For anyone familiar with a narcissist and how nasty they can be, it is very difficult to watch someone you like be involved with one. We all know how they got there. Initially, the narcissist is “the perfect soul mate” and showers them with affection and attention. Then, as the relationship progresses more and more of the pathology starts to show.
There will be mentions of multiple arguments and confusion about events. Increasingly, your friend will want to stay home or will cancel activities at the last moment. Most notably, the relationship will either be “on the rocks” or “wonderful” when you talk to your friend and this will keep changing back and forth. Often, plans will be cancelled because your friend needs to stay home and tend to the relationship.
The narcissist can appear in many different ways to your friend’s family and social group. Some narcissists will maintain the charming side when dealing with everyone that knows their partner. Some will immediately offend everyone and some will just be unavailable for most social activities, or any combination of the above.
So what do you do?
1. Blurting out, “I think you’re with a narcissist” is not going to work. For that matter, it may be exactly the wrong thing to do. Thing is, when bonding starts between two individuals one of the effects it has is to enhance the “us” versus “them” feelings and any attacks directed at the narcissist will fortify the narcissist’s position. (more on this here) You become the enemy and the narcissist will be skillful at making sure that your relationship with your friend diminishes.
2. Where you can be helpful is by truthfully answering questions — when asked. It is a societal norm to lie to one another about what we know about relationships. Think of how many people you know are having affairs and how no one tells the spouse. I was floored when I divorced my husband and people I barely knew came out of the woodwork to tell me things they had known for years.
But, I was more hurt by my closer acquaintances that had known things and decided not to discuss them with me. The argument went something like this, “We thought you knew and we were helping you save face.” Unfortunately, when you are involved with a narcissist and being lied to by the narcissist and then everyone around you is lying as well, it can be kinda crazy making. I had never actually known what most people thought of him, even though I had confided in some of these people about how awful it was.
Keep your statements to the facts. When I confided that we argued a lot, it would have been nice to have someone say, you seem to be arguing more than normal. Or, he seems to be cruel, or, I don’t think I could be in a relationship when someone was that mean to me. It is not helpful to hear, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” “You should get counseling.” “Everyone argues.” These may all be true, but when you know that there is more pathology, it would be helpful to point to facts. A person in a relationship with a narcissist needs clarity above all else. You can see the outside of the relationship and if you can point to something, let them know — when asked.
3. Never join the narcissist in humiliating your friend or making jokes at their expense. This is a common tactic that makes people feel inferior, unloved and picked on. Nothing is worse than having to help people taunt you. Just because your friend is laughing along does not mean that they are enjoying the insults and putdowns, even if they are in the form of a “joke”.
4. Be aware that the narcissist is likely using manipulation to get what they want. This includes withholding affection, money, conversation and anything else they have power over. The person will have become very sensitive to this dynamic either consciously or unconsciously, so any attempt to manipulate them by saying, “If you don’t break off the relationship I will no longer be your friend”, normalizes the behaviour. In other words, your friend may think, “Even friends withhold attention if I don’t do what they want. This must just be the way that people get what they want.”
5. The best thing that you can do for your friend is to stay in touch, give facts and information when they are requested and focus as much as you can on your friendship, rather than on their other relationship.
6. If the relationship gets bad enough, or an opportunity presents itself, it might be time to say that it sounds like their lover might be exhibiting some of the traits of a narcissist and direct them to some resources on the topic.
7. At the end of the day, most people have to go through the painful realization on their own and this is when friendships are the most important because they will need a lot of support to reclaim their sense of self, get their self-confidence back and try to rebuild their lives. Knowing as much as you can about narcissists is very valuable at this point so that you can help them understand what happened.