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Dealing with Difficult People

Difficult people typically have personality disorders such as narcissism, borderline, histrionic, avoidant and dependant.


Narcissistic people, in particular, rarely enter counselling. Rather, the people in relationships with them do, as they suffer in trying to relate with these abnormal people - who may be parents, friends, bosses, neighbours etc. 


What is a Narcissist?

If you are finding that someone in your life makes you feel wrong most of the time or needs things to be done their way most of the time or simply is right most of the time, then you may be dealing with a narcissist. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is real and it tends to ruin relationships because it is so dysfunctional that it is virtually impossible to cure. This is because inherent in the diagnosis is the fact that they believe that there is nothing wrong with them – that everyone else is at fault. There is a difference between sexes in that males appear initially as leaders, charismatic and become agressive when threatened; females often appear as martyrs or needy who become agressive when threatened.  

Check List For Narcissistic Personality Disorder from psychology and psychiatry

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy and behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love

3. believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

4. requires excessive admiration

5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her’

9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes.

Dealing with Narcissists - strategically

* Never threaten their territory - ie; them and what they care about/believe in - or they'll attack - and win. For example, if you don't agree with them, you might appear threatening to them.

* Use 'light and breezy', 'it's all good' approaches/tones - because they are non-threatening.

* Come up with standard responses in advance and practice rolling them out. These are to deflect and stop the narcissist in their tracks and then change the subject quickly back to them or what they care about/ believe in. This can end up being quite a healthy discussion or debate when managed. Silence is consent –so its important for your self respect that you do say something – for yourself. They won’t understand what you’re doing – when you do it easily.

Try phrases that mean nothing and don’t agree or disagree with them like:

* ‘Yeah, you get that don’t you?’

* ‘Oh how about that?’

* ‘ Yeah – there you go

* ‘You may be right’..
* ‘That’s true… and'….


* Use the analogy of an iron fist in a velvet glove when dealing with them – ie be totally tough and never let them feel it. Soon you’ll be running rings around them.

* They are like 2 year olds – temper tantrums

* Pick your fights – you can’t win all – so just pick the important ones to you – and still use these strategies
* They are like puppies – they will spew abuse or ‘vomit’ and piddle (termed as ‘emotional incontinence’ in psychiatry) and ‘chew your best shoes’ - so quarantine your best / most precious things/ information or they will ‘chew’ it. Ie don’t share with them things that are really precious to you.

What is a Co-Narcissist?

Sir Winston Churchill: "An appeaser is one who feeds a crododile - hoping it will eat him last."

Articles: (Please click on links below to read following articles.)

Narcissism and the relationship with proneness to shame, Amanda Ferguson, Ph.D. (1996)

Co-Narcissism: How We Accommodate to Narcissistic Parents, Alan Rappoport, Ph.D.

"This article introduces the term “co-narcissism” to refer to the way that people accommodate to narcissistic parents". Rappoport uses' the term narcissism here to refer to people with very low self-esteem who attempt to control others’ views of them for defensive purposes. They are interpersonally rigid, easily offended, self-absorbed, blaming, and find it difficult to empathize with others. Co-narcissistic people, as a result of their attempts to get along with their narcissistic parents, work hard to please others, defer to other’s opinions, worry about how others think and feel about them, are often depressed or anxious, find it hard to know their own views and experience, and take the blame for interpersonal problems. They fear being considered selfish if they act assertively. A high proportion of psychotherapy patients are co-narcissistic. The article discusses the co-narcissistic syndrome and its treatment, and gives case examples of patients who suffer from this problem."


'Trapped in the mirror: Children of narcissistic parents'. Elan Golomb

'Working with Monsters: How to identify and protect yourself from the workplace psychopath'. John Clarke 

'The Happiness Trap: Stop struggling, start living'. Dr Russ Harris

Ask Amanda

How do I know if I have clinical depression?
How do I recognise if a member of my family is being bullied?
How long does it take to recover from traumatic events?