The Charm Before the Storm: Reactions to Narcissists Vary

04/03/2014 04:33 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2014

In my work with people who are coming to terms with the realization that they are close to a narcissist either in their personal life or work life, I've seen a wide variety of reactions. Some people are furious and think narcissists are evil and deserve to be banished, while others notice it, but don't seem to be bothered.

Your reaction likely depends on the sort of narcissist you've been involved with, the severity of their narcissism, how long you've been in relationship, how close you've tried to be (intimate, family, or friend) or needed to be (work), your past exposure to and experience with narcissists and how things have played out in your particular situation.

It is useful to understand that there are typically three types of narcissists:

1. Those that are demanding, difficult, mean, and dramatic -- this could be termed the classic narcissist (which exists on a continuum from somewhat to very narcissistic).

2. Those that are subtle in presentation and hard to discern as narcissists -- sometimes called covert or shy or vulnerable narcissists.

3. Those that have a mix of problems and are hard to figure out because of their complexity. Depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, sociopathy, stalker behaviors -- all of these can arise from or share some of the elements of narcissism.

People in personal or work relationships with a narcissist have reactions that range along a continuum from absolute fury to amused acceptance. Some want to shout their anger from the rooftops -- they think that narcissists should be branded with an "N" so everyone can get it. Some people want to fight the narcissist. Some people are angry and simply don't know what to do with their anger; they have an inkling that directing it at the narcissist is futile but don't know what to do instead. Some people are exhausted and hurt -- they want to understand the nature of the problem and how to take care of themselves. Some people are unruffled by a narcissist. Some people approach dealing with a narcissist with humor, making light of a dark situation.

Whether in the workplace or in your personal life, one thing to understand is that you do not have to stay stuck in aggravation; there are options for you to take care of yourself.

It's useful to know, as well, that most narcissists are good at the initial stage of inviting a person into relationship -- the charm before the storm. The way things turn sour really does vary widely; for some things flare into major drama while for others it's more like a pot of water where the heat slowly gets turned up.

No matter what your experience and initial reactions, you can come out of a relationship with a narcissist and thrive again. It takes understanding the basic dynamics of narcissism, awareness of your reactions, learning skills for processing your emotions and interacting with the narcissist as you maintain or exit the relationship.