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Some advice from Dr. Ramani Durvasula, who has millions following her YouTube videos and books about narcissism in relationships

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Dr. Ramani Durvasula gives her “Narcissism and Its Discontents” talk at TedxSedona in 2019

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In these holy days of self-reflection, reconciliation, evaluating our relationships, and soul-searching, there is no better time to take a closer look at our interactions with others, to see what we can fix, and just as importantly, see what we cannot.

Some of those relationships may be toxic and it may be time to be more aware of them, and examine them more closely. Dr. Ramani Durvasula seeks to educate people on this topic.

The California-based licensed clinical psychologist seeks to open people’s eyes to the influence of narcissism, that we have all been victims of at some point. Her popular YouTube channel has 350,000-plus subscribers, and hundreds of videos with millions of views in the past year. Her research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institute of Health, and she is a consulting editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

She takes on our modern scourges of entitlement and incivility in her book, “Don’t You Know Who I Am?”: How to Stay Sane in the Era of Narcissism, Entitlement and Incivility. And she is the author of the modern relationship survival manual, Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life.

TheJ.ca was fortunate to be able to speak with Dr. Ramani recently and get her insight.

You appear to be one of a few professionals doing videos on the topic of narcissism. How is it that it has received so little attention until now?

Narcissism is a bit of a third-rail issue in mental health. Most of us do not get adequate training in it, and because it is difficult to measure; it can be ignored. The people doing the research are not the people doing the therapy, so there is a real disconnect.  

Therapy, as it is conducted in the U.S., is very much only about the person in the room, so we are not taught to educate the patient about the issues floating around them. Therapy then becomes less about education, and more about staying focused on behaviours and feelings. At some point, if you can’t just teach them [that] this toxic pattern is in your partner, it’s probably not going to change; it is a very powerful intervention in and of itself.

I think sadly, we have devolved into a culture of enablers – we are strangely willing to give second chances and workarounds for the many difficult people around us, instead of disengaging from them. Stop validating their bad behaviour and do not keep waiting for them to change.

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What are some red flags of narcissism?

Very sensitive, even in the face of a small slight. Contemptuous of other people. Lacks empathy and is dismissive. Becomes defensive when called out on something, rather than taking responsibility. Manipulative. Healthy people get their needs met by communicating directly. Manipulation is an unhealthy way of getting needs met. Narcissists are slick, because they have little regard for others. It’s easy to rob someone if you do not care about them. The lack of empathy imbues them with a painful interpersonal efficiency: they take what they want from others, with little regard for how it affects that other person.

One of your videos talks about “flying monkeys,” hurting people through a public opinion war. It has a Jewish equivalent in “lashon hara” – evil speech. The Torah admonishes against being a “tale-bearer,” and not to “strike your fellow behind their back.” What kinds of coping mechanisms can we employ when faced with this?

Disengagement is the royal road to coping with a narcissist. Defending yourself to a narcissist is a pointless endeavour. The flying monkeys are merely the narcissist’s enablers – and so they may not have the malevolence of the narcissist, but they are blind to the pattern.

Sadly, enabling and narcissism are often the glue of many a toxic family system. So the best path forward is to disengage, and minimally engage with the narcissist, and be your best self.

Answering to the criticisms and accusations of the flying monkeys is to waste energy defending yourself against falsehoods. It is far better to gently say to someone “I don’t want to talk about falsehoods, I know who I am, and I actually think you know who I am too,” and then let it go.

Sadly, narcissists are like poison in a water system; their damaging words can brainwash people, and then radical acceptance means that sometimes you accept that you have lost those people.

“How a Narcissist Is Diagnosed” live therapy session with Dr Ramani

In a video, you caution against granting forgiveness to those who continue being hurtful, or where it might be considered “clear and present danger,” as doing so serves to enable, or sanction, the continuance of these behaviours. Forgiveness, there, devalues the imperative of repentance. What are your “red lines” for forgiveness?

First, before forgiving, give yourself a moment to reflect on this behaviour, and offer forgiveness when you are ready to give up resentment. Forgiveness implies that you have let go of the resentment. If you resent and forgive, it’s not really forgiveness.

Second, once you have forgiven a first time, then monitor. If the person repeats the transgression, then never again. First time, shame on you; second time, shame on me. Forgiveness is a gift, and part of that gift on the part of the receiver is that they change their behaviour in response to the hurt. Narcissists take forgiveness and run with it as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Fitting for these days of teshuva (repentance), it’s important to note that narcissists are notorious for bad apologies, like “sorry you feel that way,” “sorry for any misunderstanding,” “sorry if I may have hurt you,” etc. What else do we need to know about the narcissistic “apology?”

An apology for a narcissist is a way to get a nuisance out of the way, and keep the trains running on time. A true apology means true contrition – recognition of their error, taking responsibility for it, and committing to change. They do not have the empathic capacity or the self-reflective capacity to do this.

We learn when we are four years old how to apologize. If a 74-year-old man is walking around saying he does not know how to, and has to learn – that doesn’t pass the smell test. Apologies require humility. Narcissists lack that.

Asking for apologies is also tough. They tend to flip away these discussions with phrases like, “what’s done is done,” “just move on,” “why can’t you just move past this?,” “get over it.” So now, you’re either faced with being DIMmed – Dismissed, Invalidated, and Minimized – or, you hold their feet to the fire, and then wish you had held your tongue. Is speaking out worth it, knowing it won’t make a difference?

It depends on what helps you sleep at night. All the examples you gave above are examples of gaslighting – a denial of the reality of the other, as well as stonewalling and defensiveness. I love your term DIMmed by the way! They are always deflecting, so they do not need to deal with the emotional demands of intimacy and empathy. The narcissist won’t change.

Silence is not acceptance; it is actually not giving them narcissistic supply, which is strategic. But it does mean you need to find other places in your life to be able to have reciprocal conversations.

Speaking out is a waste of energy, if you don’t think it will result in change. It is not, if it relieves tension for you. Some people don’t want to deal with the gaslighted word salad that is a conversation with a narcissist, so they don’t waste their breath. Some don’t mind the battle, even though they know the narcissist won’t change. Some people believe speaking out on their principles is how they sleep at night.

Dave Gordon is the managing editor of TheJ.ca. His work has appeared in more than a hundred media around the world, including all of the Toronto dailies, BBC, Washington Times, and UK Guardian.

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Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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