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Accepting That You Cannot Help a Narcissist

The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.


People always ask if they can help the narcissistic person in their lives. Narcissistic people can come across as very vulnerable and needy. Even those who are aggressive, angry or unpleasant often still come across as lost little children to some of their loved ones. One way to explain this would be to say that empaths see people the way God sees them. That is to say, empaths see behind the facades and the flaws, to who a person truly is.

It is very difficult, and even hurtful to watch someone make a mess out of their lives, sabotage themselves or push all their loved ones away. It becomes even more difficult when you can see the solution to the problems but cannot get the person to understand or believe you. When you add to that the sad fact that you will likely be abused and mistreated simply for trying to help, it's easy to see why relationships of any kind with pathologically narcissistic people have the reputation that they have. People are often motivated by the fact that the solution seems so obvious to them, and there are times when the narcissistic person becomes vulnerable and seems to listen and understand. However, it does not last. Soon, the narcissistic person regains some of their emotional footing and the denial, projection and deflection are back in place as strong as ever.

This is very frustrating for people, if for no other reason than that they are left with the constant feeling that their time was wasted. They often realize that any ground they believe they've gained in the battle to 'save' the narcissist or the relationship has been lost and that their efforts are not going to be rewarded in any way. Rather than accepting that they cannot help, many people redouble their efforts and the entire relationship becomes about saving the narcissistic person from themselves. This type of entanglement becomes very toxic very quickly, with people ignoring their own needs or well-being in their attempts to salvage the relationship and the narcissist.

The problem with this is that you can't control other people. You cannot make them listen, you cannot make them understand and you cannot make them care. You can explain and demonstrate and lecture and teach all day long but if someone is not listening, if they do not understand or they don't care, there is nothing you can do. You can only give someone the tools. You cannot make them use the tools or do the job for them. They have to do it themselves and for narcissistic people, the job requires them to face some really unpleasant things, things they've spent their entire lives trying to deny and avoid. This is not something they want to do - at all. It's difficult, it's painful and it's exactly what their dysfunction has evolved to prevent.

Narcissism is, at its core, a network of defense mechanisms. Projection, blame-shifting, denial, re-framing events, the false self, manipulation, attacking others, being controlling... these are all defense mechanisms designed to keep the pathologically narcissistic person from having to face things that are painful or difficult about themselves. This usually has to do with delusional negative beliefs that they have about themselves, often due to abusive or neglectful experiences they had when they were children. These things were too difficult for the young narcissistic person to understand or resolve in their minds and they have generally not been processed emotionally by the narcissist thus far, so they've been denied and avoided for so long that they've been built up to monstrous proportions and are now too hard to deal with. They will generally do anything to avoid this, and anything which reminds them even momentarily of any of these things will be reacted to with rage.

This is of course often very obvious to those around them, and many well-meaning people will attempt to help the narcissist with their repressed pain. The problem is, they don't want help. Some will talk all day long about how much of a victim they are, and you might even hear them say they hate themselves, but if you attempt to suggest that they may not need these defense mechanisms, that they should take responsibility because that can empower them or that their survival-at-all-costs mindset is outdated since they aren't actually in that childhood situation anymore, there is probably going to be a problem. They've worked very hard to create an existence where they can survive and they are not going to let anyone ruin it. It works for them and that's all they care about. If you really loved them, you'd accept the abuse they give out without question and stop trying to make them into somebody they're not.

You can burn yourself out very quickly trying to help a pathologically narcissistic person. It's exhausting and is almost always pointless. They don't want help. They want to be enabled, and if you are not going to do that, you are going to be met with resistance. To the narcissistic person, the only way they can be helped is to be given what they want when they want it and never asked for anything. Being asked to give is threatening and even insulting to narcissistic people a lot of the time. They feel they've done enough, and they don't really think it's fair that you are asking them for something when they have things they need to do for themselves. As far as they are concerned, you are the narcissist because you are refusing to focus exclusively on their needs. If you really loved them, you would.

The pathologically narcissistic person's idea of love is completely one-sided. All the giving is the other person's responsibility. If you can truly understand this, you will be able to understand why trying to help them is futile. They don't want help or see why they need to change. As far as they are concerned, you're the one who is doing it wrong. You're the selfish one. You're the one with the problem. It's true that inside this person you may see a lost or vulnerable child who needs love and guidance, but that child is not reachable. Not by you. Probably not even by the narcissist.

He or she has been denied so long they are a ghost of what they ever could have been. It's a shame, but one of the biggest lessons you can learn from narcissists is that there are times when you just can't help. You have to figure out how to accept that and move on. Not doing so only frustrates everyone involved. Just because you see a problem doesn't mean it's your responsibility to fix it. Sometimes it's not your problem. Everyone is on their own journey. You can recognize something without being required to do anything. You have to learn that sometimes you must observe without acting, because sometimes there's nothing you can do.

If a person does not want to help themselves, there is nothing anyone else can do. Again, you cannot control other people. You cannot make them listen, you cannot make them understand and you cannot make them care. This is a hard lesson, but it's necessary for everyone to learn. Otherwise you could spend your entire life pouring effort into someone who cannot benefit from it, when there are others you could help who are ready. If your purpose is to help, don't waste time on someone who isn't ready. Narcissistic people are not ready, and they may never be. As much as you'd like to, there is nothing you can do about this. Remember that empaths may see narcissists as God sees them, but you aren't God. God can heal them. You can't.