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Living with a Person who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder

written by: AngelicaMD • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 1/9/2011

A narcissist is a person who has a disordered sense of self-importance and entitlement, and often lacks empathy for others. Living with narcissistic personality disorder can be a huge challenge especially as the affected person often demands attention and gives none to others in return.

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    Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

    Like all personality disorders, narcissistic personality disorder affects how a person relates to their own self and to others in a way that can cause incredible stress and strain in relationships. Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance, feeling that they are entitled to privileges, attention and admiration although deep inside, they are vulnerable to criticism and suffer from low to no self-esteem. These traits affect other people negatively, because a narcissist has no regard for the feelings of others. They often value their own feelings over those of anyone else’s; they take advantage of other people, but at the same time they may be envious of the good fortune of others.

    Narcissists are often males, comprising 50-75% of all who are diagnosed with the condition.

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    Living with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

    Living with narcissistic personality disorder refers to 1) the home, where one has a self-indulgent spouse or an abusive parent 2) at work with a bossy co-worker who fantasizes about being superior than others or 3) in organizations and institutions, where leadership roles are sometimes assumed by self-admiring individuals.

    It may be unavoidable to live with someone who has NPD because at first they may truly seem admirable and self-confident, but then they begin taking advantage of others and demand extra attention and respect.

    Advice on living, working and coping with a narcissistic person -

    • First try to understand exactly what a person afflicted with NPD is going through. This character disorder may have been brought about by family history, upbringing and other environmental factors that may have influenced their present personality. The person may not actually be aware of their defect and is vulnerable to criticism, making him or her react defensively.

    • Everybody has a certain degree of narcissism or self-love which may not reach pathologic or destructive levels. With this in mind, one may be able to understand that being validated is important to feeling satisfied or finding fulfillment in life. It is believed that the parents of narcissists were unable to form healthy and empathic relationships with their offspring and so these children developed a narcissistic personality in response to feelings of inadequacy. Therefore the NPD person needs constant reassurance and rational conversations. The aim is not to change the person, because this is a chronic, deep-rooted disorder, but to give him or her the empathy they need to be able to form meaningful relationships.

    • It may not be enough to understand and empathize with a narcissist. One has to be able to keep personal feelings in check and not rush to judgement or be critical. This will be especially difficult when the non-narcissist feels used and abused in a relationship with a self-indulgent person. Whatever the abusive person may say or do, one has to avoid taking it personally.

    • If you do live with an NPD person you must be able to stand firm and not lose your identity or get carried away by the standards set by the narcissist. Letting the narcissist rule the roost can lead to extreme marital and relationship problems. Psychotherapists recommend family therapy and group therapy for families or individuals dealing with this problem. In these activities they may find support, and be helped to open up their communications with each other as well as learning how to explore conflict flashpoints. Ultimately all of this can lead to healthier and more harmonious relationships.

    • The non-narcissist must resist the urge to fight back or take revenge on someone whom they feel is using, abusing or “victimizing” them; retaliation will never resolve problems and difficulties. Instead, think of constructive ways to be prepared to react in situations or encounters with the narcissist.

    Helping the person reshape their personality and build a more realistic self-image may not be easy. Handling one’s own emotions in living with narcissistic personality disorder is a challenge of faith, resilience and creativity. The way to go about it is to understand, empathize and to stand by one’s own convictions. Seeking professional help is particularly useful in situations where relationships need to be saved and nurtured.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic, "Narcissistic personality disorder", accessed 1/3/11

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/narcissistic-personality-disorder/DS00652

    Psychiatry MMC, “Psychotherapy with a Narcissistic Patient Using Kohut’s Self Psychology Model”, accessed 1/3/11

    http://www.psychiatrymmc.com/psychotherapy-with-a-narcissistic-patient-using-kohut%E2%80%99s-self-psychology-model/

    Harvard Business Review, "Neutralize Your Toxic Boss", accessed 1/3/11

    http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2008/09/neutralize_your_toxic_boss.html