Am I in a Relationship with a Narcissist?

Selfies galore and seeking affirmation via social media, it seems the whole world is suffering from narcissistic behavior. However, being self-motivated, self-focused or even putting yourself first doesn’t make you a narcissist.

Narcissism is a very particular set of traits that create the definable personality disorder. For people who are in relationships with a narcissist (be it a spouse, parent or even child) life can be incredibly confusing.

The narcissistic personality seeks out a particular type of partner (or victim we could say in some cases) with or without cognitive awareness. They are looking for an empathetic personality who they can manipulate via their bleeding heart-save-the-world style of tackling problems. Co-dependents and Borderline personalities make great targets for the narcissist who needs constant affirmation.

For those in a relationship with a narcissist they will experience things such as gaslighting (minimizing of personal experience or perception of events), a sense of lack of trust (or being misled), walking on eggshells (or a fear of speaking their truth). These along with other psychological types of abuse can lead to a sense of depression, confusion, anxiety and hopelessness.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a clinical psychologist who specializes in narcissism, and her work and research have been widely published. In her latest book Should I Stay or Should I Go, she explains that the personality of the narcissist will not change. While there is limited long term research on the disorder, there is enough research to show that these habits are hard to break. In spite of this, many people will stay in these types of relationships (children, finances, etc.) and hold hope that they will be able to behave in such a way that their partner will change. The receiver in these types of relationships often believes they can fix the person they are with, or fears if they leave the relationship the person will suddenly improve and be accountable, trustworthy and loving with their next partner.

Not all narcissists are obvious, as some operate covertly. This can be especially difficult for those in a toxic relationship because it often appears to family and friends that the narcissist is loving, kind partner. Narcissists are good at showing the world how great they are (or treat their partner) which is simply not the case behind closed doors. These sorts of showy things, like gifts and surprise birthday parties can give the spouse a sense that they are loved and create more confusion as to why they feel so awful in the relationship the rest of the time. Narcissists are also excellent at removing their victim from other relationships so that they have limited support outside of the relationship.

A very particular pattern of behavior ensues in these relationships, love-bombing (showering with affection and often over the top I love you’s and I need you’s), devaluing (without me you would have nothing) and discarding (disappearing on a guy’s trip, outright ignoring, silent treatment). The cycle continues again and again, during love-bombing phase clients will often think, we’re good right now, we don’t need therapy… until the victim is “back on the shelf” and then the negative part of the cycle begins.

Despite how they come across, narcissists are actually very insecure, and need constant reinforcement from their partner, which can be exhausting.

If you realize you or your partner may struggle with some of these traits or behaviors, reach out to us we can help.

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Specialized counseling services for couples and individuals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. https://couplesinstitutecounseling.com/

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