Coping with a narcissist can be challenging, emotionally draining, and downright exhausting—especially if the person in question is your own spouse or long-term partner. Understanding narcissism, recognizing its signs, and knowing how to navigate this complex dynamic can help you manage your own well-being and figure out the next steps to take.
Seeking Admiration & Lacking Empathy
Narcissism falls on a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe, and a healthy amount of some of its most well-known traits is important for maintaining good self-esteem. It is when those traits exceed healthy amounts and cause issues not only for those around them but also for the person living with it that a professional can begin to diagnose them with a mental health condition.
- Excessive Need For Attention
- Lack Of Empathy
- Manipulative Behavior
- Grandiose Or Fragile Self-Image
- Difficulty Taking Responsibility
NPD Is A Lifelong Struggle
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a psychological condition characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy towards others—usually due to persistent, repressed shame endured in early childhood. Like any other personality disorder, it usually follows a person throughout their entire life and causes significant problems for themselves and those around them.
Personality disorders typically manifest in every aspect of a person’s life and are considered central to who they are, so—despite what pop culture would have you believe—not every toxic relationship is due to NPD.
Craving for Validation
A narcissistic spouse craves constant praise and validation, often monopolizing conversations and making everything about themselves, which is understandably quite frustrating for everyone else. Sometimes, they might exaggerate or outright lie about their own accomplishments to impress people.
Struggling With Compassion & Empathy
Narcissists struggle to understand or care about others’ feelings, which is why they have no qualms about dismissing or belittling them. They might be completely oblivious to the fact that you feel hurt or even blame you for feeling that way. Professional help for narcissists is often the only way they can learn how to empathize.
They Manipulate To Get Their Way
People with NPD are skilled at manipulation and may use guilt, gaslighting, or passive-aggressive tactics to control and dominate their partner. It’s important to learn how to recognize these signs so that you can emotionally detach yourself from them if your partner refuses to be held accountable.
Understanding The Range Of Narcissistic Self-Image
Grandiose narcissists have an inflated sense of self-worth, frequently boasting about achievements and demanding special treatment. Contrastingly, vulnerable narcissists can be very shy and self-hating, as they often have co-occurring social anxiety and depression, but they still behave in unacceptably callous ways. If your partner isn’t overly arrogant in public but still lacks empathy, is vindictive and envious, is highly critical of other people, and makes everything about themselves, they might have NPD.
Shifting Blame To Avoid Taking Responsibility
Narcissists often deflect blame, refusing to acknowledge their mistakes or accept criticism. They rarely apologize for mistreating people, and when they do, it’s rarely genuine. A spouse with NPD may even criticize or gaslight you by blatantly denying that they said or did something hurtful, causing you to feel ashamed and to doubt your own memories.
Set Boundaries & Maintain Your Own Mental Health
The decision to stay or leave a relationship with a narcissistic partner is deeply personal and dependent on individual circumstances. If you choose to stay, it’s essential to prioritize your well-being, establish healthy boundaries, seek support, and actively engage in therapy. That being said, if you’re in an abusive relationship, it’s essential to formulate an escape plan because the situation is unlikely to change and could even escalate to dangerous levels.
- Establish and maintain clear boundaries to protect your emotional well-being, and consistently follow through with enforcing them.
- Communicate your needs assertively and calmly to avoid triggering shame, which can encourage a narcissist to “double down” on their self-absorbed ways.
- Reach out to trusted friends, family, or support groups to share your experiences and gain perspective and support.
- Consider individual therapy for yourself to explore your emotions, learn coping strategies, and develop a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play.
- Suggest couples therapy as a means of addressing issues within the relationship.
- Encourage your partner to pursue therapy specifically tailored for people with Cluster B disorders, such as schema therapy.
- Recommend a personality disorder specialist who can help them address underlying self-esteem issues and promote self-reflection and growth.
Seek Professional Guidance & Support
Living with a narcissistic spouse or partner can be emotionally challenging, but understanding the dynamics and taking proactive steps can help you navigate the situation more effectively. A skilled therapist can help facilitate healthy communication, promote empathy, and resolve conflicts, but only if your spouse has some level of willingness to genuinely reflect on their own actions—you can’t force someone to change. For individual or couples therapy in Southern California, book an appointment with Dr. Taji Huang today.