Managing a relationship with someone with narcissistic personality traits can affect your well-being and mental health. Try strategies such as setting clear boundaries and relying on a support system of people you trust.

The term narcissist is tossed around frequently. It is used to describe people who seem self-focused, concerned only for themselves, or manipulative of people in their lives.

Some people may have the mental health condition narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose this condition based on the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR).

Other people may exhibit some traits of narcissism but do not qualify for an official diagnosis.

You can learn how to cope with a person in your life who has narcissistic personality traits, including what you can do to establish healthy behaviors and boundaries around this person.

We tend to use the word narcissist to describe a person who’s self-centered and short on empathy.

However, it’s important to remember that NPD is a legitimate mental health condition that can create significant challenges for the person living with it. It can also make it harder for others to maintain a relationship with the person.

Still, some people can exhibit narcissistic characteristics without being diagnosed with NPD. These might include:

  • appearing to have an inflated sense of self-importance
  • fostering a fantasy world to boost their sense of grandeur
  • needing constant praise and admiration
  • having a sense of entitlement
  • taking advantage of others or exploiting people without shame or guilt
  • not recognizing or caring about the needs of others
  • demeaning or bullying others
  • monopolizing conversations or meetings
To make things more complicated, people with NPD or narcissistic tendencies are often very sensitive to feedback from others. They may react with rage if confronted. They can also turn angry if they feel slighted or ignored.

Here’s a look at some practical ways to deal with someone who has NPD or narcissistic tendencies — plus some tips for recognizing when it’s time to move on.

People without NPD or other similar mental health conditions usually think of a relationship as a selfless equation. It’s about offering something to another person without the expectation of immediate or equal reimbursement.

That’s not typically the case with people with narcissistic personality traits. Instead, they frequently view relationships as transactional or something that must benefit them.

Indeed, people with NPD are frequently charming, magnetic, and compelling. That can make them seem irresistible, sexy even. But the truth is that people with narcissistic traits often have troubled relationships rocked by jealousy, anger, and abuse.

A person with NPD is not always capable of the reciprocity that is necessary for healthy relationships. They may try to turn their shortcomings or failures around on others. They can be volatile and sensitive in arguments. In some cases, they may also use lies or manipulation to avoid accountability.

That can leave a partner exhausted, drained, and empty. Instead of defending themselves or setting boundaries for their own mental well-being, partners of people with NPD may decide it’s easier to go along with their partner’s demands and manipulation.

Of course, it’s important to note that not all relationships with a person who has NPD will be this troublesome. Some people can improve narcissistic tendencies and develop less one-sided relationships with treatment.

How not to deal with narcissistic tendencies

Confronting a person with NPD about their behaviors is rarely fruitful. In many cases, they will try to maintain the upper hand and are often very resistant to change.

Instead of attempting to “fix” a person with NPD, focusing on your own behaviors and well-being is best. This includes setting boundaries and building a stronger support system of friends, family, and professionals to help you navigate the ups and downs of a relationship with this person.

People often describe a person with a narcissistic personality as charming and likable, which may make it easy to overlook some of their other more harmful behaviors.

However, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs of NPD so that they are easier to recognize.

This can also help you better understand the person’s strengths and weaknesses, so you are prepared to navigate any challenges that arise.

Plus, it can be the first step in learning to accept them for who they are and setting more realistic expectations about your relationship.

Talk with a mental health professional or read books written by mental health professionals. This may help you learn the best ways of communicating with your loved one showing signs of narcissistic personality traits.

Building healthy self-esteem can make it much easier to handle and cope with some of the potentially harmful behaviors you may encounter when maintaining a relationship with someone with NPD.

Engaging in positive self-talk, practicing self-care, and finding a healthy support system can help you develop resilience and foster your self-esteem.

Having higher self-esteem can also make it easier to set clear boundaries, be assertive, and advocate for yourself, all of which are key to maintaining a relationship with someone with NPD.

Sometimes, ignoring something or simply walking away is an appropriate response — pick your battles, right?

But a lot depends on the relationship. For example, dealing with a boss, parent, or spouse may call for different strategies than dealing with a co-worker, sibling, or child.

If you feel that your boundaries have been crossed when communicating with someone with NPD, try not to react, get visibly flustered, or show annoyance.

If it’s someone you’d like to keep close to in your life, then you owe it to yourself to speak up. Try to do this in a calm, gentle manner.

You must tell them how their words and conduct impact your life. Be specific and consistent about what’s not acceptable and how you expect to be treated, but prepare yourself for the fact that it may be challenging for them to understand or empathize with your feelings.

You may notice that your boundaries are being crossed when dealing with someone with NPD.

Instead of trying to change someone with NPD, it’s best to set boundaries about any behaviors that are unacceptable to you and communicate them clearly to the other person.

You should also enforce these boundaries rather than making idle threats or ultimatums to ensure that you are being taken seriously.

For example

Say you have a co-worker who loves to park their big truck in a way that makes it hard for you to back out. Start by firmly asking them to make sure they leave you enough space. Then, state the consequences for not respecting your wishes.

Such as, if you can’t safely back out, you’ll have their car towed. The key is to follow through and call the towing company the next time it happens.

Practicing skills like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation may make it easier to remain calm and avoid reacting when interacting with someone with NPD.

Becoming clear on your intentions or practicing what you plan to say before asserting your boundaries may also be beneficial.

It can also help you anticipate how they may react to challenging conversations so that you can respond appropriately.

If you can’t avoid the person, try to build up your healthy relationships and support network of people. Spending too much time in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality can leave you emotionally drained.

Rekindle old friendships and try to nurture new ones. Get together with family more often.

If your social circle is smaller than you’d prefer, try taking a class to explore a new hobby. Get active in your community or volunteer for a local charity. Do something that allows you to meet more people you feel comfortable with.

What is a healthy relationship?

Spending a lot of time with someone who has a narcissistic personality can make it hard to remember what a healthy relationship even feels like.

Here are a few signs to look for:

  • both people listen and make an effort to understand each other
  • both people acknowledge their mistakes and take responsibility for them
  • both people feel like they can relax and be their true selves in front of the other

Many people with narcissistic personalities are good at making promises. They may promise to do what you want and not to do that thing you hate or promise to generally do better.

Oftentimes, they are also sincere about these promises. However, in other cases, these promises may also be a means to their own ends.

Though direct confrontation is not recommended, it is important to be clear about what you want, need, or expect, and express yourself calmly and gently. Let them know that you’ll fulfill their requests only after they’ve fulfilled yours.

You should also stay consistent and follow through to take your expectations seriously.

People with NPD frequently have other disorders, such as substance use disorder or other mental health disorders. Having another disorder may be what prompts someone to seek help.

It’s also important to remember that narcissistic traits aren’t indicative of a more severe mental health issue. It is possible for some people to display some traits, such as delusions of grandeur or a sense of entitlement, without it being the result of a more significant mental health condition.

The only way to distinguish between random traits and a true disorder is through an evaluation with a mental health professional.

Of course, even people with narcissistic traits might benefit from the help of a mental health professional. Regardless of a larger diagnosis, some traits can be detrimental to relationships, personal development, and well-being.

And remember, while NPD is a mental health condition, it doesn’t excuse harmful or abusive behavior.

Regularly managing a relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality can take a toll on your own mental and physical health.

If you have symptoms of anxiety, depression, or unexplained physical ailments, or you feel impacted by a relationship with a challenging person, see a primary care doctor first. Once you have a checkup, you can ask for referrals to other services, such as mental health professionals and support groups.

Reach out to family and friends and call your support system into service. There’s no need to go it alone.

Some people with narcissistic personalities can also be verbally or emotionally abusive.

Here are some signs of an abusive relationship:
  • name-calling, insults
  • patronizing, public humiliation
  • yelling, threatening
  • jealousy, accusations

Other warning signs to watch for in the other person include:

  • blaming you for everything that goes wrong
  • monitoring your movements or attempting to isolate you
  • telling you how you really feel or should feel
  • routinely projecting their shortcomings onto you
  • denying things that are obvious to you or attempting to gaslight you
  • trivializing your opinions and needs

But at what point is it time to throw in the towel? Every relationship has its ups and downs, right?

While this is true, it’s generally best to leave the relationship if:

  • you’re being verbally or emotionally abused
  • you feel manipulated and controlled
  • you’ve been physically abused or feel threatened
  • you feel isolated
  • the person with NPD or a narcissistic personality shows signs of mental illness or substance misuse, but won’t get help
  • your mental or physical health has been affected
Get help

If you fear the other person, you can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, which provides 24/7 access to service providers and shelters across the United States.

As you come to terms with your decision to leave the relationship, it might be helpful to talk with a professional.

These mental health resources can help you find an appropriate mental health professional:

If you think you’re in immediate danger, call 911 or local emergency services and remove yourself from the situation, if that’s possible.

What should you not say to a narcissist?

People with narcissistic personalities can be hypersensitive to criticism and may react with hostility, rage, or aggression if confronted.

While it’s important to set boundaries and communicate clearly, confronting them about their behaviors, calling them a liar, or expecting them to change is unlikely to help.

Can narcissistic personality be corrected?

Narcissistic tendencies can improve with treatment, though this requires a lot of time, effort, and patience.

If you decide to maintain a relationship with someone with NPD during treatment, it’s important to set realistic expectations and healthy boundaries.

What are the four types of narcissism?

There are two main NPD types: Grandiose (overt) narcissism and vulnerable (covert) narcissism. While grandiose narcissism is often characterized by exaggerated self-worth and a need for admiration, people with vulnerable narcissism instead experience feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity.

There are also several other subtypes, including antagonistic narcissism, which is characterized by aggressiveness and feelings of entitlement, and communal narcissism, a type in which people tend to seek admiration for being altruistic or benevolent.

NPD is a serious mental health condition that can make building and maintaining healthy relationships challenging.

Though navigating a relationship with a person with NPD can be difficult, setting clear boundaries, building a strong support system, and practicing skills to keep calm and respond appropriately may be beneficial.

However, keep in mind that it’s also important to recognize when you need help and when it’s time to step away from the relationship.