Thinking about giving an ultimatum?
Specifically, giving an ultimatum to a partner who is a narcissist, or who clearly shows narcissistic traits?
When it comes to relationships, it’s possible to reach a point where giving a clear warning may seem the only option.
This is especially common when dating someone who seems to lack empathy and believe they’re better and more important than anybody else.
Let’s have a look at the main traits of narcissists, so we can then understand whether giving them ultimatums actually works, and what their reactions may be.
If you’d like to share your own thoughts (or personal experience) about this topic, please leave a comment at the end of the post.
Common traits of narcissists
- Obsessive need for attention. Including negative attention. Narcissists are terrified of being ignored, and want to be noticed at all costs. They want others to give them attention and energy. This is usually to compensate for a deep feeling of emptiness.
- Obsessive need for control. Specifically, controlling other people, even more so if it’s their partner. Narcissists believe that if people around them behaved spontaneously, they would be a threat to them. When they can’t control others, narcissists act cold; when they get a chance, they become manipulative.
- Lack of empathy. Those with a narcissistic personality tend not to understand other people’s feelings. Even when their partner communicates their feelings verbally or physically, they may still fail to empathize. And when they do empathize, they could deliberately choose to ignore how the other person feels.
- Superiority complex. That is, an exaggerated sense of self-worth and self-importance. Narcissists believe they are better than everybody else. In their mind, they always deserve more. Their superiority complex may also lead them to believe they are responsible for controlling other people’s lives.
- Exploitative behavior. For narcissists, other people are valuable (matter) only if they clearly add value to their life. Since narcissists lack empathy, or choose not to recognize other people’s emotions and needs anyway — they justify taking advantage of those around them.
What is an ultimatum?
One of the foundations of healthy relationships is setting boundaries.
You and your partner want to express, and be aware of, each other’s needs and priorities — what you like and dislike, what should and shouldn’t be done. And so on.
Unfortunately, in some cases setting boundaries may not be enough.
If your partner is aware of what they should or shouldn’t do, yet their behavior doesn’t change (for whatever reason), then you would use what’s called an ultimatum.
This is basically a verbal warning — if your behavior doesn’t change, if you keep doing this, if you keep treating me like this, etc. then I will do X.
Typically, if the other person does not meet the requirements of the ultimatum, then the consequence will be the end of the relationship.
For example, you may explain to your partner that if you notice abusive behavior one more time, then you will leave for good.
Now, would this work if your partner had a narcissistic personality?
Do ultimatums work with narcissists?
Typically, narcissists will not change even after being given an ultimatum. This is because an ultimatum threatens their obsessive need to be in control.
When you give an ultimatum to a narcissist, they may react in many different ways — they may play victim and break into tears, gaslight you, or simply lie.
But ultimately, if they feel they are being told what to do, and if they feel you’ve reached the point where you are setting clear boundaries and actually expect them to respect those boundaries, that’s going to go against their very essence.
This doesn’t mean giving an ultimatum is a bad decision. But be aware of the narcissist’s personality, and don’t expect them to change just because of your words or warnings.
Possible reactions to the ultimatum
When you give an ultimatum to a narcissist, they may…
1. Refuse and say goodbye
Narcissists hate being told what to do or not do. They think and feel they are superior, and having to respect any type of rule or boundary in a relationship may seem inconceivable to them.
Therefore the first possible reaction to an ultimatum is to simply walk away. If you give them a clear enough warning, they may interpret that as you having control over them — which is the exact opposite of what they want — and leave.
2. Gaslight or accuse you
For those who don’t know, gaslighting means to make someone question their own perception of reality, or even their sanity. So when it comes to giving ultimatums to a narcissist, that’s what may happen to you — you may be gaslighted, you may be told you’re mad and need to calm down.
Or, it could be a more aggressive reaction where the narcissist accuses you, and comes up with reasons as to why the ultimatum is unfair and immoral, and why they are the victim. Keep in mind, narcissists are very good at this.
3. Agree, but only to keep you
This is essentially a way to take time and delay your actions. The narcissist could lie and pretend to collaborate as this would give them an extra chance to have control over you.
Because if you give them an ultimatum and they agree to change, then you’ll have no reason, at least initially, to say goodbye to them. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll follow through. This is why it’s important to pay attention to what narcissists do rather than to their words.
4. Play victim or act desperate
Last but certainly not least, they might cry, say they love you so much, say their life will be empty without you. And so on. Basically play the victim card, and act desperate, so you can reconsider the ultimatum.
This is actually one of the most common reactions. Though narcissists aren’t able to empathize, they do try to manipulate others by influencing their emotions. Which leads us to the final advice…
Narcissists are manipulative
People who’ve been in a long relationship with an abusive narcissist may feel that their sense of self-worth has gradually disappeared. They literally might have turned into a different person.
Narcissists are manipulative. Narcissists lie, and their lies are often very convincing. They pretend to really love and really care about you, so they can control you and your emotions.
So the bottom line is: don’t fall for their traps, because over time their behavior and the way they treat you can destroy your self-esteem. And the longer you stay with them, the lower your self-esteem, the harder it’ll be to say no and walk away.