|painting by Jody Kelly from narcissusmagazine.com|
During the recent presidential election cycle, people threw around the term narcissist or narcissistic personality disorder a lot when talking about Donald Trump. Many articles were written and tweets tweeted about the subject. As a therapist, I know that I can not diagnose someone I have never examined, but the discussions did call to mind my clients who have partners that exhibit traits of narcissism or even full blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?
NPD is a mental health diagnosis that is characterized by an unhealthy sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Many people have traits of narcissism, but very few, about 6.2% of the population, would meet diagnostic criteria for NPD. You can learn more about it from this nifty animated video:
How does narcissism affect you in a relationship?
I can recall one client, Cindy, who came to me feeling depressed and anxious about her marriage and down on herself. Years of living with a man who was critical, arrogant, and needy left her feeling like there was something wrong with her. She had a successful high-powered job, but at home she became a shell of a person.
Cindy's partner tended to become angry and aggressive when he did not get what he wanted in the relationship. By lashing out, he had caused an emotional rift between them which led her to feel physically disconnected from him. She became uninterested in having sex with her husband. She had no desire to be naked and vulnerable with someone who worked to tear her down. Her partner became resentful about the lack of physical intimacy, as many partners would. In a healthy relationship, her partner at that point may have looked inward and asked what was he was doing that might have caused a rift or asked what could be done to fix it. But as a narcissist, he just blamed his wife. When his wife started menstruating, he became angry, screaming at her and telling her she got her period on purpose just to avoid having sex with him. To a narcissist, they are the center of the universe and what you do is either a benefit or a slight to them. He could not have any empathy with his partner and what she was feeling.
"You have to do something about this abusive behavior or your brain and body are going to take you out of it - you are going to lose it."
There was a time when Cindy was so worn out she barely had the energy to describe her feelings. She told me "there is so much noise in my head, I don’t know why everybody can’t hear it. I wish people would just read my mind."A friend who was worried about her told her "You have to do something about this abusive behavior or your brain and body are going to take you out of it - you are going to lose it. "
How therapy can helpThat is when Cindy decided to start therapy. Therapy has made a huge difference in helping her know how to deal with her partner's narcissism. We worked to rebuild Cindy's sense of self. She learned how to have an assertive voice and how to set boundaries so that she was not wounded over and over. The boundaries protected her and taught her to respect herself.
It was also really helpful for Cindy to discover that her partner has the traits of someone with NPD. Putting a name to it allowed her to read about the disorder, to understand her partner. It also helped her to know how to handle him when he was combative, arrogant, or when he just lacked basic empathy for her pain.
Get out of the fog
One of the resources that Cindy found helpful is a website called Out Of the Fog. It is a website to help family members and loved ones of people who suffer from personality disorders. Personality disorders are mental disorders in which people have unhealthy ways of thinking, functioning, and acting. A person with a personality disorder usually has problems understanding and relating to situations and people. The Out Of The Fog website is a great place to start to learn to-do's for dealing with someone who has a personality disorder, to find book recommendations, or to ask questions on the group forum.
There is hope if you are in a relationship with someone who has a full blown personality disorder, or just exhibits traits of narcissism. I don't recommend, however, that you find your way on your own. Talk to a therapist, post/read the Out Of The Fog forum, speak to a trusted friend. Being in one of these types of relationships is very draining. You are not crazy, silly, or weak. You are just tired, and that is normal. Therapy can be one way to learn the skills you need to cope.
Stay tuned for my next post when I talk about ways to handle a narcissist.
If you are struggling with the pain in your life, professional counseling can help. You can call our Houston counselors at 713- 591 - 3612 or email us at nancy @ wilsoncounseling . org. Please visit the Wilson Counseling website at www.wilsoncounseling.org to find out more.