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Narcissistic Relationships: The Perils of Loving a Narcissist

narcissistic relationshipThere has been much speculation that we live in an increasingly narcissistic society. And hard statistics aside, it’s easy to imagine this could be the case. The “look at me” mentality seemingly promoted by social networks like Facebook has people positively enamored with the image they present to the world. When did all this posting and blogging turn into boasting and bragging? And how does this new public exposure impact our personal relationships?

Narcissistic relationships are formed when one or both partners struggle with a narcissistic personality. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is defined by The Mayo Clinic as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

A relationship with a narcissist can be hard to cope with. To shed light on the common outcomes, struggles, and effects of a narcissistic relationship, we’ve interviewed psychologist and author Dr. Lisa Firestone.

How Can You Tell if You Are in a Narcissistic Relationship?

When thinking about narcissism, I’m often reminded of the joke when someone goes on and on about themselves, then interrupts with, “But enough about me, how do you feel about me?”  If your partner is all about themselves, always needing attention and affirmation, he or she may be a narcissist. If someone is easily slighted or dramatically reactive to any criticism, they may also be a narcissist. If they feel they are always right, that they know more, or that they have to be the best, etc., these may also be signs of their narcissism.  Narcissistic individuals may only appear to care about you when you are fulfilling their needs or serving a purpose for them.

Why do people become narcissistic? Is it a symptom of something else?

Narcissistic people often have narcissistic parents, who offered them a build up but no real substance. Their parents want them to be great, so they can be the parent of a great person, the best artist, smartest student, etc. Often narcissistic people were also neglected, as their narcissistic parents were so focused on themselves that they could not attune to their child or meet their child’s emotional needs.  The child was only useful to these parents when they were serving a purpose for them. Often, the parents of a narcissistic person alternated between emotional hunger toward the child and disinterest.

Narcissists have inflated self-esteem (both self-soothing and self-aggrandizing “voices”) a component of what my father, Dr. Robert Firestone, refers to as the “anti-self.” They are very fragile, because the flip side of their self-aggrandized demeanor is very low self-esteem, the other component of the anti-self (made up of extremely self-hating and self-demeaning “critical inner voices”). So, for these people, even slight criticism can be a narcissistic injury, leading to outburst and desperate attempts to regain their fragile, inflated self-esteem. Often, a condescending remark will help them to reestablish their superior image.

Do you think people are more narcissistic in general today, given the rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, etc?

There have always been narcissists.  I think new social media just provides platforms for narcissists to get their needs met by providing a forum to get attention, to show off, to become self-absorbed, documenting one’s every move, showing oneself always in the best light, exaggerating accomplishments, etc. Social media provides a large audience for a narcissist. Thus, these platforms appeal to a narcissist’s image and need for constant validation.

How does a narcissistic partner negatively impact a relationship?

A narcissistic partner will have difficulty really loving, because they don’t truly love themselves.  They are so focused on themselves, self-absorbed and self-interested, that they cannot really “see” their partner as a separate person.  They tend to only see the partner in terms of how they fill their needs (or fail to fill their needs). Their mates and children are only valued in terms of their ability to meet these needs.  Narcissistic partners often lack the ability to have empathy with their partners’ feelings.

People may be drawn to a narcissistic partner, especially at the beginning, as they tend to have a “big” personality. They can be the life of the party, attention-seeking, fun, and aggrandizing to associate with, making you feel that you too must be great for them to be with you. However, in time, they can be directive and controlling in relationships. They may feel jealous or easily hurt.  When narcissistic injuries occur, they often lash out and can be very cutting.  Their reactions are dramatic and attention-seeking.

When you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you may feel very lonely, as if you are just an accessory, and as though your needs and wants are unimportant.  Narcissistic partners act as if they are always right, that they know better and that their partner is wrong or incompetent, leaving the other person in the relationship either angry and trying to defend themselves or identifying with this negative self-image and feeling badly about themselves.

What are some things a person can do to deal with a narcissistic partner?

When you’ve entered into a narcissistic relationship, you can first recognize what you have chosen and reflect on what unconscious motives might have led you to choose such a partner. Did you have a narcissistic parent?  Are you more comfortable with your partner being in control, so you can then take a more passive position? Do you get a sense of worth from being attached to someone who is drawn to the spotlight?  Does the negative image of yourself they foster with their criticisms and superior attitudes resonate with your own critical inner voices?

Understanding your role in the relationship is important.  You can then start to challenge yourself to change your half of the dynamic. This will, in turn, challenge your partner to change their style of relating.  You can recognize the fragility of your partner’s self-esteem and have compassion for the fact that his or her inflated sense of self, superiority and grandiosity is a cover up for the flip side of self-hate and feelings of inferiority.   In all encounters, act equal, and treat your partner as an equal.

How can people face and overcome their own narcissism?

A narcissist can challenge and overcome their narcissism by recognizing and separating from both the self-soothing and self-attacking attitudes promulgated by their critical inner voice, attitudes they internalized early in their lives. They need to recognize and challenge these attitudes toward themselves and toward others. One method for doing this is through Voice Therapy.

Narcissistic individuals further need to differentiate from negative traits of their parents or early caretakers that they are manifesting in their current lives. These traits might include superior attitudes and condescending behaviors.  Narcissistic people also need to relinquish adaptations they made to the ways their own parents neglected or were emotionally hungry toward them. These adaptations may have once served as survival mechanisms, but they now manage to push others away and sabotage personal goals. This includes breaking withholding patterns of behavior and fighting the tendency to always compare oneself to others and the need to be the “best” all the time.

Narcissistic individuals need to challenge manifestations such as self-feeding habits and a pseudo-independent stance. They need to focus on developing their capacity to empathize with others and respect their sovereign minds.  Lastly, they need to develop transcendent goals, to care about and invest in others’ wellbeing. Being generous and giving to others are examples of behaviors that would be corrective, building real self-esteem and practicing focusing outside of oneself.

239 comments

  1. Hi everyone, this is my very first post on a forum so it’s kind of a big thing :)
    Sorry for my bad English, hopefully you’ll understand.
    I am in a big need of getting this of my chest because i’m going crazy dwelling over this in silence. Talking to my wife about it is pointless because she will be extremly upset and start telling me how wrong i am. I married the love of my life 4 years ago. We have dated since 2006. So yes 8 years now. I fell inlove with her livlely personality. We have had so much fun together but our relationship has also been pretty hard for me. She have been extremly flirty with other guys. In the very beggining i tried to just brush it off but it kept going. All our friends (and i mean ALL our mutual friends, kept telling me how she is flirting, i’ve also caught her in many many lies. Then a rumor surfaced that she had been with another guy. I ofcourse talked to her about all this and she kept getting really defensive and saying that all these people are liars and that i should trust her. Even her Mom wrote me a letter telling me how thankful she is for how patient i am with her?!? Did even they notice these things? After awhile i had to make a decision. Either i leave her or i start trusting her. I choosed the second option. (Atleast 50% haha) i had to stop acting on it atleast. I shut it off, stopped thinking about it. This was slowly eating me alive. More lies came up but there was no way i could have a talk with her about it because it always turned into us fighting. I could feel how all this affected my personality. I became that akward guy who had a hard time being social (no offense, i like akward people :). She started complaining that i was so “down”. I told her that i was depressed but that i loved her so so much. That it had nothing todo with her. (I guess i lied to myself aswell when i said that i was depressed because of other things.) Then i found a quote on her computer that said ” that awkard moment when you’re falling inlove and all you can think of is “oh crap”, 2 days later she left me. This was now 2 years ago. She had all these explanations on why and everything was “my fault”. She started seeing a guy 1 week after she left me. That ended within a week. Then off to the next guy. Same thing there, ended pretty quick. She kept finding trust in all these other guys. 7 i belive it was, In just a few months. I was completly broken wondering what really went wrong. She started posting 10 photos a day on instagram/facebook etc. Seeking so much attention that my friends asked me what was going on because they thought it seemed alittle over the top. The photos was either about how “awesome her life is” or a depressed comment about something. Sure i’m not judging. We all grieve differently.
    Around this same time i felt my peace in God and it was extremly calming. Sure i was struggling every day but i could always come back to prayer and instantly i felt his peace come over me. This was new to me because i had always been an atheist in the past but thru many years of life i finally found my way home to my Father.
    My wife was raised in a Christian home and in the beggining this was foreign to me but i always respected their believes. (Becoming a part of their family was my first real introduction to Jesus).
    I started to really work on myself. Even tho i can ramble about how my wife has been i still am a true beliver that noone is perfect and i wanted to get to the bottom with myself and try to become a better/happier person. I have alot to learn.
    6 months ago, she reached out to me after months of silence. She said that she have had a Demon in her for many years, but that it was now gone. The demon had caused her to have her eating disorder that she has been struggling with for many years and also her problems with Lust. She told me she had found her way back to God and that she is a different person now. That she no longer is dealing with those things. She told me that she loved me and that God had told her to go and make it right with me. I was ofcourse really happy. I must admit that this demon thing kinda freaked me out. Remember i pretty recently found God and yes, beliving in Jesus and the Bible also means that there is a dark side to it aswell, satan and unclean spirits. I don’t want to focus on that but yes i should be aware of it. Either way…i was pretty freaked out about it because my only experience with that stuff in the past would be some bad movie. I had a hard time beliving it 100%. I was very happy to have my wife back tho.
    Couple months down the road her eating disorder came back. I wanted to be supportive ofcourse but it also raised a question in my head regarding that demon. She had told me that this problem was gone together with her Lust?
    We are from 2 different continents and i’m waiting for my Visa to be able to go back there to be with her. She came here to visit for a few weeks and it was really nice but she went back home and it has now been 3 months since we saw eachother.
    Ok, so now after explaining what has been happening in the past i will now talk about what is heavy on my chest right now.

    I’m starting to see the old habbits coming back. This is really hard considering us being seperated by a massive ocean. One of our mutual friend called me everyday for about 2-3 weeks telling me to be careful because he had felt her being very sexually seductive towards him. I was praying everyday and i decided to not worry about that because she told me he was lying. (Sounds familiar?)
    She never calls me, i’m always the one calling. Lately when i do call she says her voice hurts really bad and that she should not be talking too much, but then she goes out to shows and coming home 3am. Seems like a really bad excuse. Might be the truth but please…..i’m asking for 10-15 minutes. We basicly just say: HI, goodnight, love you! For weeks now.
    I called her a week ago feeling really down. Without it not really being about her. Just life in general right now. I wanted to talk to my wife about how i felt but it turned into her lecture me about how ‘her friends that have lasted is the once that does not give them guilttrips if they’re not hanging out’ ??? I was really confused. I had just told her that i missed her and that i’ve had a couple days where i felt little down and that i wanted to talk more.
    After that phonecall she has been acting really weird. Saying that she only have 1 hour off from work this whole week. Then still she has been going to a show everyday. Except for last light, (yes she did not call the only night she had off).
    Starting to post tons of photos again, liking photos posted by guys she slept with during our seperation.. Yes i know.. This is not a big problem but it is like i’m re-living the moment when she left me 2 years ago.
    All i want is for my wife to ask herself an honest question…if she’s capable of loving. I know this might sound harsh but i mean it. I know that i’m in no way have the medical education to give her a diagnosis but when i came across this website it felt like a knife penetrated my heart. Things like: ‘They are so focused on themselves, self-absorbed and self-interested, that they cannot really “see” their partner as a separate person.’
    Even the explanation of how it affects me: feeling lonely, feeling like her accessory and that i’m out if i fail to fill her needs.
    This post got EXTREMLY looong but i want to round this off by saying, that i truly love her and that i want to make things work. With God nothing is impossible. Yea, sure i might be slight codependant but i could go to another forum right now to post just as long post about how she’s also the most beautiful, talented, smart woman i’ve ever met. I love her dearly and a post this long just with pro’s could be done aswell.

    Thank you for reading!!!!
    /Matthew

    • Yes, with God nothing’s impossible.

    • maybe research Borderline Personality Disorder. I think after everything you’ve been through it may be good to look at this from a mental illness perspective and from the angle of protecting and healing yourself. I think you will be ineffective in the world unless you look after and love yourself first. This may be beyond your ability to resolve and it is largely her responsibility to initiate and follow through with the healing process, if she chooses to. Unfortunately you will never get anywhere unless she genuinely wants to get better and sadly she may not be ready yet. I think be compassionate, but look after yourself. You could have a read of this book: Stop Walking on Eggshells by Paul Mason. Good luck.

    • Dear Matthew your wife is a perfect a case of NPD / BPD , these people are not capable of loving and they never care for feelings of others if you wanna make her come after you show strength the more you become kind or loving towards her the more she will take advantage of you and its better for you to come out of this marriage slowly because in the end you will suffer more heavily .

    • partner of a sex addict

      Matthew, Your wife’s sexual behavior might be due to an addiction to sex. As a partner of a sex addict myself, I recommend you read the book “Out of the Shadows” by Patrick Cranes or “Breaking the Cycle” by George Collins (both available on Amazon). These books can help the partner of someone who is acting out sexually to heal. It sounds to me like she has caused you so much damage that unless she is willing to join you in couples therapy…. you need to leave her. You deserve better than this. Understand you cannot change her – if she seeks therapy she might be able to change with your help, but don’t put yourself in emotional or physical (std’s) danger by staying in the relationship.

  2. Kate jean attention seeking lolol

  3. I have a little boy that loves his narcissistic dad all the stories that I read is what I go through too I want to leave but what about my son ?

  4. I am a recovered narcissistic, 39 year old daughter of a narc dad. The relationship dynamics that prevailed between my mom and my dad reflected directly on the relationship between my little sister and I. She is the pure and spontaneous light of unconditional love that my mother is, and I was the selfish and fearful narcissistic, unfulfilled, incomplete person who was incapable to respect little sister’s sovereign personality. After 30 years of marriage, my mom had the courage to leave my dad with both her daughters’ blessings. He then entered a long period of self destructive drinking and personal chaos. I could barely stand his presence as he was angry at everybody for all these years. After 12 years, he is now finally becoming a 70 year old, happy, fulfilled person, the one he could NEVER have become had my mother not left him. As to my own enlightenment, my sister was a mirror to my real obnoxious persona, and I had some breakthroughs which I can only describe as mystical. I am now in a new way of being and relating to myself and others. At the moment I am also trying to resolve a complicated non-relationship with a narcissistic man whom I love and can “read” fully. I know that I have no other choice but to let go, for the sake of my peace of mind and his self discovery. Narcissists can only grow when they lose everything they have, and not before. So much love to everyone.

  5. My father was/is a Narcissist. And my husband is too. We’ve been married for almost 7 years and we have two young daughters, 2 and 4. We went into therapy a few months ago to help us resolve certain issues, and therapy helped those specific issues. But the darkness of the relationship got to be too much. After a couple of years knowing my daughters were watching me being treated in the ways he was (typical stuff), I decided I had to change. I fought the control and belittling and manipulation. I found my voice and created boundaries. But it was only after recently reading an article about Narcissists that I realized what the root of all our problems are.

    He has begun to change, because he has to. I won’t engage anymore. He’s trying to be a good husband. He wants me to be happy and for our marriage to be a good one. He had just started seeing his own psychologist (1 session). But the road ahead is long for him to begin to connect to his feelings, let alone his childhood memories. He has suppressed EVERYTHING.

    What am I supposed to do now???

    There has been so much damage. I have changed. There is a lot of good in him. He no longer uses those detrimental tactics. He is trying to connect. Trying to be physically affectionate. Trying to be a couple. I just can’t seem to. There is a void. A chasm between us. I don’t hate him but I’m not in love with him anymore.

    Help!!!!

    • Wow….4/14 will be married 24 years with 2 beautiful kids After years of feeling something just wasn’t right I went for therapy. My husband was a victim who became worst a victimizer. There is no end in site to his lies, deceit & betrayal. It has been exhausting to say the least. Knowing what I have learned about this insidious emotional abuse I have set definite boundaries. I am quietly getting my life together, taking care of me, block him out & will be on the road to a new life. He made the mistake of confusing my love & kindness for weakness. I was blind but now I see clearly. Trust me there is no end to this except to say goodbye & never look back! God bless you all. Stay in faith and find your strength!!

    • Hi Stepahnie,

      It must sooo hard on you….and its so absurd to trust Narcissists. While we keep wondering if they are being true this one time – there is no way to tell. They are so intelligent and manipulative that they can fake it all. Somehow all their instincts work to their advantage and they Simply KNOW how to reach out and win you over. Your man seems to be making a real effort but how do you know if this is not just a coverup to keep in the relationship and finally control you.
      My advice is keep its simple 50:50 …be as normal as possible – demanding equality and fairness – and keep expecting your fears to come true . That way you will stay on guard…but will also be giving him a chance of a lifetime! All the best…. you can check youtube Sam Vaknin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaVn5IPlUvo he is a Pyschiatrist who has worked extensively on Narcissists and you may find some answers…

      goodluck!

  6. despertely need some help here i dont know what to do yesterday i said one thing wrong an he hasnt talked to me since im always aching inside i just dont know what to do or how to get over this i need help desperatly im such a damaged lost soul, he has me locked out of bdrm as well

    • Kathy,

      I finally gave my NPD husband the boot after 23 years together of confounding punishments that never made any sense. All this business about if you just show compassion, you may turn your NPD person around is really statistically unlikely. This guy got way too much of that from me-and returned it with disrespect, cruelty, scapegoating and all manner of mean and rude behavior. I too was stonewalled, ignored and made to feel like damaged goods which is really all the last thing I am and never thought of myself that way before I was involved with him. I don’t know how far you will let him go before you can’t take it anymore, but once he started doing it to my oldest son, and more to me in front of all the kids, I had enough. And he would always blame me! These people will do almost anything to get a fix-that is they steal your life essence in a futile attempt to prop up their soul-less selves. It’s never enough.

      When your abuser is away, over time, try to figure your way out-who you can go to, where you keep your money, how to bring along your kids etc in secret. Have an action plan. He may be nice for awhile and then become intolerable-so decide what your limit of abuse is. But-it will be progressively worse as time goes by. If he finds out, he will outwit you-these guys are masters of deception and want to win at any cost-and try his best to crush you. You will find yourself again-just keep imagining a life with no put downs, no punishable subservience, no neglect, no blame, etc. If the house is in your name, you need to get him out of there-change the locks and alert the authorities while he’s out. Even if you live on your own with only a pet, it’s better than with someone who makes you feel like killing yourself or living with your stomach knotted in fear as to what’s going to happen next, wasting all your time on needless, painful drama. It’s not your fault and you do not need this guy-abusive guys do not change-well actually they do-usually they get meaner. Get out, spoil yourself in little ways, and open your heart to other friends in the community, at work or in your family and I am sure they will help you heal. Trust that they have been worried about you and want you to get better. Take responsibility for your own self. Tell yourself that his problems don’t need to be yours anymore and keep yourself busy shaping your new life in your new environment and do not talk to him again unless absolutely necessary!

      Feel better-try not to listen to him in the meantime-think of it as pathetic bc that’s what bullying is.

      • OMg thank you for you answering me so it has gotten so much we were going through reallu tumultous crap for the last 8 months with many break ups in there he was with a girl so this weekend i discvoered his fb password and they are messaging each other daily it crazy she know i liove there wiht him she doesnt care shes a single mom with two kids who seemingly has her crap together i dont understand and hes telling her he lvoes her everyday i am in shock and cant tell him i looked as its a big hting for him to have that privacy they dont seem to be panning in meeting anymroe so why carry on im dont know what to do i really really need some help

  7. I met a guy online,the first day I went to his house we had sex and I also cooked for him. He is someone that doesn’t call which I know of and he sometimes told me he doesn’t do what girls expect guys to do for them. From my opinion I think he is a narcissist. I’m willing to help him out even if he doesn’t want to date me. Pls how can this be achieved,help me out. What can I do? I care

    • Oh Yetty, Steer clear from such a person. You will be used and discarded when you are at your weakest. When you give to a taker they see it as a sign of weakness and treat you with an ever increasing load of disrespect. There is a great likelihood that you might suffer a heavy blow to your psyche and impair your growth and development to live up to your potential as a person by mingling with the distorted.

  8. Advice please . I am in a ongoing 11 yr online relationship with a man who feels the need to lie , and cheat . I have forgiven him and don’t bring up the past unless provoked . Over the course of 11 yrs I had 3 men who I dated , when this man I have been seeing pissed me off , blew me off and ignored me . I never kept it a secret from him , nor why I did it . He can do as he pleases with women online , accept cyber gifts , chat privately , be flirted with . He is the life of the party in any chatroom we go to . He always has been . When I call him out on any lie , or issue , he strikes back at me and has now began to threaten to leave me and never speak to me again . Tonight in a discussion about why I feel the way I do about his lies to me , he strikes out saying he has neglected his son ( who btw is 25 and lives at home coz he cannot keep a job , just like his father can’t keep a job , they both have apparently volatile personalities ) to sit and be with me . From all that I have read he seems to be able to wear the title narcissistic very well … I know he has adult ADHD just from dealing with him over the years , I suspect he may be bi-polar as well , and I know he is a depressed person and speaks of suicide when we fight . He tries to make me believe I am driving him over the edge to kill himself , or to at the very least disappear . He is insanely jealous , I cannot have repairmen in my home , I have to hide the fact people even speak to me at times , if I am speaking to a male in a chatroom we are in and he see’s it … he prompts me that he is not dealing with that and I have sat quietly for as much as 3 hours till he decides we can speak alone in private . His mind changes like that of the wind . One day I can tell the world I love him the next day I have to be quiet , or its a fight . When I try and get him to understand that all this terribly upsets me , he just says … I can do nothing right , I’m a loser , I will leave you if you don’t get off my back … or he will tell me I am losing my mind and need to behave . ( His words are tho , I need to pull my head out of a** ) . He asked me tonight what do I expect out of him and I said … honesty … because our biggest problem is I call what he does a lie … he says we will have a nice dinner and private chat all weekend , then finds something else to do that causes us drama , serious drama , drama that you cannot recover from , and then he disappears for days . He begins fighting those demons and ignores me the entire weekend , knowing we may not have another weekend for months we can spend alone . ( his grown son lives at home and is always right there with him at the pc ) He enables his son to be lazy , he has taken time away from me when we were in PM to fix him food , bring him drinks , turn the AC on , change the TV channel etc etc … Anyways , any time I try and show him how hurtful he is to us , he throws it back on me … I’m not a Saint , but I damn sure try and keep him happy , when he allows it … he says I have a small mind , he has cussed me beyond anything anyone has done , I forgive him … but its getting old now and I know that I should have left years ago and just pulled one of his stunts and not come back for months but there is some kind of hold he has on my heart and soul … thats unexplainable .

    Any words of wisdom other than that I should delete him from my life ?

  9. Wow so I’m a narcissist I thought I was just conceded and love sort of makes me sick being inlove. I love all general people ugh I don’t know.

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