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“I think I’m married to a narcissist.”
“My co-worker is such a narcissist.”
In today’s culture, we tend to notice narcissistic tendencies and call them out. But do we really understand what those tendencies mean?
Whether within a marriage, a workplace, or a family, we can throw around terms like “narcissist” and narcissism. But surprisingly, people who truly have narcissistic personality disorder only make up 1-2% of the population. Not everyone who says, “I’m married to a narcissist” is married to someone who belongs to this small percentage.
So, how do you know for sure if your partner has narcissistic personality disorder? And why don’t they seem to want a formal diagnosis from a physician?
First of all, you cannot diagnose them by calling them a narcissist. Verbally telling them that they have the disorder will not cause healing or freedom from dysfunctional behavioral patterns. In fact, calling someone out on their high narcissistic traits is unnecessary and usually unhelpful. When a person has numerous narcissistic traits – or even diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder – the path to real and lasting change is through intensive personal counseling, which can occur without formal diagnosis.
But here’s the catch: in general, narcissists are unlikely to seek this counseling for themselves.
Now, you may be wondering, “But if my partner will never pursue a diagnosis, how do I know if they are truly a narcissist?”
Well, let’s take look at some key characteristics found on the spectrum of narcissism.
Like many conditions, narcissism is not an all-or-nothing disorder but is instead measured by the quantity of narcissistic tendencies that a person displays. For example, a person may have either high narcissistic traits, meaning that they strongly exude narcissism to those close to them, or low narcissistic traits, meaning that the tendencies that exist aren’t quite as
A person with high narcissistic traits may…
• Closely manage how they are perceived by others
• Lie about facts or topics even if they seem irrelevant
• Speak hatefully about others behind their back
• Use gaslighting to maintain their self-image
• Be unable to tolerate your unhappiness or dissatisfaction
• Tend to have favorites
• Hold a sense of entitlement
• Exploit the vulnerabilities of others when given sensitive information
• Feel victimized, yet explain their victimization from a place of blame and superiority
• Have delusions of grandeur or strongly believe that they can achieve anything
• Evoke compliance through coercion, manipulation, or punishment
Gaslighting is another term that is growing in familiarity among today’s culture. In the context of narcissism, gaslighting is an abusive dynamic where a narcissist acts and speaks in ways that cause the people around them to doubt their own reality. The term is actually based off a 1944 movie involving a husband who would play tricks on his wife through changing the lights and environment. These tricks caused the wife to believe that she was going crazy!
If you’ve been on the receiving end of narcissistic behavior such as gaslighting, you know very well that you can begin to question your own sanity. You might walk away from an argument thinking that you know what was said, only to hear an angry “I never said that” the next morning. Gaslighting causes us to wrestle with constant self-doubt, unable to trust what we once thought was true.
In a marriage, where trust is the bedrock of intimacy, narcissism can be dangerously destructive – and even detrimental. This disorder is so damaging because when a person has narcissistic personality disorder, their thoughts and behavior revolve around one core emotion: shame. Some narcissists may portray an incredibly kind, self-sacrificing, and charismatic image while acting belligerently behind closed doors. What you may not know is that even the openly arrogant, self-righteous narcissist is actually frail, insecure, and broken on the inside.
So, what do we do if we’re living with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder? And why hasn’t our compassion already helped them to heal?
When a kind-hearted person gives their time and energy to change a narcissist, they’re actually throwing gas on the fire.
What do I mean?
A true narcissist – someone who is high on the spectrum of narcissism or has been diagnosed with the disorder – is so attached to their outward persona that your extra kindness and compassion, albeit well-intentioned, will not change their behavior.
Even though you can’t change a narcissist through your kindness, you can still help.
How? By tapping into your own healthy degree of narcissism!
You heard me right – there is such a thing as healthy narcissism. Without it, we become insecure, emotionally fragile people. In fact, without a healthy amount of narcissism, you will become a target for those with high narcissistic traits. And even more than that, without a bit of healthy narcissism, you’re more likely to find yourself married to that 1 – 2% of the population who has narcissistic personality disorder!
Fostering a healthy sense of narcissism is the key to standing up to narcissistic personality disorder. This means that in order to guard your identity, boundaries, and needs, you respect yourself enough to ask yourself, “What do I want to do about this situation?”
You have choices – no matter how narcissistic your partner may be. Even when you don’t like your options, you always have choices. In order to help, what you really need to do is help yourself.
At first, this might sound radical . You might have lived with a narcissist for years. You might feel like you’ll always be a victim of their anger, their deceit, their manipulation, their power, or their control. If you’ve experienced spiritual or emotional abuse, you may not know how to
make a decision about what do do.
But trust me on this… you can move forward.
I have a passion for supporting people as they move through tough circumstances, and I’d love to help you tap into the wisdom that you know, reframe the situation that you’re in, and see the options that you have.
You’ll only stay a victim if you choose to. You have choices – and I’d love to support you as you make them.
Stay tuned – in a later post, I’ll explain how these decisions you make might just change your life for the better!