Studies found that normally 1% of the people are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Besides, NPD is seen between 2% and 16% of the people in clinical trials.
However, a few more studies found it to be a rare phenomenon that needs more research to be termed as a mental health condition. All in all, narcissistic personality disorder is a complicated term and is open to various interpretations.
Especially, in the present context when the expression ‘narcissism’ is in circulation. How this is related to individuals, let’s get to know about it.
Narcissist – in a nutshell
According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, “narcissist is a person who admires himself or herself too much, especially their appearance”.
The word narcissist is often seen in a negative light. What’s the source of narcissism? Well, it’s a myth but narcissism is not.
The word originated from the name of a mythical figure, Narcissus – who was ill-famed for his self-absorption with his exceptional beauty. He eventually died of his vanity and turned into a flower, owning his name, narcissus.
Let’s see an expert’s take on narcissism – not just a trait but a real disorder –
Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist in California shared in an audio podcast, Speaking of Psychology, how to mentally deal with a narcissist after recognizing them.
In her opinion, their actual problem is low self-esteem which seems inflated, but their inner reality is much different than what they represent. That makes maintaining healthy relationships challenging for them and their partners.
She also talked about the four pillars of a narcissistic personality. They are grandiosity, lack of empathy, an inflated sense of entitlement, and seeking validation all the time.
In the talk, she clarified the complications of a relationship with a narcissist which only functions on hope. The hope of achieving the painful task of changing the narcissist themself.
She explained it’s a struggle as you can’t change someone by changing yourself. However, there are slim chances of change but the truth, as she said, is that they might revert to the earlier situation even after the therapy.
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What do narcissists look like?
Narcissistic characteristics can be easily found in each one of us. Sometimes, you come off as selfish and at other times, just plain indifferent. Other personality disorders such as psychopathy and borderline personality disorder can also be confused with narcissism.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition) of the American Psychiatric Association has listed the warning signs of narcissistic personality disorder to diagnose it.
So to spot a narcissist, in others or yourself, you’ll need a checklist. For the checklist below, you just have to answer yes or no. If you answer in the affirmative for most of the traits, you might be dealing with NPD. Here you go –
- You’re overly proud of yourself to the point where you overlook your mistakes. Constantly bragging about your lifestyle, achievements, or possessions is your approach to life.
- Likewise, you believe yourself to be superior to others which feeds your assumption that you’re perfect.
- You feel a strong sense of desire for others’ approval and compliments even for the tiniest of things.
- Your self-importance expects others to respect you and give you special treatment. You get enraged when you don’t receive the same.
- You seek the desire to dominate and feel it is your right. You think others should listen to and depend on you.
- You indulge in exaggeration to be liked by all and always talk, never listen.
- Jealousy is your core component. Though you show off your achievements but get bitter when others hold the center stage.
- You lack empathy and can’t support others through adversity as you only care about what they can offer you.
- Using others is your most sought-after activity and manipulation is your tactic to do the same.
- You can’t withstand even the slightest criticism and react aggressively in the face of direct confrontation.
- You blame others for everything that happens to you and never accept accountability.
What happens when narcissists enter into a relationship? It can be scary visualization given that they’re already so abusive.
Before diving into the mess they create in a relationship, you might consider looking for the ‘must-haves’ of a healthy connection which will help you see what to expect from a relationship.
What does a healthy relationship look like?
To get away from the clutches of toxic relationships or narcissistic abuse, you should first know the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship.
These are the crucial elements of a sound relationship shared by Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in the blog of Psychology Today:
- Communication lets you present your opinions and needs and understand others every time you get into a conflict zone.
- Trust provides a strong base on which you can rely at any time.
- Love helps keep the spark alive throughout the bond.
- Patience signals to the other person they are safe with you and can share whatever they like.
- Respect is as important as the relationship itself and makes it stronger under any circumstances.
- Boundaries help set the uniqueness in people where they can be themselves without offending the other person.
- Gratitude comes up as an aid when things are going through tough times. When both feel acknowledged, growth is inevitable.
- Finally, empathy, to be able to relate to the other person gives them a lasting joy, which only caters to the relationship.
Whereas, a relationship with a narcissist robs you of all the satisfaction that a true connection offers. Thus, you feel overwhelmed and believe that a healthy relationship is a myth that forces you to stay in abusive ties forever.
A codependent relationship with a narcissist
If you doubt the existence of narcissism as a disorder, you must look at codependency.
Codependency is the opposite trait of narcissism where one person depends heavily on the other and can do whatever it takes to be with them even at the cost of their well-being.
The other person can be a narcissist as well. Interestingly, narcissists choose codependents as partners so that they can have their way.
Codependents’ inner desires to get back love when they love and to be filled, stay unfulfilled when they choose narcissistic partners for their outwardly charming personalities.
However, narcissists go for codependent partners because of their own needs for the spotlight and adulation. This creates imbalance and disaster later on.
Moreover, it’s found that narcissists may share certain behaviors of codependency like dependence and shame. Narcissists, like codependents, look for others’ approval and need to be praised. They maintain high self-esteem to reveal their strength which proves to be hollow when they need others to inflate it.
Narcissists tend to seek power positions to heal their traumas and feel important. They might have dealt with childhood abuse which may result in shame and to cope with that developed self-righteous traits. While codependents need someone to complete them, narcissists seek superiority to deal with their shame.
Other factors, which make a narcissist resonate with codependents include refusal to be termed as a narcissist, not communicating their needs but expecting others to know, and a need to control.
Being in a relationship with narcissists has side-effects
Relationships are innate and what follows with them is narcissism if it’s with an egoist. It’s possible too because narcissists are everywhere. They can be your parents, friend, spouse, ex, family member, boss, or even you.
You stay with your narcissistic boss for a few hours a day, with your narcissistic family members or partner for most of your life, and with yourself for good. These people or situations become an inevitable part of your life before you get to notice the narcissistic traits and hop on to deal with them.
How do these important narcissistic figures manage to impact your life? Following are the signs you may notice when you are on receiving end –
- They attack your self-esteem by proving you’re a villain of their happiness and play the victim. That makes you lose your confidence, thus you become more vulnerable.
- They gaslight you which leads to questioning your thinking and abilities. When you try to confront them on an issue, they’ll project you silly or dramatic. Out of your unawareness, you may believe their version of the story and with approaching guilt, you keep enduring their dominance.
- You may feel insecure about your worth and always try to do more to please them because this is what they made you do for them and you do it in the hope that you can make things out one day. But it can never happen with them because of their desire to get more without offering anything in return.
- You may feel less confident about being upfront because of fear of being lashed out or rejected.
- You may feel not deserving because you’re always made to believe that you didn’t perform well.
- You may believe that relationships are all about making the other person satisfied and it’s your job to take charge of your partner’s feelings.
- You may see your identity fading away and do whatever it takes to keep the relationship going.
- You may have trust issues with other people in your life because of the traumatic experiences you had with a narcissist.
- You may have increased stress levels, headaches, and depression. Also, physical symptoms related to stomach and loss of appetite can emerge as well.
Effects of narcissism on the narcissist
There’s a saying, “hurt people hurt people”. It couldn’t be otherwise with narcissists. When they are capable of making your life hell, that’s because their life is no better. They offer you what they have – suffering.
This is how NPD wreaks havoc in your own life if you suffer from it:
- The injured self-esteem, which you likely inherit from your parents or significant figures, propels you to be resentful and dependent.
- You become depressed when people leave you or get against you because of the feeling of loss of control which eats you up from within.
- No satisfaction from relationships.
- Addiction might result from being self-obsessed with your physical appearance. It can be understood by the example of taking selfies which reflects the human need to get appreciation to a level that turns into social media narcissism.
Why are narcissists the way they are?
Their childhood experiences may play a significant role in leading them to a narcissistic path. It mainly relates to the parents or caregivers.
Parents shower them with utmost praise and instill in their minds that they are better opposed to the belief that they are lovable individuals.
Research on 565 children with their parents by the PNAS examined two theories namely, social learning theory (that narcissism emerges from over-appraisal of children) and psychoanalytic theory (that narcissism emerges from lack of love for children).
Contradicting the latter, the findings claimed parents’ over-appraisal of children can be the origin of narcissism, but narcissism may not necessarily result from over-appraisal. On the other hand, lack of love may not be the cause of narcissism, the research reported.
The research also showed the connection between parents’ over-appraisal of their children and self-esteem. It claimed both aren’t connected in any way. However, love can result in increasing a child’s self-esteem, not narcissism. Both are different in children’s acceptance of themselves as enough.
Narcissists are outwardly confident but tend to have low self-esteem, whereas, people with high self-esteem believe in their worth, not in competing with others. This is what they’re taught through parenting, thus it proves one-sided parenting is one of the causes of narcissism.
A study involving 475,000 participants over thirty-one years of research from the University at Buffalo revealed men are more narcissistic in behavior than women. The study examined three traits (grandiosity, leadership, and entitlement) in both genders.
Results showed men have large scores in entitlement and leadership whereas grandiosity occurs at the same rate in both. Research has evidence that gender differences can result in personality disorders like narcissism and it mostly occurs in men because authoritative women are discouraged by society.
Moreover, genetic factors, other psychological disorders, and esteem issues may cause this disorder.
Can you change a narcissist?
Yes, but it’s not that easy. Wendy Behary, a narcissistic and relationship expert, shared through this post that they can change with the help of a support system and if they are ready to invest in themselves.
They’re even capable of feeling others’ emotions though it may be difficult for them. All they need is a strong motivation, skilled mental health professional, and therapy that can produce change. However, there might be plenty of cases where they don’t see anything wrong with their behavior or fear being rejected when their vulnerabilities get exposed.
7 ways on dealing with a narcissist
1. Study the real narcissist
When it comes to dealing with a narcissist (whether they’re a narcissistic family member, your partner, or your boss), knowing how their mind works or the reasons for their abusive behavior can aid you in different ways.
It saves you from loads of worked-up situations where you can only lose battles against your narcissistic partner. They know well how to act up to have their way, but letting them control your response to such situations will only strengthen their sense of entitlement.
So you must know what kind of a narcissist you are dealing with and whether they have narcissistic traits or just bouts of selfishness.
As it’s evident from the research that NPD is a rare case and we all share signs of narcissism to some extent which can also be positive like ambition and healthy self-esteem. So you should be considering these things before dealing with them.
2. Claim your space aka set boundaries
Learning about narcissistic traits and healthy relationships is necessary for creating boundaries that will only make space for you to breathe and stay sane.
Being with a narcissist can make you question your abilities and self-worth. To feel important within themselves, they belittle you. Also, your needs suffer in such a bond where they are the central character because they expect you to do all the stuff for them.
These things coupled with their anger end up making your life a living hell. Thus, setting clear boundaries becomes all-important for your sanity. Be clear of your priorities, values, needs, and wants and commit to them.
You should be assertive in clarifying all these to your narcissistic partner, for example, “I don’t feel comfortable when you talk to me in this tone” or “We’ll be talking when you cool off”. Chances are they’ll force you to back off but that’s where your assertiveness comes into play.
3. Refrain from their melodrama
Narcissists often become melodramatic when they don’t get their due attention or when things are not centered around them. They’ll dramatize a small issue and blame you for the damage caused by casting their charm or by playing the target when the target is only you.
Whether they enjoy this whole situation or do it unknowingly, you’ll be the scapegoat either way. Moreover, they’ll not accept any wrongdoing on their part.
So it’s up to you to break free from this oppressive cycle and not let them involve you.
4. Find your sweet spot
It happens to be their obligation to create unlikely situations so that they can play the guilt trip and have constant attention but you don’t have to contribute to this idea. Instead, choose to stay away from them when you know, after so many trials, that it’s their tactic to dominate the space.
You want a peaceful life and that’s quite not possible when you just can’t leave a narcissist for some good reasons of yours. So pick up your fights carefully considering your own mental health. Indulge in self-care and make sure they don’t use up your time if you still aren’t ready to leave them.
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5. ‘Play’ the guilt trip
Say sorry only for dissolving the small arguments when you don’t feel like wasting your time on such a big-headed person. Saying sorry doesn’t mean you have to feel apologetic towards them but act as you do.
This way you can answer the narcissist in their language and they won’t be able to push the argument further because this is what they wanted. But this shouldn’t be done in situations where they’re mistreating you.
6. Secure others’ back
When the narcissist in your life is your boss, it becomes a real struggle to work in such a place but still, you have the support network of your colleagues as they must be going through the exact situation.
With family, it becomes more challenging, especially when you depend on them in some ways. With courage and support groups, you can get out of the emotional trauma caused by the family members. Besides, you always have the choice to distance yourself from them if not completely leave.
The same with an abusive partner where you can maintain boundaries or just move away when things turn out detrimental to your well-being.
7. Distance yourself or cut ties altogether
Living with a narcissist can lead to you being used by their ill-tactics which furthers the problem when you feel it’s normal for two people to have clashes. Especially, when they come to you after all the drama and belittling and say things were out of their control and it wasn’t intentional at all.
Their manipulation lets you be hopeful once again and you think your kindness will change them one day but sadly, it doesn’t happen. You need to be clear with these subtle signs. By thinking about your own feelings, take action to quit the abusive relationship.
Although you’re less likely to get narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). But it can form a shape with the continuous rise in narcissistic behavior in the modern era.
Narcissistic tendencies are a challenge in themselves, however, seeing a mental health professional is a good choice on their interference with your life. Narcissists often ignore professional counseling but change is nowhere close to impossible.
Professional help like family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy works well but the most important thing is the will of a narcissist to change.
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Content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. Reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students.