Self-Care In The Time Of Coronavirus

self-care in the time of coronavirus

With social distancing serving as the new catchphrase and entire countries under quarantine, I think I speak for us all when I say, “I’ve had my three month free trial of 2020, and I’d like to return it now.”

This sucks. This completely sucks, and what sucks even more than people dying in droves is the number of people who blatantly disregard orders to stay at home. I get it. You’re bored. You want to go see a movie or go to Sephora. So do I. But you know what I want more than that? For my mom, who is battling cancer, to stay alive. I want people like me, who have shitty immune systems, to stay alive. My mom has lung cancer. I have scarred lungs from Swine Flu. If you need to put a human face to the tragedy to make it real for you, I’m begging you: please don’t kill my mom. Please don’t kill me.

Most of us are stuck between “this is the perfect time for me to get my shit together” and “this is a time of crisis, so I don’t have to do shit.” As kids today say, big mood. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to create a lasting work of art while in isolation because that’s what Shakespeare did during the plague. What you have to do — for your family as well as yourself — is to take care of yourself.

Mental health matters, perhaps now more than ever. Associate Professor Solveig Merete Klæbo Reitan of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology says there’s a direct link between mental health and immune health: “We know that people with mental disorders are also more susceptible to various inflammations in the body and to immune system disorders. This indicates that an interaction exists.”

“But I don’t have a mental disorder!” Stress may not be a psychiatric illness, but it is a form of disordered thinking. I don’t mean basic stress like, “Oh, shit, I’m stuck in traffic. I’ll be late to my meeting.” That happens to everyone. It’s unsettling, but true stress can be defined as the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable. And, right now, that’s happening to a lot of us, too. This is a frightening thing the likes of which many of us have never faced before. It’s overwhelming, and some of us are having trouble coping. What we need right now are ways to help us cope, and I’ve put together a list of my favorites self-care tips.

self-care during covid-19

1.) Break the cycle: Doing your research is great. Taking precautions is smart. But if you find yourself obsessively refreshing the COVID-19 map, it’s time to ask yourself, “Have I been here today? Is there any reason to revisit this page right now? Is it worth the anxiety it will cause me?” Stopping the thoughts that lead to panic in their tracks is often easier said than done, but give it a try. When you find yourself going down that road, stop, thank your anxiety for trying to protect you, and think of something else.

2.) Be your own best friend: Yes, really. Would you tell your best friend her skin looks like shit? Or point out that she’s too fat to wear those jeans? Of course not! So why are you looking in the mirror and saying it to yourself? Your internal monologue is so important. Just like being insulted by others impacts our self-esteem, insulting ourselves does the same thing. Stop it. Just stop. You are enough just the way you are. If you’re worried about your skin, FaceTime a dermatologist. If your health is suffering because of your weight, then research meal plans you can stick to. Never do anything because society tells you it’s expected of you. Do it for yourself, and support yourself along the way.

3.) Marie Kondo the shit out of your house: A study conducted by Ghent University states there is a connection between materialism and depression, and Rik Pieters of Tilburg University found a direct link between materialism and increasing loneliness over time. When you’re bored and want to feel productive, get in your closet and clear out things you don’t wear anymore. Hanging onto those skinny jeans you’ve had since college in the hope of fitting into them again isn’t helping. If you find yourself back in the same size you wore during college, buy a new pair of jeans to celebrate, and get rid of an old pair to make room. You don’t need a bunch of shit to prove how successful you are. Your happiness is the true measure of success, not the amount of clutter in your home.

4.) Stop kicking your own ass: I’m sure it’s not just me — the first week of this pandemic was like stepping into a time machine. I found myself reviewing every mistake I’ve ever made under a microscope. “Why didn’t I think I was smart enough to go to med school? I could be saving lives right now!” and “I hope my ex knows how incredibly sorry I am; I’d take it back it I could,” and “I hope my idiot ex is having fun in jail; that’s what you get for dealing drugs, scumbag! Why did I even like you?” Stop. Cut it out. Unless the Doctor shows up in the TARDIS and announces that lawlessness briefly applies to time-space, and you can go back in time and change one thing in your past, or you manage to nick the Time Stone from Thanos, what’s done is done. You can’t change it, so stop dwelling on it.

self-care during coronapocalypse

5.) Invest in yourself: Take an online class. Teach yourself to paint — Bob Ross will teach you from the great beyond thanks to his eternal YouTube channel. Learn to play piano. Start baking! (I have several delicious vegan recipes up on my Instagram, and I promise you’ll love them all.) Now is the perfect time to learn something new. Not only will it engage your brain so you have less time for those it’s-the-zombie-apocalypse-for-real thoughts that have been plaguing us all, but you’ll walk away feeling more confident in yourself.

6.) Stop shit-talking yourself: Yeah, okay, I’ll admit it. Looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m awesome!” does feel incredibly silly. But here’s the thing: it works. A 2014 study in the Annual Review of Psychology found that daily affirmations improve your mental health and boost your self-esteem. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme or cheesy. Start small. Just look in the mirror, paraphrase “Desiderata,” and say, “I am a child of the universe, and I have a right to be here.” Or, if you’re the go-big-or-go-home type, sing “Born This Way” at the top of your lungs into your hairbrush. I won’t judge. (And, let’s be real, it totally beats singing “Bye, Corona” to the tune of “My Sharona” or “COVID-19” to the tune of “Come On, Eileen.”)

7.) Laugh your ass off: If you’ve never watched The Golden Girls, here’s your chance. You will laugh. A lot. “Laughter is the best medicine” is a cliché for a reason, and don’t just take my word for it. According to the Journal of Neuroscience, it releases endorphins, a natural mood-booster.

8.) Treat yourself to an at-home spa day: If you’re working from home and don’t need to show your face during a Zoom meeting, slather yourself in your favorite mud mask and coat your hair in coconut oil. Or maybe your boss is super cool and wears a mud mask, too. Have a Shrek party where you’re all painted up green!

self-care during quarantine

9.) Become a beauty guru: All you need is creativity, YouTube tutorials, and makeup. Always wanted to perfect your winged liner? Practice makes perfect, and this is the time to practice. Pull out your favorite red lipstick and slap it on to grab your mail. Is it a major thing? No, not really. It’s not even beneficial to your skin like a mask is, but if playing around with your makeup makes you feel better, then go for it!

10.) Stay active: You don’t need an in-home gym to do this. Do some crunches. Use soup cans as weights. Dance in your living room. Like laughter, exercise releases endorphins, so you’ll feel better in the long run. I’m not promoting it as a cure-all. Exercising won’t cure your depression or fix your love life, but it’s all about achievable goals. You won’t develop a six-pack in a month, but you can start developing the habit of working out that may one day lead to one.

How do you practice self-care? Sound off in the comments. Let’s give each other ideas! Stay safe, stay home, and stop hoarding toilet paper.

6 Types Of Friends You Don’t Need

six types of friends to avoid

Friendships are vitally important for our happiness; everybody knows that. The exploration of close friendships has been integral to the success of pop culture hits that run the gamut from the obviously-titled Friends to Marvel’s sprawling Avengers franchise. A University of Michigan study found that friends, not family, help you to live a longer, happier life. And this is especially true for women. One study found that over half of the women interviewed valued their relationship with their best friend more than their relationship with their husband.

In school, popularity is defined by how many friends you have. If everybody loves you, then you’re one of the elite few who can claim they’re one of The Cool Kids. As adults, research shows the number of close friendships we actually need might be a lot smaller than our high school days led us to believe.

The aforementioned study found that those who reported maximum happiness had between 4-5 close friendships, with those who had 2-3 coming right behind them on the satisfaction scale. Don’t worry if you only have one close friend. You’re still 50 percent happier than those who report having only acquaintances.

So if we don’t need that many close friends, we can afford to be a little picky about who we let into our inner circle.

First, let’s differentiate the various types of friendships. According to Aristotle, there are really only three types of friendships:

1.) Friendships of utility: These are the people you chat with at work but don’t really know, that one mom you share carpool duties with but aren’t close to, the mechanic who fixes your car without charging you an arm and a leg. These friendships serve a function. They keep the workplace civilized, help to lessen the daily work load, and fuel business transactions.

2.) Friendships of pleasure: This is that guy or girl you like to hook up with when you’re between relationships, your workout partner, or a group of buddies you only really hang out with during football season. You come together for mutual enjoyment, and you share at least one common interest, but you wouldn’t call them at 2 in the morning ugly-crying because you just got mugged. Or possibly need bail money.

3.) Friendships of virtue: The tried and true friends. These are the ones you can call at 2 am for any reason, because they know if you’re calling them at the crack of why-are-you-awake, something is horribly wrong. They’re the ones who know the real story behind why you have a tattoo of Pikachu dancing the Harlem Shake. (I don’t have that tattoo, but wouldn’t it be amazingly bad?)

avoid constant negativity

Now that we have a better understanding of the three main types of friendships, we can delve into the nitty gritty the six types of friends you don’t need to count as one of your close friends. And, more importantly, why.

1.) The Soap Opera Star: You know the type. Everything is always about her. She always has to one-up everyone around her. When you get a new car, she gets a better, more expensive car. When one of your friends gets pregnant, she announces she’s going to have IVF so she stands a higher chance of having twins. When you have a cold, she suddenly has the worst case of the flu, and would you please bring her some chicken soup? And on and on it goes.

Not only is it catty and immature, but it’s given you heartburn and a new gray streak in your hair because the non-stop competition is driving you crazy. If she’s really fun to go clubbing with, knock her down from the inner circle to a friend you see once in a blue moon. Who knows? Maybe she’ll realize her friends are distancing themselves and ask herself why. It’s unlikely because these people tend to be shallow and self-absorbed, but anything is possible. But until that day, keep her at a distance.

avoid gossips

2.) The Gossip Girl: You’re having a bad day. Something truly horrendous is going on, and you have to tell someone. You swear her to secrecy on pain of death, and she promises to never tell a soul. And yet… the next morning, you have 17 texts, 8 voice mails, and 5 messages on Instagram, all asking what the hell happened, and are you okay? Wait, what?! You will never make the mistake of trusting her again. Hopefully.

The good news is that gossips are easy enough to spot in advance. You know the type. “Don’t ever tell her I told you, but Sarah is leaving Steve!” If she’s telling you Sarah’s business, don’t you think she’s going to tell someone yours? Exactly. Cut this one out of your life. Even if she’s fun. Even if she’s “so sweet.” Because she is going to talk about you, and if you don’t give her anything to talk about, she might just make something up.

3.) The Reverse Cheerleader: You have a new job, and you’re super excited. You can’t believe something this amazing has happened to you. All your other friends congratulate you, ask you how you like the job, and are genuinely supportive. What you get from her? A grudging, “Hey, that’s great. I’m happy for you,” and then mutinous silence any time the topic of work comes up. You can feel the resentment pouring off of her in waves. Mention anything wrong in your life, and she’s glad to lend an ear. Mention anything good, and she becomes distant and cold.

This is a huge red flag. Friendship is reciprocal. When times are tough, we meet in a place of genuine empathy and do our best to help each other get through it. When things are going well, we celebrate each other’s successes as if they were our own. Someone who is spiteful and envious is not your friend. It’s okay to think, “Wow, Annie’s career has really taken off. I wish mine was going so well.” But if the thought is more along the lines of, “Why does Annie always get the best breaks? It’s not fair! It should be me!” Then we’ve crossed the line into resentment territory, and this type of person will gladly stab you in the back if it means they get ahead. Especially if it’s instead of you.

avoid disrespectful friends

4.) The Debbie Downer: Nothing is ever good. Nothing. The emphasis is always on the worst aspect of every situation. They had a date and saw a movie, but the popcorn was stale, the soda was flat, and they ran out of gas on the way home. They have a great new job with a corner office, but the windows make it so drafty. Their kid made straight A’s, but can you believe that loser didn’t make the football team? If you bake them a pie, the crust was a little soggy, but, no, don’t worry, it still tasted okay. When you buy them a birthday present, the color isn’t really them, but thanks for the thought! Every single thing is tinged with negativity.

I am 100% against toxic positivity. You know those girls posting “no negative vibes ever” on Instagram who unfollow you because you complained when you broke your leg? The ones who refuse to watch the news because they can’t handle seeing anything distressing? Yeah, refusing to acknowledge a problem only causes it to fester. It isn’t possible to always be a little ray of sunshine. But constant negativity will kill you. This one is tricky, because some people have depression, or they could be going through a divorce or another traumatic event. I don’t subscribe to toxic positivity’s “cancel culture,” which says it’s totally okay to ditch someone for “lowering your frequency.” But you have to remember that, according to science, negativity is contagious. Vaccinate yourself. Take steps to back away from “co-brooding,” where you both sit there bitching about everything, and start to “co-reflect” instead. Understand the problem. See how you can improve it. Then move on to another topic.

5.) The Frosted Flake: They’re going to meet you in a half hour, but they suddenly text saying something came up. It’s okay. It happens. You’ll meet up next week instead, but then something else comes up. They miss your birthday party because they have a work deadline, but you see pictures of them out clubbing all over Facebook. You always go shopping together on Black Friday, but… sorry, she’s going with her mom this year. (Spoiler alert: She’s probably just ditching you again.)

This is the type of friend you can cut out of you inner circle with relative ease simply because… you rarely ever see them anyway. Maybe have a chat with them and let them know you miss spending time with them. Maybe they didn’t realize how much they were ditching you. Or maybe they’ll ghost altogether. You never know. Whether they have a new bestie, a new partner, or you’ve just grown apart, you’ll be much happier when you stop setting yourself up for a sad evening spent on the couch watching Netflix because your plans fell through… again. Take a pottery class and make friends with someone who is dedicated enough to show up every week and get her hands dirty instead of moping over someone who won’t make time for you.

6.) The Asshole: This one should be self-evident, but you would not believe the number of people who are friends with assholes and wonder why they always feel like shit after spending time with their “best friend.” You’re a devout Catholic, and your Atheist friend always jokes about you talking to “Sky Man.” Or maybe you’re an Atheist, and your very Christian friend always tells you she “hopes you’ll accept Jesus into your heart.” Maybe your only goal in life is to be a mother of two, and your friend won’t shut up about how much they loathe children and won’t spend any time around yours. Maybe you don’t want kids, and your friend keeps telling you you’re not really a woman until you have a baby; it’s what you were born to do, and you’ll never know real love until you hold your baby; you’ll change your mind, you know.

I get it! Their beliefs — or lack thereof — are what they find comforting. Their values are what helped them to create a sense of self. They want their friends to experience the same level of joy they feel when they pray or meditate or read Dawkins. They love their children beyond reason and want you to feel the warm, fuzzy feelings they do when they look in on little Timmy sleeping at night. But when they know you have different beliefs and keep trying to help you “see the light,” they’re not actually helping. They’re just being an asshole. Sometimes you can get through to these people, but when they’re fanatical about it and determined to make you see how wrong you are, then they’re being disrespectful of your core beliefs and values. And that is not okay. That’s when it’s time to walk away.

avoid toxic positivity

Breaking up with a friend is never easy. You’ll even miss the flakes and the assholes, but it can be done, and sometimes it’s in your best interest to inventory the people you’ve invited into your heart and evaluate whether or not they’ve earned the right to be there.

Or maybe you were reading this list and said to yourself, “Oh, my God… I’m a Frosted Flake! I have to call Kelsey and apologize!” If you recognize yourself as one of the “toxic” friends and want to improve your friendships, take steps to correct your behaviors.

Confession time: I was the Asshole type. I went through a Militant Atheist Phase™ in college and would aggressively mock anyone who believed in a higher power. Bonus points if I could upset them by pointing out inaccuracies in the Bible. I am so fortunate that I didn’t lose any close friends because of it, but it did cause upset in my family. (I’ve got Irish priests and nuns in the family! Yikes!)

But I grew up. I calmed down. I became more open-minded and less adamant that anyone who disagreed with me was stupid. I’m no longer an Atheist, nor am I a Christian, but I consider myself spiritual. That doesn’t mean I think all Atheists should “see the light.” I don’t want them to. I don’t want anyone to believe in something that doesn’t resonate with them. What I want is for us all to be a little kinder. I want us all to be healthier and happier.

I don’t want someone in my face calling me a dumbass for not being an Atheist any more than I want them attempting to run my life based on their religious beliefs. I didn’t want to deal with assholes, so I stopped being one. And it helped. I am by no means claiming to be a perfect friend, but I care. I make an effort to be supportive and positive. My friends know that if they tell me something in confidence, they won’t be bombarded with texts asking what’s up. They know if I say I’ll be there at 8, barring a major emergency, I’ll be there. I don’t take them for granted, but I’ll never be perfect. No one is. We can only be better than we were.

So take a look at your friends, and then take a look in the mirror. We can improve our lives by removing toxic influences, whether they’re “friends” or internal traits.

Think of it as kind of like The Breakfast Club:

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

We can all be a bit of a soap opera star, a gossip girl, a reverse cheerleader, a Debbie downer, a frosted flake, and an asshole. For the most part, don’t hang out with these people. And don’t be one.

Be honest… Have you ever been one of these types of friends? Are you now? Drop me a line in the comments or send a DM on Instagram.

The Emotional Ramifications Of Being Hacked

A couple of days ago, at a little after six in the morning, I received an alert from Instagram, so I logged in to see what the problem was. My account — which had almost 1,000 posts — was down to 400. I used to follow roughly 1,800 people, and I was suddenly following over 3,000.

Something was horribly wrong.

I contacted Instagram right away. While I was waiting anxiously for a response, I took stock of the damage. All my most liked, most commented-on posts were gone. Okay, I thought. That sucks, and my engagement will go down.

But it was worse than that. So much worse.

Pictures of my cats had been deleted, and not just the happy, healthy babies sleeping beside me as I type this. The hacker targeted pictures of my cats who’d passed away. It was deliberate. It was brutal. It was malicious.

I sobbed my eyes out. I felt violated. I’m not a big-name blogger by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers or a makeup line. Why would someone do this? Why would someone single me out?

What had I done to make someone I’ve never met hate me this much?

Long story short: the people I spoke with went above and beyond the call to help me. I recovered all but 100 of my photos, I’m slowly unfollowing the numerous spam accounts my hacker followed, and I will forever be grateful to the wonderful people at Instagram for their help.

But what happens now?

The feelings of uneasiness remain. I double and triple-check to make sure any important photos or videos have been backed up. Every time an alert for a comment comes up, I feel a sense of dread.

Is it the hacker? Do they want to taunt me? Will they try again?

The emotional ramifications of being hacked don’t vanish overnight. You don’t recover a sense of normalcy along with your data. A 2010 report by internet security giant Norton says that hacking victims feel powerless, angry, and even cheated because they know the perpetrator will likely go unpunished.

Australia and the UK offer emotional support for cyber crime victims, but similar support is sadly lacking here in the United States. Instead of a helpful page telling me where to go, all I could find was an online directory of support groups. After doing a little digging, I came to a disheartening (though not altogether surprising) conclusion: no nationwide support group exists for cyber crime victims in America.

What are we supposed to do in the meantime? Do we suck it up and say, “Well, could’ve been worse?”

It could have been worse. I realize how lucky I am that it wasn’t a case of identity theft or a bank account hack. Everything is okay.

But I don’t feel okay.

That will take time. I’m always going to wonder who did it. Why they did it. Who hates me that much? It’s a disconcerting thought, and it’s not one I want to let myself dwell on for too long.

So, what should you do after you’ve reported your social media account as hacked?

1.) Reach out to someone. It could be your mom, your therapist, your spiritual advisor, or your best friend. You don’t have to go through it alone.

2.) Take some “me” time. Reread a favorite book. Watch your favorite movie. Go grab a coffee and sit in the park.

3.) Realize that it’s not your fault. There are a lot of jerks in the world. It’s a fact of life. It speaks volumes about their character and says nothing about yours.

4.) Take steps to protect yourself. Create a tough password and change it frequently. Never use the same password for more than one website. Update your antivirus program. Doing little things to safeguard your data can make you feel empowered.

5.) Reach out to others. Search the hashtags on Instagram. Ask around on Facebook. Being hacked is a frighteningly common occurrence these days, and we can support each other.

Drop me a message if you’ve ever been hacked. You can find me on Instagram, Collide, and now on Facebook!

10 Things To Make You Smile

I had a panic attack today.

Nothing specific to the moment prompted it. I was drinking a dark chocolate and coconut latte contemplating what I wanted for lunch, and despair hit me like a wave.

As bloggers or social media influencers or weirdos screaming into the void, whatever we are, we talk a lot about products we’ve tried, restaurants we’ve loved, and movies we’ve seen, but we don’t always talk about the unpleasant things we all face.

Sometimes we have panic attacks. Sometimes we wake up grumpy, and nothing goes according to plan. Sometimes we feel hopeless about the future even though things seem to be going perfectly. That’s natural. It’s normal. You aren’t a freak for feeling this way.

We, the human race, have been through a lot recently. I’ve personally been through a lot recently, and I’m sure the same is true for a lot of you. So I’m placing several posts I’m writing on the back burner to say this: you aren’t alone. Someone, somewhere, feels the way you feel right now. Maybe it’s even me.

Sometimes we need to stop and reflect on the good things out there so the bad things don’t overwhelm us. It’s not the same as ignoring what’s happening in the world; it’s a form of self-care, and it’s vitally important.

Let’s all take a break and enjoy the good in the world. Think of it as spring-cleaning for the soul.

We all live under this sky. All of us.
Is there anything cuter than a sleepy kitty?
Or a basket of puppies?
Look at this view. This is real, not Photoshop.
Nourishing your body nourishes your soul.
There are so many good people in the world, and we are all part of that global community. How can you make it better?
Human beings just like us built this city from rock and metal.
There are so many gorgeous places just waiting for you to visit them.
We live in a world filled with gorgeous plants like this one.
Don’t worry about the future right now. Take a deep breath and enjoy the present.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. 😉

Life, Interrupted: Dealing with a Narcissistic Family Member

dealing with a narcissist is like playing chess

Diet Narcissists have become the comic relief figures of pop culture.

No, not Narcissists obsessed with dieting. I mean the lightweights. The ones people call Narcissists when what they really mean is that they’re laughably vain.

For example, in Mean Girls, Regina George asks, “Why are you so obsessed with me?” and everyone laughs, but she’s become a better person by the end of the film. Blanche Devereaux’s vanity is often used as an amusing plot device on The Golden Girls, yet her devotion to her friends and family always shines through. And who can forget the Designing Women episode where former beauty queen Suzanne Sugarbaker receives an award for “most changed,” acknowledges that it was intended as a dig due to her weight gain, and then states she will cherish the award because she is a changed woman at heart?

But in the real world, dealing with a Narcissist — a real Narcissist — is hardly a barrel of laughs.

It’s exhausting and heartbreaking and isolating.

living with a narcissist makes you feel isolated

So how do we navigate the treacherous waters of dealing with a Narcissist? What is a Narcissist, anyway?

According to the Mayo Clinic, those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office

When the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the DSM-5) eliminated Narcissistic Personality Disorder in 2013, it did so in the face of heavy criticism. World-renowned Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Gunderson called the decision “unenlightened” and claimed, “They have little appreciation for the damage they could be doing.”

I’ll come right out and say it: if you’ve stumbled upon this blog desperately trying to find a way to deal with a volatile family member, I’m sorry for what you’re going through. And I will not apologize for being sorry. Sometimes I think we focus so much on wanting to help people who have mental illnesses — as well we should in many cases — that we discount the painful fact that not everyone who has a mental illness wants help.

Some people enjoy being able to inflict pain on others only to fall back on the feel-sorry-for-me-I’m-sick routine when it suits them. That’s the kind of person I’m talking about here. Not someone who may lash out and later feel horrified by it. Not someone who realizes they have a problem and seeks help.

I’m sorry to those of you who feel like you’ve been silenced by polite society’s overwhelming desire to coddle — or make excuses for — Narcissists instead of helping people who’ve been hurt by them.

what to do when you have a narcissistic family member

Now that we have the textbook definition of what we’re dealing with, we can delve into how to actually, you know, deal. The first step is understanding what makes them tick.

A vitally important thing to remember about dealing with Narcissists is that they are extremely predictable. When a certain set of behaviors earns them the drama and attention they crave with minimal (or zero) repercussions, they will repeat said behaviors over and over and over ad nauseum.

Why? In addition to never having to face the consequences of their actions, a Narcissist will repeat their behaviors because they have no emotional empathy, which is not the same as lacking intellectual empathy. Intellectual empathy allows them to be aware of the pain they cause others, but emotional empathy allows them to feel the pain they’ve inflicted. A Narcissist can’t do that, and because they tend to view others as inferior, the intellectual knowledge that they’ve hurt someone has no more emotional impact than knocking a pawn from a chessboard. If they feel anything at all, it is a smug sense of superiority.

Additionally, Narcissists are incapable of whole object relations (the ability to see others in a whole and realistic way, possessing both positive and negative qualities) and object constancy (the ability to maintain a positive emotional connection to someone during times of stress). Once you’ve done something to cross a Narcissist, they don’t think about the good times you’ve shared. They don’t think about the number of times you’ve been there for them. From that moment on, you are worthless to them and always have been. It’s a very Orwellian mindset, one from which the Narcissist never wavers: Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.

One of the most traumatic aspects of dealing with a Narcissist is that someone who claims to love you will abuse you. To make matters worse, it can lend to more stress when family members disagree on how best to handle the situation. The increased tension and family in-fighting act as icing on the drama-cake for the Narcissist: “Look at them dance! I’m so smart! I’m like a puppet master, and they’re too stupid to realize this is exactly what I want!”

Granted, not all Narcissists take abuse to such extremes that it causes rifts between family members. Some will sing your praises to a group of mutual friends one minute only to talk about you behind your back the next. It’s annoying and possibly harmful to your social life, but the vast majority of people are quick to realize that when a certain individual has a slew of flash-in-the-pan friendships and always ends up wailing about how they’ve all “bled her dry,” she is the problem, not you. After all, Narcissists are consistent in giving off signs that they are Narcissists.

You’ll spot the signs even in the earliest stages of a Narcissist’s abuse pattern. It may begin as “constructive criticism” along the lines of, “I don’t mean this to sound hurtful, but your thighs look big in those jeans. I just don’t want you to be embarrassed!”

Telling a Narcissist you find their words hurtful sparks anger, not sympathy. When you disagree with their criticism, you’re disagreeing with them, and they can’t handle being wrong.

coping with a narcissist

This is often what starts massive blow-outs in which a Narcissist rehashes every time they feel you’ve wronged them. Every Narcissist has their own hot button topic (or topics). In monogamous couples, there may be a fixation on fictitious infidelity, “you cheated on me; I know you did!” Every single argument they have, no matter what triggers it, will involve the accusation of cheating.

If your Narcissist is a relative, it may be something like the ‘misuse’ of their possessions. One individual had a cleaning rag soaked in dog urine thrown directly at their face while a Narcissistic relative accused them of ruining their ‘good towels,’ screeching, “How could you do this to me?!” Over a cleaning rag. But that cleaning rag has more value than a human being in the Narcissist’s eyes. That rag is theirs and is therefore an extension of their perfection.

Another individual has been accused numerous times of stealing everything from a rosary to tens of thousands of dollars. As is so often the case — because Narcissists love to accuse those around them of committing infractions they, themselves, are guilty of committing — the Narcissist is the one guilty of stealing from their wrongfully accused relative on more than one occasion.

Yet another has been physically assaulted more than once while the Narcissist tells anyone and everyone who will listen that their partner is the one who is the abuser.

However it happens, whether it turns physical or remains emotional, the abuse is ugly and circular with no resolution in sight because the Narcissist will never admit to being wrong.

Gaslighting (a term that comes from the film Gaslight, in which a man seeks to convince his wife she’s gone crazy) often plays a major role in Narcissistic abuse. A Narcissist will repeatedly deny their own words and actions so vehemently, often insisting that a third party agrees with the Narcissist to further validate their claim to rightness, that you may find yourself asking, “Did I really make that up? Am I exaggerating what happened because I’m so upset? Am I going crazy?”

This is their aim. To elevate themselves, Narcissists have to devalue those around them.

So what do you do about it? And why is it so damn hard to just cut ties with someone who hurts you so badly?

Because, according to Dr. Elinor Greenberg, you’ve “trauma bonded” to your Narcissist. We, as humans, are genetically hardwired to form emotional attachments to those around us. In times of stress, we instinctively reach out to those closest to us in order to feel safe again. Problems arise when those around us abuse us. We’ve bonded to them, and each time they hurt us, our intrinsic need to reach out only serves to strengthen the bond.

As Dr. Greenberg says, “Unless you walk out immediately and never look back, you are well on your way to becoming this person’s psychic prisoner.” Once that happens, “…you refuse to see the obvious: This person never loved you, cannot love anyone, and they are too Narcissistic to care how you feel or how much damage they do to your life.”

Once you begin to withdraw, the Narcissist will try to reel you back in. Not because they truly love you, not because they miss you as a person, but because they hate to lose control of those around them. It may be subtle at first, such as liking your posts on Instagram or calling “just to see how you’re doing,” but if they don’t immediately get what they want, the “Love Bombing” begins.

how to deal with a narcissist

They’ll make promises they don’t intend to keep, such as, “I can’t live without my sister in my life. We fight sometimes, but doesn’t everyone? We’ll just leave it in the past.”

But a Narcissist can’t leave things in the past. No matter how much they make you feel loved and wanted, the criticisms will start again. Then the fighting and the gaslighting and the blaming. The cycle will continue because the constant push-pull is the closest approximation to a real relationship a Narcissist is capable of having.

Greenberg uses the example of an animal psychologist working on her dog, a German Shepherd who constantly bit people. The psychologist punched the dog in the head several times, praising her each time by saying ‘good doggy, good doggy.’ He explained, “The punch was to stop her from biting me and to make her think. The ‘good doggy, good doggy’ was to reward her for not biting me.”

The dog never bit anyone again.

This is how Narcissists condition those around them. They follow abuse with presents and promises. In return, we learn to stop standing up for ourselves.

We learn to stop biting.

Of Narcissists, Dr. Dan Neuharth writes: “They seek to be fed; nothing is more important. This drive is so powerful that Narcissists will betray those closest to them when it suits them. This is what you are up against.”

All of this sounds awful, so what should do when dealing with Narcissists? According to Dr. Neuharth, sometimes it’s more about what you shouldn’t do, so he created a list of eleven don’ts when it comes to dealing with a Narcissist, which I’ve summarized here:

1.) Don’t take them at face value. Image is everything to a Narcissist. What you see is not what you’ll get.

2.) Don’t over-share personal information. Talking to a Narcissist is like being interrogated by the police; the things you say can and will be used against you. No matter how trivial a detail may seem, they will use it to humiliate and manipulate you.

3.) Don’t feel a need to justify your thoughts, feelings, or actions. “No JADE,” Neuharth says. This stands for Justifying, Arguing, Defending, and Explaining. Narcissists love to gaslight and make you second-guess everything. Don’t fall for their trap.

4.) Don’t minimize their dysfunctional behavior. Narcissists tend to wear people down over time. Don’t become numb to their antics or convince yourself their manipulating and humiliating of you or other is normal or that it should be written off as “you know how she gets.”

5.) Don’t expect them to take responsibility. Narcissists truly believe they have a higher status and more rights than others. They “take credit and give blame.”

6.) Don’t assume they share your values and worldview. “Narcissists view others as sources of gratification, not as equals,” says Neuharth. Expecting to share in the spotlight or have your own accomplishments acknowledged is setting yourself up for disappointment.

7.) Don’t try to beat them at their own game. They’re better at it than we are because they’ve dedicated their entire lives to the pursuit of self-gratification. Trying to beat a Narcissist at their own game is like trying to squash the mosquito on your cheek. Maybe you’ll hit it, but you will certainly smack yourself silly trying.

8.) Don’t take their actions personally. A Narcissist will abuse anyone unfortunate enough to catch their attention. Being the target of their abuse can make you feel isolated. Sometimes you even wonder if you deserve to be treated this way. Maybe it’s something you did? No. It’s not personal at all. It’s just who they are.

9.) Don’t expect empathy or fairness. Because empathy and fairness require the inherent belief that we are all worthy, Narcissists are incapable of expressing either. Respect yourself; you’ll be waiting until the end of the world if you expect even a modicum of acknowledgement from a Narcissist.

10.) Don’t expect them to change. To quote Neuharth directly, “Narcissists view others as either threats or potential victims and are trapped in an endless quest for attention and approval. To hope that they will change is a setup.”

11.) Don’t underestimate the power of Narcissism. Narcissists are like addicts. Their lives are dedicated to an endless cycle of seeking attention and approval. How their behaviors affect others isn’t a factor. Other people aren’t a factor unless they’re currently serving as a source of praise or a target of hatred.

So what’s the best course of action? How do you deal with a Narcissist? If you can’t physically distance yourself from them for whatever reason, remember Dr. Neuharth’s guidelines and protect yourself at all costs.

But if you have the means to cut ties with them completely, do it. You can sympathize with a Narcissist for their inability to have love without sacrificing your mental health. Putting your own interests before those of a Narcissist isn’t Narcissism; it’s survival.

Disclaimer: Only a doctor or a mental health professional can officially diagnose a mental illness. However, there are observable symptoms that can be used as indicators of personality disorders. I am neither a doctor nor a mental health professional, but in addition to studying psychology at university, I have thoroughly researched the topic of personality disorders. I have also consulted with medical professionals prior to the publication of this post.