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5 More Coping Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman

Lucy van Pelt and Charlie Brown footballThis is part two of last week’s post, Coping Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman. Remember, these skills are meant to be short-term coping strategies while you figure out how to end your abusive relationship. Maintaining this level of hyper-vigilance and behavioral maintenance long-term would be emotionally, physically and psychologically grueling and I urge you not to do so:

6. Be suspicious if she pretends to act like a normal, reasonable human being or is “nice” to you. Quite simply, these women aren’t reasonable and they’re not nice. Being “nice” is a last resort tactic in order to manipulate you into doing what they want you to do when their usual behaviors of bullying, insults, threats, high drama, tears and guilt have failed. They use these strategies to disorient you into submission. Pretending to be nice is just another maneuver in their bag of tricks, so don’t fall for it. It may also be a Hoover, if she suspects you’re thinking about ending the relationship or have told her you want to separate.

When these women are uncharacteristically nice, you’re probably relieved and think, “Maybe there’s hope. Maybe things will be okay.” They lull you into a false sense of security, you let your guard down and then WHAM! the rug is pulled out from beneath you. It’s like the old Peanuts gag in which Lucy van Pelt yanks the football away from Charlie Brown as he’s about to kick it. He lands on his backside every time, tricked again and wondering why Lucy just can’t play nice.

Don’t be a blockhead. Don’t respond like an eager puppy dog who’s grateful that his usually abusive mistress gave him a treat only to kick him in the ribs a few minutes later. Figure out what it is she’s after and then plan accordingly.

One of my readers, JP, shares an example of this behavior in which his ex-wife tries to get him to pay more spousal support than he’s required that he calls the rapport breaker in a comment (left on June 9th; 1:39am). I refer to this behavior as well, but call it the one-two sucker punch or the smash and grab (same comment thread left on June 9th; 3:00am by shrink4men—scroll down to the very bottom of the page; for some reason it’s out of sequence).

7. Avoid anger. As crazy as it seems, this kind of woman is genuinely surprised and taken aback when you become angry in reaction to her verbal and emotional abuse, attacks, manipulations, general selfishness, lack of empathy and inability to see any viewpoint, but her own highly distorted one. When you respond with anger (and rightly so), to her distorted emotional reasoning, she perceives this as rejection, criticism and a put down, which she’ll then feel compelled to punish you for.

As far as she’s concerned you don’t have a right to your feelings and she’s the only victim, even when she’s actively abusing you. When you stand up for yourself or hold her accountable for her bad behavior, she perceives it as an attack and will either respond in kind or scurry away to lick her wounds while she plans her next attack.

8. As loathsome as it may be, praise her for whatever admirable qualities (or quality) she has. Try to appeal to her “better nature.” Believe it or not, these women fancy themselves to be high-minded and just. Did you just choke on your coffee? I did.

When she’s behaving badly and/or making outrageous and unreasonable demands, say something like, “I know how much you love our son and what a good mother you are. I know you don’t want to scare him by fighting in front of him. You love him too much. Let’s wait to discuss this when he’s at basketball practice.” Or, “I know what a good Christian you are. Everyone at Church thinks so. No one’s perfect. If Jesus can forgive, so can we.” Or, “You’re so smart and aware about these things. I know you’d eventually think of this yourself, but why don’t we…” You get the idea. By doing this, you flatter and acknowledge her unfounded superior sense of self, which may buy you a little peace.

9. Avoid responding to personal attacks or criticism with defensiveness or long-winded explanations. Being defensive only amps her up to attack even harder and she tunes out any explanations (i.e., what you and I call REALITY) because it contradicts her delusional world and self view.

When she accuses you of saying or doing something that you didn’t say or do, apologize for “mis-communicating” or “misunderstanding.” Say you’re sorry she feels ignored or belittled, because that wasn’t your intention when, for example, you were putting your son to bed after working a 12-hour day or don’t think it’s a good idea to put a $30,000 addition to the house because you’re struggling to make ends meet. This may help her shift back to a positive position.

When she engages in name calling or other demeaning behaviors, set a clear boundary and if she won’t observe it, walk away. For example, “I see you’re upset. I’m willing to discuss the problem with you, but calling me names makes it difficult for me to hear you. If you continue to make personal attacks, I’m going for a walk.” Depending upon the severity of her issues, this may or may not work. The point is to give her a clear consequence if she doesn’t stop her bad behavior. Don’t make concessions just to end the conflict du jour, because it only validates her distorted thinking, which empowers her to make more outrageous criticisms, attacks, demands, etc., which leads us to…

10. Set clear boundaries. This kind of woman will take a million miles if you give her half an inch. Figure out your bottom line when it comes to tolerating certain behaviors, draw a line for the ones that are absolutely unacceptable and state them gently, firmly, clearly and repeatedly. Like a 5-year old child, she doesn’t take “no” for an answer and will continue to push and push and push until she wears you out or she wears herself out, whichever comes first.

These women may respect the boundaries you put in place one day and the next, it’s like you never had the conversation. You will have to consistently and continuously reset the boundaries with her, so if you plan to stay in the relationship, get used to sounding like a broken record. Unlike an actual 5-year old, these women neither grow up nor grow out of these behaviors and their grandiose sense of entitlement. They will maintain their hostile dependency for as long as the relationship continues and afterward via alimony, which is a form of financial abuse, but at least she’s not in your face everyday.

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.

Counseling, Consulting and Coaching with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to shrink4men@gmail.com.

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Photo credit:

Lucy van Pelt and Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz on photobucket.com.

  1. Juggler
    April 4, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Hello. Throughout the relationship with my abusive wife I have tried pretty much every coping strategy listed in here. Praising, setting boundaries, avoiding anger, listening, etc.. being a professional at living with an abusive wife I have developed a method of rotating strategies to make them last, till now 18 years.

    My comment goes on the strategy of listening and when insults start, say your will not discuss anything under insult terms and turn away. My wife has gotten good at responding to my strategies too, lately she sees it coming and will start to tell me ” and now you will do what you always do when I say things you don´t like… you will turn away like a the “coward” you are, you just don´t have any balls, you are not a man, I pitty you, you worthless human being, and on and on and on………. until I get to a safe place.

    Next day when we meet is as if nothing happened at all. “How was your day? Oh my god did you hear how long the neighbor´s dog barked last night”.

    I know I´m not the crazy one. But I am so close..so close.

    Did not know about this site until a few weeks ago. Did not know how this behavior is on identical from on abuser to the next. Hope all this reading, discussing and feeling identified can get me the strength to put an end to this insanity.

    Thanks Dr. T, thanks bloggers.

  2. Anne
    October 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Also, I’ve read and observed in circumstances with other NPDs that they need to be dominated, because they are like unruly children who crave boundaries. As I watch my brother who fears confrontation, I can help but wish he would claim his power and rise up. This woman is poisoning our family.

  3. Anne
    October 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    My brother is married to a woman who has extreme NPD and they have a young daughter. His wife tries to create a separation between him, my parents and me. He’s not ready to leave her for financial reasons and his fear of her turning their daughter against him.

    How can we be supportive of him without putting him in the middle and creating more stress for him?

    ps. My mother is a narcissist, so it’s not surprising he married one (or that I’ve dated many) but his wife takes it to a whole new level!

  4. Michael
    December 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm


    What if the npd woman is your mother? And she is divorced and ill with cancer…. How do you disengage from the person who gave you life?

    Divorce is not possible, and your strategies are, as you say, short term.

    • Cat
      April 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

      Or your adult child. How can you disengage from the people you gave life to?! They learned this from their mother, who still works hard to alienate them from me. They’re in their 20s. They are both very abusive to me and to others.

  5. Irishgirl
    March 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    We are all sorting it out, so you came to the right place. It will happen for you, try not to think it’s too late or that you don’t have it in you anymore…it just takes time. In the meantime we can try to find some humor in it all…welcome to a Shrink4Men! :)

  6. Hank
    March 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Nearly every post of your blog, and most of the comments, echo my inner dialogue, mirror my observations, trace the rut of my life. I’m damaged in ways I considered impossible 10 yrs ago, when I married in my mid 40s. Since then, the resultant cumulative emotional trauma has eroded my health and intellect, and impaired my ability to work or play. FWIW my financial obligation to my wife is not an issue.

    Her abusive behavior towards me has been perpetuated however by me – because I’m still here, part of my own pattern of passive-aggressive behavior. At this point it’s not her fault that I feel bad. That’s not to excuse her behavior, but it raises the question of whether she’s even capable of claiming responsibility in the same way.

    The short answer is “no”.
    From the article above:
    8. As loathsome as it may be, praise her for whatever admirable qualities (or quality) she has. Try to appeal to her “better nature.” Believe it or not, these women fancy themselves to be high-minded and just. Did you just choke on your coffee? I did.

    This item refers to possible “admirable qualities” which, in my wife, are actually present. But her “better nature” seems stunted, kind of useless for our marriage (though adequate for most purposes outside the house).

    I’ve been mostly miserable for years; my sarcasm routinely inflects phrases like “her better nature”. I’ve choked on my coffee, too, in that mechanical absence of joy that resembles a laugh, when she cites lofty motives for her latest tirade.

    I appreciate your advocacy for us, and your enthusiasm for disproving our critics. But the snarky tone in Item # 8 sounds like a middle-school schoolgirl’s eye-rolling assertion of superiority. That implies a desperate insecurity that does nothing for your credibility.

    • Irishgirl
      March 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Desperate insecurity? Really? I think she is just trying to use humor to lighten up a terrible situation for alot of people. Is laughter the best medicine? I think it definitely helps. The irony that emotionally abusive personalities believe they are above reproach, better, smarter, and more moral than the rest of us is incredibly amusing, especially when their actions and words are hurtful, immoral, immature, and often times not so intelligent. How can a person be so delusional in private life, and yet still function like the rest of us within their job and most common social interactions in every day life? I’d choke on my coffee too…literally and figuratively…

      • Hank
        March 24, 2011 at 8:50 am

        Irishgirl :

        Desperate insecurity? Really? I think she is just trying to use humor to lighten up a terrible situation for alot of people…The irony that emotionally abusive personalities believe they are above reproach, better, smarter, and more moral than the rest of us is incredibly amusing…

        You’re right, i need to lighten up. For, like, years now. I only know how that “laugh” feels in MY body: bitter, hopeless, and yes, desperate. I’ve got a lot to sort out and I’m not sure I’ve got it in me anymore.

        Maybe my point is that when I say stuff like that lately I just sound snarky. My sense of humor IS dried out. Maybe this spring rain will plump it back up. I’ll check back and let you know.

        Thanks, I think this helped.

  7. jham123
    September 28, 2009 at 2:52 am

    Amazing huh Tara,

    “I couldn’t see the Trees….the Forrest was too dense!!”

  8. L.
    September 27, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Found this site while researching BPD as I beleive a female friend of mine has many of these emotional issues. I am a divorced female that was married to an abusive narcissistic man and now collects modest spousal support.

    I take offense at spousal support being labeled ‘ financial abuse’….this may be true for some women and/ or men as well ,but…blanket statements such as that are counterproductive to both sexes.

    It is EQUALLY ‘financially abusive’ for a partner to with hold some support monies for those that truly need and deserve some compensation for their contributions.

    My ex husband took all the assets, cut me off and was severely financially abusive. Drug the divorce on for 5 years resfusiong to0 cooperate in almost every way. Changed jobs, hid assets, lied and did everything in his power to destroy me on every level. mentally, emotionally., spiritually & financially. Almost succeeded, but….I triumphed and am a better person for these experiences.

    Abuse is abuse…drop the gender card and be ‘mature’ enough to know that every situation is different.

    • shrink4men
      September 28, 2009 at 1:03 am

      Abuse is abuse…drop the gender card and be ‘mature’ enough to know that every situation is different.

      Actually, that’s kind of the point of this entire website, but thanks for the feedback.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  9. Bill
    July 19, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    I would like to hear any comments on how to deal with the emotions related to being alientated from the kids. These women seem to use them to hurt you, but how can they not see how this action confuses the kids more? Because we were not married, I feel there is no recourse for me to let them know that I didn’t abandon them. That they are loved. I can’t imagine what they believe as the truth. It’s sad and sick they way these women operate. They really do destroy families acting-out their selfish agendas.

    • shrink4men
      July 23, 2009 at 7:55 pm

      Hi Bill,

      I’m sorry to read about what you’ve been going through. Some women consciously and deliberately try to turn their children against their fathers; while others inappropriately vent their frustrations—however, in these instances, I still believe it’s with malice whether or not they’re aware of it.

      These women don’t care about the collateral damage they cause others; not even their own children. It is sad and sick. You have my sympathy. Have you spoken with any father’s rights advocates to explore actions you might take?

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  10. Mr. E.
    June 16, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Well, I got a chance to try these out this weekend, lucky me.

    I’d been working on a project out in the garage, and came in around 10:00pm. She was in another room (where I couldn’t see her) working on her hobby, so I just called “Hi” to her and went about my own stuff.

    At one point, she called “gosh, I’m tired!” That was a hint that I was supposed to go straight to bed. I didn’t get it. So, a little later, she told me what she actually wanted (to go to bed), in a nasty way. I went into the room she was in and, lo and behold, she was wearing a sexy outfit.

    I immediately knew I was in deep trouble.

    I reacted to her outfit with delight, however, she stopped talking to me and faced away so I didn’t press the issue. This was the wrong thing to do. I expect that pressing the issue would have ALSO been the wrong thing to do, but I guess I’ll never know for sure. ;)

    Apparently, I was an asshole for not noticing she was hiding in another room in a different part of the house wearing a sexy outfit, and I never want to have sex anymore (which is pretty accurate, really. It’s hard to get turned on and flirt with someone who treats me with utter contempt.), and I only try to initiate when it’s too late at night (funny, she doesn’t try to initiate sex until we’re in bed either!) and I must not think she’s interesting anymore and on and on.

    Luckily, I noticed she’d been relatively pleasant for the last couple of days, so I was on guard. I avoided getting angry (in the moment, at least. I felt angry afterwards).

    I tried praising her, but she essentially just says “You don’t really think that.”

    I didn’t get defensive, or give an explanation apart from “I was just having ice cream and cooling off from the heat in the garage.”

    She gets mad when I don’t defend myself. If I do defend myself, she gets to scold me for being defensive, and arguing gives her the opportunity to spiral off on a million tangents. So I tend towards silence when she flips out. This pisses her off extra.

    I have tried setting some simple boundaries, eg. “Don’t call me [x].” She is an expert at stomping on boundaries. “I can’t call you a pussy anymore, so I’ll call you a PANSY.” I could spend entire days setting and enforcing boundaries. Whee!

    She gets mad about boundary setting, too. “You’re so serious, I didn’t mean anything by it, have a sense of humor, I thought we were beyond that, blah blah blah.”

    Anyway, loved the last couple posts. It is extremely hard to avoid explaining things and getting sucked into her game, and it’s good to get advice on how to deal with the quicksand.

    • shrink4men
      June 16, 2009 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Mr E,

      Yeah, these strategies are no guarantee of avoiding an attack. If these women are determined to raise hell, they’re gonna raise hell. Even if they’re not effective every time she’s “in the mood” for a fight, put downs, etc., they can help you become aware of what’s going on in the moment and not get sucked into another argument with her.

      These women want you to react to their hurtful behaviors. When you don’t, that upsets them, too. Remember, ultimately, there is no winning with this kind of woman. You win by not giving her the reaction she wants, disengaging, and if you can do it, ending the relationship and recovering yourself.

      The way some of these women approach sex is fascinating. They only seem interested in physical intimacy when you’re not. It’s usually not a way for them to express love or be close with you. These women seem to use sex as a way to validate their “desirability.” However, due to their highly unattractive behaviors, they render themselves undesirable. I agree. It must be very difficult to muster any desire for someone who usually treats you like crap. Sex is treated like just one more thing you have to do to satisfy their bottomless ego needs. Yick.

      Nevertheless, I’m glad you find the posts helpful. It’s hard not to get sucked in, but I know I always feel better when I’m able to sidestep the traps these kind of people like to set.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  11. Dan Wesson
    June 11, 2009 at 10:43 pm


    This article couldn’t come at a more opportune time! I am in the process of extricating myself from the clutches of a seriously disturbed woman (I think she’s Borderline + Bipolar, but I’m not trained in any of this stuff save Google)! Why did I stay so long? Why did I get to a point where I started to become a shell of my former self from the abuse? I can’t answer that one… but soon I’ll be free!! 4 years of marriage hell, but soon it will be over!!

    The best part -> she opened the door for me – WIDE! She was so mad at me Monday she left again so she could “teach me a lesson”. Hmmm… since Monday I have a new bank account she has no access to and a new apartment and have made arrangements to stay at my brother’s place until I can move into my new place.

    Yesterday was the Ultimatum phone call… “I need a decision by Friday on whether you are going to continue our relationship”. Interpretation: “I need to know by Friday if you are going to fold up into your shell like you’ve always done for me in the past”. Not this time, babe!! She said she’s going to come back Sunday to “get on with her life”. She’s in for a big surprise when I smile at her as I walk out the door she just walked through!!


  1. November 10, 2011 at 11:28 pm
  2. November 17, 2010 at 2:50 pm

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