Are You In a Relationship with a Narcissist?
If you’re struggling in a relationship with someone who seems selfish, uncooperative, cold, or abusive, you’re far from alone. And you may well be dealing a narcissist … or at least someone who has narcissistic traits.
Unfortunately, narcissism is one of those terms that has been bandied about so much as to have lost a lot of its meaning.
So before you decide that you need help dealing with a narcissistic relationship, let’s first look at what narcissism is and isn’t …
What is Narcissism?
The term narcissism is often used to describe anyone who seems to behave selfishly or seek attention. However, just because someone desires attention or acts out of his or her own self-interest hardly makes that person a narcissist. In fact, a degree of these types of “healthy” narcissistic traits makes for a well-balanced personality.
On the other hand, someone who lacks empathy, believes themselves better than others, and routinely needs and seeks the attention and admiration of others may well be a narcissist.
But even then, specific criteria have to be met for someone to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and people meeting these criteria are a much smaller percentage of the population than you may think.
To meet the clinical definition of a narcissist, a person must exhibit at least 5 of the following traits:
- Require excessive admiration
- Lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others
- Be arrogant or act in arrogant ways
- Believe he or she is uniquely special and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other “special,” high-status people or institutions
- Exaggerate his or her own talents and achievements and have a grandiose sense of his or her own self-importance
- Expect special, favorable, often unreasonable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes
- Envy others or believe others are envious of him or her
- Take advantage of, and exploit, others to achieve personal ends
- Dream of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
As with so many things in life, narcissistic personalities exist on a spectrum ranging from mild to extreme, with “malignant narcissists” being the most hostile and destructive.
It’s important to remember that just because someone has narcissistic traits, this doesn’t mean he or she is actually a narcissist. For example, someone may be needy, or envious, or selfish, or arrogant without actually being a narcissist.
Why is this distinction so important?
Because people who just have one or two narcissistic traits are much more likely to seek and/or accept help and be able to work on and resolve those issues, whereas a “full-blown” narcissist will see any and every problem as someone else’s rather than their own.
So now that you know a little bit more about what makes someone a narcissist, let’s talk about some of the things you can do to improve your relationship with, or at least protect yourself from, one …
Employees and Co-Workers of Narcissists
Few things can sap your professional enjoyment like having to work with a narcissist. They can be volatile, demanding, require your unwavering admiration and praise, and will likely look down on and belittle your achievements and success. And narcissists’ “all-or-nothing” way of perceiving the world means you’ll likely be seen as an enemy or threat if you ever try to challenge or disagree with them.
To make matters worse, narcissists often create office cliques and use them to intimidate, bully or isolate those they don’t like.
All of this can easily lead you to start doubting the value of your work, feel uncertain about your position, and have difficulties concentrating, which will eventually affect your productivity and self-esteem.
Since it’s highly unlikely a narcissist will change, the key to dealing with a narcissistic boss or co-worker is to maintain your own perspective about the value of your work and your self-esteem, get the support you need and deserve, and decide whether or not moving on and looking for employment elsewhere is the best step you can take for your health and well-being.
While that may sound like “letting the narcissist win,” it’s not. Letting a narcissist continually abuse you and erode your self-confidence and self-esteem is letting them win. Quite often, the one and only thing you can do with a narcissist is simply walk away.
But what if the narcissist is your partner?
Partners of Narcissists
Partners of narcissists typically feel torn between their love and their pain, between staying and leaving. And they often can’t seem to do either. This is especially true when their finances are commingled or they have children together.
Romantic relationships with narcissists often take off like a rocket. Narcissists can be extremely charming and often practice a technique known as “love bombing,” in which they shower people with attention, affection and praise. While this can make you feel like the most important, most loved person in all the world, it’s not done out of love but out of the narcissist’s desire to gain control. As soon as the narcissist feels they’ve achieved that control and have gotten what they want out of the relationship, that’s when you’ll start to feel betrayed.
The considerate, attentive, romantic person you feel in love with disappears, and you start to feel ignored, unimportant, and unloved.
But it doesn’t stop there …
As a narcissist’s interest in you seems to decrease, his or her criticism, demands, and emotional unavailability may well increase. And if you protest, try to set boundaries, or do anything else to make sure your needs are heard, understood, or addressed, the narcissist will do anything and everything to make you believe the problems are all of your own making. You start to doubt yourself, your confidence and self-esteem suffer, and you end up feeling deeply frustrated and hurt.
It seems like leaving is the only answer, but that can be especially difficult for anyone whose relationship with a narcissistic partner reflects their relationship with a narcissistic parent or who’s experienced similar emotional abandonment as a child.
Adult Children of Narcissists
If the narcissist in your life is your parent, the criticism, control, and emotional abandonment you’ve experienced growing up is likely to have seriously impacted your self-esteem, as well as your ability to choose healthy partners.
Narcissistic parents can be incredibly domineering, critical, competitive, needy, or envious, often expecting nothing less than complete obedience and excellence as they attempt to live vicariously through their children.
While narcissistic parents’ traits and behaviors can vary widely, their feelings and needs always come first. They feel entitled, which means it ends up being the children’s job to attend to their parents’ needs, instead of the other way around.
Since we all have a tendency to repeat our relationships with our parents in the other significant relationships we create in adulthood, it should come as no surprise that most children of narcissistic parents end up attracting narcissists, addicts, or other emotionally unavailable partners.
Although they may be unaware of what was missing in their childhoods, adult children of narcissistic parents often sacrifice themselves for others, deny their own feelings and needs, fear intimacy and abandonment, have unacknowledged anger, and struggle with depression and feelings of emptiness.
Getting the Help You Need and Deserve
Narcissists use control and aggression to protect themselves from their own deep and unconscious shame. Many don’t even realize they’re injuring the other people around them, because they lack empathy. But that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, make their abuse any easier to bear.
Unfortunately, most narcissists will never seek professional help unless they suffer an extreme blow to their self-image or self-esteem.
However, even if the narcissist in your life refuses to get help or change, your relationship can markedly improve by changing your own perspective and behavior.
Learning about NPD, how to communicate effectively, how to set and maintain healthy boundaries, and seeking professional counseling and psychotherapy to work on overcoming your own codependent tendencies, toxic shame, and improve your self-esteem, are just a few of the many things you can do to significantly improve your relationship with a narcissist and, even more importantly, your relationship with yourself!
If you have any questions regarding this article, or if I may be of any other assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 408-309-5957 or email me at Talks2people@yahoo.com. I look forward to speaking with you and helping you create a life you truly love living!