I received an email from someone who thinks she might be in a relationship with a narcissist and asked me to discuss exactly what this is. I am obliged as I think it’s a word so casually used, without thinking of its deep impact. The label “narcissist” is widely deployed to refer to people who appear too full of themselves but it is so much more than that.

Narcissism, like many other traits, is properly viewed on a spectrum. People on the lower end of the spectrum might think very highly of themselves but at the other end lies narcissistic personality disorder. One which is diagnosed only by a mental health professional and is suspected when a person’s narcissistic traits impair their daily functioning.

There are many traits of Narcissism
These are those who encompass a hunger for appreciation or admiration, a sense of specialness and a desire to be the centre of attention, and an expectation of special treatment reflecting perceived higher status. There is a grandiose sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy for others. They treat both you and others with little respect. They frequently demean, intimidate, bully, or belittle others. Your needs will never be fulfilled or even recognised. Most of the time, based on the way they treat others, narcissists rarely have any close friends at all.

Don’t’ get me wrong, a narcissist is usually charming and charismatic but that’s either just at the beginning of your relationship or reserved for just others to witness it.

They don’t handle criticism well and typically become impatient or angry, have difficulty regulating emotions and behaviour and feel moody because they fall short of perfection.
Some call this disorder- ‘The Impossibility of Love’.

There are personal harms of being a narcissist. These and other traits can prove damaging in relationships, whether romantic, familial, or professional.

Like many other mental illnesses, the cause of narcissism is directly unknown but scientists know it is a combination of environmental (parental relationships), Genetics (inherited characteristics) or Neurobiology (the connection between the brain and behaviour and thinking) causes.

Many people wonder how to handle a narcissist. There are a few things you can do for yourself but not much to change another person.

First of all, knowledge is power, learn as much as you can about narcissists and know when you’re being mistreated or manipulated.

Make a plan. If you have a long-standing pattern of letting others violate your boundaries, it’s not easy to take back control. Set yourself up for success by carefully considering your goals and the potential obstacles.

A relationship with a true narcissist is deeply distressing and perpetually frustrating. The best thing for you to ultimately leave the relationship but if there are factors preventing that, there are other things that you can do.

Consider a gentle approach. If preserving your relationship with the narcissist is important to you, you will have to tread softly. By pointing out their hurtful or dysfunctional behaviour, you are damaging their self-image of perfection. Try to deliver your message calmly, respectfully, and as gently as possible. Focus on how their behaviour makes you feel, rather than on their motivations and intentions. If they respond with anger and defensiveness, try to remain calm. Walk away if need be and revisit the conversation later.
Be prepared for other changes in the relationship. The narcissist will feel threatened and upset by your attempts to take control of your life. They are used to calling the shots. To compensate, they may step up their demands in other aspects of the relationship, distance themselves to punish you or attempt to manipulate or charm you into giving up the new boundaries. It’s up to you to stand firm.

Don’t take things personally
To protect themselves from feelings of inferiority and shame, narcissists must always deny their shortcomings, cruelties, and mistakes. Often, they will do so by projecting their own faults on to you. It’s very upsetting to get blamed for something that’s not your fault or be characterised with negative traits you don’t possess. But as difficult as it may be, try not to take it personally. It really isn’t about you.

Don’t buy into the narcissist’s version of who you are. Narcissists don’t live in reality, and that includes their views of other people. Don’t let their shame and blame game undermine your self-esteem. Refuse to accept undeserved responsibility, blame, or criticism. That negativity is the narcissist’s to keep.

Don’t argue with a narcissist. When attacked, the natural instinct is to defend yourself and prove the narcissist wrong. But no matter how rational you are or how to sound your argument, they are unlikely to hear you. And arguing the point may escalate the situation in a very unpleasant way. Don’t waste your breath. Simply tell the narcissist you disagree with their assessment, then move on.

Look for support and purpose elsewhere
Spend time with people who give you an honest reflection of who you are. Make new friendships, if necessary, outside the narcissist’s orbit. Some narcissists isolate the people in their lives in order to better control them. If this is your situation, you’ll need to invest time into rebuilding lapsed friendships or cultivating new relationships.

Look for meaning and purpose in work, volunteering, and hobbies. Instead of looking to the narcissist to make you feel good about yourself, pursue meaningful activities that make use of your talents and allow you to contribute.

Thank you for reading.

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