Living with a Narcissist

Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition that causes a person to have an exaggerated sense of importance and abilities and a lack of empathy for others. This makes healthy relationships extremely challenging. Living with a narcissist is difficult, but with treatment, firm boundaries, respect for each person, and a commitment to try to make positive changes, it is possible.

Living with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be difficult. The consequences of living with or being in a relationship with a narcissist may range from mild irritation to actual narcissistic abuse.

The first and most important step to living in a healthy arrangement with a narcissist is to recognize that there is a problem. Try to help your loved one get a professional evaluation and treatment, although this will be challenging.

Once you have recognized that there is an issue and have done what you can to get your loved one help, you can take steps to make your relationship healthier. This may include attending therapy sessions, seeking out support from other people who live with narcissists, setting and enforcing boundaries, and being aware of and taking action against abuse.

If you both can commit to making positive changes, you can live with a narcissist and have a better relationship.

Are You Living with a Narcissist?

How do you know if you are in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder? The only true way to know is to convince that person to be evaluated and diagnosed by a mental health professional. If you suspect that your significant other or family member has this personality disorder, here are some of the symptoms and signs:

  • An extreme and exaggerated feeling of self-importance, of being better than others in almost all ways. This belief may persist despite evidence to the contrary.
  • Always needing admiration, attention, and recognition. This leads to shallow relationships, as a person with NPD looks for others who will affirm them, not challenge them.
  • Having fantasies about power, wealth, and other types of grandiose success
  • A feeling of being entitled to better treatment and things
  • Lack of empathy for others. Narcissists struggle to understand how other people feel and tend to treat others as only there to serve their own needs.
  • Bullying behaviors, which can border on or even become abuse. A narcissist will belittle someone they see as a threat or use intimidation, bullying, or abuse to get what they want or think they deserve.

These are the characteristic signs of NPD, which can manifest in more specific ways, such as angry outbursts, poor relationships, problems at work, spending too much money, or even depression.

Pushing for Treatment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Getting treatment for someone with NPD is often a big challenge. A person with this personality disorder does not generally recognize that there is anything wrong with their behaviors or beliefs. They think that any issues they have, like conflict at work or home, are caused by other people. They are typically very resistant to treatment or even to being evaluated for a diagnosis.

If you see many of the signs of narcissism in your loved one, the best way to make positive changes are for that person to get diagnosed and treated. Even when someone with NPD agrees to treatment, psychotherapy can only be as effective as that person’s commitment and willingness to make changes.

The goals of psychotherapy for NPD are, first, to help the person see that their thinking is skewed and their behaviors harmful. When progress is made in this first goal, a therapist can then help a narcissist make positive behavioral changes and learn to empathize with others and have more meaningful relationships. Therapy can help, but the outcomes are highly dependent on the willingness of the individual. If you love a narcissist, it is important to do what you can to convince him or her to get professional help. The health of your relationship, and your own well-being, may depend on it.

Family and Relationship Therapy

In addition to individual psychotherapy for the narcissist, family or couples therapy can also be helpful. One of the main goals of therapy for someone with NPD is to improve interpersonal skills and relationships. To get the family or a partner involved in therapy can help each individual better understand one another and the motivations behind problem behaviors. Working together in therapy can help the narcissistic marriage or family become healthier by improving understanding and communication, and by each person learning and taking concrete steps to change behaviors.

Recognizing When Behaviors Become Abusive

When living with a narcissistic husband, wife or other family member, abuse can be a real and serious issue. Not all people with NPD will become abusive, but it is possible. When you love and care about someone it can be difficult to recognize or admit, even to yourself, that you are the victim of abuse. But it is important that you do, so you can get help. Abuse is any mistreatment that causes you harm.

Abuse may be physical, such as hitting or shoving; it can be emotional and verbal; abuse may be sexual, including non-consensual behaviors; abuse can even be financial, such as limiting your access to money or misusing your money. A type of abuse not uncommon with narcissists is called gaslighting. An example of this is your loved one saying something mean or emotionally abusive and then later denying it, leaving you feeling uncertain about what you really experienced.

Resisting the Charm of a Narcissist

It is possible to love and live with a narcissist, but be aware that these individuals are very good at constructing a fantasy about who they are and what they can offer. They tend to be very charming and confident, which draws people to them. Be realistic about a relationship with a narcissist and avoid falling into the trap of thinking that this charming person is motivated by wanting to meet your needs. A narcissist is devoted to his or her own needs, not yours.

You can still be with someone with NPD, but make frequent reality checks. Observe what your loved one says compared to what he or she does or how this person treats others. Avoid getting lost in the fantasy, and instead focus on your own needs and your own reality while still loving and caring for this person.

Setting Boundaries for a Healthier Relationship

An important part of making that reality check is setting boundaries in your relationship. This will keep you lodged firmly in reality and will protect your own interests and feelings in the relationship. It can be hard not to take a narcissist’s behaviors personally, but remember that it is his or her problem and has nothing to do with who you are as a person. If you can set some firm boundaries, this will be easier to remember.

Your narcissistic partner may not understand why you need these boundaries, but ask that they be accepted and respected. Healthy boundaries can take any form you want them to, such as asking that your partner not to tell you how you think or feel, or that he or she not use personal insults when you argue. Communicate your boundaries firmly but gently, and be prepared to back them up with consequences. A narcissist will likely push the boundaries or break them, so if you are not firm with promised consequences you cannot expect anything to change.

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Finding Support

Living with a narcissist can be exhausting in many ways, not least because everything revolves around that person. Whether or not you have convinced your loved one to get professional counseling, consider your own needs and take care of them. Getting therapy for yourself is a healthy way to learn how to better cope in your relationships, for example.

Another good form of support is to socialize and talk with other people in a similar situation. You can find support groups for spouses or family members of people with NPD, if not in your local area certainly online. Use these groups for support, for advice, to share and vent, and to better understand what it means to live with someone with NPD. Support from your other loved ones, or friends, is also important. Make time to be with those people, without the narcissist in your life, both for support and for a break.

Knowing When to End a Relationship with a Narcissist

Only you can decide when the relationship has become too much for you and when you need to exit, but one definite sign that should hold true for anyone is abuse. If your loved one is abusing you and is either not willing to change or is not capable of changing, the relationship will only cause you harm over time. Even if there is no abuse, it may be time to end the relationship when you try your best to make changes but your loved one makes no commitment to change.

Making changes and finding empathy is extremely challenging for someone with NPD. If your loved one is trying, be patient. Support him or her, but also take care of yourself and protect your own needs and well-being. If you can do both of these things, and your partner or family member is willing to make changes, your relationship stands a chance.