Living With a Narcissist
- 1 Preface
- 2 Determining whether someone is a narcissist
- 2.1 Some traits of a narcissist
- 3 Coping strategies
- 4 Testimonials from the authors
- 5 A light-hearted look at narcissism (to offer comfort)
- 6 Further Reading
This wikibook is intended to provide comfort and helpful advice to those living with someone who is narcissistic, or who has strong narcissistic traits, pathological narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder (also known as NPD). It is intended to help you deal constructively with your situation, understand your predicament, learn coping strategies, and develop an understanding of narcissism.
Living with a narcissist can be at times upsetting and depressing, particularly because it is difficult to describe your experiences to others. Moreover, others outside of the immediate family will often be impressed by the narcissist's charm and will not wish to believe that your experiences with the narcissistic person are different from theirs. As a result, you are likely to feel misunderstood and isolated.
Use this book to help you and your family cope, but please do not use it as a means of diagnosing, attacking, or exacting revenge on the narcissist. Feel free to edit incorrect information in this book, but remember that it is written primarily by people who may have had first-hand experience living with a narcissist.
Determining whether someone is a narcissist
It can be difficult to determine whether someone is a narcissist, even for experts. This is particularly true if you do not know the person very well or don't spend enough time looking for the traits to be revealed. Non-professional diagnoses should be avoided, since there is a risk that they will be skewed by closeness to the subject.
Narcissistic traits are the source of self-love/value and self-empowerment. Everyone has the traits found in narcissism at some level. It is only when the trait becomes pathological that it can become detrimental to those around the sufferer of the disorder.
It is not uncommon between partners, couples, and parents (in relation to children, especially teenagers) to interpret a strong personality as being narcissistic, because it is sometimes easier to label and explain away problematic behavior than it is to look inwardly or to examine systemic dysfunction at the family level. Is your teenager responding strongly to excessive constraints? Is your spouse rebelling at abuse? Only a qualified mental health professional can formally diagnose personality disorders or mental illnesses.
But there is a significant difference between defiance and narcissism. The following list of traits may provide clues to determine whether someone is demonstrating strongly narcissist behavior.
- A narcissist typically requires:
- Excessive attention (e.g. likes to be at the center of a discussion when visitors are in the house);
- Adulation from others (i.e. likes to be admired by others and therefore presents an excessively positive image of himself or herself to others in order to secure that admiration);
- Subservience from others (especially those who are close, those who live or work with him or her);
- Recent research shows that narcissists sometimes are "ego dystonic" -- that is, having thoughts or exhibiting behaviour that contradicts their idealized self-image. Mostly, narcissists don't care about the clash, and they often rationalize the dissonance by blaming others. But many narcissists do develop permanent "ego-dystony" -- that is, they constantly feel bad about themselves and their behaviour. When in such a mood of self-doubt, the narcissist is likely to utter things like "you deserve better" and "I can never please anyone". But these proclamations are meant to TEST the narcissist's closest, nearest, or dearest. Will they abandon/humiliate/betray him once they discover his true face?
- A narcissist often criticises or vilifies others but hates it when others criticise him or her; they are hypercritical of others, yet hypersensitive to criticism.
- The narcissist may also be very adept at vilifying, doing it in a gracious or innocent or humorous manner, and making his or her backbiting seem socially acceptable.
- A narcissist likes to receive praise from others but often dislikes to hear other people being praised.
- Therefore, if you are in the habit of often speaking well of people (always giving praise when praise is due) then you may soon encounter objections from narcissists who hate to see others being praised. In this way, you may start to see narcissists raising their heads above the parapet to take aim at others who you praise.
- A narcissist likes to ask favours of others but dislikes it when others ask too many favours of him or her. They may make a huge production out of doing the smallest favours for others, even when they didn't really go out of their way to do the favor itself.
- A narcissist can be dishonest, but at the same time is a master of disguise and can lie very convincingly. The narcissist's lies may take the form of exaggeration or, in some cases, complete fabrication. To many who live with the narcissist it seems that the narcissist has a cavalier disrespect for precise truth, and there is a strong temptation for other family members to adopt a similar disrespect for precise truth. If one questions their inaccuracies, their response will often be outrage that you dare question their integrity (even when the lie is obvious), or berating you for being so petty to point out their fabrication.
- A narcissist thinks that he or she is entitled to special privileges or special treatment.
- A narcissist is inter-personally exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends, without regard for how their choices might effect others. They will justify this by saying that they did it 'for their own good' or by some 'end justifies the means' rationalization.
- A narcissist has little or no empathy and is unwilling or unable to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- A lack of genuine empathy (e.g. feeling genuinely sad when seeing other people being sad) is a key aspect of pathological narcissism -- although it should be borne in mind that a lack of empathy is exhibited not only by narcissists but by sociopaths as well. However, keep in mind that one may feel genuine sympathy without expressing it, or alternately, may convincingly feign sympathy while feeling nothing.
- A narcissist is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- A narcissist typically seeks to control the family finances. Sometimes this need for control is also seen in their everyday traits, such as always wanting to be the one who drives the family car, decides the daily agenda, such as where the family will go to eat, or what they will have for dinner, outside of normal family roles (i.e., the person who does the daily grocery shopping and cooks the meals typically determines what the family will eat; the narcissist insists on controlling this even when he/she participates in neither of these precursor activities).
- A narcissist often has an arrogant affect (e.g. haughty behaviours or attitudes).
Some traits of a narcissist
(for brevity the pronoun 'he' is understood to mean either 'he' or 'she' - there are relatively few differences between male narcissists and female narcissists)
There are several different kinds of narcissism. The narcissist can be a man or a woman. He's the life and soul of the party and is very often the centre of attention. He is exciting to be with, especially early on in the relationship. If he can't get attention or adulation or admiration from those around him he may try to get some subservience from someone, asking people to do things for him, or he may withdraw from the situation on some pretext or other. If he can't get attention, admiration, adulation or subservience he'll probably be displeased, though he'll try not to show his displeasure in public. In private with his immediate family he would probably throw a temper tantrum with his face turning beetroot-red. The smile that he displays in public is his only smile because he'll seldom smile to his nearest and dearest at home, unless he's in an unusually good mood. Don't presume that his public face is his only face.
The narcissist doesn't believe in equality, or at least not when it affects him. Equality would seem demeaning to the narcissist if it applied to him, because it places him down on the same level as everyone else. He often takes for himself special privileges, knowing that typically others won't be so rude to call him out for taking liberties with various situations. Since the narcissist believes he's entitled to special privileges, and seeks the easiest way to get ahead, where he feels he deserves to be, anyway, trying to get around the laws applied to everyone else is a quick and easy means to that end.
If (as often happens in private) he shouts and swears or intimidates his immediate family, or if his face turns beetroot - walk away 20 feet! Twenty feet is the range of his narcissistic rage. But later he might try to sneak up on you. A narcissist can also stay very calm while showing displeasure. Their lack of empathy allows for a disconnect between words and emotion. A temper tantrum can be in the form of carefully dismantling their loved ones characters, in a very cold hearted and abusive fashion.
He's an expert at detraction and calumny. He can gossip with an innocent composure. He can assassinate a person's reputation and yet make the assassination seem like decent conversation.
He will often project, criticising you for the very things that he himself is guilty of. He might gallingly tell you that you have no sympathy, or that you are a control freak, or that you were trying to be the centre of attention when the visitors were in. He might even tell you that you are behaving hysterically when you are not even angry. Listen carefully to what he accuses you of because it might well tell you what he is doing, thinking or planning.
Others will regularly get angry at the narcissist's inappropriate, unethical, bullying behaviors, and they will immediately be dismissed by the narcissist as hotheads, jealous, liars, or as having any number of other defects. After all, their anger has to be inappropriate since the narcissist will never admit to being wrong themselves. This tactic also simultaneously provides them another level of denial, as the narcissist feels that everyone loves him and wants to be more like him, so the narcissist thinks that even people who are openly hostile to them really like them; they are simply short-tempered or jealous. The narcissist will typically go to great lengths to make everyone, including the person getting upset, feel like they are in the wrong, by focusing on the person's reaction to the narcissist's outrageous behavior, drawing attention away from their own conduct which led to the other person getting upset in the first place.
He craves your sympathy, its a kind of attention. He's sure to tell you how unfortunate he is and how bad the people in his life are. He's sure to paint a dark picture of others. He'll probably paint a bad picture of you (unless he's dependent on you in some way). In order to assure for himself a constant flow of attention and sympathy, the narcissist will come up with almost-constant, daily dramas, that are typically, at best, only vaguely rooted in the truth: a cousin with high blood pressure becomes a cousin with grave heart problems; a friend who once had cancer has near-continual scares regarding its recurrence, a friend with money troubles is about to become homeless. Sometimes the dramas are completely fabricated. The narcissist will be constantly having to deal with supposed upcoming doctors visits because the doctor wants to run "more tests" on the narcissist or on those close to him. This cycle can go on and on without the attention-seeker ever getting caught. After all, why would anyone think to fact-check the narcissist on something such as an upcoming doctor's visit, and besides, with today's privacy laws, it's virtually impossible to do so, anyway.
Visitors are as bemused when they see the children being exceptionally noisy despite them seemingly having two quiet, calm parents. Don't be fooled. Children pick up many of their traits from watching their parents. If parents are calm when visitors are in, just don't assume that they are calm when there are no visitors. Perhaps if you try to be a fly-on-the-wall the narcissist might momentarily forget that you are there and you will catch him off-guard, and then you will see how the narcissist relates to his children in private.
People who live or work with a narcissist eventually get fed up listening to the narcissist endlessly criticising his friends. These are often friends who appear to adore the narcissist. Those friends have no idea what he says about them. The narcissist's friends, however, will often happily listen to the narcissist defaming the characters of others.
If you marry a narcissist, his behaviour and attitude will seem to change suddenly after the wedding. You might think that he has suddenly changed but actually he hasn't. It's just that you are now seeing his private behaviour rather than the façade which he presented to you before you got married. If he hadn't presented that façade to you, and if you could have seen how he would behave to you once you became his immediate family, do you really think you would have married him? Before marrying a suspected narcissist watch very closely how he treats his parents - if he's rude to them don't marry him! The same scenario can play out in the business world: the day after the contract is signed, or you are otherwise locked into giving him what you want, watch out!
A narcissist typically has quite a lot of superficial charm or charisma. As Dr, Les Carter puts it in his book "Enough of you, let's talk about ME", a narcissist is capable of "making a good impression". It is highly likely that the narcissist will be popular among those who do not know him/her very well and who are unwise to his/her behaviours. The narcissist is unlikely to have difficulty in making new friends. Typically, many people will hold the narcissist in high regard, not realizing that the narcissist could be leading a 'double-life'. There is also a tendency for some people to feel sorry for the narcissist due to the tactics described above.
In public or semi-public situations, the narcissist will often use charm in order to become the centre of attention. At a social event, for instance, the narcissist may often be found leading and directing the conversation. Watch them as they make exaggerated gestures to keep the attention of the crowd: flapping their arms and other excessive body motions, exaggerated facial expressions and inflections in their voice, as if they are performing in a dramatic play. This all works to the benefit of the narcissist, who can use charm to garner attention, admiration and adulation.
The narcissist's charm is sometimes known as 'deadly charm', or words to that effect, because the narcissist's ability to create a good impression can make him/her devastatingly successful at damaging the good reputation of others. The narcissist's charm often enables the narcissist to detract other people without seeming indecent and many people will think that the narcissist, by displaying a pleasant manner, is simply trying to help the people whom he/she is detracting. Even to the vigilant observer it may be difficult to determine whether the narcissist really wishes to damage the character of the people being detracted, but the damage to them can be very real.
In abusive relationships, the narcissist's 'deadly charm' can cause the victim to feel very isolated. For instance, in some cases, the narcissist's partner may be afraid to contact the police or authorities for fear that the narcissist will charm them into believing that it is the narcissist's partner that is the problem and not the narcissist. Some people describe a narcissist as a 'great victory of image over substance' because they can get people to side with them before the victim has a chance to present his/her evidence to the contrary.
One of the most unpleasant aspects of living with a narcissist is watching the narcissist having fits of seemingly uncontrollable rage. These fits of rage will tend to happen in the privacy of the immediate family rather than in public situations since fits of rage in public situations would endanger the admiration and attention from outsiders which the narcissist craves. The narcissist's face will often turn a florid red and his/her face may look contorted with anger. The narcissist may hurl a hail of shouts and verbal obscenities. Usually the rage is expressed verbally but some narcissists will become physically violent. Sometimes these fits of rage will be triggered when the narcissist is interrupted or confronted but sometimes they will arise from seemingly trivial things (e.g. the toilet paper installed the wrong way round, or at least not the way the narcissist likes it to be installed). Sometimes the rage is less dramatic and takes the form of rancour, where the narcissist hurls repeated criticisms and hurtful remarks rather than shouts and swearing.
These attacks of seemingly uncontrollable rage can have benefits, from the point of view of the narcissist, since they lead to the narcissist gaining attention under the very circumstances in which the narcissist finds it so difficult to command undivided and constant attention (i.e., with the family in private).
It is important to appreciate that persons outside of the family do not obtain the opportunity to witness these bouts of narcissistic rage and will not be aware that they exist. Outsiders will often perceive the narcissist's behaviour to be outgoing, fun or 'laid back'. Hearing outsiders making comments such as these are hard to bear for those who live with a narcissist and who are painfully aware of the narcissist's contrasting private persona.
While we can all daydream at times, it is sometimes said that the narcissist fantasizes about success or power. This may manifest itself as the narcissist appearing to daydream (e.g., staring at a nondescript part of a wall but yet looking as if he/she is watching television). This can be quite disturbing for family members if the narcissist has a tendency to be irate whenever emerging from such 'trances'. Family members, on seeing the narcissist daydreaming, may start anticipating the narcissist's development of anger, as though the sight of the narcissist's daydreaming were a kind of 'calm before the storm'.
Sense of self-entitlement
It is said that narcissistic people have a strong sense of entitlement, sometimes to the point of thinking that they are entitled to special privileges. The narcissist, for example, might frequently insist upon high quality items, even if family finances are tight (e.g., an expensive car or an expensive kitchen) and be very angry if he/she does not get his/her way, to the point of failing to properly understand that family finances are for the family as a whole.
A narcissist will often feel entitled to interrupt others in conversation but, on the other hand, can become angry (either overtly or covertly) if another person interrupts the narcissist. The tendency to interrupt is one of the narcissistic traits that reveals itself in public and semi-public situations. After all, the narcissist can't be the center of attention in the crowd when someone else is talking. As with many things, they often don't know when to stop pushing others, and will sometimes end up alone at the end of the party because everyone has found that they can't stomach a long conversation with the narcissist. As a result, the narcissist will usually learn to bounce around from person to person, taking on the role as the "life of the party," and in this way, they can avoid having others tire of their overbearing conversational style, and they also avoid having someone leave their conversation; the narcissist is always the one to walk away first.
Lack of empathy
The narcissist seems to be very focused on his/her own needs and preferences and consequently, due to their self-centered nature and complete lack of empathy, seems almost oblivious to the needs of others or contemptuous of the preferences of others, even with their own children. The exception is when the narcissist is in the company of someone whom he/she is seeking to impress.
The narcissist often feels the need to control others, particularly people whom the narcissist considers to be in some ways dependent upon him or her. With people outside of the immediate family the narcissist may still wish to control but will do so with care - often seeking to modify the plans of others in subtle ways and with a charming smile. With immediate family, however, the narcissist is much less likely to use charm and is more likely to insist, quite forcefully, that family members conform to the narcissist's wishes. The narcissist will employ various tactics to keep others dependent on the narcissist, encouraging them to take career paths that are sure to keep them subservient and dependent. This has a secondary benefit in that the narcissist can then gain sympathy by complaining to others how they have to bear all the family burdens on their own back.
The narcissist seems to criticise others endlessly, whether in public or in private. In public, however, the narcissist can make his/her criticisms look like genuine concern. The narcissist's criticisms often involve exaggerating the person's faults, sometimes to the point of lying. People who do not know the narcissist well are likely to develop negative emotions towards the people whom the narcissist strongly criticises. People within the family or at work are more likely to wise-up to the narcissist's exaggerations and half-truths. People within the family often have to listen to the narcissist criticising colleagues and relatives but are unable to let those colleagues and relatives know the extent to which the narcissist is trying to denigrate them.
Often, the narcissist will complain about something far in the past, over which the colleague had no control or couldn't possibly know, phrasing it in a way that tries to make the narcissist look like the good guy. An example: for years, never asking for a specific type of information during meetings, then later expressing their profound disappointment that the colleague kept the information from them. If the colleague challenges their version of what happened, the narcissist will become outraged that they dare question their integrity, or may undermine the colleague's competence by stating that it was the colleague's job to know what information they should be providing, or alternately, play the victim by saying that they put up with the colleague's inadequacy because they didn't want to upset or belittle them (as they are doing now by saying it this way!).
On the other hand the narcissist cannot bear to be criticised by others and is hypersensitive to criticism. If people outside the family criticise the narcissist, the narcissist is likely to take revenge by speaking ill of the person later. With immediate family the narcissist is more likely to respond to criticism by overtly aggressive behaviour. At work, they will soon take revenge by setting the offender up for failure, or to be blamed for something that was probably not their fault at all. The plans can often be intricate.
A particularly effective tactic is pitting one of his family members, friends or colleagues against each other by saying to person A that person B said or did something that the narcissist knows will upset person A, or at least will make A think less of B. Often the narcissist will then complete the circle of manipulation by going to B and letting him know how little A thinks of him, perhaps even sharing negative comments A might have said in response to the narcissist's provocation. This simultaneously puts both A & B on the defense, directs attention, appreciation and dependency to the narcissist, and separates those close to him so that he can more effectively control each of them.
Often the narcissist will criticise you for things which you are not guilty of but which in fact the narcissist is guilty of. An example of this is that the narcissist may accuse you of being angry when in fact it is the narcissist that is showing signs of anger. People who live with a narcissist, therefore, can often be accused of being selfish, inconsiderate, envious, dishonest, arrogant, etc. (i.e., the very traits that are typical of narcissists).
By way of example,
- Family member: why did you just lie to me there?
- Narcissist: you are the one who is lying
Projection is considered to be one of the ego's defence mechanisms. It involves attributing our own unacceptable feelings to others. In this way the narcissist rid himself of some of his own unacceptable feelings, while simultaneously raising himself even further relative to others by pushing them down via the projection of the negative traits onto them. This also puts you on the defense and therefore the narcissist is more in control of the relationship.
When a narcissist delivers a lot of criticisms to someone, sometimes those criticisms can reveal either what the narcissist is secretly thinking or doing or what the narcissist is secretly planning to do.
====Lying and gaslighting A narcissist might claim not to have said something which he/she did say. Sometimes this behaviour is so ingrained that the narcissist can contradict himself/herself within the same sentence! Sometimes they will hold their ground even when faced with written evidence or multiple witnesses who are contradicting his claims. This puts you on the defense and therefore the narcissist is more in control of the relationship. This behavior can be extremely frustrating for the family or other person dealing with the narcissist, so PAY ATTENTION to what he says and to what you say in response. Otherwise, he can convince you that you are the crazy one.
While it is often said that narcissists lie a lot, the lies often take the form of exaggerations rather than new fabrications.
Ingratitude (or reluctant gratitude)
When someone does a favour or a task for a narcissist, the narcissist is often reluctant to acknowledge the person's good work, sometimes arguing instead that it is the narcissist that deserves the thanks for having organized the person to carry out the task. The narcissist may proffer "thanks" but the level of genuine gratitude is low.
A sense of time urgency
A narcissist typically exhibits a greater sense of time urgency than other people. For example, a narcissist will often complain much more strongly than other people when someone is late in visiting or late in arriving. While all people dislike being kept waiting, a narcissist's reaction is unusually strong. Some books suggest that this sense of time urgency arises out of the narcissist's impatience. He / she will also be very impatient when asking a question especially during an argument wanting an answer almost immediately, then accusing you of lying because you took too long to answer. Keep in mind he/she literally gave you almost 1 second to answer. Or instead, he/she will accuse you of ignoring them while you're still processing their question. They demand quick answers, accusing that needing time to think about the answer, is only time to think of a good lie. Completely lacking empathy, the narcissist will also assume that everything they want and need is much more important than the priorities of others. Therefore, the narcissist expects others to drop whatever it is they are doing and immediately attend to the narcissist's needs.
The narcissist will use timing to gain greater control over the relationship and further priorities their needs above others: sometimes they will delay responses to others (or fail to respond at all when a response is clearly needed), which is yet another way of telling others that their needs are less important than that of the narcissist. This also gives them the upper hand when dealing with others, as they can delay and evade, then gain the upper hand at the last minute when it's really too late for the other side to get what it wants, or forcing the other side to capitulate and agree to an unfair situation in order to at least salvage something before it's too late.
Beware of any type of negotiations with the narcissist, because all norms that typically govern what is commonly considered fair and ethical negotiations are thrown out the window, except that the narcissist strictly holds the other side subject to those rules. This is yet another strategy the narcissist uses in order to gain complete control over the relationship, and a means to getting what they want. Remember, the rules never apply to the narcissist, and their needs are always more important than that of the other side. For the narcissist, the end always justifies the means when their needs are hanging in the balance. After all, they deserve it. Therefore, it will seem like everything they want, no matter how small, is a "dealbreaker," while you are petty for insisting on the petty things on your "must have" list, or by painting your completely reasonable requests as utterly ridiculous, patently unacceptable, or perhaps even unethical. The narcissist will ruthlessly bully you while simultaneously using their well-honed powers of projection by calling you unfair or overly aggressive. They will agree to something in order to get what they want, then have absolutely no problem later withdrawing their agreement to, or not living up to something they promised, simply because they never intended to do it in the first place. They will delay and evade ruthlessly if you dare set a deadline, or if they know you need something done by a particular date. This is a recipe for disaster if any type of negotiations are attempted with the narcissist. You will ALWAYS lose when the other side is a narcissist.
The narcissist will manipulate, use and abuse you in various ways throughout the relationship, and then when you finally have had enough, they will negotiate ruthlessly to take what little you have as you exit, or make exiting the relationship so painful you begin to wonder if it's less horrible to just stay in the relationship and put up with the narcissist's abuse. After all, this is what they hope you'll decide, so that they can continue manipulating and controlling the subject they've had so much practice with. Therefore, they'll do everything in their power to see that you come to the decision that it's worse to leave; or they'll be sure that you'll pay dearly if you still choose to walk away.
Take care of your self-esteem
One of the main risks presented to the family members of a narcissist is the risk of losing self-esteem and belief in themselves. Loss of self-esteem can be subtle and the person may not realise that he or she is losing self-esteem. One of the problems with narcissism is the constant need to gauge what is reasonable behaviour and what is not reasonable and to be confident in one's judgment. It is therefore important to understand self-esteem and how to build one's own self-esteem and the self-esteem of fellow family members.This is crucial but can cause more arguments as you feel confident enough to defend your self.
Accept that there are some things you cannot change
The following tips are intended to help in dealing with the aggression and often bizarre behaviour of the narcissist, although it has to be said that some of these points may be hard to accept.
- If your partner is a narcissist then accept that you will have to work hard to preserve your own self-esteem and to preserve the self-esteem of your children.
- Be aware that the narcissist can respond negatively if you compliment other people while you are in the narcissist's company. The narcissist is likely to see a compliment paid to someone else as an indirect insult to the narcissist (e.g. the narcissist might say something like "you are always saying good things about X but you never say anything good about ME"). That said, beware not to adopt the narcissist's ingrained habit of criticising others. A person who picks up the narcissist's habit of constantly backbiting or criticising others will not be able to backbite as graciously as the narcissist can. In addition, picking up the narcissist's habit of backbiting is in some regards rather like trying to fight fire with fire.
- Don't expect the narcissist to understand jokes the way that non-narcissists do. Just accept this and go and enjoy telling jokes to people who are not narcissistic.
- Give the narcissist what he or she wants when he or she wants it and do not expect the narcissist to reciprocate any favours.
- Don't expect the narcissist to take any real interest in you (unless he or she is very eager to please you for some self-serving reason, in which case the narcissist will be very good at pretending to be interested in you).
- Do not expect the narcissist to apologise or to show any consideration for your feelings. Ever. The narcissist is never wrong.
- Be careful about making any expression of affection towards the narcissist as the narcissist might respond to this in a nasty manner, particularly if the narcissist thinks that you are becoming too dependent upon him or her to the point that you are needy "wet blanket", which can become an inconvenient annoyance to the narcissist. After all, wanting attention from the narcissist because you care about him or her is asking a favor: you are asking for their attention and love. The narcissist knows this will lead to you expecting other things commonly expected of the other side when in a healthy relationship. Not going to happen. Also, do try to keep your independence and, if possible, try to make the narcissist to some extent dependent on you. This is a delicate balancing act: you must give them constant attention and compliments, just not too much where they might think it's affection, which normally requires some type of reciprocation.
- Expect to have to clean up after the narcissist but don't expect the narcissist to clean up after you.
- Expect the narcissist to try to demand all of your time but don't expect the narcissist to give up his or her time for you.
- Expect the narcissist to be impossible to please. Just think how unfortunate you would be if nobody was able to make you happy.
- Expect the narcissist to be unhappy when he or she discovers that you actually want to do what they want you to do. When you actually want to do the task which the narcissist has given you the narcissist may perceive this as being a bit like sharing and/or being on an equal standing, and this can make the narcissist feel disappointed. If you do truly want to do something that the narcissist also wants, frame it as agreeing with their wishes and demands, rather than you both deciding to do something you both want.
- Don't ever say to the narcissist anything like "please have a heart". Trying to appeal to the narcissist in this way is likely to make matters worse rather than better.
- Never invite a narcissist to apologise.
- Don't expect a narcissist to pay attention to things which do not affect them personally (unless, of course, the narcissist is eager to impress the present company for self-serving reasons, in which case he/she will try hard to take an interest in the topic of discussion).
- Don't expect the narcissist to tell you the usual personal information about themselves (e.g. the narcissist may be reluctant to reveal much information about his/her childhood other than those things which he/she chooses to reveal). However, early on in the relationship, the narcissist might actually share very personal information inappropriately early in the relationship, in order to gain sympathy or to "reel you in" by making you feel like they want to be close to you because they shared this personal information. They will especially do so if it involves sharing very personal but negative information about those close to them, because it gains sympathy for the narcissist because they have had to shoulder this burden.
- Accept that most of the time (but not all of the time) the narcissist will find it difficult to remember back to events in his or her childhood.
- Accept that narcissistic women will try to force their daughters to be exactly like them.
- Don't expect the narcissist to give you what you ask for (unless the narcissist is very eager to please you for self-serving reasons). If you actually do want what he/she gives you it will not be fun for the narcissist to give it to you. Expect the narcissist to make a big production of the gifts they give you. They typically will highly exaggerate the value of the item given, as well as exaggerate the amount of effort the narcissist undertook to get the item. Often they will use their very best tricks to get the gift, since they really don't want to pay a cent for the gift since it's not for themselves. Remember, your wants and needs are worthless unless satisfying them means that sooner or later the narcissist will get something they want that is worth far more to them than the effort they put out to satisfy your needs.
- Often remind members of your family that you genuinely love them. This will help to heal the family rifts which the narcissist is continually creating through his/her backbiting.
- When a narcissist walks off in a rage, expect a return appearance with questions and criticisms. Use this time before their return to ready your answers and responses to them. Try to maintain a low tone, raising it over them will only increase the intensity of the conversation (and lead to a full-on argument).
Avoid narcissists in the first place
Since narcissists are masters of disguise it is very difficult to find out whether a person is a narcissist unless you live with the person. It can be unpleasant to live with a narcissist but people who live with a narcissist are aware of how well the narcissist hides his or her unpleasant traits.
When you are in a conversation with a smallish group of people try to make sure that each person gets a fair share of speaking. A narcissist, who will often want to dominate the conversation, will actually think that you are being unfair and you may well see signs of anger in the narcissist's body language, thereby helping you to spot who the narcissists are.
Get into the habit of praising people and speaking well of people whenever praise is deserved. Narcissists often dislike to hear others being praised. When the suspected narcissist is there, praise people who are not there. If you get into this habit then you are likely to see narcissists lifting their heads above the parapet and objecting to your habit of speaking well of people. To be seen to be fair, however, make a point of praising the narcissist whenever the narcissist is not there.
Watch out for people who often seek to modify your plans. Unless you actually live with a narcissist the narcissist will try to modify your plans in a way that seems quite charming and you are likely to go along with the modifications to your plans which the narcissist is seeking. If you refuse to accept the narcissist's modifications to your plans then pay close attention to the narcissist's body language and facial complexion as you might detect subtle signs of anger which the suspected narcissist is desperately trying to hide. People who live with the narcissist find that the narcissist may try to force them or bully them into changing their plans and may well react angrily when you refuse to acquiesce. Remember, one of the narcissist's unsaid themes is, "it's my way or the highway."
Protect or regain some of your independence
The narcissist is likely to try to make you more dependent upon him or her. Try, if you can to keep some of your independence. If you keep some of your independence the narcissist is more likely to respect you. There might also be some benefit in making the narcissist to some extent dependent on you (e.g. if you take on some of the responsibilities of procurement).
Learn to understand the narcissist
Try to understand body language. A narcissist's body language can reveal feelings which he or she is trying to hide such as, for example, anger at not getting enough attention, adulation or subservience from others. You may also see anger in the narcissist's face whenever anything is said which might be construed as a criticism of the narcissist.
Pay attention when the narcissist criticises you. The narcissist will often criticise you for things which you are not guilty of and in such circumstances the narcissist may well be revealing what he/she is actually guilty of. In his/her anger, sometimes the narcissist may even reveal what he/she is planning to do - all while claiming that you are planning to do it.
Learn to identify and record the danger signs
Narcissists are not usually regarded as being physically violent but there appears to be a significant minority of narcissists who are. For this reason a person who might be vulnerable to violence from a narcissist might be advised to spot the danger signs. A typical example of a vulnerable person might be a woman who is married to a narcissistic man. Danger signs that might be a forewarning of physical violence could be the following:
- Possessive or controlling behaviour
- Verbal abuse
- Constant criticism
- Undue control of family finances
- Isolation from family and friends
In order to gain a better understanding of what it is like to live with a narcissist, testimonials of real-life experiences are given.
The following testimonial concentrates on my partner's narcissistic traits. I have to say that my partner has many good, positive traits which are not relevant to the discussion and are not discussed here. Therefore, the following passage puts a misleadingly negative light on my partner; however, I do think the following passage is a useful illustration of what it is like to live with a narcissist.
When I got married in the mid-1990s it seemed as if my partner suddenly changed just after we got married. I thought that my partner had suddenly developed a split personality and that this new unsavoury personality had taken the place of the charming personality which my partner hitherto had. I didn't realise at the time that what I was experiencing was my partner's private persona when before then I had only seen the public persona. Another factor which made me think of a split personality was the 'gaslighting' whereby my partner would one day say something quite definite and then a few days later insist on having said no such thing. My partner seemed sincere and convincing and the only explanation I could think of was a split personality whereby one personality did not know what the other personality had said.
Before we got married there were some subtle signs that might have warned me about the problem. These signs are essentially the tip of a very big iceberg, but could help others to recognise a narcissist. These are:
- A tendency to criticise family members a lot, including parents, to the extent of making family members look foolish or incompetent or thoughtless or inconsiderate, and a tendency to criticise work colleagues too (making colleagues appear to be negligent or incompetent).
- Gaslighting, i.e. saying something and then later strongly denying having said it OR claiming to have said something earlier, qualifying it with something like "you obviously were not listening when I told you"
- Frequently wanting to modify other people's plans
Some weeks after we got married my partner was driving the car and I a passenger and we passed a large crowd of soccer fans. The soccer fans were crossing the road in front of us and they were, irritatingly, crossing the road without taking sufficient care. One crowd of soccer fans crossed in front of the car and my partner became very frustrated. My partner edged the car forward and nudged the front of the car into the crowd. The crowd then very suddenly and dramatically jumped away from the car in fear of being run over. Later I said that I thought my partner was driving "aggressively", thinking that I was making an understatement. My partner retorted angrily saying that the soccer fans were being aggressive because they were crossing the road in front of our car.
Over the next few years I noticed many narcissistic traits but I was not aware of the term "narcissism". I could only take comfort in the notion that I was being punished for the sins of my youth and that in suffering we all mature as people. I was able to hold this view until our children came along. Since the children have came along I see them being treated worse than me and they have no control over their own destiny. I blame myself for their predicament now and again. I am sorry that my children are being denied the parental warmth which I had enjoyed when I was a child.
My partner has a wonderful and charming public persona and is always the centre of the conversation. People who do not know my partner very well usually have great admiration and think how lucky I am to be married to such a wonderful person and how lucky the children are to have my partner for a parent. Some people describe my partner as being 'laid back' and 'level-headed'. One family member, who hadn't lived with my partner for some years, once glibly said that my partner was 'softly spoken'. Another family member once said that my partner was 'the calming influence in the family'. I would have been totally perplexed at these mistaken attitudes had I not studied what I know about pathological narcissism.
There was a time when I expressed concern about my partner leaving medicines lying on the bathroom window-sill. I was mainly concerned that the children might play with the medicines but I was also concerned that the medicines were being exposed to the sun. I asked her to put them up on the high shelf but she was angry at my request and said that there was not enough room. I offered to fit some more shelves but she objected to me putting up shelves, ridiculing my suggested possible locations for shelves. Although I tried I could not think of anywhere in the house where she would permit me to put up shelves. I rearranged the high shelf and put the medicines up there and the next day, on returning from work, the medicines had been returned to the bathroom window sill, once more within easy reach of the children. I tried once more and the same thing happened again. I gave up but I was very afraid for the safety of the children. Eventually, after a few months, she stopped doing this and she put the medicines up high once more.
Around 2004 my wife had developed a habit of having episodes of seemingly uncontrollable rage and at that time I had still not fully understood what triggered these attacks of rage. One day I saw her suddenly starting to get very angry and I was suddenly fearful for the safety of the baby. I quickly picked up the baby and ran into the next room and held the door closed by the handle to stop her attacking the baby (perhaps I was erring on the side of caution). The door was made of glass and she rammed herself against the glass door until it shattered into hundreds of fragments of glass. It was an old glass door and was not made of safety glass and some of the shards of glass narrowly missed me and the baby. She then looked rather sheepish and quickly cleaned up the loose glass fragments, but she left the door frame with its remaining sections of broken glass. The next day she insisted that I take away the door frame with glass shards. I think she was feeling that since she had cleaned up the loose glass it was my job to take away the door frame. To make sure that I did what she wanted she phoned up our brother-in-law and charmingly asked him to come over to help me get rid of the broken door. I realised that, given her public persona was so charming and her smile so innocent, that no-one would believe me if I told them what had actually happened.
After 2004 she started more and more to shout very loudly at the children, often for very minor misdemeanours. One time my daughter kindly mopped the kitchen floor while she was out at work and on returning she nearly slipped on the floor. She hurled shouts and swear words at our daughter and after a half a minute of this our daughter started crying. My daughter was later angry at me for having encouraged her to clean around the house and from then on she would not mop floors.
On another occasion, my daughter was having a shower and my wife demanded that she unlock the door immediately so that she could get something from the shower room (there was a tone of urgency in her voice). My daughter obliged, running quickly out of the shower to unlock the door and let her mother in. As soon as my wife entered the shower room she started shouting very loudly and angrily at her daughter, making her cry, apparently because my daughter had left drips of water all over the floor of the shower room. I felt like saying to her that it is quite impossible to stop drips from falling from you if you are running out of a shower to open the door (responding to her urgent request) but I felt that she would not understand me and would probably just become even more angry.
I think that our children have all developed certain nervous habits. My daughter is constantly scratching around her eyes and having to put creams on her face to make things better. My son is forever chewing the sleeves of his clothes and many of his clothes are ruined. My wife and one of her friends always shout at him whenever they see him chewing his clothes. My other son is constantly 'picking at' his lips and his lips always seem chapped. My wife is forever complaining of feeling exhausted and 'stressed out'. I really do think that the narcissist is the principal sufferer but it has to be said that it is not always pleasant to live with a narcissist.
Last year my wife's sister insisted that we go to see a film called "The Last King of Scotland". She said that I would like it. She was absolutely right and I took great comfort from that film. A key observation from that film was the way Nicolas was so impressed by Idi Amin and thought he was a wonderful person but was surprised by the cool reaction from his wives (which Nicolas presumably thought were very lucky women). It was clear that his wives would never dare tell anyone about the large difference between Idi Amin's public persona and his private persona. One of the best scenes, in my view, was the scene where Nicolas dared to criticise Idi Amin, saying that he should not have thrown the Asians out of Uganda. Idi Amin looked puzzled but hid his anger (since he was still keep to impress Nicolas) and then concluded that Nicolas was only thinking about his Asian tailor, rather than, as most people would think, he was thinking of the bigger picture. The way Idi Amin mis-construed Nicolas's motives seemed so typical of narcissism (albeit an extreme example). [Later, however, I realised that another DVD version of the film gives the viewer the impression that Idi was only using the Asian tailor reference as rhetoric rather than presenting it as a genuine delusion]
Around 2008 one morning my wife shouted extremely loudly at our son (age 5) for not putting his coat on quickly enough (she was in a hurry to get us in the car to attend her uncle's funeral). I was dismayed but I was glad that she didn't swear at him too. I insisted on driving because I said that she was too angry to drive safely. Once we started driving we discussed the way she related to our son and I said to her that I thought she needed to get help in managing her anger. She reacted to this very angrily and started shouting very loudly at me while I was driving. I calmly repeated what I had said, saying that she really should admit that she has a problem dealing with her anger and I said (inaccurately perhaps) that she should not verbally abuse the children. She shouted and swore at me repeatedly for approximately 15 minutes and during this time the children in the car started crying. My first concern was for road safety. At one point she reached out to hit me and knocked off my spectacles and I had to pick them up very quickly since the car was in motion at the time and I was afraid of colliding with a vehicle or with the side of the road. I tried my best to be "unfazed" and I said "thank you for shouting and swearing - at least you aren't throwing things at me". To my half-surprise she picked up a book and threw it in my general direction and it landed on the dashboard in front of me (I was still driving at this point). She then declared that she was going to leave me and she asked each of the children whether they would prefer to live with mummy or with daddy. The children all had tears in their eyes. Despite her aggressive behaviour three out of the four children said that they would prefer to live with mummy. My son later said that his mother had sworn to me "a hundred times". Later that day she asked my son to apologise for tantruming and she expressed great anger at me for "abusing" her ("abusing" is the word that she used). She refused to sleep in our bed that night and I slept in the bed alone, albeit with the baby in the cot next to the bed, while she slept downstairs on her own. I wondered if perhaps she might have been punishing herself for having done so much shouting and swearing at me and the children but the next day she said that she refused to sleep with me because I had gone to bed without first saying "good night" to her, while she was watching a television program.
All in all I am tempted to say that narcissists deserve to stew in their own rancour but I have to remind myself that they themselves are often suffering and trying to cover up their low self-esteem. The trouble is that I am constantly worried about the safety and well-being of my children and I can't discuss my problem with other people because my partner is such an adept and convincing deceiver and no-one would believe me.
It was around the summer of 2005 when the news came out of a young man who murdered both of his parents and was let off lightly because it was decided that he had an untreatable mental condition. He was living out a fantasy where he imagined himself to be a famous tennis player. He told his girlfriend that she was his coach. He had access to his parents' bank account and was angry with them when they tried to stop him withdrawing money from the family bank account. It seems that he lost his temper. He left his parents for dead and went on an expensive spending spree. His name was Brian Blackwell. It was when I read about this case in the newspapers that I realised that his behaviour patterns were strikingly familiar and I immediately started reading up about narcissism in an effort to understand what was going on in my own family.
Having read a little about narcissism I realised that there are many people in my predicament. There is a saying that a problem shared is a problem solved but, like me, there are very few people that they can share this particular problem with others. Who would believe me? My partner is extremely charming in public and garners admiration from many people. Now and again signs of narcissism show themselves outside of the family home but people are so taken by my partner's charm they dismiss the odd events that they occasionally see. It makes me feel extremely isolated and I so wish that others could read the signs and understand what is really going on. To make matters worse, my narcissistic partner often speaks ill of my parents when my parents are not around and speaks ill of me to my parents, and is successful in convincing them that she is neither lying nor exaggerating, and there are many other rifts which have arisen in our families as a result of this expert mendacious backbiting (I guess we all backbite from time to time but I think the narcissist is very adept at backbiting and is therefore able to cause more damage and create more rifts in families). That said, my partner also has many good points to and, to date, none of my children have come to any physical harm. I eventually decided that it would be a good idea to kick-start a Wikibook in a bid to help people who share my predicament. It is so important to let people know that although they may be suffering they are not alone.
A light-hearted look at narcissism (to offer comfort)
It can be distressing to live with someone who has narcissistic traits and it may be best to start to understand the condition in a humorous way. The following jokes are intended to explain some of the psychodynamics associated with narcissists. They are not intended to make fun of the narcissist but to make light of a difficult situation, providing some comfort to the family, especially children and partners, of a narcissist. They are also intended to be accurate from the point of view of the psychologist or psychiatrist, thereby providing a gateway towards understanding the condition. One fact which the family of the narcissist is likely to forget is that while it is distressing to live with a person who has a narcissistic disorder, the person who has the narcissistic disorder is also suffering.
- How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?
- None, a narcissist will always manage to find someone else to carry out a menial chore like that.
- Just one! He will hold the bulb in place but will require the world to revolve around him until it's fitted. He will accept all the credit!
- What is one way to irritate a narcissist?
- Pretend to enjoy doing the lowly menial chores which the narcissist has given you to do – it will make the narcissist think that he or she is missing out on something.
- Why does a narcissist get upset or moody after having just spent lots of time in his/her own company?
- Well how would you feel just after having spent lots of time in the company of a narcissist?
- What should you say when a narcissist asks you what you want for your birthday?
- Anything but what you actually want – at least then you will have a slim chance of actually getting what you want instead of what the narcissist thinks you ought to want.
- Psychiatrist interviewing narcissist
- Psychiatrist: "What is your favourite Christmas carol?"
- Narcissist (with a straight face): "Hark the Herald Angels Sing About ME"
- (Note: narcissists tend to be rather preoccupied with themselves or with their social status or with the things that they think they are entitled to)
- Heated conversation between a narcissist and his/her spouse
- Narcissist's spouse: I'm not like you!
- Narcissist: Oh yes you are, you're as bossy as anything!
- (Note: this is an example of 'projection' since the narcissist is likely to be very bossy but will critisise others for the very things that he/she is guilty of)
- Narcissist: Today I went to my first meeting of Narcissists Anonymous. Couldn't get a word in edgewise!
- What's a narcissist's idea of being a "slave"?
- Not being able to boss everyone else about.
- What does a narcissist really mean when she says that her husband/children never help her?
- She means that they don't respond well to her impolite demands.
- What is a narcissist's idea of equality?
- Being equally bossy to everyone else
- Making sure that nobody ever gets a bigger share of the cake that he/she gets (since it would be inequality for someone to get more than what the narcissist gets)
- What two words does a narcissist use to describe the family finances?
- MY money!
- Why does a narcissist find it so difficult to empathise with others?
- Because he (or she) is always so busy empathising with himself (or herself)
- Why do narcissists so often complain of feeling exhausted, shattered or ill?
- How would you feel if you were constantly charged with the responsibility of controlling everyone else in your family?
- Why is a narcissist unable to honour his part in agreements which he has entered into?
- Any agreement which the narcissist enters into is his personal property and he is therefore entitled to do with it whatever he likes.
- What's a narcissist's definition of "rubbish"?
- Items which take up space in the narcissist's house but which belong to someone other than the narcissist.
- What's a narcissist's idea of generosity?
- Giving away things which the narcissist considers to be rubbish.
- What will a narcissist want to get rid of when moving house?
- Those items which the narcissist considers to be "rubbish". (Maybe that's why some narcissists like to move house frequently).
- Why does a narcissist spend so much time rummaging in his/her spouse's and children's private possessions?
- Well they belong to the narcissist too, don't they, doesn't everything in the house belong to the narcissist?
- What's a sure-fire way of getting daily verbal abuse?
- Be the child of a narcissist.
- What does a narcissist really mean when he says that his wife never talks to him?
- He means that she can't get a word in edgeways whenever he is talking to her.
- What is a narcissist's idea of being abused?
- Occasionally having to go along with someone else's preferences.
- Joker: Why do narcissists indulge in gaslighting?
- Respondent: I don't know, why do narcissists indulge in gaslighting?
- Joker: I said moonlighting, there's no such thing as gaslighting. Why did you think I said gaslighting?
(this joke is intended an illustration of the tendency to self-contradict)
- Joker: Why do narcissists indulge in projection?
- Respondent: I don't know why do...
- Joker: It's not narcissists that indulge in projection, its you that indulges in projection. - you are so devoid of empathy and you always want lots of attention and if I dare to criticise you, you always fly off the handle and you go on and on and on about it and you never let me get a word in edgeways and as well as that you are always being charming to people when they are present and later on you always want to criticise them behind their backs! (pause for a deep breath)
- What's a narcissist's idea of hard work?
- Arranging for lots of people to do all the chores (organising people can be hard work, can't it?).
- Why does a narcissist find it tiring to have lots of visitors?
- Who said that acting wasn't tiring? (the narcissist has to present a false image to those whom he/she feels the need to impress - however - if the visitors stay long enough the narcissist might eventually let his/her guard down and the visitors might see a truer picture)
- Why do narcissists feel the need to control other people?
- Perhaps it makes up for them not being able to control themselves.
- How do you get a narcissist to respect other peoples' preferences?
- You can dream!
- What do you call a narcissist who is content to sit in the background during a lively discussion?
- Rare! (the narcissist will always seek attention from others)
- What do you call a narcissist who can get through a whole day without criticising someone?
- Infeasible! (narcissists have to criticise others incessantly, despite the fact that they cannot bear to receive criticism)
- How can you tell when a narcissist is telling lies?
- His/her lips are moving (narcissists feel a need to lie - it is regarded as an intrinsic part of his/her defences)
- What do you call a narcissist who is apparently content to sit and watch someone else being praised?
- One that's eager to impress the present company of course! (narcissists don't really like to see people other than themselves being praised unless the person being praised is of exceptionally high status)
- What should you do if you want to reveal your closest secrets to everyone?
- Tell your darkest secrets to a narcissist first, then the narcissist will pass on your secret whenever he/she thinks it most appropriate (i.e., sooner rather than later).
- What's a narcissist's idea of compromise?
- Persuading others to go along with the narcissist's preferences.
- What do you call a narcissist who is never vengeful?
- Utterly impossible!
- What do you call a narcissist who learns to empathise with people in his/her family?
- Cured! (inability to empathise properly with others is a key feature of pathological narcissism)
- What should you do if a narcissist is content to let his/her husband or wife or children choose where the family should go on holiday to?
- Check his/her temperature for fever!
- (Note: narcissists like to get their own way when it comes to making the decisions which they consider to be important)
- What do you call a narcissist who is content to let his/her husband or wife or children choose where the family should go on holiday to?
Planning something - He's going to cry off and put the house in his name while everyone is away.
- If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, what is the only thing you have in common?
- You both love them.