How NOT To Get Manipulated By Your Narcissistic Ex
So you've finally moved on from your narcissist and no longer have to endure the day-to-day abuse, passive-aggressive manipulation, or attempts to make you look (or feel) like the bad guy. Or do you? Most of us know from experience that just because someone is your ex doesn't mean their bad behavior is entirely in the past for you.
There will likely be times that you need to communicate with your ex—especially while you're still figuring out the logistics of the split, and even more so if you must co-parent. And most likely, communication issues were a big part of the reason your relationship didn't work anyway. Narcissists are known for playing games and being childish in communication—ignoring you, manipulating you, just generally making things difficult—and probably making you want to pull your hair out. The moment you realize you're going to have to ask your ex to take your child to their soccer game when it's technically your day, you begin trying to think of any possible alternative to having to interact with him or her.
This is a good instinct. You're wisely wary of the Narcissistic Vortex. Behavior like this is always an attempt by the narcissist to suck you back into their reality—the one in which they are always the victim or martyr and you are the aggressor or villain. They need to remind themselves (and others) that they are still truly special. But because your relationship with the narcissist has ended, they know you no longer accept the version of reality that they want you to believe. For that, they resent you greatly. They will try to draw you back into this reality, and, when you refuse to be complicit in their fiction, they'll punish you for rejecting them.
So, is it possible to communicate effectively with someone who feels constantly threatened by you?
While it's not ideal, it is possible. The trick is to stay outside the pull of the vortex. Here's how to do it:
1. Do not engage.
While you may have to discuss logistics about joint assets or your children, you don't have to engage in any tangents or respond to any comments that aren't productive. Should they insult you or make some dig at you, resist the urge to defend yourself, insult them back, or employ threats. Stick to the goal at hand. Repeat the question and wait for an answer. If this behavior continues, walk away, hang up, or do not reply if it's via text or email.
2. Don't editorialize. Give only yes or no answers.
Narcissists have very little self-control. They are incapable of sending an email or text without passive-aggressively knocking your ability to function as an adult. The true secret to communicating is, ironically, minimal communication. Reply with yes or no answers and exclusively factual replies. For example, "Yes, I am picking the kids up at 5 p.m. today."
3. Ignore their "love bombs."
You probably spent years desperate for a crumb of affection—anything to affirm that you're not crazy and that this person does, in fact, love you. Now that you've moved on, they may send you "love bombs," which are unexpected and unsolicited communications saying things along the lines of, "Whatever happened to us?” or "If only you knew how much I truly loved you." They're intended to make you second-guess yourself and to make you vulnerable to their emotional manipulation again. These often come out of the blue, when you least expect them. Do not fall for these tricks. A narcissist will never, ever change. They have not experienced a divine intervention. Always remember, "do not engage."
4. Set clear boundaries and enforce them.
Narcissists hate people with boundaries. They take and take from people who give and give. They've probably made you feel guilty for trying to make healthy boundaries in the past. That's because if you stop giving, they will have nothing to take. They'll do anything to keep taking advantage of you. If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. So don't.
This means no doing them favors—even if it benefits your child. They may ask for more time with your child than the custody arrangement allows, and try to convince you that it's in the child's best interest. Say no. They may ask you to take the kids on a weekend you weren't expecting, which would mean canceling your plans. (But you love your kids, so why wouldn't you cancel your other plans to see them?) Say no. No matter the argument at hand, a narcissist's motives are always self-preservation and advancement.
5. Always ask yourself if a communication needs a reply before you consider giving one.
No matter the form of communication with your ex, ask yourself, "Does this message require a reply?" Remind yourself that your ex will never behave the way you want. You will never change them. The only way to move forward in a more healthy way is to accept this. Then you are liberated from the exhaustion that comes of being dragged on an endless emotional roller coaster by someone who has no interest in your well-being.
Lindsey Ellison is a relationship coach, author, and founder of “Start Over. Find Happiness.,” a coaching practice that helps women navigate through a divorce or break up, and begin a new life they truly love. She currently lives in Annapolis, Maryland, and has a bachelor's in journalism from Lehigh University. Ellison offers guidance through her blog and podcast, as well as an online course called THRIVE, which gives support and tools to help women find happiness (and new love) after divorce.