Is My Partner a NARCISSIST?
I hear this a lot. The term narcissist is used, and sometimes misused, to describe an unbalanced relationship or a person that is selfish and mean. Oftentimes in therapy sessions a client will label their partner in this way, but that person probably wouldn’t actually meet the requirements to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Like many things, narcissism exists on a spectrum, and in western cultures where individualism and high achievement are valued greatly, it’s no surprise that we all have some mild degree of this. Healthy narcissism helps inform us of our own self-worth and self-esteem. Narcissistic tendencies are typically only problematic when they become extreme.
The traits that define narcissism include a lack of empathy and compassion, as well as blatant disregard for the feelings, boundaries, and needs of others. A person who demonstrates narcissistic tendencies projects an image of superiority, entitlement and grandiosity. He or she may appear self-absorbed, by interrupting and monopolizing conversations, while offering their views as indisputable. This person tends to exaggerate their knowledge, talents and achievements, seeking accolades and elevating themselves while putting others down. Those on the extreme end of the spectrum have highly developed narcissistic traits, and usually don’t believe that rules were meant for them to follow. They may lie frequently, disregard the promises they made, ignore social norms or even break the law without conscience. Typically, there is little or no remorse for their own wrong-doing or the for pain that they inflict on others.
Am I the Crazy One?
Being in a romantic relationship with a person like this is really difficult. The partner with the narcissistic traits is often charming and romantic – especially in the beginning of the courtship. Once the relationship has formed and the hierarchy has been established, this individual will turn on his/her partner, using the charm and romance to manipulate every situation so that they remain in control. They expect total adoration, loyalty and attention to their needs. Clients who are on the receiving end of this behavior often ask me if they’re “crazy” to be caught up in this roller coaster relationship. They tolerate the mood swings, the put-downs and the broken promises until they just can’t take it anymore.
How do relationships with a narcissist end?
Getting off this roller coaster isn’t easy. This ride might actually feel more like loop de loop, with no end in sight. When the partner with the narcissistic traits feels that the relationship is in jeopardy, they may become passive aggressive, offering the silent treatment and withdrawal when he/she doesn’t get their way. When confronted about a grievance or a lie, they’ll typically use emotional warfare including blaming, criticizing, guilt-tripping and gaslighting. Then they may counter that behavior with generosity, romance and kindness to further manipulate the outcome so that their partner relents and agrees to give him/her one more chance. It’s hard to extricate oneself from this type of relationship. The end usually happens in one of two ways. The partner that has endured this behavior finally sets and maintains firm boundaries with consequences, or the one with the narcissistic tendencies realizes that to stay in the relationship will require that they behave differently and accept responsibility for their actions.
Feeling stuck in an unbalanced relationship is an unpleasant place to be, but there are ways to improve the situation, and to tip the scales of power. With therapy, change is possible, and that change may happen for both the partner with the narcissistic traits, as well as for the one that has endured these circumstances. Breaking the cycle in these toxic relationships requires time and effort, but restoring balance and self-esteem make it all worthwhile. Today is a good day for a good day. Call or email me for a free consultation.
Katey Villalon, LMFT