We tend to use the word narcissist to describe a person who’s self-centered and short on empathy. But it’s important to remember that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a legitimate mental health condition that requires diagnosis by a mental health professional.
Still, people can exhibit some narcissistic characteristics without having NPD. These might include:
- having an inflated sense of self
- needing constant praise
- taking advantage of others
- not recognizing or caring about the needs of others
To make things more complicated, people with NPD or narcissistic tendencies are often very sensitive to criticism, despite their high self-esteem.
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.
When they want to, those with narcissistic personalities are pretty good at turning on the charm. You might find yourself drawn to their grand ideas and promises. This can also make them particularly popular in work settings.
But before you get drawn in, watch how they treat people when they’re not “on stage.” If you catch them lying, manipulating, or blatantly disrespecting others, there’s no reason to believe they won’t do the same to you.
Despite what someone with a narcissistic personality may say, your wants and needs are likely unimportant to them. And if you try to bring up this issue, you may be met with resistance.
The first step in dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality is simply accepting that this is who they are — there’s not much you can do to change that.
When there’s a narcissistic personality in your orbit, attention seems to gravitate their way. That’s by design — whether it’s negative or positive attention, those with narcissistic personalities work hard to keep themselves in the spotlight.
You might soon find yourself buying into this tactic, pushing aside your own needs to keep them satisfied.
If you’re waiting for a break in their attention-seeking behavior, it may never come. No matter how much you adjust your life to suit to their needs, it’s never going to be enough.
If you must deal with a narcissistic personality, don’t allow them to infiltrate your sense of self or define your world. You matter, too. Regularly remind yourself of your strengths, desires, and goals.
Take charge and carve out some “me time.” Take care of yourself first and remember that it’s not your job to fix them.
There are times when 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.
Some people with narcissistic personalities enjoy making others squirm. If that’s the case, try not to get visibly flustered or show annoyance, as that will only urge them to continue.
If it’s someone you’d like to keep close 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 they may simply not understand — or care.
A person with a narcissistic personality is often quite self-absorbed.
They might think they’re entitled to go where they want, snoop through your personal things, or tell you how you should feel. Maybe they give you unsolicited advice and take credit for things you’ve done. Or pressure you to talk about private things in a public setting.
They may also have little sense of personal space, so they tend to cross a lot of boundaries. More often than not, they don’t even see them. That’s why you have to be abundantly clear about boundaries that are important to you.
Why would the consequences matter to them? Because someone with a narcissistic personality typically starts to pay attention when things start affecting them personally.
Just make sure it’s not an idle threat. Talk about consequences only if you’re ready to carry them out as stated. Otherwise, they won’t believe you the next time.
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.
For example, 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.
If you stand up to someone with a narcissistic personality, you can expect them to respond.
Once you speak up and set boundaries, they may come back with some demands of their own. They may also try to manipulate you into feeling guilty or believing that you’re the one being unreasonable and controlling. They might make a play for sympathy.
Be prepared to stand your ground. If you take a step backward, they won’t take you seriously next time.
A person with narcissistic personality disorder isn’t likely to admit a mistake or take responsibility for hurting you. Instead, they tend to project their own negative behaviors onto you or someone else.
You might be tempted to keep the peace by accepting blame, but you don’t have to belittle yourself to salvage their ego.
You know the truth. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
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’s 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
People with narcissistic personalities are good at making promises. They promise to do what you want and not to do that thing you hate. They promise to generally do better.
And they might even be sincere about these promises. But make no mistake about it: The promise is a means to an end for someone with a narcissistic personality.
Once they get what they want, the motivation is gone. You can’t count on their actions matching their words.
Ask for what you want and stand your ground. Insist that you’ll only fulfill their requests after they’ve fulfilled yours.
Don’t give in on this point. Consistency will help drive it home.
People with NPD often don’t see a problem — at least not with themselves. As a result, it’s unlikely they’ll ever seek professional counseling.
But people with NPD frequently have other disorders, such as substance abuse, or other mental health or personality disorders. Having another disorder may be what prompts someone to seek help.
You can suggest that they reach out for professional help, but you can’t make them do it. It’s absolutely their responsibility, not yours.
And remember, while NPD is a mental health condition, it doesn’t excuse bad or abusive behavior.
Regularly dealing 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, see your primary care doctor first. Once you have a checkup, you can ask for referrals to other services, such as therapists and support groups.
Reach out to family and friends and call your support system into service. There’s no need to go it alone.
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 abuse, but won’t get help
- your mental or physical health has been affected
If you fear the other person, you can reach out to the National Domestic Abuse 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 to a processional.
These mental health resources can help you find an appropriate therapist:
- American Psychiatric Association: Find a Psychiatrist
- American Psychological Association: Psychologist Locator
- Veterans Affairs: VA Certified Counselors
If you think you’re in immediate danger, call 911 or local emergency services and remove yourself from the situation, if that’s possible.