If you are in living with a narcissist, then sometimes leaving them might not be an option due to various reasons. It can be your spouse, your parents, your siblings or your adult child. In this scenario, the best you can do is survive the relationship instead of cutting them out of your life. So how can you survive living with an arrogant, selfish and abusive person? Let’s take a look.
I am often asked some version of this question: “I am living with a narcissist and I don’t want to leave. What do I need to know to make this relationship as good as possible?” Most of the people who ask me this question already know that the standard advice is “just leave.” They have already made up their minds to give the relationship a try anyway. They may be in love. They may have children together. Their religious beliefs may encourage them to stay with their mate and do everything possible to make the relationship a success.
I have written this article for those of you who do not want to leave until you have tried everything possible. Here are the basics of what you need to know about being in a relationship with a mate who has a narcissistic personality disorder. How to deal with living with a narcissist.
Note: I am using the term “narcissist” here as a shorthand way to describe people who have made a narcissistic adaptation to a childhood home situation. No disrespect is intended. The word narcissism describes a pattern of thinking and behaving, not a person.
The Survival Guide for Living With a Narcissist
If you are living with a narcissist, things will go smoother if you know three basic things:
(1) What Being With A Narcissist Really Means
a) Narcissists are focused on self-esteem enhancement
The main goal in life of most people with narcissistic personality disorder (or adaptations, as I prefer to call them) is self-esteem enhancement. Narcissism can be conceptualized as a self-esteem regulation disorder in which narcissists are perpetually insecure about their status. They may appear highly confident to you, but there is always a lurking doubt about their self-worth underneath the confident façade.
In essence, this means that self-esteem enhancement is ultimately more important to them than you can ever be. When their self-esteem dips, narcissists only have two choices:
- Go into a shame-based, self-hating depression.
- Become grandiose and insist that they are special, perfect, and omnipotent—while devaluing other people as inferior to them.
Naturally, they choose the latter. As the closest person to them, they are likely to devalue you in order to feel more important again. A wise woman once told me, “When they feel fat, they complain about your weight.”
b) Narcissists lack emotional empathy
A lack of emotional empathy means that narcissists do not feel bad when they hurt you. They may not even notice your reaction. If they do, they are highly unlikely to care. If you complain, they will deny responsibility—“You are too sensitive.” Or they will blame you—“If you weren’t so stupid, I wouldn’t have to correct you so often.”
This means that it is highly likely that during the relationship, they will repeatedly hurt your feelings, both accidentally and on purpose. You need to be prepared for this as it is an inevitable and inescapable part of being in a relationship with a narcissist.
c) Narcissists lack the capacity to see themselves and other people realistically
Narcissists lack “whole object relations”: “Whole object relations” is the capacity to simultaneously see both the good and bad qualities of a person and accept that both exist. This capacity is normally developed during early childhood through copying your parents and, most importantly, through being seen realistically and accepted and loved for who you are by your parents, despite your imperfections. This capacity can be acquired later if the person with NPD is sufficiently motivated and has appropriate psychotherapy.
Without “whole object relations,” narcissists alternate between two extreme views of themselves and other people: either they are:
- Special, perfect, omnipotent, and entitled (all-good), or
- Unworthy, flawed, defective garbage (all-bad).
What this means for you, their mate is that they cannot see you in a realistic and stable manner. You, too, are either “special” or “worthless”. Narcissists can quickly switch back and forth between these two alternative views of you depending on how they feel in the moment.