Do you suspect you are dealing with a narcissist in your life? If so, you may find yourself worrying that you might be going crazy because you can’t tell what is true anymore. Before, during, and after your interactions with a narcissist, you start to question your own perceptions or memory. You may feel confused, anxious, or depressed; you may feel isolated and worry that everything is your fault. These are common experiences for someone who is dealing with a narcissist.
As a professional marital and family therapist, I often see clients who are dealing with a narcissist in their lives, and I sense how deeply distressing that can be. In working with these clients, I often use The Life Model which provides support and tools to clients, and can potentially impact even the narcissist for positive transformation.
In this blog post, I will offer some fast facts and resources that may help you navigate and gain clarity on what to do if you’re dealing with a narcissist.
Fast Fact #1: “What is a narcissist?”
There is a difference between having a few narcissistic personality traits and having a diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The mental health condition called narcissistic personality disorder is defined by mental health clinicians using criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (Association, 2013).
Using these criteria, a person is diagnosed with this disorder if they have the following attributes.
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and with lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood, as indicated by at least five of the following:
Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements)
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
Believes that they are “special” and unique and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people (or institutions).
Requires excessive admiration.
Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations).
Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
Because many people display these traits from time to time but would not be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, it might be easier to think of narcissistic traits as being on a continuum, with the most serious and pervasive traits shown by individuals who have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Fast Fact #2: If you suspect someone in your life has NPD, there is help available for you.
There is growing awareness of narcissistic behavior and its impact on those around them, and there are a multitude of resources available to help you navigate this situation. These resources include websites, articles, books, and social media sites. You can also meet with a therapist who will provide resources, give you space to process your feelings, help you gain perspective and clarity, and help you learn healthy ways to set boundaries.
Here are a few resources that may be helpful:
Dr. Ramani Durvasula. Dr. Ramani is a clinical psychologist who publishes a YouTube channel with dozens of videos about narcissism. One example of her advice is that you should only believe a narcissist when their behavior changes, not when they say the right words. Her channel can be found at https://www.youtube.com/@DoctorRamani
Stop Walking on Eggshells (Mason & Kreger, 2020) – This book deals with borderline personality disorders and has some overlap about dealing with narcissism. It helps you understand narcissism and its impact on your life, and gives practical tips on how to care for yourself and create healthy boundaries with the narcissist.
Pandora Problem: Facing Narcissism in Leaders and Ourselves (Wilder, 2018). This is a book based on the Life Model, and works best if explored within a group setting to help with understanding of the concepts presented. The book outlines why our leaders seem to be so narcissistic (it turns out that society actually purposefully selects narcissists for leaders… who knew!?!). It also presents the groundbreaking concept that we cannot change the narcissist through direct confrontation; rather, the group around the narcissist must change.
Hopefully these fast facts and resources will give you a starting point on how to deal with a narcissist. Stay tuned for part two of this blog series on narcissism where I will discuss some practical tips for how to care for yourself and find the support you need when you are dealing with a narcissist in your life.
American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.
Mason, T. T., & Kreger, R. (2020). Stop walking on eggshells: Taking your life back when someone you care about has borderline personality disorder (3rd ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Wilder, E. J. (2018). The Pandora problem: Facing narcissism in leaders & ourselves. Carmel,IN: Deeper Walk Internati