How to Know If You’re Dealing with a Narcissist – And What to Do

If an important person in your life makes you feel as if you don’t matter, is constantly criticizing you, lacks empathy, is self-absorbed and arrogant, and repeatedly betrays your trust or disappoints you, you may be dealing with a narcissist. Narcissistic parents, partners, bosses, or family members can create a lot of chaos, hurt, or damage in your life. They also can make you feel unattractive, inadequate, incompetent and insecure. Narcissists have a way of distorting things and selectively choosing facts to make it seem like you are the problem. They keep you believing that If you could only be prettier, smarter, more successful, or more exciting, they would be nicer to you.

It’s important to understand that you’re dealing with a narcissist because the compassionate, reasonable, and compromising strategies that work with other people may not work with them. Often the best thing to do about a narcissist is to walk away or to threaten to do so if they don’t give you more respect and treat you more fairly. You can’t wait for them to be different, you have to start taking care of yourself.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a diagnosis in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders characterized by having several of the following traits:

– grandiosity
– interpersonally exploitative behavior,
– a sense of entitlement,
– resentment of others
– lack of empathy
– a preoccupation with achieving success or status
– an incessant need for admiration

Many narcissists have an underlying vulnerability, or sense of inadequacy that they seek to keep hidden at all costs. They develop a false self and a repertoire of behaviors and attitudes that facilitate external success at the cost of inner substance. While many narcissists end up assuming leadership positions or earning a lot of money, their character flaws also tend to alienate others and create problems that limit their lives and relationships.

What is it like to be in a relationship with a narcissist?

Long-term relationships are boring to narcissists. They are drawn by the chase and may idealize the partners they can’t have. They may appear to be charming, generous, and caring at first. But when they have you, they begin to get bored and to look for your faults. They may want to be with you because you’re a “prize,” or a symbol that they’ve achieved a certain status. You may make them look good in the eyes of others. But they are not really able to be present with you in the moment, to care about you when you’re having a hard time or need support, to partner with you in fulfilling life’s responsibilities, or to show up for the things that are really important to you. Narcissistic partners may cheat or flirt with others in front of you or put you down in front of others.

What should you do if you’re involved with a narcissist?

Because of the damage that narcissists can do to your self-esteem, or because they suck up your time, money, or energy, without giving back, it may make sense to leave them. If you’re working for a narcissist, it may be a good decision to look for another job, to distance yourself from a narcissistic friend, or to set firm boundaries with narcissistic family members. Narcissists can be controlling and have their own agendas for your life. If you don’t speak up and set boundaries, they may walk all over you. But it’s also really difficult to confront a narcissist because they are likely to deny everything, act hurt and injured, rage at you, or argue you into submission. Because they lack empathy, they are unlikely to see your side. And because it’s very difficult for them to change, they may placate you, but not follow through.

Can you get a narcissist to change?

Is there anything you can do to get a narcissist to change? Therapist Wendy Behary, the founder of the Schema Therapy Center of New Jersey and author of Disarming the Narcissist suggests that narcissists are unlikely to change unless you have “leverage.” Leverage means that you control some important outcome in their life. Narcissists are capable of treating others well if they have something to gain or want to avoid a loss. One way to have leverage is to threaten to limit or terminate the relationship if they don’t treat you fairly and respectfully.

Because threatening to leave is shaming and because narcissists don’t want to be controlled, Wendy suggests that you soften the blow by also expressing some empathy or understanding of what it’s like to be in their shoes. Some narcissists actually may have good intentions but experience difficulty with the follow-through. You may say something like “I know you’re under a lot of stress because of how hard you work, and I appreciate you for that but…..” You then go on to talk about the way they treat you, how it pushes you away, and how it’s becoming difficult to live with. Narcissists want you to like and admire them, even if they don’t care about you, so saying things like “I don’t like you very much when you speak disrespectfully or ignore me” or “This behavior makes me not want to be around you” can give your words some more power.

if you’re the long-suffering child, partner, friend, or employee of a narcissist, therapy that focuses on helping you stand your ground and set boundaries and on deciding whether and how to leave may be the best way to help yourself.

Comment 1

  1. Lucy
    May 7, 2018

    You hit the nail on the head! Your article is incredibly accurate and simultaneously liberating as I recognise narcissistic behaviour after struggling for years in a bad marriage. I blamed myself for many many years but now am free & loving it!
    Thank you for sharing.
    Regards Luce

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