Narcissistic Personality Disorder Relationships
Loving someone with narcissistic personality disorder is not always easy. Key traits of narcissism include a need for approval from others and an impaired ability to recognize the needs of others. Recognizing and treating this disorder as a serious mental illness is the first step to finding compassion and support for narcissists. With consistent, long-term treatment, narcissists and their loved ones can find help.
Being in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be challenging. Narcissists tend to have an inflated sense of ego and entitlement, put themselves first, lack empathy, and can become abusive to others.
It is also difficult for narcissists to recognize the distorted and unhealthy patterns of their thinking and behaviors. This can make getting treatment difficult, though it is not impossible.
Seeking professional evaluation is the only way to know that your loved one has narcissistic personality disorder. After taking this first difficult step and recognizing there is a problem, both of you can begin making progress toward a healthier relationship.
Narcissistic Relationship Pattern
Many narcissists are unable to accept themselves and others as integrated whole selves, complete with both good and bad qualities. In addition, narcissists tend to judge others as either perfect or flawed, based on the treatment they are receiving. These traits manifest themselves in three fairly predictable patterns:
- Idealizing phase: For many, loving a narcissist is quite easy at the onset of the relationship. People with NPD can be charming in the courtship stage, largely due to their romanticized idea of the “perfect relationship.” For you, this may feel like the typical honeymoon phase that many couples experience early on. For narcissists, however, this phase is much more extreme. It involves living out romantic fantasies, showing you and the rest of the world all their good parts without revealing any vulnerability.
- Waning phase: Over time—or sometimes, overnight—the honeymoon phase comes to an end. Instead of growing closer in authenticity, this is a time when a narcissists’ resistance to vulnerability starts to come through. Your partner begins to notice your less-than-perfect qualities and may make frequent comments about necessary improvements. If you reject these suggestions, your partner feels insulted. Because narcissists view any slight to themselves as a flaw in others’ behavior, they may begin distancing themselves at this point.
- Discarding phase: Many relationships with narcissists end in disregard for the other partner. Even if they look back on the relationship with fondness, narcissists typically will not accept any of the blame for how things turned out. If there is abuse involved, sometimes the partner will be the one to end the relationship.
While many relationships with narcissists follow this pattern, it is still possible to support your loved one on the path to healing.
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Loving a Narcissist
One of the most difficult parts of loving narcissists is their lack of empathy, which can give you the feeling that they aren’t really present even when they’re with you. Individuals with NPD struggle to understand the feelings of others and often use people to meet their own needs, including their need for constant admiration.
While this lack of empathy can seem cold and manipulative, it is a symptom of a serious mental illness and does not signify willful hatred on the part of your loved one. Learning how to empathize with narcissists without judging them is an important step to gaining their trust, which may make seeking treatment easier. Though more research is needed on this topic, studies have been conducted that suggest it is possible to reduce narcissistic tendencies and increase empathy among narcissists
Pursuing psychotherapy can help narcissists see the effect of NPD on their relationships and eventually promote recovery. Treatment for narcissists is crucial, as those with NPD are more likely than the general population to experience substance abuse and anxiety, mood and personality disorders.
Finding Support for Yourself
Abuse is a real possibility for those in a relationship with a narcissist. For narcissists’ loved ones, however, it can be difficult to differentiate between acceptance of NPD and tolerance of abusive behavior.
While it is healthy to accept that your loved one is suffering from a serious mental illness and in need of compassion, it is not acceptable to endure abusive behavior. Be on the lookout for any abuse or mistreatment—whether physical, mental, emotional, verbal, sexual, or financial—and seek help as soon as possible.
If you are in a non-abusive relationship with a narcissist, it is still important to set firm boundaries and look after yourself first and foremost. Consider seeking out therapy for yourself, as well as the support of others in similar situations. By building up your own resilience and sense of self-worth, you will be better equipped to support your partner with NPD.