Does your partner need near-constant attention or validation? Do they criticize you for seemingly no reason but fly into a rage if you criticize them? If this sounds familiar, you may have to find ways of dealing with narcissists effectively because you just might be in a relationship with one.
Often, partners of narcissists fall into the role of the enabler, someone who reinforces the narcissist’s behavior either by defending them or tolerating the behavior to avoid conflict.
Some behaviors of an enabler include:
- Accepting your partner’s version of reality, without question
- Not standing up for yourself when your partner is abusive
- Defending or rationalizing your partner’s behavior to others
- Blaming yourself for your partner’s behavior
- Believing the abusive dynamics of your relationship are normal
Having a relationship with someone who is narcissistic or has a diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be a challenge, but creating clear boundaries can help both of you. Read on to learn more about narcissism and how to stop enabling a narcissist.
You may already be familiar with the general term “narcissist.” Often narcissism is a synonym for being self-obsessed but it is also a diagnosable personality disorder. Keep in mind that someone with narcissistic qualities does not automatically have this disorder.
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) states that a person with NPD often exhibits a mix of the following traits:
- A grand sense of self-importance
- A preoccupation with fantasies of power, success, beauty, brilliance, or ideal love
- The belief that they are unique and should only associate with or be understood by other special people or organizations
- A consistent need for admiration
- A sense of entitlement
- Envy of others or the belief that others are jealous of them
- Arrogant behaviors and attitudes
- Exploitive interpersonal behavior
- Lack of empathy
Don’t attempt to diagnose anyone yourself unless you are a trained professional. If you are concerned about the mental health of someone you love, encourage them to seek professional help. Further, if your relationship is unhealthy or dangerous, seek help from a healthcare professional, family, or friends to work on distancing yourself from the toxic person.
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissistic person, it’s not always easy to feel sympathy for them. One of the most common myths about narcissism is that it comes from having extremely high self-esteem, but the opposite is true. Most experts believe narcissism stems from fear and insecurity. Narcissism looks different in different people, so be careful not to assume the other person’s thoughts and feelings. This term isn’t a catch-all for all selfish acts, and it’s important that you both have the space to speak and be heard.
Being compassionate doesn’t mean that you should tolerate or enable this behavior, but it may help you handle the situation more calmly and respectfully. However, if someone is continually hurting you, emotionally or physically, exit the situation as safely as possible and seek help.
Narcissistic people are incredibly good at getting what they want. In your relationship, they may expect you to focus on their needs and ignore your own. Remember, you have the right to say no and assert yourself, and you should exercise that right!
It can be helpful to have a few phrases prepared, so you don’t get flustered or coerced into silence or passivity. This can be especially helpful if you often find yourself in circumstances where you say yes only because you’re unsure how to say no. Work on integrating phrases like, “I’ll think about it,” “I’ll let you know when I’m available,” or “I need __.”
Centering yourself can be difficult in these situations, but it helps you create and manage boundaries to ensure your wellbeing is a priority. Sometimes, being in a relationship with someone who has NPD (or someone who exhibits traits of narcissism) can feel like a one-way street. You must learn the stop giving so much, as this only enables their selfishness more. People with NPD often think highly of themselves, and they expect others to do the same, placing their immediate needs above yours.
Instead, set a boundary for how much you’re able to give to your partner, set aside time to focus on yourself, and make decisions based on what’s in your best interest, not your partner’s.
Sometimes you need an objective third party to help you see your relationship clearly. If you’re struggling with your relationship, talking to a therapist can help you gain some clarity. You may benefit from couple’s therapy, but one-on-one sessions are crucial, especially if you are in a relationship with someone who tends to dominate the conversation. Your therapist can assist you in setting healthy boundaries so you can stop enabling your partner and your relationship can flourish.
Being in a relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder can be a challenge. It’s far too easy to become an enabler, allowing your partner’s behavior to go unchecked at the expense of yourself and your relationship. But it doesn’t have to be this way—by asserting your needs and setting healthy boundaries, you can transform your relationship so it serves both of you.
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