I’m sure most of you will have heard of the term narcissism thrown around to describe people who are vain or full of themselves and constantly putting others down. Maybe you have stumbled across it in a google search or a friend has pointed it out to you. Even though I am not a big fan of labels as I have seen so many people change through my coaching, I am going to address narcissism as this is a main reason why men and women come to me for help. Do you know the true meaning of narcissism?
X1 The definition of a narcissist is someone who suffers from a mental health condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). People who have NPD and exhibit narcissistic behaviours genuinely believe in delusions of grandeur – where they are truly in love with this perfect, ideal image of themselves – which is most often far from the truth and a coping mechanism for deep rooted issues that they want to keep hidden.
This constant need to turn their back on the issues inside them is what causes this unpredictable, unstable and downright hurtful behaviour towards others. They are so consumed with hiding their flaws or insecurities that they tend to lack empathy for others and come across highly ignorant and selfish. This leads on to the reason why narcissists really struggle to change their behaviour and act out when someone calls them out for behaving so bad. The irony is their reactions to loved ones telling them about their behaviour causes them to act out more because they are so sensitive to criticism – even though one of the traits of narcissistic behaviour is to highlight the flaws of others, they can’t handle the situation being flipped on them.
Today I want to talk about narcissistic behaviour and relationships – what you can do if you want to make your relationship with a narcissist work, or what do to if you want to leave peacefully.
So, before I get into my tips on the above, I want to briefly go over what narcissistic behaviour looks like. I mentioned one of the main traits of narcissistic behaviour earlier, but there are so many more. Here are some of the most common traits to look out for –
- Delusions of grandeur
They falsely believe that they are far more important, better, successful that those around them, regardless of any hard facts to show them otherwise. For example, they will talk about how intelligent they are compared to all of their work colleagues, successful friends, family, famous people even etc and will continue being persistent in their beliefs. Even if we all are taken back, not believing that surely they are more intelligent or successful people than them, it can seem like such a lie and unimpressive, when they are trying to impress.
- False world
People who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder will not only believe their delusions that they are the best but they will also go as far as to create a world around them that support those dreams. They make up stories to make them look a certain way in front of others, they will also do whatever they can to support this fake life – for example, if they are pretending to be super successful and living the high life they may take out loans just to buy luxurious cars and portray an image of being really rich.
- Seeking praise or attention
Because those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are hiding a lot of insecurities and practically living a lie, they are constantly in need of attention or getting praise. This is because they know deep down that the life they are portraying isn’t real, so in order to further support their false beliefs and to feel good about themselves, they will seek constant praise and reassurance that they are as amazing as they think they are.
- Sense of entitlement
From the points I’ve mentioned already, you can tell a narcissist thinks extremely highly of his or herself and wants the world around them to support their delusions of grandeur, this is why they live with a sense of entitlement. They want people around them to cater to their every desire and will often have ridiculous demands just because they can show that they are higher up or deserve more than people around them. For example, not allowing families to eat unless they are at sat at the head of the table.
- Lack empathy
For people with narcissistic traits, they are so focused on themselves and hiding their true identity and insecurities, that they tend to lack empathy for anyone else around them – no matter how much you cater to their every desire. Even if you give a narcissist the world, it will never change the way they see you as their life is about them – they can’t put themselves in other people’s shoes as they can only see or care about their own life. Even if you break it down to them, they will never understand it. I often do empathy coaching for men and women in my couple package as it can be such a special gift to give to your loved ones and some are not trained in it.
- Exhibit bullying and manipulative behaviours
If a narcissist comes into contact with someone who threatens their false world they immediately act out and do what they can to break the other person down. For example, if they are married to someone who is more successful in their career, they see it as a threat and will put them down – telling them they are no good or ridicule things their partner does or says in an attempt to soothe their own ego. A major form of manipulative behaviour is controlling, making someone say, act, wear and do things they want to do on their terms. Limiting a person’s free time, who they talk to and where they go can be common also.
Listening to these traits I know some of you may be thinking why would someone want to stay with or live with a narcissist? But the reality is there are people who have fallen deeply in love before seeing or realizing that the person they are with is a narcissist. They are good a showing intense love at times, promising the world, showering you with compliments until you fall deeply in love with them again.
Narcissists are also capable of making up fantasy worlds that make us believe they are special and we would be nothing without them. So it can be hard not to fall for someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Many find it very hard to leave also as they cannot handle rejection or be the person that is being left. They will beg and make endless promises and as it is often what that person wants to hear, they stay in the hope that the relationship will be good and the love and attention shown in the beginning will last.
So, what can you do if you are in a relationship with a narcissist and you truly love them and want to support them so you can have a healthier relationship? Here are some of my most successful tips that have helped many couples in a similar situation –
- Understand Narcissistic Personality Disorder
When you read up on narcissistic behaviour you quickly realise that the way your partner reacts to things or how they treat you is no reflection on you whatsoever – everything they say or do is a reflection of them and their deep-rooted issues. This doesn’t make their behaviour okay, but it does help to remind yourself of this when you are at the end of one of their rants or attempts to put you down.
Arming yourself with knowledge, case studies and scientific facts about narcissism and being with a narcissistic partner, you automatically have the upper hand. This means when you approach subjects with your partner, you learn how to adapt your conversation so that it doesn’t make them feel insecure or threatened. You also understand that you really have to know yourself and love yourself so that nothing your partner says or does can affect you deep down.
- Set your limits and boundaries
Take some time to figure out what you are willing to work on and what parts of your relationship you are definitely not happy with. This will help you to set your boundaries and also enables you to plan what to do or how to react in different situations with your narcissistic partner. For example, if you know they have a tendency to put you down when you accomplish something at work, celebrate yourself first when it happens, share it with people around you that would be happy for you and mentally prepare yourself for the potential reactions from your partner. This way you know what to expect and know that their reaction can’t change how happy you are at your successes.
No narcissist likes to lose control of any situation so they may act out when they realise you are setting limits to how much information you share with them or how much you let them affect you. In order to counter this, have reactions prepared – if they are talking down to you, walk away, if they try to stop you from doing something say you will talk to them when they are feeling calmer. Do not rise to their taunts.
- Surround yourself with people who lift you up
Living with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be really draining and can distort the way you see yourself. In order to counteract these low feelings, you need to think carefully about the people you surround yourself with. Are your family members or friends understanding, supporting and do they boost you up when you need it the most?
Some people come from families that possess narcissistic traits so it can be really easy to slip into an unhealthy relationship with a narcissist. However, if you find that this is the case for you, get the right support! Whether you choose to go down the professional route or with close friends that you can trust, open up to and speak about your experiences, do not be afraid to speak up. This will also give you the opportunity to learn what healthy relationships look like from others.
- Guide them to get the help they need
Lastly, you need to get your partner the help they need to let go of or overcome their narcissistic ways. This is going to be the hardest part of staying in your relationship, but it will be fruitful if your partner complies and works through this with you.
Remember a narcissist will never want to admit they are in the wrong, they need help or that they have things to work on, so it is better to get the support of a professional who can guide you in how to support them best. Avoid saying to them you are a narcist, selfish, egotistical as they will probably shut down. Successful couples who overcome issues as a team, will say to them that they both need to make changes in the relationship and would they consider joint coaching to make the relationship better. This is how I help men and women with a narcissistic partner because the likelihood is they will not listen if you try and educate them on their behaviour whereas they may accept guidance from an expert to save the relationship.
If this is something they do not want to do and you can no longer stay with your partner as they are, then it might be time to start planning to leave.
For more relationship support please check out the facebook group I have created to support one another through these difficult times