If a member of your family has NPD, it can be useful to know when to stay involved and when to cut ties.
You may be wondering if your relationship with a loved one with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has crossed a line.
Whether it’s a sibling, parent, or another relative, you may find it challenging to deal with conflict — particularly if they exhibit narcissistic traits and behaviors.
If you’re going through this, it’s natural to feel confused and hesitant about what to do next. There are ways to examine the situation closer, establish necessary boundaries, and then decide how to move forward with this relationship.
A family member who lives with NPD may have a difficult time establishing an authentic connection with you.
Even though not everyone with the disorder experiences it in the same way, it’s possible they may have limited empathy and could rely on manipulation tactics. They may also have a grandiose sense of self and believe they should be treated as superior to you or others.
“These traits can be difficult for anyone who comes into contact with them, however much more difficult when it is someone who is supposed to care about you unconditionally and have your back,” explains Sybil Cummin, a licensed professional counselor in Arvada, Colorado.
NPD isn’t a personal choice, though. These behaviors that may hurt you are symptoms of the condition and, in most cases, the person isn’t aware of them or doesn’t have the ability to repair them.
This might make it even more challenging for you. This and other reasons may lead you to consider keeping a distance or going no contact with them.
Here are some specific examples of behaviors that may make you consider limiting contact with a narcissistic relative.
Your needs don’t seem to matter
When you talk about your life, your loved one may tune out or turn the conversation back to themselves. You may feel unsupported, neglected, or emotionally abandoned.
Your boundaries may not be respected
You may have repeatedly expressed your needs, but your relative with NPD doesn’t respect them. You may feel frightened, confused, or dishonored when this happens.
You may feel expressing how you feel or want isn’t enough for them, so distance may seem like the next best solution.
You feel used for your resources
Someone with a narcissistic personality may use manipulation tactics to gain access to your time, money, connections, or other resources.
You may feel used, deceived, or misled in a relationship with a relative who has NPD.
You feel betrayed
You may have been lied to or experienced a smear campaign if your relative with NPD uses vindictive tactics when you don’t follow their requests.
You may feel angry or shocked or have lost other important connections.
You may also notice they tend to play the victim when they need you to do something on their behalf or justify some of their actions. This could also feel confusing to you.
You don’t feel safe
In some cases, some people with NPD may experience a narcissistic collapse. This can sometimes look like rage and lead them to attack those around them.
You may feel terrified, shocked, or hypervigilant when you’re around them.
They’re family and you love them. Maybe you feel you owe it to them to stick around, or you don’t want to affect family dynamics by going no contact. How would holidays and other important dates go if you did?
Wondering about all of this is natural. Going no contact with family can be a tricky decision.
Asking yourself these questions may help:
- How do I really feel around this person?
- Can I limit my interactions with them?
- What are some areas where I can improve my boundaries?
- Would working on my boundaries really help?
- Can I keep on going, knowing they might not change, or will this hurt too much?
In some cases, limited contact — instead of no contact — may be the best option for you. You may even start with limited contact and see how you feel before cutting all ties to your narcissistic family relative.
This may look like:
- setting time limits on your conversations
- being around them only when other people are present
- giving this person money only if they pay you back for the last time
If you feel like you’ve tried everything to no avail, no contact may be the next possibility.
“Going no-contact is the best option when several areas of your life are being destroyed by maintaining your relationship with this person. This may be your physical health, emotional or mental health, financial health, spiritual health, or social health,” says Cummin.
“If your physical safety is in jeopardy, then creating a safety plan and going cold turkey with absolutely no contact is the best option” she advises.
There are several ways you can scale back on communication or eliminate contact with a narcissistic parent or relative. Working a plan with a mental health professional can help you come up with safe tactics.
Grey rock technique
If you decide to take some time before ceasing contact, the grey rock technique can get things started, says Cummin.
“In this method of communication, you are only answering the questions that are essential to answer in the most boring, non-emotional way possible — as interesting as a gray rock,” she says.
This means you don’t engage in arguments or detailed conversations, either.
Strengthen your boundaries
You may find it helpful to identify areas where you can tighten the gate, so to speak.
“This can mean doing things like taking your own car to meet for lunch versus taking one car. You may also do family gatherings at a local restaurant versus right in your kitchen, if that feels safer,” says Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Niantic, Connecticut.
Slowly reduce contact
It may be painful for both of you if you suddenly stop speaking.
“They may feel sadness and loss in the same way as you do,” explains Ziskind.
They may not have the emotional resources to express this grief appropriately, but it doesn’t mean they don’t feel it.
Instead, you may want to try reducing contact slowly and focusing on the good.
“Think about a way that you can feel positive from this relationship. There is usually a small amount of good from every relationship and some positive elements from each person, even if you only contact them once a month by phone,” she says.
Write them a letter
You may find it useful to write a spew letter (that you don’t send) and a closure letter that you do send, outlining how they hurt you and what your needs are moving forward.
Once you’ve sent it, be sure to hold your boundary. This can often be the challenging part, particularly if they insist on contacting you.
What this sounds like
“Our relationship has been negatively impacting my life for a long time. In order to heal, I am no longer available to have communication with you.”
In some cases, boundaries and limited contact may not be enough.
You may need to change your phone number or e-mail address, remove them as connections on your social media network, and let other loved ones know your wishes.
It’s common to hold out some hope that a relationship can get better. That said, you may find it helpful to adjust your expectations.
Low self-awareness is one of the symptoms of NPD, which means the dynamic may be hard to change.
It is possible for them to change, but only if your relative becomes aware, wants to improve their symptoms, and reaches out for professional support.
They can’t do it for you — they have to do it for themselves. You can’t do it for them, either.
You may find it more healing to focus on your own journey while nurturing other connections that can help meet your emotional needs.
By this point, you’ve likely been through a lot. No matter how you’re feeling right now, know that healing is possible.
Sometimes, it’s beneficial to see things from an outsider’s perspective. That’s where therapy comes in.
“It can help you understand how the relationship has impacted you on a deeper level and begin to address some of those emotional scars,” says Erica Cramer, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City.
“Therapy can also allow you to evaluate ways in which you may have enabled this relationship dynamic and things you could have done differently. Therapy is always a great place for introspection, healing, and growth,” she says.
Give yourself time
Loss is loss, even when it’s with someone who was hurting you. Try to be gentle with yourself and allow time and space to process your grief.
You may find it helpful to journal about your feelings, lighten your work schedule, or talk it out with other loved ones.
Cutting off communication with someone is an extreme measure and should be generally used as a last resort, especially when it’s a family member, advises Cramer.
“It is important to try to speak to the person, establish boundaries, and create a relationship that does not negatively impact your life,” she explains.
But if keeping in touch with a relative with NPD is too painful or detrimental, severing ties may be the best solution for your mental health.
Remember, “You are doing it because your sanity, self-esteem, and welfare mean more to you than maintaining a relationship with a narcissistic family member,” she says.