It seems to be the darling diagnosis in the romantic realm. “Our relationship stinks because she is a narcissist.” “We divorced because he was a narcissist.” While the armchair diagnosis may produce a pat answer to heartbreak at cocktail parties, it’s important to understand the true nature of the disorder called a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD.)
It is estimated that 6.2% of the American population exhibits NPD, and exaggerated sense of self that is a defense against the real issue, low self-esteem. The DSM-5 criteria for the disorder includes these behaviors and thought patterns:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerating your achievements and talents
- Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Being envious of others and believing others envy you
- Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
Obviously these behaviors are rarely conducive to a healthy relationships. But there are many reasons why someone might choose to continue a relationship with a narcissist, not the least of which are children or financial intertwinement. Sometimes, if the disorder is mild, a compassionate, secure relationship can even help to heal someone with NPD. If you’ve looked at your options and really believe the symptoms are mild (i.e. they don’t involve domestic violence, substance abuse or chronic cheating that may threaten you family’s health) then here are a few tips to dealing with a narcissist:
1. Have Compassion – Remember the underside of NPD is extreme low self esteem and self loathing. The distorted ego is designed to protect the mind from negative feelings of low self worth. Narcissism is often caused by child abuse or critical parenting.
2. Kiss the Ring – The only way to connect with the person with NPD and gain trust is to collude with the inflated ego. It’s what therapists do when a patient presents with NPD. Don’t challenge the distortions.
3. Get Validated Elsewhere – Sadly, the person with NPD has major issues around love. They don’t believe anyone can love them because they don’t love themselves. Also, one of the ways they maintain their false self is to put down others, especially those they love, as a defense mechanism. I’m certainly not suggesting an affair, but the only way to survive this relationship is to have high self esteem yourself, and to surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally. Friends and family will remind you how lovable you are and help you not be so reactive to their protective defenses.
However, if you find that living with a someone with true narcissistic personality disorder is affecting your mental or physical health, the only remedy is to end the relationship.
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