- Narcissism is a diagnosable mental health condition, causing a lack of empathy and low self-esteem.
- To deal with a narcissist, establish boundaries, be patient, and take time for yourself.
- Signs you should leave a narcissist include them being abusive, gaslighting, or blaming you.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
The term narcissist is commonly used to describe any self-centered person. But there’s a difference between someone who is just full of themselves versus someone who is clinically diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD),
NPD is a mental health condition found in about 5% of people. Only a mental health professional can make this diagnosis.
A person with NPD may exhibit traits such as a lack of empathy, low-self esteem, and difficulty connecting with others, says Dana McNeil, PsyD, LMFT, a therapist and founder of The Relationship Place.
These characteristics can make a romantic relationship with someone who has NPD more challenging since they focus more on themselves and their needs than their partner’s.
Important: You are under no obligation to stay in a relationship that does not benefit you or is toxic.
Here are some tips for maintaining a romantic relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder.
1. Keep boundaries
Maintaining strong boundaries is important when dating someone with NPD.
“Boundaries convey your beliefs and values, and in a relationship with a narcissist, boundaries send the message that you are not falling for their antics,” says Mara Maeglin, LCSW, a social worker with her own practice. Their antics may include centering the relationship around them and constantly needing external validation.
She cautions that you may need to regularly re-establish your boundaries if faced with pushback by your partner.
“You can say, ‘Don’t criticize me or demean my character. It’s not ok, and if it continues, I will leave the room when you start,'” says McNeil.
2. Clearly state your expectations
Tell your partner clearly and succinctly what your expectations are and what will happen if they aren’t met — most likely considering a breakup, says McNeil. The idea is to distinctly honor your needs without an undercurrent of threat or manipulation. Be prepared to follow through on any stated consequences of boundary crossing.
While a boundary is a reaction to something happening, expectations can be set before any issue occurs. You are preemptively telling your partner what you expect from them and the relationship in order to stay in it.
3. Be patient
For people with NPD, their behavior is much more than an adjustable personality trait. Like any other mental or behavioral health condition, narcissists seeking therapy or additional assistance for their personality disorder will not improve after a couple of sessions.
“It’s important to realize that narcissists can change, but the process is slow and positive change must be desired by the narcissist,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a clinical psychologist, relationship expert, speaker, and author.
4. Learn to step away when needed
Time for yourself is a good idea in any relationship, but may be even more critical when dating someone with narcissism.
“One of the key aspects of having a successful relationship with a narcissist is to learn to step away from the narcissist’s charades and shenanigans,” says Manly.
This also means cultivating friendships and interests that don’t center on your relationship. Taking time for yourself may look like:
- Scheduling weekly dinners with friends
- Going on a solo trip
- Taking a painting class
5. Understand their actions are not a reflection of you
It’s easy to internalize blame when a narcissist acts in a negative manner toward you. Remind yourself that these are symptoms of NPD and are more about what’s going on in their internal world versus something wrong with you.
“How they interact is more of a reflection of their own chaotic internal world,” says Maeglin. Of course, this doesn’t excuse any harmful behavior towards you. She recommends shifting the way you interpret their behavior to not take it personally — easier said than done.
6. Be prepared to sacrifice
Yes, all relationships will require sacrifice at some point. But, when you’re in a relationship with a narcissistic person, you may end up sacrificing more.
Manly reiterates that a person with NPD can change, but it must be of their own desire and accord. “A narcissist who is on the path to healing may be able to feel love for another person, but they may always default to putting their own needs first,” she says.
Maeglin cautions this can come at the cost of exploring your own wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings. You may find yourself acting passively and agreeable to keep your partner happy. “You will likely have to give up a lot to receive little in return,” says Maeglin.
When to leave a narcissistic person
7 tell-tale signs of a toxic relationship and how to fix it, according to couple therapists
According to the relationship experts, these are some of the signs you should leave a relationship with a narcissist:
- You are questioning whether you want to stay in the relationship at all
- Your partner regularly gaslights you
- You often feel to blame for your partner’s problems without them taking responsibility for any of them.
- You feel put down and underappreciated
- You’re emotionally disconnected
- You have low self-esteem due to the relationship
- Your partner is emotionally, financially, sexually or physically abusive
If you’ve decided to leave the relationship, McNeil recommends doing so fast, quick, and clean. They may attempt to be more loving or become more toxic if trying to win you back.
“There is a good chance that dating a narcissist has isolated you from family and friends, so reconnecting with these close others is central to living life post-relationship,” says McNeil. “If you find yourself questioning your choices or feeling regretful about them, revisit your reasons for leaving.”
A person with narcissistic personality disorder can be part of a healthy, happy relationship. However, at times, there can be a very fine line between making a relationship with a narcissist work and hurting yourself.
It’s critical to remain aware of your boundaries and if you’re continuing to benefit from staying in the relationship. Conversations with trusted and beloved friends might help you gauge if a relationship is healthy for you.
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