Coping Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman
Why does he stay with her? She’s abusive. Crazy. Cruel. Frigid. Why doesn’t he just leave? There are a number of answers to this question:
1. Men who’ve been ensnared by an emotionally abusive Narcissist and/or Borderline female are often brainwashed into believing there’s something wrong with them and that they should be grateful to be with the woman who tortures them.
2. Men are afraid of being taken to the cleaners by these women if they divorce them and rightly so. These women are extremely vindictive and take no responsibility for themselves or how their abusive behaviors contribute to the demise of their relationships.
3. Fathers worry that BPD/NPD women will turn their kids against them (parental alienation) and deny them visitation—again, with good reason.
4. While other men, the most unfortunate of the lot, believe they love these women and that if they just try a little harder, they can get them to change and have a happy relationship.
This is the first of four articles of coping skills if you’re in an ongoing relationship with an abusive woman or in the process of trying to end a relationship with one. These skills are meant to be short-term coping strategies while you figure out how to extricate yourself from your abusive relationship. Maintaining this level of hyper-vigilance and behavioral maintenance long-term would be emotionally, physically and psychologically grueling and I strongly urge you not to do so:
1. Listen to fear and anger without getting caught up in it. Don’t bite on the hook of her provocative and inflammatory attacks. Don’t engage with the content. Don’t agree or disagree with the content. When you engage in the content, you give her the fuel to escalate the conflict/drama and the ammunition to portray you as the angry jerk after the dust settles. Try the following techniques:
- Pretend like you’re really listening. Make direct eye contact. Avoid interrupting her at the beginning of her verbal diarrhea. Listen and pretend to empathize for a minute or two by nodding your head and occasionally saying, “Ok” or “I see.” Do your best not to take anything she says to heart. The insults and accusations she hurls at you are projection; her unconscious self-condemnation that she maps onto you.
- Practice sympathetic body language. When under attack, most of us adopt defensive body postures. For example, you may fold your arms across your chest, clench your jaw or hunch your shoulders. Maintain an open body posture and try to appear as if you’re being neutral and unaffected by what she’s saying. If she senses defensiveness or fear, she’ll become even more aggressive, like a shark in a feeding frenzy.
- Recognize how she’s feeling, but DON’T agree with her. For example, “I hear what you’re saying,” “I understand how strongly you feel,” or “I understand you’re upset with me.” By doing this you acknowledge that’s she’s agitated, but you’re not accepting the blame or agreeing with her.
2. Be consistent in your responses while eliminating emotional reactions. You have to be consistent in your emotions and behavior because she isn’t. She’s ruled by her wild mood swings and fear of being exposed as a human train wreck. Avoid intense emotional reactions to her behavior, even though her words and actions are designed to provoke and inflame.
If you engage with her one day and ignore her the next, this will make her feel out of control and insecure. This will then cause her to escalate her clinging behaviors and/or angry outbursts, vindictiveness, abusive tirades, etc., for any perceived criticism, real or imagined. If you set specific boundaries regarding her behavior, you must reinforce them consistently as you would with a young child.
3. Anticipate crises and be prepared to respond to them gently, but firmly. While you can’t predict or anticipate every abusive outburst, after enough time, you can identify things that are likely to trigger an attack. Common triggers include upcoming family events, vacations, having to get a job or, like a predatory animal, she has a specific “feeding time” when she goes after her prey. For example, the midnight feeder: She has a pattern of starting fights/attacking you between 9pm and midnight when you’re trying to wind down the day and you’re already drained (i.e., in a weakened state). Therefore, it’s helpful to be prepared with specific boundaries regarding when you’ll discuss emotionally charged matters.
First, pretend to listen to her for two minutes and respond by recognizing how she’s feeling. Then, say something like, “I understand you’re upset, but I’m too tired at the end of the day to give this matter the attention it deserves. I’ll be better able to discuss this in the morning after I’ve had a good night’s sleep. If you continue to push this tonight, I’m going to stay at my friends/sleep in the other room/not go on the shopping trip you want me to take you on this weekend.”
Whatever it is she’s upset about doesn’t matter. What matters is that you provide her with the sense—even if you’re faking it—that you’re listening to her in those first few minutes, so that she doesn’t feel ignored, criticized, abandoned or dominated, and then give her a specific consequence if she persists.
4. Adopt an “arm’s length bond,” if you can. Avoid being too responsive to her negative or positive emotions. You can’t attend to her every whim, insecurity and “need” every minute of the day or you won’t have time for anything else. Also, don’t allow your self to have a false sense of hope during those fleeting moments when she’s nice. Think of her like a weather system and develop a sense of detachment and plan accordingly. “Oh, it’s nice outside today. I’ll leave my jacket at home” or “Looks like it might storm today, I’d better bring my umbrella.”
5. Validate her, not her complaint and then take action. For example, “I see how upset you are. What can we do to fix the situation?” If she wants you to do something that you’re not willing to do, remain calm and don’t become defensive. Respond to her as you would a 5-year old child who’s demanding that you do something that’s impractical or harmful. “I’m sorry, but it’s not possible for me to do what you want. Is there something else we can do?” Or, if you have an idea that will appease her that doesn’t hurt you, suggest it.
Again, these are meant to be short-term coping skills not long-term solutions. Next week, I’ll post the next 5 techniques, so please check back.
Source credit: The 5 skills discussed above are modified from Bill Eddy‘s Four Steps in Resolving High Conflict Disputes. He directs his material to legal professionals and therapists, but I believe the husbands and boyfriends who are the intimate targets of NPD/BPD women can benefit by developing these skills, too.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
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