If you have ever dated a narcissist, then you know that there is very little chance of “recovery” for them—since they never recognize that they have a problem and instead pass the buck onto you! Most experts on narcissism recommend that the only way to go is out the door, since narcissists usually cause considerable pain to others. They take advantage of their partners, love-bombing them initially, only to later attempt to control them. They also gaslight, manipulate, and aim to isolate others. Covert narcissists, meanwhile, aim to look like a “good guy” to confuse others into staying with them. Sometimes, however, it is harder to cut ties with a narcissist, because you have people you love in common. This is the case if they are an in-law, a parent, or a sibling. There are, however, strategies you can take to minimize the damage.

Set Clear Boundaries

Narcissists are masters at gaslighting—accusing you of their own wrongdoings and always making it seem like it’s your fault. From the outset, it is vital to set clear boundaries and to respect them strictly—since it is in the narcissist’s nature to disrespect others’ limits. Do not engage with them if they try to get into a manipulative argument, do not have deep conversations with them, and do not try to defend yourself against their accusations. Don’t fall into shouting and losing your cool because they provoke you—don’t allow them to affect your state of calm. If they try to provoke you, simply say you do not want to discuss the topic and leave or end the call politely if necessary.

Be Aware of Subtle Manipulation

There are several types of narcissistic behaviors, and some are more subtle than others. In general, there are two main types of narcissists: overt and covert. Overt narcissists are very obvious in their need for praise and adoration. They talk about themselves a lot and demand that others adore them. Covert narcissist are more subtle. On the surface, they are loving, caring family members that want to get on with you, but beneath their charming façade they are jealous, and they aim to divide you from the loved ones you have in common. They gossip, make unreasonable demands, and use guilt to control others. They may also start a campaign among other family members to isolate you. Worst of all, other family members or friends may not see it. Do not give into a covert narcissist’s aims to get what they want from you. Say no and respect your boundaries, using “I don’t…” instead of getting into long-winded discussions about why you “can’t” do something. For instance, you might say, “Sorry, I don’t sleep over at other people’s houses” or “Sorry, I don’t meet others from Monday to Friday.” 

Speak to the Common Family Member

Imagine that the narcissistic person is your mother-in-law or your father-in-law. They will undoubtedly try to wake your partner up to “your evil ways” or paint themselves out as “your victim.” Criticizing them to your partner will come to little good. It may even create a triangle in which your partner actually sees you as the bad guy. From the outset, make rules at home for communication and visits. Be willing to enforce the consequences. If your partner does not expect your essential boundaries, then be aware that this pattern will go on for years. Are you willing to put up with it incessantly?

When you have shared ties with a narcissist, it can be hard to simply walk away from them completely. Strategies to minimize the damage include setting clear boundaries, not engaging in manipulative arguments, and being aware of subtle manipulation. Communicating with common family members and establishing rules can help clarify the quality of your own relationship with non-narcissists.