Last week we dealt with how to handle your narcissistic boss, co worker or friend. This week we examine what to do when your partner or family member is a narcissist, the two areas of your life where it is most difficult to be in relation with a narcissist.
When your partner is a narcissist
This is a tricky one. Narcissists are notoriously charismatic and charming and when their attention is on you, you feel like the center of the universe. They will stop at nothing to woo you and will pull out all sorts of grandiose romantic gestures to have you under their spell and captivated by their charms.
Why do they do this? Well, I’m glad you asked. They want to win you over so you will be intoxicated by them, shower them with adoration and place them on a pedestal – which ultimately feeds into their sense of superiority and entitlement. Actually, they often perceive that their status has increased after ‘conquering’ you because they only pursue people who are perceived by others as attractive, cool and desirable – this is known as the trophy syndrome. As you can see, nothing can be taken on face value when dealing with a narcissist as there is almost always an ulterior motive, however well hidden.
Once the courtship has ended and the relationship begun, things change and fast. They stop listening to you, they continuously undermine your opinions and feelings if they differ from their own, they begin to treat you with little or no consideration. This happens gradually enough that before you know what’s what you are questioning why they are being so uncharacteristically mean and by then you may be in love with them, having been left utterly confused and perplexed.
Often this confusion places you in a state of denial that their true self – the person you knew during the courtship – is still there, you just have to bring it out in them again. You may even feel to blame for how they are behaving, after all there could be no other explanation for how someone could change so quickly. Wrong! They are a narcissist, plain and simple.
What can also make things worse is that they are their usual charming self to others who they are less close to them (like with friends), meaning that when you confide in someone how your narcissistic partner is treating you, you are met with disbelief, as if there must be a good reason why ‘such a nice person’ is behaving so differently. This adds to a feeling of isolation and feeds into the belief that it must be you. Wrong again.
The sad truth is that the courtship was their false self and now they are showing you their true self and not the other way around. This is a hard truth to swallow as you fell in love with their false self, but it is the only thing that, once accepted, will set you free.
If you are married to a narcissist there really is only one solution – you need to request, if not insist – that they go to couples psychotherapy with you (not counseling, ensure you go to a qualified psychologist) or individual therapy or ideally both, depending on the severity of the problems in the relationship. If this doesn’t work, you might like to contemplate how a lifelong relationship with a narcissist will play out and whether you might ultimately be happier leaving the marriage.
Should you have decided to end the relationship (and by the way, congratulations) the only constructive way to do this is to cut all contact besides essential communication regarding logistics. For example, getting your belongings, divorce proceedings or childcare. If you don’t have children and aren’t married it’s time to celebrate – you have escaped!
Even when talking about logistics do not enter into debate over anything or take the inevitable bait he or she will give you to argue back, as this will just feed into their narcissism and make him or her feel powerful. Simply give yes or no answers and state the facts like ‘you need to be at court at 8am’, then ignore everything else. In an ideal world (and if kids are not involved) no contact whatsoever works best.
When your family member is a narcissist
If you have a sister, mother, brother or father who is a narcissist you will know that sometimes it is better to pick your battles. It goes without saying that you can’t choose your family, so, in this instance, the best thing to do is to not take it personally. Remember that inside that harsh and often critical exterior is someone who is deeply insecure and in pain, trying to manage it with the only tool they know how, their narcissism.
This isn’t to say you need to feel sorry for them and excuse their behavior – when you feel they have really hurt you, you simply need to express how their behavior has impacted you on an emotional level and assert yourself (please read my article on assertiveness titled ‘Assertiveness: A Journey Worth Taking’).
With the little things though, such as if they don’t apologize for eating the last of the chocolate cake when they knew it was yours and you were looking forward to it, it may be wise to just inwardly roll your eyes and let it go.
If you absolutely must have a narcissist in your life it is critical you set healthy boundaries so please do read ‘Assertiveness: A Journey Worth Taking’. Only you know how much of an impact the narcissists in your life have upon you, but, where possible, I would encourage you to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of narcissism so that you can recognize who in your life is a narcissist. Being forewarned is being forearmed and once you know, you will be in the best possible position to deal with them effectively, which will make your life a whole lot easier.
Take Psych Central’s narcissist quiz now to find out where you fall on the narcissistic spectrum, go on I dare you! And just in case you were wondering my score was 11, with narcissists scoring 20 or higher.
Have you ever had a partner who was a narcissist? What difficulty did you have? Do you feel able to have compassion towards family members who are narcissists? Did you take the narcissist quiz? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.
Narcissism by Alexander Lowen (a self-help book for the recovering narcissist)