In an age of “selfies” and social media, it’s easy to understand why the term “narcissist” is thrown around so often. But like other personality traits such as kindness or empathy, narcissism is a trait that lives somewhere on a spectrum. As a result, one end is fairly unremarkable, and the other end could be diagnosed as a serious disorder.
Almost everybody falls on this spectrum at some stage. The fact that most of us maintain our physical appearance to some degree, shows that we at least care a little about how we’re seen by others around us. I’m sure we can all say that we know someone who carries themselves with a superior arrogance, or who feels entitled to almost anything and everything.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), chances are it’s very difficult. They tend to put themselves first, have an over-inflated ego, a sense of entitlement, lack empathy and exploit others. They can become abusive to those around them and to an extreme narcissist, people are things to be used.
Am I in a Narcissistic Relationship?
Many narcissists are unable to understand that they possess both good and bad qualities. Also, narcissists tend to judge others as either being perfect or flawed, based on how a specific person is treating them. These patterns are fairly predictable and usually fall into three stages:
1. The Idealising Phase
For many, being with a narcissist is quite easy at the start of the relationship. People with NPD are quite often very charming in the beginning because they have already formed their romanticised idea of the “perfect relationship.”
For the partner, this might feel like the typical honeymoon phase that many couples experience early on. For narcissists, however, this phase tends to be much more extreme. They want to live out their romantic fantasies, while showing you all of their good parts without revealing any vulnerability or negative traits.
2. The Waning Phase
Over time, the honeymoon phase will come to an end, like it does in most relationships. Most couples will grow closer in authenticity. But for a narcissist, this is the time when their resistance to vulnerability starts to show itself.
They will begin to notice your “less-than-perfect” qualities and make frequent comments about how you can improve yourself. If you stand up to them, they feel insulted. Because narcissists view any slight to themselves as a flaw in someone else’s behaviour, they may begin distancing themselves at this point.
3. The Discarding Phase
Many relationships with a narcissist will ultimately end in disregard for the other partner. They may be capable of looking back fondly on the relationship, however narcissists typically won’t 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. Thus resulting in the narcissist blaming them for the breakup.
Common Feelings of Being in a Narcissistic Relationship
Narcissists tend to make their partners feel guilty by denying reality. For example, they twist the facts or shift all the blame for everything that goes wrong onto their partner.
Being in a relationship with a narcissistic person will commonly leave the other partner feeling guilty, empty, worthless and alone. So, how do you recognise the signs of being abused by a narcissist? You may feel like you are doing some, or all, of the below:
- Constantly apologising, regardless of whether you believe you are in the right.
- Trying to carefully control your words, actions and tone of voice out of fear of upsetting your partner.
- Overreacting to the smallest things, and your partner is quick to point this out.
- Lying to avoid angering your partner.
- Feeling afraid of your partner and fear what they might do next.
- Making excuses for your partner’s bad behaviour.
- Believing if you change, your narcissistic partner will change, and you will have a happier relationship.
- Feeling responsible for possibly ruining your relationship.
- Feeling as if you have no voice.
- You can’t seem to make your partner happy, regardless of what you do. Even when you think you are pleasing them, they find something wrong with you.
What are Common Traits of a Narcissist?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterised as a dominant pattern of fantasy, delusions of grandeur, the need for constant admiration, and lack of empathy. Traits more often start to appear at the beginning of early adulthood and present themselves in a variety of contexts. They could include some of the following:
- Enlarged sense of their own value or importance. Exaggerates achievements and talents. Expects to be recognised as superior.
- Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect romantic relationship.
- Believes they are “special”, and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other people of a higher status.
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Feels a sense of entitlement. Has unreasonable expectations or expects automatic compliance with their beliefs.
- Willing to take advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
- Lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- Envious of others or believes that others are jealous of them.
- Displays arrogant and vain behaviours or attitudes.
How to Live with a Narcissist
Although it’s common for others to suggest you “run” from this type of person, partners or family members of someone with NPD should stand up for themselves and hold their ground. These actions can also be highly beneficial for the person with narcissistic traits.
Don’t mistakenly expect the narcissistic partner in a relationship or family member to be the one who will instigate the change in their behaviour. For partners of a narcissist, it is important to set some boundaries and hold them accountable for their actions.
Defining your own boundaries you will also give yourself space to recover and recharge as these changes can, and do, help both partners.
Don’t Blame Yourself
It is extremely important that you remember that having to set boundaries does not mean that you are responsible for their bad behaviour or abuse.
As mentioned before, a common trait of a narcissist is to turn things back on you. For example, they make you feel like you have hurt them by holding them accountable for their behaviour. A person with narcissistic tendencies CAN work on improving the way they relate to others.
For you as the partner, the most important goal should be to yourself. Narcissists are attracted to people who are dependent on others as it affords them the attention and feelings of importance they seek.
By having your own life outside the relationship, and being more independent, you will gain some perspective on your own feelings of yourself and your relationship. You could take up some new hobbies or interests, and doing that will also give you the opportunity to meet other people.
Can a Narcissist be Treated?
Narcissists will find it very difficult to recognise their distorted patterns of thinking and behaving. As a result, they rarely think they need treatment or counselling, though getting them to understand their disorder is not entirely 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 recognising there is a problem, both of you can begin making progress toward a healthier relationship.
If you would like to know any more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or someone you know may need some advice, book a session with us at counselling@voxen today.