- Understanding the Narcissist – Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- What Is a Personality Disorder?
- What Is Narcissism?
- Understanding Narcissism and NPD
- What Causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
- Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- The Stigma of Personality Disorders
- Can NPD Be Cured?
- Living with NPD
- Understanding a Narcissist – Lidija Hilje
- The Myth of the Narcissus
- What is Narcissism all about
- What does this all mean for people dealing with a Narcissist?
- Understanding the Mind of a Narcissist
- Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- Disarming The Narcissist
- Quick Tips for therapists:
Understanding the Narcissist – Narcissistic Personality Disorder
other personality disorders, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is associated with specific narcissistic traits. You may perceive someone with narcissism as arrogant, rude and self-absorbed.
They often behave in ways that have a negative impact on others. But there’s more to this disorder than meets the eye, and a narcissistic person doesn’t choose their disorder.
If you’re wondering what narcissism is, read on to learn more.
What Is a Personality Disorder?
Personality disorders are a type of mental health condition that affects how people think, feel and behave. A person with a personality disorder has a world view that deviates from the norm, often with rigid thought patterns and behavior.
It is hard for a person with a personality disorder to see how those patterns affect their life and the lives of those around them. There are 3 different categories of personality disorders with 10 disorders altogether. Narcissistic personality disorder is a Cluster B personality disorder.
These disorders are defined by dramatic, erratic and emotional behavior. Other kinds of Cluster B disorders include antisocial, histrionic and borderline personality disorders.
What Is Narcissism?
The word “narcissism” comes from a Greek myth in which a handsome young man named Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection. Narcissists are people who have an inflated opinion of themselves. For instance, many narcissists hold an exaggerated belief in their skills or achievements. Some are obsessed with their appearance.
Some try to gain power or influence. Narcissists typically regard themselves as elite or exceptional compared to everyone else. Regardless of their actual social standing, they perceive themselves as very important – and expect others to view them as such. They thrive on the praise and admiration of others.
However, their grandiosity can easily be shattered by criticism from others. When this occurs, it usually elicits rage, rejection or a torrent of condescending remarks. These words are skillfully rendered to put the offending person back in their place.
All of these behaviors have made society less compassionate toward the narcissist than toward others with mental illnesses.
Understanding Narcissism and NPD
Many people have mild elements of narcissism in their personality. It’s only human to feel proud when you do something important, or to feel good about yourself when you look good. And sometimes, those feelings of pride might make us a little more self-involved than usual.
Having those feelings from time to time doesn’t make you a narcissist, however. For true narcissists, the narcissist traits dominate their personality and their life. The disorder affects every aspect of life, including their career, friendships and intimate relationships. all personality disorders, NPD is a complex condition.
People with NPD have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. They lack empathy for and interest in other people, but also have a strong need to be admired by others. So, although they might not be interested in others, they seek people out to get the adulation they believe they deserve.
At the core of NPD is a fragile, inflexible and unrealistic sense of self. To maintain their fragile self-image, people with NPD need to believe that they are exceptional. This is the root cause of many of the patterns of behavior that they develop. For instance, this is why people with NPD react strongly to even the most superficial criticism.
It’s also why their behavior is so single-mindedly oriented towards gaining praise and recognition. Without it, their identity is highly vulnerable.
What Causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
There is no single known cause of NPD. Genetics ly plays a role, but it’s also believed that early life experiences are a contributing factor. For instance, children who experience abuse, neglect or trauma might be at risk. Having a narcissistic or overly critical parent may wise be a risk factor.
Whatever the cause, these children become adults with a fragile sense of self and a strong need for external approval. Many narcissists also have extremely low self-esteem. These traits cause them to exaggerate their skills or achievements. And, they constantly seek attention and approval from others. This is a key factor in understanding the narcissists in your life.
Their behavior is arrogant and self-absorbed but stems from deep-seated feelings of inferiority.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The defining symptoms of personality disorders are patterns of thought, belief and behavior. In people with NPD, these patterns are self-aggrandizing. These include:
- Self-involvement to the point of obsession
- An exaggerated sense of importance
- May lie about or exaggerate talents and accomplishments
- Lack of empathy for and interest in other people
- A need for constant attention and praise
- Strong overreaction to criticism
- May manipulate or take advantage of others to further their own goals
- Avoid taking personal responsibility for their behavior or problems
The Stigma of Personality Disorders
In recent decades, important advances have been made in our understanding of mental illness. Despite this, some mental illnesses—including personality disorders—are still stigmatized. This is partly because they have historically been difficult to treat. Another reason is that people with personality disorders behave in ways that often negatively impact others.
This is particularly true for narcissistic personality disorder. For most people, understanding narcissists and the way they think is very difficult. People with this personality disorder often act in ways that make it hard to be around or even to them. It’s important to understand, however, that people with NPD don’t choose to have a disorder.
Moreover, since their disorder has a profound impact on their worldview, people with NPD don’t recognize when their behavior is hurtful or harmful. These days, treatment for personality disorders is more effective than it used to be. With therapy and hard work, people with NPD can learn to recognize why their behavior is harmful.
They can even learn to challenge and change their patterns of behavior.
Can NPD Be Cured?
Personality disorders aren’t curable. With good treatment and hard work, the symptoms of the disease can be managed and minimized. However, there’s always the possibility of a relapse into old ways of thinking and behaving. Therapy is the mainstay of treatment for NPD. In therapy, people with NPD learn how to:
- Understand the emotional roots of their behavior and why they have developed narcissistic behavior patterns.
- Better relate to other people.
- Let go of the need to achieve impossible goals, and instead recognize real skills and accomplishments.
- Understand what drives their self-esteem.
- Give themselves internal validation instead of seeking it from others.
Sometimes group, couples or family therapy can be helpful too. These are useful because they help people with NPD understand how their behavior hurts others. Unfortunately, there is a major barrier to treatment. People with NPD don’t usually see anything wrong with their behavior.
This means they don’t understand—and may not care—that their behavior is harmful. They’re ly to be resistant to treatment and never believe they need it. Since they don’t have the motivation to change, therapy may not be successful. There are no medications for the treatment of NPD.
However, people with co-occurring problems such as depression or anxiety can benefit from medications to treat symptoms of those disorders.
Living with NPD
NPD is a hard disorder to treat, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope. all therapy, it does take a lot of hard work. The important part is that the person is willing to change. Then they can progress week by week to make improvements they desire. If you are living with a person with narcissism, the most effective way to help them may be to help yourself first.
That may mean going to counseling on your own or learning to set better boundaries. If you are living with a narcissistic abuser, the most critical boundary will be to get an unsafe situation. However, not all narcissists are abusers, and many are trying to be good people.
With help, you may be able to find peace living with your narcissistic loved one while taking care of yourself.
Understanding a Narcissist – Lidija Hilje
Jul 26, 2018 · 8 min readPhoto by Stefanos Kogkas on Unsplash
If you’ve ever suspected you’re dealing with a narcissist in your life, you might have Googled the term. Maybe you even dismissed your assumption after reading an article or two.
But maybe you shouldn’t have.
Most definitions of a narcissist describe someone who has an exaggerated need for admiration, need for attention, who is self-obsessed, who boasts with themselves, whether it’s about their appearance, possessions or achievements, who is prone to grandiosity in every meaning of the word.
And you might have said…Nope, the person I’m dealing with is not overly confident at all, quite the opposite, they are always complaining, always a victim, they pity themselves constantly.
Yes, you might have been wrong.
The first thing you need to know about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is that it’s a spectrum disorder.
This basically means that it has a wide, and I mean wide, variety of manifestations. Not all people suffering from NPD display the same behaviors. Some of them are full of themselves, while others take the role of a constant victim. Some of them are full-blown narcissists, while others just have narcissistic tendencies.
Not all boastful individuals are narcissists, and not all people with a victim mentality are excluded.
There truly is a wide variety of possibilities and nuances to this disorder.
The Myth of the Narcissus
Narcissus by Caravaggio
The fact that this particular disorder bears the name “narcissistic,” is not at all coincidental.
Greek mythology tells us about a young man, Narcissus, son of a river god and a nymph, whose beauty was unparalleled by anything in this world. His extraordinary beauty made him proud and indifferent to feelings of those who adored him for it.
One day he went to quench his thirst at a pool of still water, where he saw his reflection for the first time. He fell so deeply in love with his own reflection, he could not look away.
When he would try to drink, the surface of the water would ripple and his reflection would disappear. He could not bear to lose the sight of his own image, so he stared at it until he died of thirst.
A daffodil flower sprouted where his body disappeared, with its beautiful yellow flower head always bent down, just Narcissus’ head had been bent while he’d gazed at his reflection.
The myth seems simple — Narcissus is a person who is in love with himself. End of story.
But there is much more to it. Narcissus isn’t in love with himself, he is in love with his own image. It’s is a subtle, and much-overlooked difference.
He is in love with an image he displays, not with himself, with his true essence.
Which brings us to the core of the narcissistic personality disorder.
Just as Narcissus is in love with the image he displays to the world, a person with a narcissistic personality disorder is addicted to the appearance he chose to display for the world to see.
The type of appearance, however, might not be what we’re used to —that of a boastful and self-important individual. It might be quite the opposite.
It might be an appearance of a constant victim, always complaining about being neglected, always feeling degraded in some way.
Or the appearance of a dissatisfied person, someone who is always displeased with how people treat him or with outer circumstances.
However, all people suffering from NPD have the same underlying traits:
No matter what type of a narcissist you’ve encountered, they all lack empathy. The lack of empathy is often confused with emotional reserve, but the two aren’t interchangeable.
Being emotional implies the ability to feel emotions. A narcissist has the ability to feel, but he is the center (the addressee) of his own emotions. It’s all about how he feels, as opposed to how other people feel.
Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to understand and feel someone else’s emotions; to place oneself into other people’s shoes. This is a trait a true narcissist lacks either to some extent, or entirely.
So, if you’ve ever thought “That person could not be narcissist, they’re too emotional” or “they seem to suffer because of what happened to someone else”, think again.
2. It’s all about them
You will spot a narcissist by answering a simple question. Who are they sorry/grieving for? A narcissist has a distinct way of making it all about himself.
For instance, something bad happened to you (you lost a job, you had a disagreement with someone) and you turn to the narcissist for a pity party.
And, while they do have a strong emotional response to what happened to you, which makes you think he’s empathetic, it is not you those emotions are pointed at. Soon after, you find yourself consoling them, for something that happened solely to you..
On the other hand, they will own your success, too. You wouldn’t have been so successful if they hadn’t helped you, if you hadn’t inherited their genes, if they hadn’t made it possible for you.
3. They will use any means necessary to keep their chosen image untouched
They will gaslight you, manipulate you, lie to you, guilt-trip you, blame you, make you feel bad or ashamed. They will also never admit to making a mistake, and make excuses for themselves for everything they do.
What is Narcissism all about
Photo by Inga Gezalian on Unsplash
Most people who suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder have suffered a traumatic event in their forming years.
Be it a distinctive traumatic event (a loss of a parent, being an orphan, being exposed to physical violence, war, etc.) or something as subtle as being raised by a narcissist themselves, this young child’s personality disintegrated, and became layered.
The top layer (outer layer) became whatever worked for them best; whatever made them feel better about themselves, whatever brought most relief, comfort and attention to the traumatized individual— whether it was being conceited, boastful, being a victim, or being dissatisfied.
The core (the inner layer), the real inner self, remained buried deep inside, never to emerge again.
A true narcissist can’t allow for their inner-self to emerge, because they are not strong enough to deal with the feelings of inadequacy, lack of love, lack of self — worth, lack of self — esteem, which lurk from within, threatening to overload and destroy the outer layer.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing in this world which would make narcissist to tackle the darkness within. Which is exactly why they are so devoted to keeping the outer layer intact, no matter what the cost.
In order to keep the illusion alive, they will gamble away their marriage, relationships with their children, parents, coworkers, neighbors and friends, they can be mean, manipulative, ruthless, they will degrade others, gaslight, lie, deceive, and cover their tracks while doing it.
There is such an insuperable difference between what they really are inside, and the image they’ve created for the outer world, that the two will never be allowed to meet.
Narcissist himself isn’t aware that the image he displays for others to see, is only a construct he built to defend himself, but is dedicated to keeping it alive at all cost, nonetheless.
What does this all mean for people dealing with a Narcissist?
If you’ve encountered a narcissist on your life path, then you have your work cut out for you.
Main traits of the disorder make it nearly impossible to cure.
Their dedication and tenacity with which they act to preserve their outer image is instinctive, primordial and intimidating. They will put everything on the line to keep that image alive.
If you’ve tried to convince narcissist of something, if you’ve tried to show them how they’ve hurt you, or explain yourself to them; if you’ve tried to reason with them through words, through fighting, or tears, then you already know — it’s no use.
So is there a way to deal with a narcissist?
This is the hard part.
There are two ways to deal with a narcissist.
That is, if you’re in a position to leave, this is what you should do. Admit to yourself, and come to terms with the fact that they’re not going to change. And just leave.
But what if this is a person you can’t permanently leave? What if it’s a father of your children, or your mother, or your ex-wife? And no matter how much distance you put between them and you, they’re still an inextricable part of your life?
Then, this is what you can do.
— Accept them for who they are.
They’re mentally ill. Stop expecting them to change. Stop trying to change them. Stop seeking their validation, it will never come. Stop trying to prove them wrong, you will fail no matter how right you are. Stop trying to convince them that there’s something wrong with them, they will never accept that.
— Make peace.
Make peace with the fact that life has served you a curveball. Make peace with the fact that someone close to you will never be a person you need them, or want them to be.
— Make yourself dull.
No matter what kind of a narcissist you’ve encountered, if you want to have fewer clashes with them (because, let’s face it, no matter how much you try to accept them and make peace with the situation, they still manage to piss you off sometimes) find a way to make them lose interest in you.
There is something all narcissists are addicted to — their narcissistic supply. Narcissistic supply, in a nutshell, is a supply from which they feed their outer layer.
For some, it will be boasting and putting others down, while for others it can be making people around them feeling sorry for them, making them responsible for their problems and emotions.
In any case, they need other people who will provide them with enough drama to keep their engine going.
Don’t succumb to the need to be that person for them anymore.
Detect what Narcissist in your life feeds off, and inconspicuously cut the supply.
Become dull and they will find another victim to feed off. (Yes, there will be another victim, because a narcissist relies on his narcissistic supply to be able to function.)
Tough for the new victim, but, that’s their problem, not yours.
If you’ve found this piece informative or helpful, please give it some
Understanding the Mind of a Narcissist
Despite having a seemingly strong personality, narcissists lack a core self. Their self-image and thinking and behavior are other-oriented in order to stabilize and validate their self-esteem and fragile, fragmented self.
The gods sentenced Narcissus to a life without human love. He fell in love with his own reflection in pool of water and died hungering for its response. Narcissus, narcissists only “love” themselves as reflected in the eyes of others.
It’s a common misconception that they love themselves. They may actually dis themselves immensely. Their inflated self-flattery, perfectionism, and arrogance are merely covers for the self-loathing they don’t admit — usually even to themselves.
Instead, it’s projected outward in their disdain for and criticism of others. They’re too afraid to look at themselves, because they believe the truth would be devastating. Emotionally, they may be dead inside, and hungering to be filled and validated by others.
Sadly, they’re unable to appreciate the love they do get and they alienate those who give it.
When we think of narcissists, we usually picture someone with an inflated ego — someone bossy and arrogant, who has to be right. To be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the person must exhibit grandiosity (if only in fantasy) and lack of empathy, as exhibited by at least five of the following traits:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents.
- Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- Believes he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes.
- Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends.
- Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
- Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her.
- Has arrogant behaviors or attitudes.
In addition to the grandiose “Exhibitionist Narcissist” described above, James Masterson identified “Closet Narcissists” — those with a deflated, inadequate self-perception, a sense of depression and inner emptiness. (They are also referred to as “Introverted Narcissists.
“) They may appear shy, humble, or anxious, because their emotional investment is in the idealized other, which is indirectly gratifying (Masterson, 2004). “Malignant Narcissists” are the most pernicious and hostile type, enacting anti-social behavior.
They can be cruel and vindictive when they feel threatened or don’t get what they want.
It’s hard to empathize with narcissists, but they didn’t choose to be that way. Their natural development was arrested, often due to faulty, early parenting.
Some believe the cause lies in extreme closeness with an indulgent mother; others attribute it to parental harshness or criticalness.
Although more research is required, twin studies revealed a 64-percent correlation of narcissistic behaviors, suggesting a genetic component (Livesley, Jang, Jackson, & Vernon, 1993).
Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut observed that his narcissistic clients suffered from profound alienation, emptiness, powerlessness, and lack of meaning. Beneath a narcissistic façade, they lacked the sufficient internal structures to maintain cohesiveness, stability, and a positive self-image to provide a stable identity.
Narcissists are uncertain of the boundaries between themselves and others and vacillate between dissociated states of self-inflation and inferiority. The self, divided by shame, is made up of the superior-acting, grandiose self and the inferior, devalued self.
When the devalued self is in the inferior position, shame manifests by idealizing others. When the individual is in the superior position, defending against shame, the grandiose self aligns with the inner critic and devalues others through projection.
Both this devaluation and idealization are commensurate with the severity of shame and the associated depression (Lancer, 2014).
Although most people fluctuate in these positions, exhibitionistic and closet narcissists are more or less static in their respective superior and inferior positions, irrespective of reality, making them pathological.
Arrogance and contempt, envy, withdrawal, denial and repression (unconscious), aggression and rage, projection (blaming or accusing others of their own flaws or actions), self-pity (especially closet narcissists), and avoidance (e.g., addictive behaviors) are common defenses to shame (Lancer, 2014).
Narcissists also defend against shame and fragmentation by feeling special through idealizing or identifying with special or important people.
A Relationship with a Narcissist
At home, narcissists are totally different than their public persona. They may privately denigrate the person they were just entertaining.
After an initial romance, they expect appreciation of their specialness and specific responses through demands and criticism in order to manage their internal environment and protect against their high sensitivity to humiliation and shame.
Relationships revolve around them, and they experience their mates as extensions of themselves.
Many narcissists are perfectionists. Nothing that others do is right or appreciated. Their partners are expected to meet their endless needs — for admiration, service, love, or purchases — and are dismissed when they don't.
That their spouse is ill or in pain is inconsequential. Narcissists don’t to hear “no” and often expect others to know their needs without having to ask. They manipulate to get their way and punish or make partners feel guilty for turning them down.
Trying to please the narcissist is thankless, trying to fill a bottomless pit. They manage to find fault with your efforts or give back-handed compliments, so that you always feel one down. If they're momentarily pleased, they're soon disparaging or asking for more from you.
They make their partners experience what it was having had a cold, invasive, or unavailable narcissistic parent. Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat had just such an emotionally empty mother, who devotedly bonded with him to survive.
The deprivation of real nurturing and a lack of boundaries make narcissists dependent on others to feed their insatiable need for validation.
Partners often doubt the narcissist's sincerity and question whether it’s really manipulation, pretense, or a manufactured “as-if” personality. They feel tense and drained from unpredictable tantrums, attacks, false accusations, criticism, and unjustified indignation about small or imaginary slights.
These partners also lack boundaries and absorb whatever is said about them as truth. In vain attempts to win approval and stay connected, they sacrifice their needs and walk on eggshells, fearful of displeasing the narcissist. They daily risk blame and punishment, love being withheld, or a rupture in the relationship.
They worry what their spouses will think or do, and become as preoccupied with the narcissist as they are with themselves.
Partners have to fit into the narcissists’ cold world and get used to living with emotional abandonment. Soon, they begin to doubt themselves and lose confidence and self-worth. Communicating their disappointment gets twisted and is met with defensive blame or further put-downs. The narcissist can dish it out, but not take it.
Nevertheless, many partners stay, because periodically the charm, excitement, and loving gestures that first enchanted them return, especially when the narcissist feels threatened that a breakup is imminent.
When two narcissists get together, they fight over whose needs come first, blame and push each other away, yet are miserable needing each other.
Often in these relationships, narcissists are the distancers when more than sex is anticipated. Getting emotionally close means giving up power and control. The thought of being dependent is abhorrent.
It not only limits their options and makes them feel weak, but also exposes them to rejection and feelings of shame, which they keep from consciousness at all costs (Lancer, 2014).
Their anxious partners pursue them, unconsciously replaying emotional abandonment from their past. Underneath they both feel unlovable.
For more, see my peer-reviewed article.
©Darlene Lancer 2018
Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is one of the most difficult and frustrating mental disorders to experience or treat.
Its name comes from the Greek myth about Narcissus, a handsome young man who saw his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with it.
We all have known individuals who seem to be snobbish, self-important, or patronizing with others. In its extreme, such behaviors may be symptomatic of a narcissistic personality.
For all their feelings of superiority, individuals with NPD have great difficulty with relationships and managing life’s everyday problems. Friends and loved ones also find it difficult to cope with the selfish and grandiose behaviors that are a hallmark of the disorder.
The Nature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
NPD is a condition characterized by an overwhelming need for attention and admiration, a heightened sense of self-importance, and a lack of empathy toward others. Ironically, for all their boastful and entitled behavior, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder have problems with self-esteem. Their self-importance hides a deep, underlying sense of insecurity.
NPD is classified as a “dramatic” personality disorder, characterized by a distorted sense of self and unstable, intense emotions. Typical symptoms include:
- Exaggerated sense of self-importance;
- Preoccupation with fantasies of power, success, beauty, etc.;
- Belief that one is unique or special;
- Need for excessive admiration from others;
- Strong sense of entitlement; e.g., demands for favorable treatment;
- Exploitative behavior, such as taking advantage of others to achieve one’s own goals;
- Lack of empathy or ability to identify with others’ needs or feelings;
- Feelings of envy or belief that others are envious of them;
- Regular displays of haughty or arrogant behavior.
To be diagnosed with the disorder, an individual must meet at least five of these symptoms.
NPD is believed to occur in over 6 per cent of the general population. It usually emerges in late adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in males than females.
Its cause is unknown, but most professionals subscribe to a bio-psychosocial view, believing that a combination of biological, genetic, psychological, and environmental factors lead to the disorder. Early interactions with family; e.g.
, lack of affection or over-indulgence, may partially shape narcissistic behaviors. There is also a somewhat increased risk for the disorder in children of those with NPD.
Coping with Narcissistic Personality Disorder
NPD symptoms tend to peak in early adulthood. By middle age, many people experience fewer intense symptoms. But waiting out the progression of the disorder is not an ideal solution for individuals or their families.
Although there is no known cure for NPD, individuals can respond successfully to long-term psychotherapy. The most beneficial therapies for patients include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, to identify negative, unhealthy beliefs and replace them with healthier ones;
- Family therapy, to explore interpersonal conflicts and communication problems and better manage family relationships;
- Group therapy, to facilitate communication with patients with similar conditions and promote listening skills and support for others.
Personality traits are difficult to alter, so the therapeutic process can take several years. Short-term goals focus on reducing such damaging effects of NPD as substance abuse, depression, and shame. Long-term, therapy strives to reshape the individual’s personality and develop a more realistic self-image.
Family members may also need assistance in coping with the effects of the disorder. Suggestions for loved ones include the following:
- Learn about the disorder. Understanding the nature of narcissistic personality disorder can make it less mysterious and frustrating.
- Adjust your own mind-set. You may need to change your own way of dealing with the person, as it is not ly they will make changes for you.
- Have realistic expectations. Don’t ask for more than a loved one with NPD can give.
- Avoid emotional dependence. Don’t try to constantly please a loved one with NPD. Be aware of your own self-worth.
- Set clear boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no, or to cut unproductive conversations short.
- Practice effective communication. When talking to someone with NPD, suggestions are more effective than requests. Offer praise when warranted. (Remember that people with NPD have poor feelings of self-worth deep inside.)
- Rely on a support system. Opening up to others will help you be more objective and reduce your emotional reliance on the person with NPD. Formal support can also be obtained through counseling and family support groups.
Understanding and dealing with NPD can be frustrating to all parties. But with proper treatment and support, the disorder can be managed, as individuals learn to function more effectively and become more emotionally stable.
Disarming The Narcissist
“They seem well-assembled and self-assured, sometimes with a saccharine wit,” says Behary, cautioning that they can also “quickly pull the rug out from under you, reducing you to boredom, tears, apprehension, or disgust without a flinch.”
Typically, narcissists display ten of the following thirteen traits:
- Self-absorbed – Acts everything is all about him or her
- Entitled – Makes the rules; breaks the rules
- Demeaning – Puts you down, bullyish
- Demanding – of whatever he or she wants
- Distrustful – Suspicious of your motives when you’re being nice to him or her
- Perfectionistic – Rigidly high standards – his or her way or no way
- Snobbish – Believes he or she is superior to you and others; gets bored easily
- Approval seeking – Craves constant praise and recognition
- Unempathic- Uninterested in understanding your inner experience or unable to do so
- Unremorseful – Cannot offer a genuine apology
- Compulsive – Gets overly consumed with details and minutiae
- Addictive – Cannot let go of bad habits; uses them to self soothe
- Emotionally detached – Steers clear of feeling
Quick Tips for therapists:
Navigating Narcissism and Maintaining Momentum In Treatment
Most narcissistic clients will only reluctantly agree to go to therapy if a significant person in their life is threatening to leave them, or if someone is threatening their comfort, their reputation, or their status if they don’t.
The amount of leverage, or “meaningful” consequences the narcissist faces helps determine the possibility of maintaining the motivation and compliance necessary for achieving an effective treatment outcome.
Additionally, the therapist needs to cultivate a robust connection with this client, as narcissists are more prone to disappearing into a state of hyper-autonomy, entitlement, and self-aggrandizement.
Therapists must be sturdy enough to show up as a “real” person, not just an expert, to bypass the cynical, approval-seeking, charming, defiantly avoidant, and tough-guy modes. The therapist engages in a (limited) re-parenting advocate for the vulnerable part of this larger-than-life client, hidden behind the “masks.”
Keep the Leverage High
The therapy relationship becomes a microcosm for the narcissist’s real-world relationships.
It is also the platform for creating corrective emotional experiences without devaluing an often highly sensitive individual.
The therapist uses moment-to-moment experiences to consistently point out relevant possibilities of loss and predictable consequences if they refuse to do the emotional work, thus fortifying the leverage for change.
Keep a Robust Connection
The use of an audio flashcard can help to strengthen the internalization of a healthy adult’s response under triggering conditions, while acting as a custom-fit transitional object for the mid-session days.
It provides a lively attachment to the therapy relationship and keeps the client connected to relevant treatment goals—goals that often emerge within the domain of interpersonal ruptures with loved ones and others.
It takes only a couple of minutes to record (in front of the client) reminders, praise, practice exercises for homework, etc., that they can listen to throughout the week, in between sessions.
Keep a Sturdy “Realness” in the Treatment Room
As therapists, we are accustomed to keeping ourselves current with literature and our treatment approaches.
Working with narcissists may be one of the toughest challenges we face in our industry. They can push our buttons almost no other client.
Here are some suggestions for how to become more sturdy, credible, and sensitive to the needs of these unruly types:
- Enter into self-therapy in supervision, or psychotherapy
- Engage in continuing education about narcissism and the fragile world that lies beneath the facades
- Consider the use of their childhood photos to assist you in maintaining a view of the narcissist as vulnerable at the core, while empathically confronting them
Quick Tip by New Harbinger…Copyright ©2014 New Harbinger Publications, Inc., All rights reserved.
Daniel Goleman, author of ‘Emotional Intelligence’
The 2nd edition includes some new and elaborated content:
- Aggressive and Abusive Narcissists—“The Perilous Narcissist”—When it’s Time to Exit
Differentiation from Compassion—more on empathic confrontation
- The Female Narcissist—“The Narcissister”—male vs. female narcissism with case vignettes and strategies for dealing with them.
When dealing with the show-off, recognize that you are in the company of someone who hungers for the adoration and envy of others… ignore [their] obvious solicitations and instead offer positive feedback for the simple and ordinary niceties of the interaction.
—from “Disarming The Narcissist”
Often times they are the most charming person in the room, radiating brightness and confidence. It is not hard to understand how narcissist—those exhibiting traits of narcissistic personality disorder—make their way into our lives. We marry them, we accept jobs from them, we invite them to our card games.
But eventually the flip side of their personality comes to light. What you once believed was confidence you now recognize as arrogance; and it is no longer their charm that takes your breath away, but rather their sense of entitlement and lack of empathy.
When the illusion has been shattered and you recognize the narcissist in your life for who they are, “Disarming The Narcissist” will help you figure out what to do next. Communicating with a self-absorbed person is tricky and frustrating, and sometimes intimidating.
How do you get them to understand your point of view? Wendy Behary explains to the lay reader that the trick is compassionate, empathetic confrontation. Understanding the narcissist will help you slip past their defenses and communicate with them more effectively.