Living with a partner who has narcissistic traits is undoubtedly challenging. While you may love your partner very much (or not anymore!), their narcissistic tendencies can make it difficult for you to feel loved in return.
So how can you recognise potential narcissism? Knowing that can at least help you to make sense of seemingly senseless behaviour. You need that for your own sanity!
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He or she may also be utterly charming, interesting, entertaining and happy-go-lucky. And it’s for that reason that it’s no surprise that you found - or still find - yourself drawn to your partner despite all the difficulties in the relationship.
You may have only slowly come to realise that his or her personality is sadly all about ‘me, myself and I’. You (and possibly others) may even have thought of him or her as selfish, pompous, arrogant, snooty, overbearing, big-headed and/or a user.
Dealing with a narcissist is difficult! So, in this article, I’m aiming to help you understand narcissistic traits and give you some support. I'll also give you some ideas on how to make the most of your relationship despite the challenges that come with these traits.
A diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a classified mental disorder in the DSM - a handbook used by the American Psychiatric Association as well as psychiatrist world-wide (link)). Only a suitably qualified mental health or medical professional can diagnose the disorder with the help of a narcissistic personality inventory.
Your partner or spouse may not meet the required criteria for a diagnosis of NPD, yet clearly (at least to you) has some narcissistic tendencies. And regardless of the label he or she may or may not have, you have to deal with those energy-sapping narcissistic behaviours. So, I really want you to feel that you’re not alone.
Watch this video to learn more...
The behaviours and fantasies that are linked with narcissism can be understood as a defence against underlying...
Any of these may be rooted in childhood rejection at the hands of the very people who should have shown them unconditional love and acceptance. (At least, this is the psychodynamic explanation for now.)
As a result of this:
In reality, the narcissist’s self-esteem often appears high but sadly is likely to be very fragile. And they’re almost completely unable to cope with criticism because it leaves them feeling crushed.
People with narcissistic behaviours are usually charming in the beginning. However their self-centred view makes it really difficult for them to develop a strong long-term relationship. Their lack of empathy may even put your safety at risk.
I wouldn't be surprised if, over time, you’ve found yourself increasingly irritated, frustrated, stressed or desperately hurt by them. You may have got into a spiral of negativity, with disappointments stacking up and dragging you down. Your self-esteem may have dropped as a result of this. At the same time you may still love - or think you love - that person.
Before you read on...
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that your partner isn’t at the dangerous end of the narcissism spectrum. If they are, then you’re in an abusive relationship - and for that, you need this article: Signs of an Abusive Relationship. You'll be at risk of financial, physical, sexual and emotional abuse. I’d also strongly advise you to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Instead, if your partner is displaying mildly narcissistic traits and you're looking for ways to cope with the problem, here are some ideas...
Put simply: you can’t change your partner. Not because he or she is (or may be) narcissistic. But because no-one has (or should have) sufficient power over another person in order to force them to change. And a 'narcissist' in particular is unlikely to ever seek treatment - either of their own accord, or at the suggestion of someone else.
All of us choose to change our behaviour on account of feedback - positive or negative - and self-reflection. Those with narcissistic traits lack the capacity for self-reflection and have little insight into their own shortcomings and impact on others. Therefore, it’s unlikely that they will want to change - largely because they won’t ever think they need to!
So, bringing about change in this kind of relationship is very challenging indeed, but not impossible. In any case, I would strongly advise that you get professional help - either to navigate the relationship, or to end it altogether.
You may also find the book: "Disarming the Narcissist" by Wendy Behary helpful.
Someone with a diagnosis of NPD, or even with 'just' some traits of narcissistic personality disorder, can find criticism particularly challenging. They may respond by behaving rudely and aggressively if criticised.
The best thing you can do here is to try and help them to recognise that no one is perfect. Each one of us, including them, has our share of imperfections and shortcomings.
For more on this, take a look at my page on how to deal with criticism.
Remember that someone with narcissistic traits struggles with empathy (or, in full blown cases of NPD, has no empathy at all). That can make building a healthy relationship really hard for the other partner.
So, to try and encourage understanding, aim to have some playful conversations together every day. For example...
These types of conversations may help them to slowly and gently get some insight into other people's feelings. You’ll probably need to be pretty patient when you first try these kinds of chats. So be sure to start only when you're feeling positive and generous!
There may come a time when you feel you’ve truly had enough. It can be really hard to have a rewarding relationship with someone whose main focus is him/herself. And if your partner meets all the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it's impossible to ever have a healthy relationship with someone who abuses you!
You may have tried everything you could to help the relationship (and yourself) survive and you may have run out of ideas and energy. It’s very likely that your self-esteem has taken a complete nose-dive too.
So, know that it is okay to end the relationship if you need to. After all, its success does need two people to commit and work together. It needs both of you to make the most of the fortunes and the challenges you face. And both partners need to contribute personal resources - as well as the joint ones - to make the relationship happy and healthy.
Not sure what to do for the best?
You may find my relationship test helpful in deciding what your next step should be.
You might be lucky enough to be surrounded by supportive friends and family. If so, talk to them, and listen to their take on your relationship. If not, or if you think you need professional advice and guidance, then I so recommend booking an appointment with a trained counsellor or other mental health professional (it's now very easy to connect with an online counsellor). A professional will be able to help you work through the issues you’re having right now. And they’ll be able to help you learn how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries so that you won’t find yourself caught in this trap again.
Remember, your mental health is at stake here. Your emotional, mental' and spiritual well-being can be all too easily undermined by the lack of empathy in your partner. Their sense of self-importance is likely to drown out your wants, needs and feelings (sometimes called narcissistic abuse). This can potentially put you at risk of developing other mental 'illness' such as depression and anxiety.
Dealing with a narcissistic partner or spouse can be exhausting and confusing. You probably feel constantly ignored, criticised and unworthy. And that’s not what you deserve, nor is it good for your mental health! So it’s time to think about whether or not this relationship is really right for you.
Put yourself first (for once!) and take the time to think about what you want - from your partner, yourself, and your life. Get support if you need help while you’re making your decision. But always remember: you do deserve to be loved, cherished and to feel fulfilled.
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Gilbert, Katie. "The Price of Loving Someone Borderline or Narcissistic." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 07 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2017.
"Narcissism And The Addiction To Narcissistic Supply." The Roadshow for Therapists Narcissism And The Addiction To Narcissistic Supply Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2017.