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What works and what doesn’t

You may be wondering if your partner, colleague, or family member is narcissistic. While many people have what doctors call narcissistic traits, such as self-esteem and entitlement (thinking that you owe them something), people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder may be a bigger problem. challenge.

“Living with a narcissist requires a different or more advanced emotional skill set,” says Kimberly Perlin, a licensed clinical social worker in Towson, MD. She specializes in helping women deal with narcissists and also treats narcissists.

Having a narcissist in your life can be frustrating and emotionally difficult. Your relationship can revolve around them. You may feel judged and exhausted by their demands.

When she was a child, Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California, didn’t realize her older brother was a narcissist. “Growing up with this highly dominant person was extremely difficult,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized this brother was a deeply troubled narcissist.

How to spot a narcissist

Narcissists have a strong sense of greatness. This means that they think they are more important than others and often seek admiration.

One of Perlin’s clients is a prime example. “A client I worked with for years ended therapy with me when he saw my new website and was insulted that the website didn’t talk about him,” she says.

Narcissists often:

  • Have a strong sense of grandiosity (they have a high level of self-esteem, self-importance, self-confidence and often feel superior to others)
  • Are arrogant
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Believe they are unique or special
  • Exaggerate accomplishments and talents
  • Need constant admiration
  • Feel envy towards others
  • Believe that others envy them
  • Lack of empathy
  • Are obsessed with fantasies of brilliance, power or success
  • Have a sense of entitlement

Narcissists and relationships

Manly learned a lot about narcissists from her older brother and his experiences working with them. “I learned that narcissists are the center of their own lives. They often believe they are perfect and blame others for problems that arise at work, at home, or in social situations. she says.


Narcissists can do whatever it takes to get what they want. They generally don’t feel compassion and cannot connect intimately with others, even the people who are closest to them.

At work, a narcissist may seek admiration, even if it hurts others. They may take credit for the work of others, harm their co-workers, or change their behavior to gain approval from higher-level people. They may seem friendly and hardworking, but there is often more to it than you might think.

At home, a narcissist can impact the whole family. If you are in an intimate relationship with a narcissist, he or she can be very critical of you, aloof, and dismissive. You might feel invisible, disrespected, and alone. If you are the child of a narcissist, you may have been neglected or abused.

Sometimes it’s best to cut ties with a narcissist, especially if he’s violent.

“For my own sanity, I chose not to invest in a personal relationship with my brother or sister,” Manly says. She accepts that her brother doesn’t see their behavior as a problem and since her brother has no desire for personal growth, an ongoing relationship will only lead to more frustration.

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, expect it to be difficult. “Buckle up, it’s going to be a very bumpy ride,” says Forrest Talley, PhD, clinical psychologist in Folsom, Calif. “It will be an extremely trying relationship.”

What to do with a narcissist

Follow these steps to deal with a narcissist:

Educateyourself. Find out more about the disorder. It can help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the narcissist and better deal with them. Knowing who they are can also help you come to terms with the situation as it is and have realistic expectations.

Create limits. Be clear about your limits. It may upset or disappoint the narcissist, but that’s okay. Remember, it’s not your job to control that person’s emotions, Perlin says.

Talk for you. When you need something, be clear and concise. “Make sure they understand your request,” Perlin said.


Watch your formulation. Narcissists don’t take constructive criticism well, Manly says. Try to comment carefully and positively.

Stay calm. Try not to react if they try to pick a fight or get on fire (making you doubt your own reality). If they pick on it, think of them as a 3-year-old who feels rejected because his parent sets bedtime, says Talley.


Create a support system. Living with a narcissist can lead to feelings of insecurity, confusion, and self-doubt. “Make sure you have a core of people in your life who can support you,” Talley says.

Call on an advisor. Therapy will not cure your partner’s narcissism, but it can help you sort out things. A counselor can show you ways to approach problem solving with the narcissist.

What not to do with a narcissist

There are some things that can trigger issues with a narcissist, so it’s best to avoid them.

Don’t argue and don’t confront each other. Manly finds it best not to confront a narcissist directly. As difficult as it may be to constantly tiptoe around them, it may be best to manage their need to feel in charge.

Don’t try to lead them. Narcissists like to be in control and are often afraid of losing it. “Efforts to direct or educate a narcissist will often fail,” says Manly.

Don’t expect them to see your point of view. Narcissists don’t like to admit they’re wrong or unfriendly, so trying to make them see things your way might backfire.


Don’t expect deep and meaningful communication. “Narcissists have very little empathy, so honest and sincere communication often doesn’t go through and can even create an outburst of anger or a stop response,” Manly says.

Don’t revisit the problems of the past. Don’t try to show them a long line of behavior dating back years – or how they’re like their father, for example, Perlin says. Instead, stay in the present when expressing requests or hurting feelings.

People with narcissistic personality disorder usually don’t change, so keep that in mind. Even if you learn to manage your relationship better, it will probably never be a healthy relationship.


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