this person by "saying something without really saying anything." So, I finally get this response: I'm really an exceptional person, which confirmed that I was dealing with a narcissist. Clearly.

In that moment, I had the will power and wisdom to stop communicating, close the app, and walk away from my phone. I have some psych training, and I know that it's important to let narcissist have the last word. So, I went into my bathroom to begin my morning routine.

But here's the thing. During my shower, I kept going over in my mind what had happened. Questioning myself. Feeling irritated and defensive. Wanting to lecture the person about manners. Feeling petty for obsessing and being unable to let it go. Recognizing the strange desire to run to the bedroom, check my phone, and see if anything else had been said. Imagining the incredibly witty put downs I'd say in return.

DARN it! This person had really HOOKED me, had got under my skin. It took 5 to 10 minutes, but I worked on settling my mind, and finally used my mindfulness skills to distract and redirect my attention to my morning bathroom routine.

Now, it's quite possible that getting hooked like this is a personal weakness of mine, but I thought I'd share my experience just in case anyone else struggles with these types of interpersonal exchanges.

As I observed myself mentally spinning on my social-media exchange, I took away a few key points as to how a narcissist hooks people:
  •  The narcissist is adept at breaking social convention, "breaking the rules," if you will. These people feel that rules don't apply to them.
  •  Breaking the rules serves another purpose, however, in that it throws us Rule Followers off balance emotionally.  When we're thrown off balance, we're more easily manipulated.
  •  As was done in this case, the narcissist often breaks the rules "just a little bit" or in a sneaky way. This person began a conversation with a stranger by bragging. Now, on the one hand, no bank was robbed. On the other hand, social convention was broken. If I were to have called the person on it, the response would have been that NO SUCH THING happened and that the violation was a figment of my imagination: for example, perhaps explaining that this was merely an expression of healthy self esteem and that it was odd of me to misinterpret it, making it sound as if I had the problem. The end result of you questioning whether you saw or heard what you actually did, feeling confused, feeling defensive, and feeling off balance is what happens when you're a victim of "GASLIGHTING." This is when someone messes with your head so you can be manipulated. You can read more about gaslighting here.
  • It occurred to me that the SUBJECT MATTER of the discussion was completely beside the point. The PURPOSE of the conversation was to throw me off balance emotionally. When I responded with an empty sentence ("."), that was my way of saying, There's really nothing that I can say to you that won't produce more cray-cray coming back in my direction. So, please understand that, when you're dealing with a narcissist, don't get caught up in wild boasts, loud denials, aggressive accusations of unfair treatment, convoluted language, and lies. It's not the point. Messing with you is the point, plus what I'm about to describe in the next bullet....
  •  Finally, think of the narcissist as the consummate con artist, as a pickpocket. As you spin on the details of the off-putting or aggressive statements being thrown at you rapid fire, this person is working a self-serving agenda in the background. So, when a pickpocket bumps and distracts you with conversation, the main point of the exchange is not what's being said; it's her hand removing the wallet from your back pocket or your purse 
So, what's the point?

First, don't engage. At all, if possible. After the exchange, keep your distance.

Next, keep a keen eye on your back pocket or purse.

And finally, use your mindfulness skills to immerse yourself in an activity to clear your mind of the toxic exchange, reminding yourself that it's normal to feel off-balance after encountering this type of sick person. IT'S NOT YOU! Shake it off as soon as you can, and get back to fully engaging with the most important thing...YOUR life, your passions, and your loved ones.