Right off the bat, I'd like to say that I know many people who say/do the things I'm about to bash on this list are well meaning, and they simply don't know any better. They're trying their best. They're repeating things they've learned they're "supposed" to say when they hear about the types of things people like us have been through. They could be grasping for straws. Honestly, some of the things we share can be quite uncomfortable for people to hear. Then, throw in the fact that a lot of us have been guilty of over-sharing in inappropriate circumstances (with people we just met or at celebrations, work functions, etc), and we can leave people grasping for straws, trying desperately to say something that makes us feel better. Our society doesn't do a great job at teaching people how to support others through grief/healing/trauma. So I am here to help!
Because, honestly, so many well-meaning responses can actually do a lot of damage. So, let's get the word out so people can STOP with the unhelpful help.
1. "They love you. They just don't know how to show it."
This is toxic af. The behaviors narcissists subject others to (especially those close to them) is ABUSE. They slander, humiliate, manipulate, triangulate, isolate, gaslight, blame, yell at, ice out, and guilt trip like there's no tomorrow. These are not the signs of love. Even if the narcissist does care for the person, that does not excuse their actions. It is damaging and invalidating when people push for the victim to sympathize with the abuser and make excuses for them. People in these relationships need an advocate, not someone else to throw doubt in their mind.
2. "Have you tried telling them how you really feel?"
The answer is probably, "yes", and I'm 99.9% sure that it didn't go well. If you haven't read my blog post addressing this, I suggest you check it out: Should you tell the narcissist how you feel? When you push for someone to have an honest and vulnerable conversation with a narcissist, you are essentially telling them to walk the plank and take a plunge into rough, shark-infested waters. It's opening them up for more abuse. Trust me. If you need more insight, go check out the other post.
3. Don't preach forgiveness.
I might catch some heat for this one, but hear me out. Living with a narcissist is TRAUMATIC. It can result in PTSD, C-PTSD, anxiety, depression, trust issues, and much more. That is difficult to move past. Because of the amount of guilt-tripping and gaslighting, it can take months (or YEARS) to even unpack and reconcile what you've even experienced.
Some anger, grief, and resentment is normal and appropriate to feel for a time. When people skip over the processing, unpacking, and healing that must occur, and just begin to force the idea of forgiveness, that can feel heavy and leave the victim feeling even more guilty. This can cause the person who has been abused to question whether or not they are a bad person because they cannot excuse all of the evil things that were done to them. That is wrong!
Give the victim time and space to sort through all their feelings and express them without fear of judgement. Eventually, if they are getting the help and support they need, they will come to a place where they can make peace with everything that happened and not live a life that is controlled by their pain.
4. "No relationship is perfect."
Whether it is a child/parent relationship, a romantic relationship, or a professional relationship, they will all have conflict or issues of some sort, BUT a relationship with a narcissist does not result in your average challenges. DO NOT DISMISS SOMEONE SHARING THEIR EXPERIENCES WITH YOU!!!!!
I don't know why, but we are so TRAINED in our society to play the devil's advocate when someone is sharing about how they've been mistreated. Ok, yes, ask questions to try to find out the whole story. People lie. People exaggerate. We know. But, I PROMISE you, when it comes to talking about the things narcissists put people through, you can't make this stuff up. Call it what it is!!! It's abuse! It's toxic. It's giving red flags. When someone is confiding in you about these experiences, don't downplay what they're telling you and try to normalize it. After my mother in law met my mother, she told me, "I now tell everyone to believe you when you talk about your mom. I let them know you're not exaggerating. Wow! She's really a lot."
Ok, so on one hand, thanks for spreading the word, but on the other hand, all of y'all just really thought I was out here exaggerating and making things up? Wow.
5. Don't interrupt/cut them off.
I can guarantee you that this person gets interrupted often by the narcissist(s) in their life. So, if you want to be a safe space for them, let them talk. If you don't have time to listen to them talk at length, give a heads up at the beginning of the conversation, "hey, I only have 10 minutes, but I really want to be here for you". This saves them from feeling awkward and rejected when you have to cut the conversation short. Also, they've probably been conditioned to feel like they are a burden, their feelings are an inconvenience, and they shouldn't even be bothering you with this anyway because it's "probably not even that big of a deal", you know, because they're "so dramatic". So please, for the love of all things good, do not try to finish their sentences or cut them off to give advice when you haven't heard the whole story.
This can be so nuanced. So, I will definitely have to write some blog posts of the things that ARE helpful to say/do when you have these conversations. But believe me when I say that if you cut off someone who is trying to be vulnerable with you, they will shut down and eventually stop confiding in you. That does not create a safe environment. Point-blank-period.
So there you have it! Those are the 5 things NOT to say/do when someone is sharing with you about their relationship with a narcissist. Feel free to leave thoughts in the comments if you feel like I left something off.