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Stop Rescuing the Narcissist

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


Narcissistic people can be very demanding. They can be rude, cruel, abusive, mean, callous and malicious. However, they are not always like that. There are times when narcissists can be very endearing, even pathetic. It's very hard to ignore repeated cries for help, especially when you truly believe that the person cannot do certain things for themselves. But it's the exact wrong thing to do.

This strategy of presenting themselves as a victim can be very successful for pathologically narcissistic people, especially in the short-term. People are drawn to victims. It can feel good to be needed. It can be exciting and intoxicating to save somebody. It can be an ego-boost to be necessary, or to solve someone's problems. It provokes sympathy in people and their desire to help. But this wears thin, and it doesn't usually take all that long because the victim in this situation can never be truly rescued. There is always another emergency, there is always another problem, there is never a real solution. Suggested solutions are generally ignored, dismissed as inadequate, impossible, unfair or even raged against. Often no effort is made on the part of the narcissist at all to better the situation or the circumstance. People get sick of this and give up. This is one of the reasons that many narcissistic people change environments, circles of friends and partners so often.

Narcissistic people need accomplices in their behavior. They need enablers, an enabling environment. Remember that enabling doesn't mean agreeing with someone's behavior. It has nothing to do with whether you approve of someone's behavior or not. It only refers to creating an environment where someone can do toxic, harmful things - either to themselves or others. A person can be an enabler even if they don't agree with or approve of the other person's behavior. For example, if someone knows their spouse is abusing one of the children and they disapprove of this behavior, yet they do nothing to stop it, they are enabling it. People sometimes believe you can't be an enabler if you don't agree with the behavior and we need to be really clear about the fact that this is not true. Some enablers do agree with the behavior of the people they are enabling and defend it, but that is not necessary in order to foster an enabling environment. All that really needs to happen is for people to allow the behavior.

Many times, people find themselves in the role of chronic rescuer - either because they've chosen that role or because it's been thrust upon them. It can seem that nobody needs rescue more than a pathologically narcissistic person. They are often impulsive, self-sabotaging and unable to foresee consequences. They can be extremely gullible and are prone to magical thinking. The combination of these things can lead to dilemmas, problems and downright catastrophes in the lives of narcissistic people. When the consequences for their actions - or inaction - set in, narcissistic people may panic. They may reach out frantically for someone to rescue them from the harsh reality. They may cry, scream, beg, bargain, rage or display any manner of manipulative behavior designed to get the other person to take care of the problem for them.

It's very difficult to ignore these things, especially raging or hysteria. But rescuing the narcissist does not fix the problem. It doesn't even address it. It's the equivalent of patching a hole in a leaking boat while the other passenger just sits there drilling more holes, all the while screaming at you to stop the boat from sinking. It's not possible to protect or rescue someone from their own bad decisions. It can't be done. All that can really be done is that you either enable those bad decisions or you don't.

Upon hearing this, people often ask if it's wrong to help other people. Of course it's not. But when does helping become enabling? It can be a fine line, but the answer is probably that if you really want to help someone, help them to help themselves. If they are not trying to help themselves, then chances are, nothing you do will be helpful anyway. You're just patching holes and eventually, that will not be enough to stop the boat from sinking. The other person needs to learn to stop making the holes in the first place. If they don't, it isn't going to matter what anybody else does.

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It can be hard to leave someone to face the consequences of their own behavior - especially when you know they will have a big problem because of it and will probably try to punish you for it. But it isn't your responsibility to save this person. It isn't your responsibility to solve their problems. It isn't your responsibility to make sure they are never uncomfortable, angry, sad or never have a bad day. It's theirs. If someone is forced to face consequences, there is a chance they will finally learn - at the very least to change their behavior. If they are never required to face consequences and take responsibility for their own lives, that chance becomes zero.

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