How do you stop reacting to the provocations of borderlines, histrionics, narcissists and psychopaths? Before we can understand how to break the cycle, we must first understand why narcissists such as histrionics, borderlines, narcissistic personality disordered people and psychopaths try to provoke others in the first place. There are a few reasons.
They are bored. That sounds like a lame reason but these types of people don't experience boredom the way the rest of us do. Boredom is experienced by them as incredibly oppressive, even crushing or scary and they will do anything to escape it. If that means they have to provoke a fight with you, they will do so with no problem. It is more important that they feel better than it is to respect or care about your feelings. That is of course, the main theme when dealing with narcissists in general. When it comes down to choosing between you and themselves, they will always choose themselves. Attached to this reason is the fact that many of these types of people have impulse control problems and a complete lack of respect for others, which leads to whatever they think just coming out of their mouths. This leads to constant arguments and problems with other people.
They are hypersensitive to real or imagined criticism, so many times they don't actually feel they are provoking the incident. They feel that you have done something to them and they are defending themselves. This leads to circular arguments that consist of a "No I didn't/yes you did" type of dynamic where the bewildered partner spends hours trying to explain to the narcissist that the narcissist has misunderstood or is mistaken. Nothing can ever be solved because they insist that you have "bad intentions" or dastardly motives and you cannot prove that you didn't. Who could? There is no reasoning with this. What they feel is how it is. They feel you had a nasty motive, so it becomes a fact that you did and you will be punished for that. It doesn't matter how much proof there is to the contrary. It will be ignored or twisted against you because the truth is, they don't want to believe you anyway. These people fit the facts to their feelings, rather than their feelings to the facts. They want to be the victim because it's the only way they can escape the feeling that they are so horrible. If a person is a victim, they cannot also be the bad guy. This is also why they will never admit that they are abusing the other person. If they admit the other person is a victim, then it means the narcissist is the bad guy. That is intolerable for them. So they automatically interpret everything as something bad against them, therefore they are always the victim and never the bad guy.
Narcissists like provoking the emotions of others. They believe it means others care, in one way or another. They truly do not care whether they are given negative attention or positive, as long as they are getting it. If they cannot be the best, they will be the worst. If they cannot make you love them (which they think they cannot do, regardless of how much you tell them you DO love them), then they will make you hate them. At least then, they are still important. They matter. You care. You are reacting. You are feeding their ego, which demands itself to be recognized. Narcissists are psychic vampires so this is very, very important to them and however far they have to take it to get to this, that is how far it will go.
They are sick, miserable disordered people who need to lash out. This is perhaps the saddest and most awful of all reasons that narcissists provoke others. They hate you, they hate themselves, they hate everything and they just can't hold it in anymore. The world is not fair. They were given a disorder that they did not ask for, they are miserable and unhappy and afraid and angry and it's not fair that everyone else gets to be happy when they don't. So they actively try to ruin things for others. It makes them feel better. Maybe they are not happy, but now neither is anybody else. This makes them feel powerful and less vulnerable. It's like a drug for them. They are literally addicted to your pain. It's the only thing that makes them feel better.
So how do you stop reacting to this constant onslaught of emotional extortion, provocation, hysteria and blows below the belt? Well, you just stop. That's it. It's harder than it sounds, but easier than you think. You see, part of the reason that people react the way they do in situations is because it is what we are used to doing, and especially in high-emotion or dramatic situations (as there always are with these types of people), your body starts to think this is how it is supposed to function all the time. However, the good news is that the body was trained into that and it can be trained out of it the same way. It's about making different choices. That is what you have to focus on here: your choices. You cannot control your narcissistic loved one or coworker. They can't even control themselves. You can only control yourself and that is what you have to do. Just stop reacting.
It goes in steps. First, you control the behavior. If your reaction is to start yelling, stop yelling. If your reaction is to start crying, stop crying. If your reaction is to call names or insult the narcissist back, stop doing that. You will feel the reaction in you, and it will want to come out. Your body is trying to do what it has always been doing. But you are in control - unlike the narcissist. The narcissist does not control your reactions. You do. Take a deep breath and tell yourself, "I am not going to react. That is what the narcissist wants and I am not going to give it to them." This really does work. Ignore the provocation by not responding at all if you can and if you can't, such as you are having a necessary communication with the narcissist, simply assert your point or answer the question and nothing else. Don't acknowledge the insult or the guilt trip. Just let it go. If you cannot stop yourself from having a reaction, leave the room. They are trying to control and manipulate your feelings, but it can only work if you let it work. They have no power that you did not give them. You can take the power back and reclaim control over your life, your mind and your emotions. This is how you start.
After you have consistently stopped reacting, you will notice the narcissist ramps up the abuse and the provocation, trying harder to upset you and get you to react. Just keep ignoring it. After you've done this for a length of time, you will notice that your body and mind no longer respond the way they used to. You won't feel the reaction anymore. This is where you want to be. If you crack occasionally, don't beat yourself up. These people are masters at manipulation. The important thing is to react less and less until you don't react at all. And remember: it does not mean you don't care. It means that you are asserting control over your own life, your own mind and your own emotions the way that healthy people are supposed to do. This is not wrong for you to do, it's right and it has nothing to do with how much you care about the narcissist. For once, it's not about them. It's about you. You don't have to apologize for this and you don't have to explain yourself.
linda labauve on July 02, 2019:
Hello, Very interesting. The only problem I have, is that it is my adult son and he has taken our grandchildren from us for "no good reason" in our minds. or No reason at all. Any suggestions in this instance?
Brownqty on July 19, 2018:
Sometimes I don't think they realize that their behaviors are that bad or that's what they want you to believe.
Jesse on March 29, 2018:
I've been practising this with my husband. I'm less & less tied to his emotions when he's trying to get a reaction, or would try to have me feel bad for different things that are so strange. Once I left my diesel truck plugged in for 2 days, I had originally planned to go to town but my plans fell through and I forgot to unplug the truck. He actually asked me if I felt bad for that, and my response was "no not at all." To which he said I was acting ungrateful because he pays the bills. I had my own business 13 years, then he got promoted and we had to move three times. Not only that but he tells me we can't afford a babysitter when we totally could so I am a stay-at-home mom now working part time. I have learned that you really have to be careful who you put your trust in.
As of late he treated me rude; it was something we'd talked about so many times but he did the behavior again. I stood up & left the room; I didn't ask for him to fix the situation, I left. You get to a point where you start making the first move and stop relying so heavily on them.
Only then did he pop up & try to resolve things, "Honey I want to talk!" but I'd seen enough & kindly told him, no thanks, I'm going to bed. The next morning he was all over me asking to talk about the previous night. I told him I was going to shower, so he says, "I want to talk tonight." Then left for work.
Normally I'd be all for this, oh wow he wants to work it out! But all I heard is what HE wanted in that statement, he claims that he will be more respectful yet he doesn't ask if I would like to talk. Even when he's almost fooled me there is still a slight hint that everything is still about him. Look out for those signs. I had never agreed to talk to him and I didn't want to so I took my little boy out for dessert & a movie. This is something I NEVER DO bc I'm always shamed for doing something without him or for not asking permission. Slowly that is something I'm working on as well, being much more busy on the days he is off.
When we got home my husband didn't even come yell at me, he didn't get out if bed. The next morning he was asking for an explanation. I didn't give him one. I've realized how stupid that is, I don't need to explain myself I'm an adult & full time mom. That is another red flag for me, when you go out and have fun and someone wants you to explain yourself instead of being happy that you had fun.
My husband constantly tries to rush into affection to get me to care about him so as of late I haven't even been giving him hugs. I am sick of the up and down rollercoaster of our marriage. I should be able to trust what my husband tells me and instead I question every word.
Lisa on March 08, 2018:
I have never felt so relieved until I read this article. I will now take control of it and not the other way round. to educate us as many up there are victimised some way or other without knowing it.
A million, trillion thanks to the all that post these articles & background crews in charge to make this website happen! Cheers