The term “narcissist” has been gaining recent interest in the media. A narcissist is a relatively common term used to describe someone who appears self-centered or glib and lacks empathy toward others.
People with narcissistic traits generally attribute problems to others and have difficulty considering their role or responsibility across situations. It can make it extremely challenging to be in a close relationship with someone who displays these traits. More recently, people have begun using this term to describe partners’ unsavory behavior in relationships.
What does it mean to be a narcissist and how do you know if someone in your life fits the criteria? We will walk through the what to look for and how to cope with someone who is.
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a set of personality traits that generally involve a self-centered, arrogant presentation, an excessive need for attention and a lack of regard for others. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not especially common with only about seven percent of the US population meeting the criteria for it across the lifespan according to Mental Disorders DSM-5.
Narcissistic traits or behaviors that do not rise to the level of a disorder are far more common. More often there are features of narcissism that appear within the context of our relationships as opposed to dealing with someone who is a true narcissist.
Common Traits of Narcissism Include:
- Excessive Focus on Personal Accomplishments
- Obsessed with Success
- Personal Appearance
- Power or Status
- A Sense of Entitlement
Additionally, people with narcissistic traits often exploit or violate the rights of others without feeling guilt.
Narcissists tend to belittle those around them in an effort to make themselves appear superior. An example of narcissistic behavior would be someone who doesn’t really have special or high status friends but exaggerates and brags about all the celebrities they have on speed dial. Fancy cars, handbags or expensive gifts including the price details might also be frequent topics of conversation.
People with NPD tend to dream big and expect favorable treatment. Another example would be a date who spends the entire time talking about their lavish vacations and comparisons to other wealthy or high-status individuals. They may talk about their unique qualities or special gifts. The conversation tends to be focused on them with little consideration for the back-and-forth dialogue between individuals that is more socially appropriate.
Relationships With Narcissists:
When you are dating someone with these behaviors, it’s not always easy to detect the telltale signs at first. This is because people with narcissistic traits often use charm and flattery to make initial connections before showing their true colors.
The narcissistic person may ask you a few questions about yourself on a first date but overtime, the intrigue will almost always fade and the focus will return back to their own experiences. There is a strong sense of entitlement about prioritizing their own needs.
It can be extremely difficult to engage in a relationship with a narcissist due to their maladaptive behaviors that are often manipulative and confusing to partners. Spouses who fall for narcissists are often people-pleasing types who go the extra mile to keep their partner happy. They want the best for their partner and the narcissist capitalizes on this type of person.
The person with narcissistic traits may initially make attempts to flatter you with compliments or gifts. The positive feedback is reinforcing to the person with narcissistic qualities and so they continue this pattern for a while. They enjoy being praised but have a difficult time congratulating peers for accomplishments when the reverse situation comes up.
Gaslighting and emotional abuse may also be present during the relationship. Eventually, the charm wears off and the narcissist’s partner becomes disillusioned by the grandiosity or the endless need for attention that narcissists require.
A narcissist envies others deep down, but on the exterior, they attempt to make it appear as though they are the one to be envied. No matter how much attention is granted, it never seems to be enough to satisfy or reassure the individual.
The lack of empathy and support becomes frustrating for those who have relationships with people who have narcissistic traits. The partner is left feeling as though their needs are not recognized or met. Eventually, the cycle becomes tiresome to the partner and at this point there is usually an increase in conflict within the relationship.
How and When It Starts
Narcissistic personality disorder is not diagnosed until adulthood however, the manifestation of narcissism typically starts during childhood or adolescence. Pathological narcissism is more commonly diagnosed in males and as a result of genetic and environmental factors. Women can also display narcissistic traits however it tends to be diagnosed more in men possibly due to gender stereotypes.
Risk Factors for Developing Narcissistic Traits Include:
- Childhood Abuse
- Inconsistent Parenting
When parents give excessive praise for positive outcomes coupled with harsh criticism for mistakes, this cycle can contribute to narcissism. Additionally, overemphasizing a child’s qualities without recognizing areas that may need improvement can lead to a child who does not have a realistic sense of their strengths and weaknesses.
10 Ways To Deal With Narcissists:
3 Tips on How to Cope:
If you are wondering how to deal with a person or a spouse with narcissistic personality disorder, here are three key tips to consider:
First, set clear boundaries for what you are willing to tolerate. Name-calling, dishonesty, and insults are violations of what should be acceptable in a relationship. This should be a clearly established guideline from the beginning. Boundaries become more difficult to enforce when they are inconsistent or set after a period of time without consequences. Realistically, look at the pros and cons of your relationship. Do you feel like you give a lot more to a relationship of yours than you receive?
Second, narcissistic behavior usually begins from problems that started in childhood so realistically, making significant changes to improve the relationship is going to take a commitment from both partners. The changes can be difficult to make, and it can feel exhausting when the work is limited to one partner. Restrict the amount of time you are willing to engage in grandiose topics of conversation. Paying attention to exaggerated tales only reinforces the behavior. Most of us do not really enjoy negative attention but for a person with NPD, both positive and negative attention are welcomed.
Third, and finally, consider talking to a therapist, marriage counselor, or mental health professional to help establish new boundaries an3d accountability. Do not feel as though you have to take on all these challenges alone, especially if the relationship is causing you constant distress. Seeking professional mental health help can provide support for those of us who may be struggling to manage life with a narcissist.