Coping with Your Partner’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Being in a relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a difficult situation to be in. But by being aware of your role in the relationship, you can help your loved one learn to trust you enough to allow you to address their illness, help them seek treatment, and promote their healing through acceptance and support.
Sarah always felt more like a tool whose sole purpose was to sustain her boyfriend’s ego and sense of importance. At first, she simply thought he had narcissistic tendencies, something that she’d experienced with other boyfriends. But over time, she began to realize that this was much more—her boyfriend had Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and eventually, it began to take its toll on her.
His neglect for her feelings made her feel like he didn’t care for her, and his constant need for admiration made her feel used. The lack of reciprocation made things worse, and she started to feel inferior to him. Even though she realized her boyfriend had an illness, she didn’t know how to handle it properly, and ultimately felt at a loss as to what to do.
It’s a painful experience, but also one that can easily be misunderstood. People with NPD are not inherently “bad” or “evil” people, and their seemingly cold, calculating actions, though all too commonly perceived as purposefully malicious, are often merely manifestations of their illness. Accepting this fact and working to act in a way that is empathetic and supportive can be difficult, because being in a relationship with someone with NPD can make you feel unworthy or unloved. Like Sarah knows all too well, their need for power and admiration can take away from yours—every demand, every comment that belittles you to feed their ego, every attempt to control the relationship. But your support is vital to their recovery and the health of the relationship because it will help them understand how their illness is negatively impacting both their state of mind and your bond, highlighting the necessity of treatment.
Being Aware of Your Role in the Relationship
When you share a bond with someone that you love and care about, showing them affection and admiration is something that will come naturally. But people living with NPD require unusually high levels of admiration to match their inflated sense of importance. If you’re in a relationship with someone with NPD, it’s very important to ensure that you are aware of this need and don’t get caught up into giving them excessive levels of admiration that feed into their inflated ego. By doing so, you are essentially enabling a symptom of their illness, and even if you have good intentions, the end result will do nothing but hinder their recovery.
Buying gifts for your partner on occasions where they’ve accomplished something they should be proud of—a new job, a raise—is a great example of a healthy way of expressing your admiration and love. You’re showing them that you’re proud of their accomplishments and empowering them in a positive way. Buying them gifts constantly because they constantly demand them, however, isn’t a healthy expression of love—it’s feeding into their NPD. Sarah’s boyfriend demanded gifts on a weekly basis, and would lash out if she didn’t give him what he wanted, making her feel guilty for failing to “support” him. What Sarah eventually had to learn was that, even in spite of good intentions, giving in to the unreasonable demands of someone with NPD isn’t helping—it’s enabling.
Individuals with NPD will also take advantage of other people in order to reach their own goals. Combine this with their lack of empathy and inability to see how their actions are harming others, and it can be easy for the unaware person to fall down the path of sacrificing their own happiness for their partner’s. This sort of sacrifice isn’t something you should be ashamed of—you just need to become aware of the signs of manipulation that can stem from NPD in order to learn how to deal with them.
Sarah’s boyfriend demanded that she always pick him up from work every day at the same time, despite the fact that at times it interfered with her own schedule. At first, she couldn’t help but see it as an act of kindness, a way to show her boyfriend she supported him, but in reality she was allowing him to take advantage of her and preventing him from experiencing any sort of learning process. And these sorts of learning processes are necessary to help someone with NPD become aware of their own lack of empathy and the negative effect that it has on their loved ones.
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One of the main factors that leads to problems early on in the treatment of NPD patients stems from their distrust of their therapist. Clinical psychologist Elsa Ronningstam suggests that treatment approaches should “encourage and collaboratively explore the patient’s own accounts of problems and experiences,” instead of assuming “that competence, self-esteem, and positive interpersonal interactions are deceptive ‘cover-ups’ or ‘defenses’ against more severe narcissistic traits.” In order to get your loved one into treatment and provide the framework for this approach prior to their enrollment, you need to let them know that they can trust you and give them the proper environment to express themselves without feeling judged.
Be open with them about their symptoms, and your acceptance of them. Let them know that you don’t take the actions stemming from their illness as a sign of malicious intent or a lack of love for you—that you are aware of the pain that they are experiencing due to their illness and the effects that it’s having on their life. It was through this reassurance and empathy that Sarah was able to gain the trust of her boyfriend and help him finally transition into treatment.
Healing Through Acceptance and Support
Although it might seem difficult to withhold your admiration for someone that you care about so much, or refrain from helping them in the moments that seem like they need it the most, always communicate your acceptance and support with them and this process will become easier. People with NPD aren’t trying to manipulate or hurt you because they necessarily want to; they are driven by the pain created by their mental illness.
By becoming aware of this pain you can better understand the symptoms of their illness, accept them for who they are, and make them feel loved and supported, ultimately guiding them toward proper comprehensive residential treatment. Through this treatment, they will learn to become more aware of how their disorder is affecting both themselves and your relationship, and you can work together to strengthen your bond and promote their recovery.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Contact us to learn more about how your loved one can overcome their narcissistic tendencies and how you can play a positive role in the treatment process.
Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Brooke Cagle