Relationships with a Person who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The Positive Aspects of Narcissism:
Narcissistic people are very charming, fun-loving, and charismatic. They can make great leaders, preachers, business people, CEOs, doctors, engineers, etc. because of their charisma. and drive to be successful. They can be truly inspirational and well-respected by others. They typically are very neatly groomed, sometimes overly so. They may iron all of their clothing, have perfect make-up and hairstyles. Appearances are very important to them. They will flatter people and make them feel good when they first meet you, if they believe you are high enough status. They often are very creative and can be highly innovative. They want to be seen as ideal, so will behave this way. They want to be the best and believe that whatever they do should be praised and shown adoration, even if they haven't earned this. They can have a child-like spirit and relate well with younger people when they are not their own children. People who do not know the person well see them as very interesting, confident, fun, exciting and charming. They can make great conversationalists, be very positive and try to inspire others. They seek adoration so they'll behave in ways that others will provide this for them. Thus they strive to be knowledgeable, inspirational and stand out in the crowd. They are the life of the party, have fun ideas and can be wonderful at entertaining. They can make wonderful salespeople because they can be so charming.
Unfortunately they are very shallow. They can't relate with others in a deeper, more genuine, give and take manner. Everything is on the surface. It is their inability to be a true caring, understanding, empathetic person that causes problems. While they can be well-respected and inspiring, they are demanding, haughty and arrogant towards employees, spouses, significant others and their children. They often create divisions between people in a "divide and conquer" method to control others. They are highly manipulative to get what they want. When they don't get their way or what they want, they'll do whatever it takes to get their way, even lying, cheating, raging, throwing a temper tantrum, be very demanding or scheming. They often can be thinking three steps ahead. Because they don't have empathy, the ability to put themselves in someone else's shoes, they can be ruthless. Narcissism is a double edged sword. As wonderful as they can be, the are equally destructive. They usually lack remorse but will mimic empathy and remorse, to manipulate. They will initially present as deep and thoughtful, but in reality it is not a skill they truly possess. It is simply good acting.
Young and Adult Children of Narcissists:
Being raised by someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or who has Narcissistic traits can be confusing, painful and anxiety provoking. Interestingly, children raised by a narcissist will often be very protective of their families. They'll describe them as normal, average and are very resistive to looking at their parent as having a serious personality disorder. This is because narcissistic people demand all members of the family maintain the idealized image of themselves and their family. They convince their children that the family is healthy, normal and that their own behavior is perfectly reasonable. The pressure to maintain the image of the family and narcissistic parent is so intense they feel very threatened to consider that their parent was abusive and harmful. Image is everything. No matter how bad things are, narcissistic parents will insist things are normal and that the children must always represent the family well, even if this means sacrificing their own feelings and well-being. In treatment they'll typically vacillate between acknowledgement of the problem and being protective and in denial. Denial is very high in a narcissistic family. Emphasis is placed on loyalty to the family and maintaining a positive appearance of the family, to the detriment of the family members.
Children in these families are typically well-behaved, or their misbehaviors are denied or made an example of. Under-reaction and over-reaction are very common in these family systems. If a child is hurt or injured, this is typically minimized. Emergencies are not seen as emergencies. A child can break his/her ankle or experience a major illness and the narcissist will not identify it as important due to his/her inability to empathize with their child. In fact, getting hurt or sick is often treated as a problem and disappointment. Children are often punished for getting injured or hurt. In extreme cases, the narcissistic parent may neglect their child to the point of death or near-death. On the other hand, Narcissists over-react to any threats to their perceived ideal family. When kids act out or disappoint the narcissistic parent, the response is typically overkill. They may yell, scream and even become violent when children act in ways that the parent perceives as not representing the fantasized ideal.
Children of narcissistic parents may be over-achievers, perfectionists, and frequently they experience a lot of anxiety or they can be the opposite, acting out and identifying with their narcissistic parent. Adult children of narcissistic parents may become extremely accomplished, workaholics and relate to people on a very surface level. They can be very charming and fun-loving, hard working and have a strong need to be "the best." Being "good enough" does not exist for a narcissist because their mood dictates how they treat their loved ones. This unpredictability causes a child to constantly strive to please their narcissistic parent, which they never can do, because a narcissist will always expect and demand more. Even being the best isn't good enough.
Other adult children of narcissists will be extremely anxious, insecure and have problems functioning in life. Constant criticism and the need for the narcissistic parent to control all aspects of their child's life and behavior along with their under-involvement in their child's life can cause the adult child to be insecure, unable to trust themselves and their own judgment. They can vacillate between being very dependent upon their parent and later in their lives, to being overly independent, never being able to trust others with their deeper self. They have problems with their own identity because narcissistic parents are intolerant of their children being individuals. They can't see them this way. They see them as extensions of themselves, so they often will not let their children explore their own feelings and interests. It is common for these parents to put their children in activities that they feel make themselves look good. They'll only allow their children to do things they want them to do and will tell their children things like, "you don't want to do that; you want to do this! Trust me, I know what is best for you or what you want." Therefore these adults may have trouble making independent decisions, be highly anxious, depressed and seek out partners who are also controlling of them.. A narcissistic parent simply won't listen to what their child feels or desires. Any challenge to their viewpoint is met with anger, dismissal, condescending, criticism or is simply ignored. Denial is high.
The children who identify with the narcissistic parent will have the most conflict with the parent. They'll act out, engage in strong arguments with their narcissistic parent, may have rages, extreme jealousy, need to control and manipulate others. They will be narcissistic themselves, whether they truly develop the disorder or simply mimic what they have learned.
Dating a Narcissist:
First dating someone who has narcissistic personality disorder can be wonderful! They'll flatter, charm and impress you to the max! They will literally sweep you off your feet! They can be very romantic, give you things they believe you want, can be very attentive, and seem like an ideal partner. They'll behave in ways to impress you and treat you like a cherished person. But there are warning signs that can indicate something isn't right. For example, they may not ask you a lot about yourself after getting to know you. They'll talk a lot about themselves and seek out adoration from their partner but not give it in return. Some of their behaviors will be socially inappropriate. They may come off as passionate, but their passion can be used against you. They may not be responsive to doing things for you when you are needing a partner to help you, or they'll expect a lot of praise and adoration if they do something for you. Other people in your life may think this person is fantastic and be equally charmed by them. You, as well as your friends and family, may ignore or dismiss haughty, inappropriate, or angry behaviors. The inappropriate jealously may be flattering in the beginning, but this will turn into some degree of possessiveness and isolation. They want you there for them, to be there for whatever they need, even if they don't admit to this. It is often said by people who date a narcissist that they seemed to be highly charming, attentive and wonderful until they are married or have locked you into a committed relationship with them. They may suddenly be more controlling, restrictive, and bossy. What used to be charm is replaced by an increasing demanding, intolerant, critical and angry disposition. There will be incidents of inappropriate controlling behaviors, stubbornness and adolescent power struggling that may not make sense to the person receiving it. Slowly their moodiness will begin to control the relationship and they'll have times of being very demeaning, condescending and insulting behaviors. The behavior will be confusing because they behave this way at times, but at other times, they are very enjoyable and a pleasure to be around. They can be a lot of fun!
Marriages, Domestic Partnerships & Long-Term Relationships
Being in a long term relationship with someone with narcissistic personality disorder is often unpredictable; there can be a lot of struggles and challenges. They do best with people who give them a lot of adoration, who are patient and are easy going. They do not do well with being challenged. Not going along with them or doing things that break their fantasy will cause them to be angry, critical and arrogant. There will inevitable be times when you will have to break the fantasy. Aging, gaining weight, having interests that will take you away from them or make them have to assume responsibilities in the relationship they don't believe they should or want will inevitably cause a break in their fantasy. Reality can cause problems because they live in a fantasy world. Some examples of this include a husband is very controlling and insistent on his wife maintaining an ideal weight, he becomes very critical and demeaning if she gains weight, even if it is caused by having her period. Another example is a husband who comes up with unrealistic, grandiose business plans for what he believes will be multi-million dollar businesses that he has no training, education or experience in. A mother becomes very angry when her daughter wants to learn to play the guitar when she thinks playing the violin or piano is more prestigious. A wife demands that her husband seek promotions that are more prestigious that he isn't interested in or demands he provide enough money for her to wear expensive jewelry, make-up, clothing and have a leisure life when he works three jobs to support her. A narcissistic woman expects her girlfriend to be a stay at home girlfriend who cooks, cleans and acts as an attractive woman to show off at business parties and social situations with friends she wants to impress. Attempts for her girlfriend to go to school or obtain work will be met with anger and discouragement.
Characteristic behaviors seen in many instances of narcissism: A spouse or partner will be moody, want to do things his/her way. Partner often has strong, stereotyped views of roles for males and females. Rigid thinking, may be jealous and possessive but won't think much about flirting with others or affairs. This may not be true if they have values against this because of their religious beliefs. They can be extremely verbally and emotionally abusive, neglectful of the relationship, disrespectful, critical, controlling and dismissive. They will frequently be unnecessarily rude. If there is an argument, even if it is one sided, the narcissistic person will be punishing. He/she may sleep in another room, not speak to you for days on end or even be physically violent. Some will engage in humiliating, demeaning and aggressive behaviors. You may be afraid of your partner or just experience him/her as "crazy" or overly angry at times.
Narcissistic people will frequently lose interest in sex as the fantasy of the ideal relationship wears off. Intimate sex with emotional connection may be difficult. They seek excitement and will require you to maintain an ideal appearance in order to be sexually attracted to you. Even then it may not be enough. Your partner's moodiness can interfere a lot in a healthy sexual relationship. Sometimes sex will mimic a dominant relationship. Again, the ideal fantasy is desired. No one can live up to this.
Their behavior is unpredictable and at times very shocking. Sometimes the only time your partner will treat you with respect and value is in public when he/she is trying to impress others. Most characteristic of a narcissistic person is that they are self-centered. Everything is about their needs and their desires. They need you. If you get sick or emotionally vulnerable, they can be very impatient and cold. They will "kick you when you're down," when you are vulnerable. They'll make you distrust yourself, criticize your views and dismiss your concerns. They can be highly frustrating. You may experience a cold dismissal if you confront him/her. They may flat out deny their behavior or minimize its importance. Often they'll say things like, "I don't accept that," "It happened in the past, let it go," or, "I said I was sorry, its over." When they make mistakes or hurt your feelings, they expect ready forgiveness and can't understand when this is not given, but when you do something that they believe slights them, even when it is a small mistake, they won't let it go. It will come up over and over again and be used against you when it suits them. There are times when they are very fun to be around or to go on vacations with. You'll notice that they can be snobbish and arrogant. They can be very difficult to live with and will require a lot of self-sacrifice because it is NOT about you! And they will always want you to believe things are good and fine. The pressure to believe things are okay and normal is huge. Denial in both partners is very common. In fact, if you have a narcissistic partner and are reading this, it is likely that you have minimized much of what has been written here. You won't identify these behaviors unless you really think about it. When I talk with people who have a narcissistic parent or partner, I'll ask questions that may indicate the person has a narcissistic personality problem and my clients will give examples of these behaviors but be unable to identify it themselves, even when it is apparent to others. If nothing you do is ever good enough, you feel off kilter frequently and arguments seem to come out of nowhere, you find yourself focusing on his/her needs more than your own and things your needs aren't a priority you may be involved with a narcissistic person.
Call if you are a child or partner of a narcissist or someone who has some of the characteristics discussed above.