Responding vs. Reacting (When you HAVE to deal with narcissists)

Sometimes you can’t go No Contact because you’re co-parenting or just not ready yet to cut off a family member, partner or friend. Maybe you feel stuck in the environment of abuse for now. If that’s the case, you’ll need to master the technique of Responding vs. Reacting so you can hold yourself together enough to eventually get out.
In the case of co-parenting, unfortunately you’re probably obligated by law to be in minimal contact for a long time so you'll need to master this important technique if you want to take some power back and manage the narcissist or other abuser as best as possible. Your mastery of responding instead of reacting will also benefit your kids as well as anyone new that you let into your life. 
One of the narcissist’s biggest tools is using words and actions to provoke you to emotionally react. They invite you to step out of integrity with their provocations. When you react emotionally, you feed the narcissist and they get stronger. Your emotional reaction is narcissistic supply. Listen to that again, your emotional reaction is narcissistic supply. 
In this episode you’re going to learn about what is Responding vs. Reacting, why it’s useful and how to do it. Stay tuned until the end when I give you specific examples of provocations and responses that you can use. 
Responding instead of reacting is a life skill, not just for recovery after narcissistic abuse. It will help you throughout your life to maintain your power and not react in an emotional way because there will always be people who try to push your buttons. 
What is Responding vs. Reacting?
It’s like the Gray Rock technique (being boring, dull, nothing emotional whether positive or negative, unopinionated, uninteresting, and uninterested). 
It’s also about pausing for a moment to respond from an empowered state of self-control instead of emotionally reacting. 
It’s about not taking the bait, the provocation, whether it’s overt or covert. 
It’s about owning self-responsibility and integrity so you still feel good about yourself later. 
At the beginning of the relationship, abusers are testing you to gauge your reaction to what they do. They always start small and escalate from there based on your boundaries and reactions or responses to their increasingly less subtle provocations. 
Then the abuser will focus on your reaction to the abuse rather the abuse that took place. This misdirection technique gets you to focus on your reaction too, so you forget about the abuse and start going on the defensive. 
They love to catch you on the defensive, defending yourself from false accusations, lies, slander or defending your emotional reactions to their abuse. This is how you get caught in the trap. They love to see you get upset and waste loads of time and energy, going around and around, especially when it comes to your attempts at vindicating yourself.
Now it can also happen that you’re tricked into reacting emotionally in a positive way, feeding the narcissist with positive narcissistic supply. We often only hear about the emotional reactions victims have to the devaluation aspects of the abuse, and it’s important to mention the idealization aspects of abuse because these are also about provocation and emotional reaction. This is when you fall for the trap of love-bombing or idealization and you don’t realize that it’s hollow, empty, shallow and fake. That makes you confused and think this person does care about you or have your best interests in mind, at least some of the time, when that’s actually just part of the abuse cycle. Of course this love-bombing trap happens more intensely at the beginning of the relationship but later they’ll still dose you with occasional love-bombing to keep you hooked amidst all the devaluation. If you haven’t heard my podcast episode and videos on why love-bombing is so dangerous, check that out so you don’t fall into this trap!
The bottom line is that the difference between reacting and responding is mindfulness. When an external stimulus happens and you react impulsively in an emotional way, you haven’t thought about the consequences. You’re just having a knee-jerk reaction to a provocation.
Mindfulness and responding create empowerment. Reacting makes you look bad, it takes you out of integrity, you could get in trouble with the law, and at the very least the focus becomes you and what you did instead of the abuse that took place. Reacting is the surest way to lose to the narcissist.  
Reacting is giving away your power and responding is empowering yourself by not getting caught in that trap. If you still think that yelling, slamming doors, breaking things, defending yourself verbally until you’re blue in the face are signs of power, then you still haven’t learned about empowerment. 
Your response is your responsibility. When you understand that reacting is giving away your power, then you can understand how to maintain your empowerment. Choose your response consciously to stay in integrity and to own your power. 
Why is Respond vs. React useful?
Narcissists are constantly on the prowl for your reaction. Sometimes they want positive fuel from you and sometimes negative. They need constant narcissistic supply, which is the energetic and emotional currency that feeds them and makes them stronger. Your emotional reaction feeds the manipulator with narcissistic supply so you’ll notice the ways they’re always provoking some kind of emotional reaction from you. 
Why do abusers do this trick? It usually works. I think at a very primal level they learn where they get fuel once, they will keep returning to that food source until they’re sure it’s run dry. 
If you react emotionally, they’ll win and manipulate you into doing what they want, so you surrender your power in the process. They train you to become like Pavlov’s dog, reacting unconsciously to the external stimulus. 
Reactive abuse makes you look bad. This is when you react to their abuse and now you become part of the problem and then they can easily point toward your reaction and try to ignore their actions. Abusers love to engineer those kinds of situations. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode on Reactive Abuse. 
Responding instead of reacting helps you opt out of the traps that abusers will set for you. This trap has a very predictable pattern. When you learn how to recognize that pattern from a mile away, you can make conscious choices to not react as they’re hoping you will. 
What’s the pattern of the narcissist’s trap?
provocation >> reaction >> solution
The provocation is one of the biggest tools of the abuser. This could be fabricated with words or actions or even inactions. For example, they falsely accuse you of doing or being something that you’re not doing or being. That might be a projection like you bring up something they’re doing or saying and they turn it around and say you’re doing that to them, when that’s not the case at all but you end up defending yourself and wasting hours of your time and energy resolving nothing, only to feel exhausted and depleted later, which then makes you an easier target.  
Maybe they try to provoke your fear by orchestrating a scenario that causes you to be afraid and demand that something be done, then they step in as the false hero but instead of protecting you, they take a greater degree of control over you. 
Or maybe they say or do something that they know is going to make you angry. They’re hoping that you react in a way that makes you look bad, losing your shit and losing your integrity in the process so they can then turn the tables on you while acting like they didn’t do anything wrong and you’re the one with the problem. 
Of course their trap doesn’t just end there, they will hold that against you and keep reminding you of it, telling everyone they know about it, shaming you in front of others about it. 
Later in this episode, I’m going to get into some specific methods of provocation that abusers will use and how to respond instead of reacting. 
Just remember they want your emotional reaction for this pattern to work. That could be anger, yelling, throwing something, slamming a door, hitting an object, crying, calling your family or friends to talk about it loudly in front of them so they’ll hear you, continuing to argue, going on the self-defense...
Once you react, they provide the solution that they manipulated you toward. That solution could be that they blame-shift to you and then you apologize for the situation that they created and were responsible for. Or maybe they guilt-trip you into meeting their demands and you appease them to avoid a conflict at the expense of your peace and wellbeing. Maybe you’ve noticed how you fawn and start people-pleasing by meeting their whims and desires. Maybe they make you afraid so you give up more control to them thinking that they’ll take care of you and protect you. 
Maybe you start internalizing what they’re saying so you start thinking that you’re a bad person, that you’re the narcissist, that you’re unworthy, that no one else will ever love you or tolerate you, so you dig your heels in deeper to the relationship and strengthen the trauma bond. 
As you can see, all of the solutions they provide for you are not in your favor. None of them are win-win situations. They’re all based on a Zero Sum game that you will always lose if you emotionally react as they want you to. 
This pattern of provocation > reaction > solution is the same thing happens in the news. They create stories based on a mix of truth and lies to provoke your emotional response and predict your behavioral reaction. Then the Powers That Be offer the solution, which they were planning all along. Society falls right into those traps. It’s so sad to watch narcissistic abuse happen on a societal level because this is how abusive politicians and corporations maintain their power and people end up unknowingly participating in their own victimization.
News: Fear fear fear!
People: OMG do something!
Powers That Be: No worries, we got this, we’ll just go ahead and take away more of your civil rights with these new laws and abuses of privacy but you’ll be safer, really!
The worst kind of totalitarianism isn’t the coup that suddenly invades a country. It’s the slow slide toward totalitarianism like the proverbial frog in a pot of water. The worst part is that slide is so slow, people don’t realize it’s happening, just like the frog who slowly cooks to death.  
Whether this is on an interpersonal level, in your family, in a social group, at work or at the societal level, the key is to not give them the reaction. They’re counting on that and the trick doesn’t work when you opt out of the pattern.
Choose your response consciously. Your response is your freedom of choice. This is why it’s empowering to respond instead of react. 
I’m going to teach you how to change the game by interrupting that pattern of problem, reaction, solution. 
3 Steps to respond instead of reacting:
  1. Pretend you didn’t notice the provocation and breathe. Breathe 3x. This gives you some time and distance to get more present. Act like it ain’t no thang, it didn’t upset you at all and you didn’t notice their game of provocation. 
  2. Become grounded in your body. Notice the emotion in your body. What does it feel like? Where is it in your body? This helps stop the knee-jerk reaction. The more present you are the more tools and resources you have. 
  3. Ask your logical brain: What would be the consequences if I react in that way? If you don’t want to react in the same way that’s going to get you in trouble over and over again, then make a different choice to respond. It’s your choice! 
Now I want to teach you some specific ways of responding, which is the action that comes with step 3 that I just mentioned.
All of these tactics to respond are ways of deflecting the poison they throw at you. I’m going to give specific examples of how to respond to 14 different kinds of provocations that narcissists will use. 
Inaction (passive-aggression) — They’re constantly leaving you hanging, not following through with their promises and responsibilities, “forgetting” etc. If this is about them failing to meet the requirements of your custody agreement like picking up your kids or taking them for the weekend, document every infraction of the custody legal agreement. Figure out how to pick up the kids or send someone you trust. Call your attorney or the authorities if necessary, without warning the abuser. Don’t start talking to them about how they always do that and how unreliable they are. Zip! Take legal action swiftly if this is about them failing to meet their responsibilities to pick up your kids. If this is about them failing to handle another kind of responsibility like paying bills, picking something up from the store, running an errand, etc. Do NOT delegate anything more to them unless you want more headaches and crises. Handle the problem as best as you can. Pay the overdue bill. Go without whatever you wanted from the store or go get it yourself if you can or order delivery. Do not remind them how upset you are about that because that only teaches them how to piss you off again.  
Last minute changes to schedule — If they’re trying to change a last minute date or friendly gathering, say “sorry I’m not available then but let’s catch up sometime soon.” If that’s a pattern, don’t set aside any more prime time on your schedule for them and don’t make an immediate suggestion of another time. If you want to see them, you can make some last minute plans with them when you know you have nothing better to do  and since you’re not a priority to them, last minute planning isn’t going to mess up your week or hurt your self-respect. However, if that is a pattern, hopefully you’ll realize that person doesn’t value you and it’s best to be alone than hanging out with someone like that. 
Silent Treatment — Don’t chase them. Don’t contact them. Act like you didn’t notice they’re not there and they’re not contacting you. Get busy doing you and your thing. When they do come back in contact, act like it was no big deal and don’t respond immediately. Let them blow up your phone if they will and you get back to them when you feel like it. Proceed with caution because when someone gives you the Silent Treatment, that’s going to be a pattern over the long-term. If they think you didn’t notice their absence they might work harder to make sure you notice them by provoking you with any of the following tactics so be cautious. 
Indirect digs and jokes at your expense or false concern — Ignore it or say something like, “Hmm.” or “That’s interesting.” Or act like you didn’t get the joke and ask a literal and curious question to get them to explain and say the underhanded words directly to you (which they likely won’t). Covert types who use indirect digs and jokes are cowards and usually won’t spell out the abuse since that would remove their plausible deniability. If it’s false concern meaning they’re wrapping an indirect dig or joke in something that sounds like concern, you can say something like “Hmm.” or “Thanks for your concern.” Or you can ask one of those curious questions if you want them to spell it out like, “I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, what do you mean?”  
Baiting — They say something in code like “after the day I’ve had!” to get you to start asking questions so they can tell you whatever drama they’re dying to tell you about and suck up all your energy into. Don’t ask them about their day. Just say “oh that’s too bad.” Or maybe they say something like “That reminds me of something crazy that happened today”. “Hmm.” or “What a coincidence.” You’ll want to start moving your body out of there because they’ll often try to dump it on you anyways. 
Dog-whistling — Ignore the provocation, act like you didn’t hear the abuse like everyone else. Maybe make a light joke. Or focus on your food or phone or another task at hand. Segue into another subject with a question or engaging topic for others if you’re at a family dinner table for example. 
False accusations — Don’t go on the defensive. Don’t internalize it. Instead remind yourself silently that it’s a lie and own your reality. Say something like, “I’m sorry you see it that way.” Or even in response to you’re such a bitch: “That’s possible.” “Could be.” “That’s interesting.” 
Bulldozing boundaries — They directly, aggressively mow down your boundaries and expect you to go along with it. Exit immediately or hang up. Drop the ball entirely. Stop engaging. Let them talk to the silence, baby! 
Guilt-tripping or shaming of boundaries — This is the more covert strategy of boundary disrespect. Ignore the invitation to feel shame or guilt. Don’t go on the defensive or start explaining. Remember explanations for manipulators are just invitations to keep negotiating on your boundaries. Remind yourself the only reason they’re doing that is to covertly manipulate you out of your boundary. Say something like “I’m sorry you feel that way but that’s the boundary.” Sometimes you might just choose silence as the best response to a whiny guilt-tripping attempt. 
Blatant verbal abuse — "I’m leaving/hanging up now. If you want to discuss this matter when you are able to have a pleasant adult conversation, we can revisit this topic." If it’s not something that you still want to talk about, then simply end it with “I’m leaving/hanging up now.” And follow through. 
Hit and run — They say something degrading or insulting in passing and then they’re gone, into the next room, or hanging up the phone or they drop it in a text bomb. Do NOT run after them. Do NOT call them back or text them back. Do NOT bring it up later. Ignore it outwardly, and inwardly have a little dialog with yourself about it and what that means for the status of your relationship. If it’s a coworker you can’t get away from and they hit and run past your desk, keep staring at your computer or whatever you’re working on. If this is becoming a pattern of harassment you might need to report this behavior. If you’re allowed to record people without their knowledge in your local jurisdiction, then you might want to have the recording on when you see them approaching. Be careful because if it’s not legal to record people without their knowledge in your state or local municipality, then you could get in trouble. 
Proxy wars — They use third parties to pass on provocative statements like digs, jokes at your expense, false concern. Ward all that off either with silence, or similar responses to the category of indirect digs, jokes and false concern. 
Sympathy extortion and emotional blackmail — This is when they vomit up all their drama on you and go on and on about things they don’t actually want a solution for, what they want is narcissistic supply in the form of sympathy. Say, “I’m sorry you’re suffering. I really need to get back to work now/pick up the kids now.” “That sounds frustrating, what do you think you’ll do about it?” 
Love-bombing — “Thanks!” Don’t lean in and look for their approval. Don’t get mushy and start swooning. Don’t go on about how grateful you are that they noticed that about you. Sometimes they will mention again the compliment or remind you of what they did for you. Just smile. You already said thank you. You don’t have to keep saying it every time they try to provoke it. 
Those tactics will help you make choices to respond in ways that support your wellbeing instead of letting someone or something else drive your emotions and behavior. 
Expect them to escalate before giving up. They will go harder on their provocations and don’t give in! Stand firm with your responses instead of reactions. They’re going to likely even get desperate to get a reaction out of you. Be dull, unmoved, unopinionated, uninteresting, uninterested and just observe their desperation. 
It’s so important to master the tactic of responding vs. reacting if you’re still dealing with a narcissist or other manipulator in your life. You’ll find these people in all walks of life, even randoms that you run into at stores, at events, as neighbors, etc. If you keep emotionally reacting to them, they will bankrupt you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and maybe even financially. You’ll be exhausted and drained. The worst part is you’ll later feel guilty because you reacted and looked crazy or abusive when you stepped out of integrity and lowered yourself to their level. If you don’t master the response, you’ll end up with nothing left because they will take away the most intimate parts of yourself like your self-worth, self-love and self-esteem.
If you aren’t co-parenting with the person, hopefully over time by setting these boundaries, you’ll eventually start to value your self-respect more and decide to end the relationship, leave the friendship or job, etc. If you’re relating to this, check out the episode I did on Is It Possible to Have a Relationship with A Narcissist?
If you’ve been through years or a lifetime of provocations by narcissists and other abusive characters, you might feel like you’ve lost your sense of self.
Maybe you feel like you’ve been trained to be so reactive to everything others do and say, that you don’t even know who you really are and how the real you would respond. It's totally normal that you lost your sense of self as a result of narcissistic abuse. If you were raised by a narcissist or other abuser since childhood you might never have had the right to define your own sense of self. You might have only existed as an extension of your narcissistic parent. Check out the course, Reinventing Yourself After Narcissistic Abuse available on my website. The direct link is in the show notes too.
In this class, you’ll get to discover more about what has defined you until now and who you really are through a guided self-assessment. You’ll be able to start reinventing your new sense of self so you can end the people-pleasing behavior of pretending to be someone you're not in order to make someone else happy. 
If you’re looking for a therapist in your area to help you recover after narcissistic abuse, you might want to check out BetterHelp. It’s a portal of licensed therapists who provide affordable, online therapy at your convenience. You’ll see the link in the show notes. That will take you to their intake questionnaire. Be sure to select Trauma & Abuse as one of the areas you want to work on so they can match you with someone who has experience in that field. 

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