Diverting the Narcissist

Standing in Uncomfortability


Apparently uncomfortability is not a word.  It is, however, one used often in my work environment.  It is also a situation I found myself in Monday morning.  For over an hour.


Let me start by saying I know I’m outdated, but I Do Not Understand why certain words are used in the workplace today.  Onboarding.  What the hell is that?  What happened to “welcoming” or “orienting” new employees?  How is Onboarding supposed to make a new employee feel like one of the gang?  It sounds more like hazing; which, now that I’m writing  does make others bond, so maybe…..

Anyway, we have recently started using Microsoft Office 365.  It is a cloud based program, and the advantage is that we can all access everything that is going on from home.  I say advantage sarcastically, because I personally don’t think we should be accessing work from home.  This is why the two have different names, because one is work and one is home.  Apparently I am in the minority on this.

Using this software we each have a “planner”.  In our planner we can be assigned “tasks”.  Boy, that word bugs me.  When assigned, we get an email saying “You’ve been assigned a task”.  I know I have a warped perspective, but every time I see one of these emails I read it like I’m Bob Barker saying “Sue Smith, come on down!”.  “MurphyCee, you’ve been assigned a task”, like I’m supposed to be happy.  I find it ludicrous, demeaning and insulting.  Other than that, I love this new software.

If you follow me you know I’ve been increasingly unhappy with how I’m spoken to at work, and I’ve been on the cusp of leaving.  A week ago I was assigned a task that was impossible, one I’d already tried to do several times and I knew I couldn’t accomplish.  This was the push I needed.   I emailed the owner and told her I could not complete this task, I was beyond frustrated and it was time for me to leave.  The job had become one I could no longer fulfill and I was giving notice.  She tried to call me.  I didn’t answer.  I have a hard time talking on the phone under good circumstances; bad circumstances – no way.  Then she emailed me and said she would not accept this, that she and I and the other owner would meet Monday morning to discuss things.

Working in a yoga studio is difficult.  I have found it to be a more challenging environment than any other work place I’ve been in.  As the student at a yoga studio, you feel embraced in a space of love and acceptance.  It is soothing, relaxed and joyful.  Obviously this can’t last when you start working there.  You enter Oz, walk right up to the curtain and pull it back, only to realize that the Wizard (i.e. owners) are just regular people.  Regular people who sometimes are mean, or snippy, or silly, or dim.  Sometimes they are downright mean, and judgy.

So I found myself in a meeting with the Wizards, in what was intended to be a bare all, put it on the table, list your issues type of conversation.

If you have spent most of your life with narcissists you know – Don’t Do This.

  • Never, Ever tell the truth.
  • Never Ever accuse someone of being ill-intentioned, or rude, or hostile, or faulty in any way.
  • Don’t poke the bear.

Doing so is akin to drawing a big red bullseye on your head.  Criticism = grounds for attack.

There are many theories about this.  Some surmise that narcissists, at their core, so despise themselves that any criticism is a dagger that punctures the outer shell of narcissism.  Once punctured, wrath pours out and, not having better coping skills, that wrath lands on you.  This makes sense to me.  It feels like what happened with the narcissists in my life.  What I’ve learned is this:  it might be safe to express one issue, as long as there is concrete evidence and it is not emotionally charged, and the atmosphere is perfect.  After that, stop.

One of the ways I do this is by diverting attention.  I’ll change the subject to how good the narc’s hair looks, or how happy I am about something they did recently.  Or I ask their opinion about something.  These are all great ways to repair the hole I’ve created in the narc’s bubble of protection, and it is a coping technique I’ve carried into many other areas of life.  At the first sign of uncomfortability I tell a joke, make a funny face, bring up a frivolous issue, etc.

Unfortunately, as important as this is when dealing with a narcissist, it actually impedes relationships with healthy people.  Healthy people can handle criticism, and most actually appreciate knowing when there is a problem.  I though, have trained myself to walk away from uncomfortable situations.  While this has served me well in my relationships with narcissists, it has impeded other relationships.  Instead of speaking my mind when I am unhappy, I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach – that feeling that says “walk away, it’s not worth confronting, you will pay a price”.

Back to my meeting with the Wizards.  They began by telling me how important I was to them, that they loved me, that they thought things were going really well.  One of them, the one I’ve had the most problems with, said she’d been working really hard to improve her communication (this said with tear in her eyes), and felt we were really close.  I had to grant her that – she had been working to improve her communication, and, as far as meetings went, been successful.  It was in dealing with the day to day issues that she lost it.

After a few minutes it was clear that the problem was between me and the one owner, so it was she and I that continued talking.  I gave her a recent example of something that had upset me and we hashed it out.  Then we moved on to another issue, and another, and another.  It was hell for me.  I was so uncomfortable, it was all I could do not to change the subject.  She was wearing a beautiful ring and throughout the entire meeting I had to keep reminding myself not to ask where she’d gotten the ring.  This is the sort of thing I’d have done with a narcissist to begin the de-escalation process.  I did not.  I stood my ground, in this incredibly uncomfortable situation.  At the end of the meeting we agreed to change some of the work issues, and work on how we communicate.

What was interesting to me, in addition to the fact that I stayed in the process, was the power of words.  As I talked about instances that had upset me I found that there are certain words that really hurt me.   Because this particular owner used certain words that had triggered me in the past, I was primed to react negatively to almost anything she said to me.   The minute she turned her attention to me I assumed I was going to be attacked, and I prepared myself for it. I tensed up and prepared for criticism.  Like a fully inflated balloon, I was ready to burst before she even opened her mouth.  I say this not to excuse her rotten communication but to accept the part I play in our relationship.

For now, we are all committed to make the job work.  I say this but honestly, I’m not sure it is possible.  I think there are aspects of this job that I will never be able to perform to their satisfaction.  Time will tell.

The moral of the story is this:  The defenses used to divert the narcissist are not necessary when dealing with non-narcissists.  If, like me, you have spent most of your life around narcissists, these defenses are so ingrained in your behavior it is hard to let them go.  It might even be difficult to pinpoint what defenses you use to protect yourself.   The next time you find yourself in an unmanageable situation, check yourself first.  Evaluate what role your coping mechanisms might be playing.  Are your well cultivated defenses impeding progress?

Healthy people can handle criticism, so go for it!  & good luck!




3 thoughts on “Diverting the Narcissist

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