Narcissistic Relationships

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Narcissistic Relationships

Since writing Codependency for Dummies, countless people contact me about their unhappiness and difficulties in dealing with a difficult loved one, frequently a narcissistic partner or parent who is uncooperative, selfish, cold, and often abusive. Those in narcissistic relationships feel torn between their love and their pain, between staying and leaving, but they can’t seem to do either. They feel ignored, uncared about, and unimportant. As the narcissist’s criticism, demands, and emotional unavailability increase, their confidence and self-esteem decrease. Despite their pleas and efforts, the narcissist appears to lack consideration for their feelings and needs.

Over time, they become deeply hurt and frustrated.  When the narcissist is a parent, by the time their children reach adulthood, the emotional abandonment, control, and criticism that they experienced growing up have negatively affected their self-esteem and capacity for achieving success or sustaining loving, intimate relationships.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

The term narcissism is commonly used to describe personality traits among the general population, usually someone who is selfish or seeks attention. Actually, a degree of healthy narcissism makes a well-balanced, strong personality. On the other hand, a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is much different and requires specific criteria that must be met for a diagnosis. It only affects a small percentage of people – more men than women. As described in “Do You Love a Narcissist?” Someone with NPD is grandiose (sometimes only in fantasy), lacks empathy, and needs admiration from others, as indicated by five of these summarized characteristics:

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents
  2. Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others
  4. Requires excessive admiration
  5. Believes he or she is special and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or of high-status people (or institutions)
  6. Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes
  7. Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends
  8. Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her
  9. Has “an attitude” of arrogance or acts that way

The disorder also varies from mild to extreme. But of all the narcissists, beware of malignant narcissists, who are the most pernicious, hostile, and destructive. They take traits 6 & 7 to an extreme and are vindictive and malicious. Avoid them before they destroy you. Email me at [email protected] if you would like to join my mailing list and receive a free “Checklist of Narcissistic Traits.”

Children of Narcissists

Narcissistic parents usually run the household and can do severe damage to the self-esteem and motivation of their children. Often they attempt to live vicariously through them. These parents expect excellence and/or obedience and can be competitive, envious, critical, domineering, or needy. Although their personalities differ, the common factor is that their feelings and needs, particularly emotional needs, come first. As a result, their children learn to adapt, become codependent. They bear the responsibility for meeting the parent’s emotional needs, rather than vice versa.

Whereas their parents feel entitled, they feel unentitled and self-sacrifice and deny their own feelings and needs (unless they, too, are narcissistic). They don’t learn to trust and value themselves and grow up alienated from their true selves. They may be driven to prove themselves in order to win their parents’ approval, but find little motivation to pursue their wants and goals when not externally imposed (e.g., by a partner, employer, teacher).

Although they may be unaware of what was missing in their childhood, fear of abandonment and intimacy continues to permeate their adult relationships. They’re afraid of making waves or mistakes and being authentic. Used to seeking external validation, many become pleasers, pretending to feel what they don’t and hiding what they do. By reenacting their family drama, they believe their only choice is to be alone or give up themselves in a relationship.

Often adult children of narcissistic parents are depressed, have unacknowledged anger, and feelings of emptiness. They may attract an addict, a narcissist, or other unavailable partners, repeating the pattern of emotional abandonment from childhood. Healing requires recovery from codependency and overcoming the toxic shame acquired growing up in a narcissistic home.

Partners of Narcissists

Partners of narcissists feel betrayed that the considerate, attentive and romantic person they fell in love with disappeared as time went on. They feel unseen and lonely and long for emotional connection. In varying degrees, they find it difficult to express their rights, needs, and feelings and to set boundaries. The relationship reflects the emotional abandonment and lack of entitlement they experienced in childhood. Because their boundaries weren’t respected growing up, they’re highly sensitive to criticism and defenseless to narcissistic abuse. As their relationship progresses, partners admit feeling less sure of themselves than they once did. Uniformly, their self-esteem and independence steadily decline. Some give up their studies, career, hobbies, family ties, or friends to appease their partner. You can listen to talks on narcissistic relationships on my Media page.

Occasionally, they experience remembrances of the warmth and caring from the person with whom they first fell in love—often brilliant, creative, talented, successful, handsome or beautiful. They don’t hesitate to say that they’re committed to staying in the relationship, if only they felt more loved and appreciated. For some people, divorce is not an option. They may be co-parenting with an ex, staying with a spouse for parenting or financial reasons, or they want to maintain family ties with a narcissistic or difficult relative. Some want to leave, but lack the courage.

Narcissistic Abuse

NaBusinesswoman Flipping off Businessmanrcissists use defenses to hide their deep and usually unconscious shame. Like bullies, they protect themselves through aggression and by wielding power over others. Malignant narcissists are maliciously hostile and inflict pain without remorse, but most narcissists don’t even realize they’ve injured those closest to them, because they lack empathy. They’re more concerned with averting perceived threats and getting their needs met.

Consequently, they aren’t aware of the hurtful impact of their words and actions. For example, one man unbelievably couldn’t understand why his wife, whom he had long cheated on, wasn’t happy for him that he had found joy with his paramour. It was only when I pointed out that most women wouldn’t be pleased to hear that their spouse was enjoying sex and companionship with another woman that he suddenly grasped the error of his thinking. He had been blinded by the fact that he’d unconsciously sought his wife’s blessings, because his narcissistic mother never approved of his girlfriends or choices.

Narcissistic abuse can include any type of abuse, whether physical, sexual, financial, mental or emotional abuse. Most often it involves some form of emotional abandonment, manipulation, withholding, or other uncaring behavior. Abuse can range from the silent treatment to rage, and typically includes verbal abuse, such as blaming, criticizing, attacking, ordering, lying, and belittling. It may also include emotional blackmail or passive-aggressive behavior. If you’re experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence, read “The Truth about Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships,” and seek help immediately. Find out how to confront abuse.

Treatment

Not many narcissists enter therapy unless they’re pressured by a partner or suffer an extreme blow to their image or self-esteem. As described in my peer-reviewed article, some narcissists can benefit from treatment, but it requires considerable therapeutic skills.

However, even if the narcissist refuses to get help or change, your relationship can markedly improve by changing your perspective and behavior. In fact, learning about NPD, raising your self-esteem, and learning to set boundaries are just a few of the many things you can do to significantly better your relationship, as described in Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Your Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People. These steps are equally applicable to a relationship with anyone highly defensive or abusive. You’ll strengthen your self-esteem and learn how to communicate effectively. This e-workbook includes a quiz for narcissism and also sets forth criteria that can help you decide if you’re considering ending a relationship with a narcissist. It’s available on my website here as a PDF, and in other formats at online booksellers.

©Darlene Lancer 2016

 

Help for those in Narcissistic Relationships provided by Darlene Lancer, MFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, CA, and author of Codependency for Dummies

 

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Josie
Josie
2 years ago

I have yet to come across an article which deals with the parent of a narcissist! Cause/effect and dealing with 35 years of NPD or APD. Your articles have been very informative and I am in the throes of writing my own sorry story! My ebook, Dealing with a Narcissist would be helpful.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
2 years ago
Reply to  Josie

Yes, it’s heartbreaking. Psychologists used to blame mothers, but new research show a genetic component. I have counseled such mothers who did make changes.

Julia Brock
Julia Brock
2 years ago

How do you write about this? I have often wanted to tell my story, and blog to help others, but what will my children think knowing that it is obviously their father I speak of> I struggle with this all the time, don’t speak bad about your ex infront of kids… yes … but when do you or how do you give them the tools to understand that this behaviour isn’t good, I don’t want my children thinking that what I have been though is ok, and that they intern find a partner the same. A very Covert Narcissist, can I blog with an alias? but then I would feel it would not authentic or self healing. I could sure use some guidance…. Thank You

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
2 years ago
Reply to  Julia Brock

Many blogs have no name at all. Attend CoDA meetings and tell your story in confidence. Also, get therapy, which is confidential.

Isobel
Isobel
2 years ago
Reply to  Julia Brock

I had the same struggle and bit the bullet and started my own blog and yes I used a pseudonym, to protect myself from the narcissist and also my children until they are ready to face the truth as they have unfortunately been alienated by their father against me since the divorce. But yes I think since I have just started blogging, it has already given me a sense of healing and empowered me to start slowly telling my own story and giving advice where possible.

J Smith
J Smith
2 years ago

My husband is the youngest of 7 from a matriarchal family. They were poor financially but he succeeded in further education more than any of the others. He’s a lazy hypocritical religious bigot & secretly watched/watches abusive porn & allowed his parents do his chores before we started our life together. We have never had emotional intimacy. I have tried for 17 years to find that connection. We have 2 children now so leaving is complicated. Are some people just incapable of having empathy?

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
2 years ago
Reply to  J Smith

Yes, that is a pivotal symptom of NPD. Stop trying, and work on yourself. It doesn’t mean that you can’t motivate him to change some behavior – like abuse. Try the steps in my ebook, and you’ll know whether there is a prospect of a better marriage.

gjes1
gjes1
4 years ago

Would you recommend “Dealing with a Narcissist” most relevant for narcissists? Or any of your other books?

Lschnick
Lschnick
5 years ago

As far as a narcissist I do not exhibit the signs of carrying a diagnosis. I recently began peeling back the layers of my co-dependency and there are traits that seem to cross both areas. I have recently been compared to a narcissist and I don’t think it fits. I am co-dependent for sure, and my mother was narcissistic. Everything was her way or not at all. There are significant abandonment issues, and not feeling enough, adequate. All of which I can see could be viewed as NPD. I have regard for others, compassion, and caring. I have been reading your book “Dealing with a Narcissist.” Recommended by a friend. What is the difference?

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
5 years ago
Reply to  Lschnick

Although narcissists are codependents, not all codependents are narcissists. Many core traits overlap. The only way to diagnosis narcissism is by evaluating the criteria set for in the ebook and my blog. One difference is that narcissists generally don’t sacrifice their needs for others. Diagnosis is difficult without the objectivity of a professional who knows the person. There is a quiz in the Appendix to my ebook.

NowFreedFriend
NowFreedFriend
5 years ago

I have a question for you: I came out of a codependent friendship and am trying to make sense of the other individual. She would often say (very publicly) she “always put others first,” but ultimately other friends would bend over backwards to her needs because her anger/guilt was so intense if you criticized her (and she always denied her role in friendships ending; I wish I saw all the red flags). I kept my feelings from her bottled out of fear, but stayed for a long time because she often encouraged me. So I feel like we were both narcissists and codependents. Why are the two treated separately? It feels like the roles can blur into both.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
5 years ago
Reply to  NowFreedFriend

I believe that narcissists are codependent. You will find my e-workbook Dealing with a Narcissist helpful, and my page on narcissism.

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