Narcissistic Personality Disorder
If you talk to a psychiatrist or psychologist – many will tell you the most difficult type of personality to deal with is those with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Despite associations with the name and the Greek myth of Narcissus, the emotional effect of engaging with such individuals is far greater than their merely seeming vain or self absorbed. The term Malignant Narcissism is more correctly used to describe a type of personality that is overly concerned with it’s own point of view, and reality.
Narcisistic personalities are amongst the hardest patients for psychiatrists to treat, for the simple reason that their disorder stems from an unshakable belief that they can do no wrong. Here, then, is an introduction into diagnosing and managing Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD.
Basic Diagnosis of Narcissism
You might recognize some of the 7 common traits of narcissism in a colleague, parent, child, spouse, or a friend:
- An inability to listen to others, and a lack of awareness of another person’s deadlines, time frames, interests or perspectives.
- An inability to admit wrongdoing – even sometimes when presented with objective evidence of their errors or behavior.
- Coldness, or overly practical responses to interpersonal relationships; a sense of distance or matter-of-factness, emotionally.
- Can be prone to severe bouts of anger, particularly if directions or orders are not followed.
- Has the ability to write friends off forever, often over small or only ‘imaginary’ transgressions.
- Pride in the accomplishments of children (if they have them), family members or friends, often combined with an overly developed desire for control over family members’ directions and activities.
- An above average interest in social class and importance may also sometimes be seen.
If you would like a good book to identify exactly if someone is a NPD sufferer, this book is highly recommended.
If such a person is difficult for a trained psychiatrist to handle, then it may be no wonder that individuals can encounter difficulties with these types of people.
Here are some basic tips for maintaining a productive relationship with a narcissistic type personality. Of course, each situation is unique, and symptoms and severity vary. But it is helpful to know that there are positive steps you can initiate, to help bring a positive experience to both individuals. You may wish to email or otherwise forward these tips to other family members or friends.
1. Stay Practical
Keep your relationship on a practical level, if you find yourself otherwise involved with distressingly argumentative situations, or those that are overly filled with tension. Narcissistic people respond well to practical goals achieved, be they yours or their own. Define the goals you wish to pursue, and give clear guidelines for those you wish them to assist you with – for instance, by a certain date or time.
This book has some great ways to turn a NPD relationship into a more normal one.
2. Keep Distant
Keep your contact distant if it is not reciprocated and causes you distress. A narcisistic person will not understand your own emotional needs; trying to make them acknowledged will often merely lead to more frustrations. Admit that your needs will be met differently, by different individuals and according to each’s abilities and sensibilities. This is not a narcisistic personality’s strong point, so you may have to look to others if you require strong emotional support.
3. Define Some Limits
If you find yourself in constant disagreement with such an individual, it may be helpful to define some limits or taboos in your interaction with them. This need not be verbally communicated; simple internal guidelines or limits to spheres of discussion or debate may be just as effective.
If you feel controlled or overly manipulated by a narcisistic person, do not try to argue or reason with them.
A person with severe narcissism traits will not be able to modify their behavior. It is best to be clear and brief with such individuals, about what you are doing and when. Simply do not get into discussion, and if you must arrange a sudden appointment to escape a difficult situation, then do so.
If you know or live with a NPD sufferer, this this is an invaluable guide.
4. Avoid Conflict
Do not, for your safety and theirs, look for resolution through conflict with a person with severe pathological narcissism. Such types have a well documented obliterative response to rage – you will conform to their world view or be obliterated from it – usually through cutting off of all ties. Do not look to ‘win’ or ‘convince’ a NPD patient, as this is counter to their world-view. The possibility for physical violence is not common, but should not be disregarded.
5. Gain More Understanding
A more sensible approach than conflict with a person with a Narcisistic Personality Disorder is to gain some understanding of their condition, avoid conflict, and to work with the situation as constructively as you can. As difficult as it may be, according to their world view, what is done is done for the best intentions. Two authors that it is usually beneficial to read more of are Kohut and Kernberg – a list of publications readers have found helpful is collected here.
6. Teach Children to Avoid Inheriting It
The cause of excessive Narcissism often stems back to parental issues for the individual, for instance having a narcissistic or overly controlling dominant family member. For this reason, it is important that the children of a narcisistic parent be taught skills such as listening to, considering, and understanding the opinions and perspectives of others. Asking questions during conversation is a basic, important example of such an education.
The best book on child/parent NPD relationships is this one.
7. Appear to Fit Within Prescribed Roles
Narcissistic individuals usually have precise roles that their others should fit within: roles that typically strengthen, and often aggrandize, their own idea of self worth. Deviating from these roles is often met with displeasure.
Whilst living your life under somebody else’s idea of your identity is plainly unhelpful and impossible long term, the best advice is to appear to do so. First, consider what decisions you make that displeases your narcissistic person, and what decisions please them. What sort of role is it you fullfil for them? It may be a successful, stable child, or an obedient and attractive partner.
Children of NPD sufferers should learn how to report to them things that support these roles, whilst not undermining what you want to do. Keep to yourself things that do not. Learn to seek support elsewhere for matters that do not fit the ideals of your narcissistic individual.
8. Give Practical Support
Narcisistic people respond well to practical, as opposed to emotional, signs of support. This may be the reason many show practical signs of affections to others, and is exacerbated by a lack of empathy for others’ needs. You can therefore help a narcisistic individual by doing practical tasks for them, such as cooking or other helpful things. It is important to retain personal control in these matters, as the narcisistic tendency is to define the nature of the support given. If you are cooking, cook something that is beyond their knowledge and experience, so they have to step back from the event. Surprise an individual with other events, or do tasks when they are out.
9. Write, Give Gifts, and Demonstrable Signs of Love and Support
Narcissist personality types may be attracted to postcards, cards, gifts, photographs, and other signs of emotional relationships (seemingly emotional things). Often, however, interest in these mementos are due to the social usefulness of these objects rather than overt sentimentality. If you are related to a Narcisistic person, send them regular photographs of your achievements, perhaps telling them “you couldn’t wait to show them”.
If you have a Narcisistic workmate, print them letters or cards acknowledging their abilities (an email may be too private, although it can always be discussed, forwarded, or shown). Allow the individual to take credit, and boost, their self worth and world view with your role in that system.
For more information on dealing with narcissistic people, do further research with some of the publications mentioned here, and always speak to your own trained health professional.
What are your experiences of Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Why not join the forum for support and ongoing advice.