How to Negotiate with a Narcissist - Rebecca Zung
By Yuresh Shayzer
October 3, 2023
In today's podcast, our guest is Rebecca Zung, who has taken a unique path in life. She faced challenges from a young age, being bullied for her Asian heritage and navigating life as a single mom at 22. Despite these obstacles, she forged her journey, veering away from family expectations. She left her first marriage, pursued a career in law, and rose to become one of the nation's top family law practitioners. Her accomplishments extend to representing celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger's goddaughter. However, she ventured into a niche in which many needed guidance on narcissism. Rebecca recognized the significance of understanding and dealing with narcissists in today's world. This episode promises to deliver valuable insights into her unique journey and expertise in handling narcissistic individuals. Tune in for an enlightening discussion.
[2:35] Why should I listen to you?
I care deeply about giving people access to justice. It is my mission to help people break free from toxic relationships and get access to justice so that they can live authentically and create new beginnings and new futures.
[3:20] Where did your base of understanding or awareness of this come to pass?
I hail from McLean, Virginia, which, surprisingly, had its share of racism despite not appearing so. My dad, an anesthesiologist, worked at a DC hospital, while my mom, of German descent, was a nurse. I'm half Chinese and half German, resulting in a perceived lack of "fun genes" and a strong work ethic. Childhood wasn't easy; I faced bullying due to my Asian background, even though I attended Chinese school on Saturdays. While I didn't fit in at Chinese school, I found belonging within my extended family. My dad's unwavering support contrasted with the challenging bullying experience. Nevertheless, I excelled in high school, ranking second in my class. My form of rebellion led to dropping out of college at 19, getting married, and becoming a mother of three by 22. Post-divorce, I became a single mom, worked as an inner-city schoolteacher during the day, and attended law school at the University of Miami at night, even making law reviews. Law school introduced me to a remarkable woman married to a judge and top family law attorney who hired me, launching my career in family law. I later represented billionaires and celebrities, expanding into a successful media career as a national TV correspondent. However, a pivotal shift from law to entrepreneurship exposed me to a covert narcissist, reigniting memories of childhood bullying and prompting me to delve deeper into the subject.
[11:30] How can one discern between someone who is having a bad day and a narcissist?
That's an excellent question because I used to believe that narcissists were exclusively male, often misogynistic, loud, dominating the room, and constantly boasting about themselves. I had no idea that narcissists could be female and display covert behaviors. Narcissism is more complex than I initially thought. It exists on a spectrum, with a recognized personality disorder in the DSM-5. At its core, narcissism is characterized by a deep inner emptiness. Individuals on this spectrum seek to fill this void through external means, manipulating and using people to extract any semblance of value. It's like there's a perpetual black hole inside them that can never be satisfied. They desperately yearn for external validation to the point of depletion while still feeling unsatisfied. Narcissists attempt to fill this void in a couple of ways. They might pursue what I call "diamond-level supply," which involves impressing others with flashy possessions, big houses, or wealth. Alternatively, they seek "coal level supply," which represents the darker aspect of narcissistic supply. This involves controlling, manipulating, debasing, or mistreating others to elevate themselves by diminishing those around them.
[14:20] Did you, at some point in time, feel bad like you should have known?
Well, the individual I dealt with was a covert narcissist, which presents a subtler and more understated form of narcissism compared to the overt or grandiose narcissist. Overt narcissists tend to enter a room and dominate it, demanding the best table at a restaurant and boasting about their achievements. They are quite obvious in their self-centered behavior. On the other hand, covert narcissists are just as narcissistic but in a less overt manner. They engage in behaviors that often come with plausible deniability, allowing them to keep their hands seemingly clean. For example, they might claim not to have seen you in an email or express surprise about your presence at a meeting they supposedly missed. These actions are subtle, passive-aggressive, and often accompanied by a charming facade that makes them well-liked by everyone around them.
[17:50] Can you share how your brand grew?
While parting ways with my business partner, I embarked on an intriguing journey. I dived into understanding the YouTube algorithm and grasped the concept of funnels, all while managing my law practice and regular commutes. My quest for knowledge extended to narcissism, not specifically related to my situation but for deeper insight. As I immersed myself in extensive reading on the subject, my collection of narcissism books grew behind me. This newfound wisdom unexpectedly converged with events in late 2019, when the world was undergoing significant changes. I began applying my understanding of narcissism to my legal cases, leading to remarkable progress. The realization that I might be onto something significant prompted me to create YouTube content in January 2020, focusing on dealing with narcissists. My channel had a modest 300 subscribers, making monetization elusive. However, my videos on negotiating with narcissists defied the odds, gaining substantial traction. March 11, 2020, marked the release of my course, coinciding with the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The inaugural webinar, titled "The Three Must-Have Secrets to Communicating with a Narcissist," aimed to promote the course. Despite these challenges, my efforts paid off, resulting in explosive growth for my YouTube channel, accumulating 400,000 subscribers and 40 million views. I successfully sold 10,000 SLAY programs, introduced a certification program, and authored a book featuring a foreword by Chris Voss. In just three years, my life underwent a profound transformation.
[23:40] What prompted you to write the book, and what was the motivation behind its timing? As you penned it, were you envisioning a specific audience, like mothers, colleagues, or someone else?
Approximately 1 in 15 people display narcissistic tendencies or possess personality disorders lacking empathy, which include conditions like bipolar disorder or antisocial personality disorder. If each of these individuals emotionally abuses just three people during their lifetime, it affects 158 million Americans or 3.4 billion people globally, and this estimate may even be conservative. Traditional approaches to dealing with narcissistic individuals as if they were regular, reasonable people are ineffective. My methods have proven to work, as demonstrated by over 10,000 individuals who have shared their transformative experiences with me. Many have even expressed that my tools saved them from severe situations, such as contemplating suicide. This reinforces my belief that I'm on the right path and meant to do this work. Recognizing that not everyone can afford access to the assistance I provide, I've taken steps to establish a 501(c)(3) organization in collaboration with Lindsay Snyder, owner of In-N-Out. My passion for this cause stems from the belief that everyone should have access to justice.
[26:38] How does understanding and dealing with narcissistic individuals contribute to addressing issues of justice?
Narcissistic behavior stems from unique brain structures formed through early and consistent exposure to childhood trauma. Trauma prompts our brains to initiate a fight or flight response, releasing adrenaline and other hormones for heightened strength and speed. In children repeatedly exposed to trauma, this response floods their limbic system, causing arctic development. While their prefrontal cortex continues to develop, the limbic system remains underdeveloped. As adults, encountering triggering stimuli puts narcissists in survival mode, resulting in narcissistic injury. Their behavior may appear irrational to others, but it feels rational to them. Sometimes, they don't even remember their actions during this period. In negotiations or conversations, most expect a reasonable resolution. However, narcissists prioritize taking you down, even at their own expense. This distinction matters because they find satisfaction not just in winning but also in manipulating, provoking, and seeing your discomfort. This complex behavior separates them from those solely seeking victory in negotiations.
[36:25] What promise did God make to the world when he created you?
Justice for the little guy
[14:10-14:19] Narcissists seek supply by impressing others and controlling and manipulating others.
[11:00-11:08] Narcissists don't attach themselves to you because you have little value; they attach themselves to you because you have so much, and it can happen to anybody.
How to connect with Rebecca Zung