Heartbeat racing, stomach in knots, restless thoughts, the inability to think clearly, feeling on edge, panic, fear, sweaty palms......
just at the thought of having to interact with a certain someone.
I am a WHOLE grown woman who has had years of therapy, read books on boundaries and foundations for healthy interpersonal relationships, has purposely practiced acting assertively and speaking up for my needs. I lead and train people on how to advocate for themselves and not tolerate disrespect.....
And I STILL feel all the things I listed above whenever I have to interact with someone I know to be a narcissist.
I'll tell you why.....
For me (and many others), narcissists signify DANGER. They are wildcards, unpredictable (yet, also, quite predictable). You never know who you're going to encounter. And even more than that, you never know which turns the conversation could take. It's not unusual to begin a conversation with a narcissist that seems harmless enough, and then before you know it, you're under attack! They could start name calling or blaming or humiliating you. They could bring up an old event that has nothing really to do with the subject at hand, and then, all of a sudden, you're in the hot seat. It's a wild and bumpy ride that leaves you feeling completely vulnerable and at the mercy of their whims.
Seriously, when a narcissist calls my phone, it's like my heart sinks down into my stomach. I get so unsettled. My whole mood can change. I HATE it. When I answer the phone, I can actually feel the tension in my body. I am not at ease, and I know I'm not the only one who experiences this. This is a common experience for people who have relationships with narcissists. It's kind of their whole deal.
The interactions you've had with this person/these people, have conditioned you to feel unsafe. You're used to having to brace and protect yourself. You've learned that when you are in their presence, it's best to be on the defense because the attacks are coming. Your fight or flight response is engaged. Your body is very smart, and it has detected that these interactions are typically not good for you. So what does it do? It turns on all the defense mechanisms. It's an automatic response your body has developed to help you cope with circumstances that it has perceived as threatening or stressful. Your body is trying to keep you safe.
"Your fight or flight response is engaged. Your body is very smart, and it has detected that these interactions are typically not good for you."
In case no one has told you.....
You are NOT overreacting. You are NOT being dramatic. The behaviors that you encounter with narcissists is ABUSE. It is harmful. It is manipulative. It is belittling. It is damaging. IT. IS. ABUSE.
This abuse has long-lasting impact. You will need to be very deliberate about taking steps to heal this abuse and to heal your brain and your nervous system. Especially if you grew up with a narcissist taking care of you, your brain was harmed a lot during its formative years...and that's NOT your fault. But, now that you're old enough to make decisions for yourself, you can take the steps to heal, recover, and rebuild.
This is the kind of energy we're bringing!!!! ( 1 step at a time)
So what can you do?
Because dealing with narcissists is like riding a roller coaster with a faulty seat belt, you have to decide that you are not going to be getting on their ride any more. When you were growing up with your narcissistic parent, you were 100% a victim. You were at their mercy and under their control. BUT! You grew up! You now have access to all this power, control, and autonomy. You just have to learn to harness and utilize it.
Have you heard about how they train elephants to stay? How, as itty bitty babies, they use a chain around the elephant's ankle to harness it to a post, and when the elephant is small, it's not strong enough to break free. The trainers continue to do this to keep the elephant in place. When the elephant has grown, even though it's big enough to easily break the chain, in its mind, it believes that it cannot get free from the post. So, what does it do? It stays put because of the chain.
We are those elephants!! We can make our own decisions and break free, but we are so conditioned to feel small, fearful, and completely subject to the decisions of the narcissist(s) in our lives. (And actually, it's not just narcissists. We can often hand our control over to other confident people around us and just not always notice because these other people are not as volatile as the narcissists. That's a story for another day, though.)
Getting off their ride
1. FIRST, you have to acknowledge the fact that they are taking you for a ride. Make yourself aware of this.
Stop hoping for normal encounters and then finding yourself in the middle of their circus. Before you answer the phone, before you walk in the house, before you head into work, assess the situation and prepare yourself for what you KNOW is about to happen, ok?
2. Next, decide in your mind how you would like things to go. What are your boundaries for this interaction? What are you willing to do/allow? What are you not willing to do/allow? Then, act accordingly. You stay on your own ride, on your own track. Do not let them derail you.
3. Take deep breaths and say to yourself, "I am safe. I am safe." Anyone who has dealt with narcissistic caregivers knows in a very real way how dangerous and UNSAFE these people can make you feel. Ground yourself in reality, reassuring yourself that you are, in fact, safe. You have the capability to exit the interaction. You have the capacity to stop engaging. No one can make you do or say anything you don't want to do or say. Deep breaths are actually, physiologically, helpful for resetting your nervous system and calming you down. So give it a shot.
4. Remember that you are NOT responsible for how the other party feels. A narcissist will try to get you to accept blame for their displeasure. They will eye-roll, deep sigh, shake their head, cross their arms, squint, and maybe rub their brow. It is a whole production, but you already know that. They may even raise their voice at you. Use this as a time to step back and objectively observe their childish behavior at not getting what they want. Notice the tactics of manipulation, and realize that this is a THEM problem. This is THEIR inability to be healthy socially, and it is not your fault.
5. Lastly, phone a friend or write in a journal. Until you have gone through this a million times and get really self-assured, you will probably feel a bit out of sorts after these interactions. You may be second guessing yourself. You could be upset, angry, offended, triggered, moved to tears, any and all of that! Don't hold it in, and don't ruminate. Get it out. Find a trusted friend to confide in, and/or journal about it. It's really helpful to decompress and get those thoughts out of your head. That way you can leave the interaction behind you and move forward freely.
Why do narcissists make you nervous??
Because they're unstable!!! Talking to them is like walking through a loaded minefield. Your body knows that, and all those nervous feelings you experience just from thinking about them is your body's way of trying to prepare you to face this danger head on or just run away completely.
What can you do about it?
Take some time to come up with a game plan for when you're going to interact with the narcissist(s) in your life. Realize that you do not have to be a victim any more, and there are things you CAN do to take control of the situation.
It's very simple....but it's not easy.
If you're not ready for either of those, you can always join my email list (sign up on the bottom of the home page), where I drop little tips, reflections, and bits of knowledge to equip you for the journey you're on.
Wishing you peace and healing