The "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," 4th edition, 1994 (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association defines narcissist personality disorder (NPD) as: "A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy." Living or dealing with a person with NPD can be very traumatising. The pervasive emotional abuse so often caused by NPD often takes a long time to heal. Luckily, there is support available to assist in recovery from narcissistic abuse.
- Skill level:
Recognise narcissism for what it is. People with NPD have an inflated sense of self-importance, see themselves as perfect and will attack anyone who tries to put a chink in that "flawless" image. They exhibit grandiose, self-centered, egotistical patterns of behaviour that can cause a lot of psychological trauma to those around them.
Know exactly what narcissists do. They require constant attention and admiration and often use others selfishly for their own ends. When criticised, they react with blaming, insults and put downs, causing the subjects of their rage to feel rejected, hurt, humiliated and powerless. They also distort reality, often contradicting themselves, lying or denying events of the past to make themselves look better. They make us doubt what we know and wonder whether we're the crazy ones.
Don't show weakness around a narcissist. Because they lack empathy, they have no compassion for anyone who shows emotional vulnerability (i.e., anger, sadness, grief); in fact, this only increases their feelings of superiority and gives them reason for further attack and abuse.
Don't expect a narcissist to change. There is a saying in 12-step programs: "Don't go to the hardware store for milk." Don't keep going back to them thinking that, this time, they'll be different. This is only setting yourself up for disappointment, hurt and anger. Assume that they will always be this way.
Establish personal boundaries. Because the world revolves around them, narcissists will try to manipulate you with guilt, shame or other tactics to get you to do things you may not want to do. Stand your ground. Put your own needs and self-care first. Make it clear to the narcissist that there are certain behaviours (yelling, guilt-tripping, etc.) that you will not put up with---and then don't.
Protect yourself by limiting your contact with the narcissist altogether. If you live with a narcissist and decide to leave, ensure that you can leave safely without them coming after you and threatening violence. If you cannot leave or choose not to, make sure that you are safe and have lots of support in dealing with the narcissist.
Talk about your issues with a therapist; find support groups; ask for spiritual assistance with the relationship. There are now lots of sites online to learn about NPD, and forums and support groups both in person and online (See Resources section).
Forgive. Realise that narcissists aren't really aware of how they are hurting others in their lives. They are people with a mental illness, a personality disorder. Think of them as small children, rather than adults who know what they are doing and are responsible for their words and actions.
Know that you are lovable. Despite what the narcissists in your life told you or how they treated you, you are worthy of love, happiness and success in life. Cultivate relationships in which you are appreciated and valued for who you are. Know that recovery is possible and that you can have a different and better life.
Tips and warnings
- Remember that you are dealing with somebody who has a personality disorder. In all your interactions, do not expect the person to exhibit normal healthy thought or behaviour patterns.
- Narcissists do not take rejections or criticism very well. So if you do leave a narcissistic partner, parent or family member, make sure you are safe and protected. Disengage as calmly and quietly as you can to create the least amount of ruffles and/or harm to yourself in the process
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