Narcissist is a term commonly used to describe someone who is overly self-involved. However, specific to mental health, a person needs to meet the criterion to be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder. Being in a relationship with a narcissist is extremely difficult. It’s essential to understand the effect of narcissism on relationships and help in dealing with arising issues.

Understanding Narcissism

A narcissistic relationship is formed when one or both partners struggle with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NPD is defined as a mental disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of self-importance. Narcissists believe that they are superior and have no or little regard for other people’s feelings.  However, behind the mask of superiority, there lies fragile self-esteem and the inability to accept criticism.

It’s hard to determine if a person is narcissistic these days due to the increased use of social media platforms such as Facebook/Instagram – since it promotes the “look at me” mentality. In addition, social media does not show the negative side of self-esteem. Professor Brad Bushman of the Ohio State University put it bluntly when he said: “Narcissists are very bad relationship partners.” 

Decades of research has shown that a narcissistic partner is manipulative and less likely to be involved in a long-term commitment. This article will shed light on the struggles, effects and outcomes of being in a relationship with a narcissist.

How to tell if you are dating a narcissist?

Some of the cues to look out for:

  • Often find him/her saying, “enough about me, what about you?”- If your partner only talks about themselves, needing attention and affirmation, there might be some level of narcissism involved.
  • Overreacting to criticism and not accepting constructive feedback.
  • Look out for the “know-it-all” and for the ones who NEED to be the best.
  • Narcissists only care about others when they are fulfilling their own needs.
  • Lack of empathy.
  • Higher levels of aggression.
  • Lack of boundaries.
  • You feel isolated.
  • Avoiding responsibility.
  • YOU will not be happy in a relationship with a narcissist.

Narcissistic people have narcissistic parents, who build up their children with the same tendencies that they are used to. Neglected children are highly likely to become a narcissist since their parents were focused on themselves and not attuned with their child’s needs.

Overcoming your own narcissism

If you recognise your own narcissism and want to overcome it, challenge it by recognising and separating from manipulations, aggression, and critical inner voice. These attitudes and inner voices have internalized themselves very early in life, and the root of it needs to be recognised. Moreover, you need to be aware and differentiate negative traits that you picked up for your parents or caretakers such as superiority or aggression, among others. Like a neglected child, you may have developed unhealthy survival mechanisms which now manifests as pushing people away and sabotaging relationships. Lastly, fight the tendencies to be the best or to compare yourself to others all the time.

Another way to help yourself is to foster self-compassion rather than self-esteem. There is extensive research on self-esteem versus self-compassion; self-esteem centres around evaluating yourself in relation to others, while self-compassion is treating yourself with kindness, recognising shared humility and being mindful considering negative aspects of oneself. Research shows that self-esteem leads to higher levels of narcissism compared to self-compassion: compassion combats narcissism. It also fosters self-awareness, a trait many narcissists lack, as it promotes being mindful regarding our flaws, which is the first step in changing yourself!

If you are struggling and need help, book a consultation today and speak to a counsellor at Halcyon Counselling Clinic.

What should you do if you are dating a narcissist?

It is not easy to walk out from a narcissistic relationship, but after initial discomfort, it is worth it! the initial shower of love, feeling like your dreams have come true followed by a slow process of isolation, loss of self and manipulation with little intimacy; you are bonded emotionally and physically with your narcissistic partner. These are some of the things you can do to help yourself:

  1. Educate yourself – what is narcissism & how it works.
  2. Make a choice – Either leave or put up with the behaviour and get help for your partner.
  3. Be prepared – After you have made your choice, be prepared to protect yourself emotionally, physically, and financially.
  4. Make a list of all the reasons you want to leave – this will facilitate moving forward after the relationship ends.
  5. Build a support network with your friends and family who can remind you of the reality.

Can narcissists change?

There is a common assumption that narcissists are evil and unable to change. However, this is a stereotype, and everyone is capable of change. As soon as a narcissist recognises that they have a problem and need to change, the rest becomes achievable. Below are some of the signs that show a person is ready for change:

  • Acknowledging the feelings of others.
  • Taking interest in their own behaviour.
  • Self-reflecting.
  • Dual diagnosis: it is not uncommon for narcissists to experience depression, anxiety, or even substance misuse. These other issues, rather than narcissistic traits, may encourage people to seek help. 

What treatment looks like?

  1. Identifying existing coping mechanisms.
  2. Exploring reasons behind them.
  3. Learning and practising new healthy behaviour.
  4. Understanding/exploring how their behaviour and words impact other people.
  5. Finding patterns/connections between their inner voice and treatment of others.

The key to lasting progress:

  1. Helping someone visualise what life would look like if they changed their behaviour.
  2. Psychoeducation – exploring causes of defence mechanisms and narcissism.
  3. Encouraging self-compassion, forgiveness and validating their feelings.

The causes of personality disorders are not fully known but the reason behind a narcissistic personality disorder is self-protection. If you, or someone you know believe that you might benefit from professional help, book a free consultation, and speak to a registered counsellor today!