Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How to Deal with a Narcissist

narcissistic personality disorder: how to deal with a narcissist
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Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How to Deal with a Narcissist

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a complex mental health condition characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration. Their relationships are typically troubled and turbulent as they have a lack of empathy for others. 

This disorder goes beyond mere vanity. Those who are vain are simply obsessed with one’s appearance. People suffering from NPD on the other hand have a pattern of trying to control and manipulate others to boost the image that they have of themselves.

Needless to say, it is a very serious and debilitating disorder for the person suffering from it, as well as the people that come into their orbit. In this article we hope to illuminate the defining characteristics of the disorder, risk factors, treatment options, as well as how loved ones can support those with NPD while still maintaining boundaries.

What are the defining characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Here are some of the main characteristics that we see in someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

Exaggerated sense of self-importance

People with NPD often display a grandiose sense of self-importance. They tend to exaggerate their achievements and talents, expecting to be recognized as superior without actually having commensurate accomplishments.

Fantasies of unlimited success

This grandiosity is typically accompanied by fantasies of unlimited success, importance, power, brilliance, and other desirable attributes. This means that they will engage in elaborate and often unrealistic daydreams about their own achievements and status. This is a central feature of NPD behavior as these fantasies help them maintain a sense of superiority as they imagine themselves to be more powerful or “superior” to others around them. When they are confronted with everyday challenges and failures, they retreat into idealized visions of success and power – anything but to face any feelings of inadequacy or failure. 

Insatiable need for admiration:

While almost everyone craves positive reinforcement and praise from those around them, those with NPD have an overwhelming dependency on admiration to maintain their sense of self-worth. This may cause them to engage in behavior specifically designed to elicit compliments and positive feedback. This could mean boasting about their successes in conversations or downplaying achievements of others to make their own seem more impressive. This also makes them highly sensitive to criticism – anything even perceived as negative feedback could lead to intense emotional reactions such as anger, shame, humiliation as well as retaliatory behaviors. 

Lack of empathy for others:

We also typically see a lack of empathy in individuals with NPD which contributes significantly to the interpersonal difficulties they experience. They may appear emotionally detached or indifferent to others and unable to recognize non-verbal emotional cues. Because they are unable to put themselves in other people’s shoes, they are also likely to shift the blame on others when faced with conflict or criticism. Furthermore, as they are missing the crucial skill to empathize with others, they have a tendency to form exploitative relationships where they use and manipulate others for their own gain. 

Sense of entitlement

Because they have an exaggerated sense of self-worth, they also believe they deserve special treatment, privileges, love, and resources regardless of their actions. They expect others to go out of their way to meet their needs and desires. When their sense of entitlement is not met, they can fly into fits of anger. This is sometimes referred to as “narcissistic rage.” 

What are the causes and risk factors of NPD? 

The exact cause of NPD is not known, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Studies suggest that overprotective or neglectful parenting styles may contribute to the development of narcissistic traits. Additionally, there may be a genetic predisposition to the disorder, as it sometimes runs in families.

Early experiences, such as excessive pampering or criticism from parents, can also play a role. Children who are excessively praised for their achievements or criticized harshly may develop an inflated self-image as a defense mechanism. 

Experiencing emotional trauma such as abuse or instability in the household during childhood can also disrupt the normal development of a stable sense of identity, thus leading to an inflated sense of self.

Those who are also subject to highly competitive environments that place a high value on status and achievement can encourage the development of narcissistic traits which can grow unchecked. 

How to treat Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

Treating Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be challenging, as individuals with the disorder often do not recognize their behavior as problematic and may be resistant to seeking help. 

However, psychotherapy is considered the primary treatment for NPD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals with NPD increase their self-awareness, understand the impact that their words and actions have on others, and help improve interpersonal relationships. CBT can also help individuals develop empathy and learn to recognize and respect the feelings and needs of others.

Group therapy can provide opportunities for individuals with NPD to receive feedback from peers and practice new social skills in a supportive environment. It helps challenge their unrealistic perception of themselves and develop a more realistic and stable sense of identity. 

In some cases, medications may be prescribed to address symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or other co-occurring mental health conditions. However, there is no specific medication for treating NPD itself.

How to best support someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder while also taking care of yourself:

Living with Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be challenging, not only for the individuals with the disorder but also for their friends, family, and colleagues. Relationships with someone who has NPD can be fraught with tension, conflict, and misunderstandings. It is important for loved ones to set boundaries and seek support for themselves, such as therapy or support groups.

Here are some strategies for supporting someone who has NPD, as well as coping and taking care of yourself:

Encourage therapy

This is much easier said than done as those with NPD have an innate lack of insight into their condition. Sometimes, we get so aggravated by someone with NPD that we may just lose all hope with them. However, NPD is a serious behavioral disorder that CAN be treated with therapy.

One possible way to encourage therapy to an NPD is to frame it in a way that highlights personal benefits such as achieving their goals or improving their relationships. Point out how therapy can also improve their social skills, enhance their reputation, and generally help them improve their social image. You could perhaps frame therapy as life coaching or personal development, which may be more acceptable to their self-image than traditional therapy. Do not accuse them of being a narcissist or being problematic. Instead, focus on specific issues you may be facing and how therapy can help provide solutions.

Involve a trusted authority figure

Another strategy in encouraging therapy is to involve a trusted authority figure. Sometimes, individuals with NPD are more likely to listen to someone they respect or admire. A suggestion from a respected family member or mentor may carry more weight if they suggest it. 

Keep an eye out for gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where the abuser attempts to make the victim doubt their perceptions, feelings, and reality. An individual with NPD often employs gaslighting to maintain control in a relationship and not be held accountable to their actions. They may deny things you know to be true – perhaps something bad they did or said – and insist that you are wrong and misremembering. Perhaps they do something to hurt your feelings then dismiss your concerns as irrational and imagined. They repeatedly question your recollection of events, suggesting your memory is faulty.

The best way to protect yourself from gaslighting is to keep a journal documenting events, conversations, and your feelings. This can help you track patterns and verify your experiences. You can also share your experiences with trusted friends, family, or a therapist who can re-validate your reality. 

Remember that you can take back control

While a narcissist will want to try and control you, you can take back your sense of control. You cannot control how a narcissist will act around you but you can control how you react. You can set firm boundaries – and commit to sticking to them when a narcissist tries to cross them or tear them down. These boundaries may include refusing to respond at all when they verbally attack you for a perceived insult or removing yourself from the room when they fly into a narcissistic rage. If they repeatedly try to cross your boundaries, it may be time to reassess the relationship.

Consider therapy for yourself

If you are living with someone with NPD or in a close relationship with one, seeking therapy for yourself may be helpful. Dating or living with a narcissist can be an emotionally draining, even maddening experience. Narcissists can initially appear perfect and charming. In fact, they often engage in “love bombing” where they literally “bomb” their target with flattery and attention to gain control.

However, as the relationship progresses, they may start engaging in problematic behavior. Many friends, family members or significant others of narcissists have noted behaviors like gaslighting, emotional manipulation, sudden coldness, jealousy and possessiveness, and more. This can cause deep emotional exhaustion and feelings of isolation. It may be helpful to confide in an unbiased professional to help you navigate these feelings and set boundaries for yourself. 

Know when you need to leave

Relationships with a narcissist can often be toxic to your mental health and even downright abusive. If the relationship is causing too much distress on you emotionally and psychologically with no improvement, it may be time to end the relationship.

Remember that narcissism is also a spiritual problem

Narcissists suffer from incurvatus in se – a life lived inward and only for oneself rather than “outward” for God and for others. They are so deeply curved into oneself that they can only exist, think, and live for themselves causing so much pain and suffering to those who love them. 

This is exactly what Satan wants. If a narcissist remains a narcissist, then they cannot look past their own echo chamber of sin. They cannot accept or fathom the message of the Gospel which is a story of deep love and self-sacrifice on the part of God the Father and His son Jesus Christ. Despite all the bravado and self-aggrandizing, narcissists are, at the end of the day, deeply and profoundly insecure.

Just like anyone who is suffering from depression or any other mental health disorder, they need to feel the love innate in the message of the Gospel. Just like any of us, they need prayer, empathy, and grace. We need to ask for the filling of the Holy Spirit for the one who suffers from NPD and for the loved ones in the lives of these individuals. 

Enjoyed our blogpost? Subscribe to our newsletter for more resources on mental health and integrating the Gospel message in your healing journey. 

If you found our resources useful, please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources regarding holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

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