Do you have a partner who's always focused on what they want, constantly talking about how great they are and how jealous others are of them?

They could be self-obsessed or self-centered, or perhaps they're showing signs of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

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Recognizing narcissism and using some practical coping strategies can help you minimize your narcissistic partner's impact on your mental and physical health.

What Is A Narcissist?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a formal mental health diagnosis in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, significant interpersonal problems, and a lack of empathy for others.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum.

We all fall somewhere along this spectrum. A healthy level of self-esteem means you accept who you are, feel good about yourself, and see yourself as deserving of respect.

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People with NPD have an exaggerated sense of self and capabilities and often expect admiration.

In reality, narcissists have an extremely fragile sense of self-esteem and mask this with their inflated sense of superiority.

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Narcissists are typically sensitive to criticism, unlikely to see a problem with their behavior, and avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

How Can I Spot A Narcissist?

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A person must be evaluated by a mental health professional and meet five of the nine criteria below to be diagnosed with NPD:

  • lacking empathy

  • feeling entitled

  • needing excessive admiration

  • acting with arrogance and superiority

  • exaggerating their self-importance

  • exploiting others for their own gain

  • fantasizing about unlimited success and brilliance

  • envying others or believing others envy them

  • believing they’re special and should associate only with other special people

Symptoms must be consistent over time and show up in most areas of life such as relationships, work, and social settings.

Quiz

Sam is concerned about his partner Javier's repeated attempts to dominate conversations with his accomplishments and priorities. Javier also minimizes Sam's accomplishments. Javier thinks Sam is just jealous. Which NPD criteria is Javier exhibiting?

Types of Narcissism

Not everyone with narcissistic personality behaves in the same way. This is, in part, because there are different types of narcissism.

Examining the two most recognized types can help you understand a narcissist's thought processes, emotions, and behavioural patterns.

Overt Narcissism

Also referred to as grandiose narcissism, this is the type most people associate with a narcissistic personality.

Common traits of overt narcissism include being:

  • arrogant

  • dominant

  • aggressive

  • pretentious

  • exhibitionist

  • self-assured

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Covert Narcissism

Also referred to as vulnerable narcissism, covert narcissism can also include similar behaviors to overt narcissism, but in subtle and less obvious ways. 

Common traits of covert narcissism include being:

  • anxious

  • insecure

  • defensive

  • depressive

  • withdrawn

  • hypersensitive

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The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle

Recognizing patterns of narcissistic abuse in a relationship may help you avoid them or deal with them when they arise.

There are three stages in the narcissistic abuse cycle:

1. Idealization

During this stage, the honeymoon stage, the narcissist will put you on a pedestal and view you as the ideal partner.

The idealization phase may include these types of behaviors:

  • Love-bombing (e.g. declarations of love, pressure for commitment, elaborate gifts)

  • Lack of boundaries

  • Quickly moving into intimacy

  • Attempts to isolate you from friends and family

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2. Devaluation

At this stage, the narcissist will begin to realize that you're not perfect and see you as having no value. They may engage in abusive behavior such as:

  • Criticism and insults

  • Withholding intimacy

  • More isolation and attempts to control you (e.g. what you do, who you see)

  • Gaslighting (distorting known truths to make you doubt your reality)

  • Physical threats

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3. Rejection

At the final stage, the narcissist will discard you or attempt to continue the abuse. The rejection phase may include behaviors such as:

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Once the abuse cycle ends, the narcissist will find a new partner and start all over.

Quiz

What type of language might you hear from a narcissistic partner in the devaluation stage?

Tips For Dealing With A Narcissist

Here are some practical ways to deal with a narcissistic partner, whether they have narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic tendencies.

Educate yourself. Recognizing narcissistic behaviors is critical in understanding how to deal with them. Understanding their mindset also helps set realistic expectations.

Speak up. Be calm, clear, and concise when addressing behavior. Don't argue or go over past issues. Use "I" statements when making requests or expressing feelings.

Set clear boundaries. Establish boundaries and consequences. Be willing to enforce them, even if the narcissist gets upset. You're not responsible for their behaviour.

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Expect pushback. Narcissists lack empathy and don't react well to criticism. Prepare for the likelihood that they may not see your point of view — or care.

Find a support system. A mental health professional can provide specific coping strategies and help you identify abusive behaviors you may have normalized. Surround yourself with trusted friends, family members, and loved ones for additional support.

Recognize when to move on. Consider ending the relationship, or minimizing contact, if there's abuse and your partner refuses to seek professional help.

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Quiz

Aiko has noticed a change in Ali's behaviour. At the beginning of their relationship, he showered her with compliments. He now criticizes her appearance and accent and gets angry when she wants to go out with friends. What should Aiko do?

Take Action

Understanding a narcissist's thought processes, emotions, and behavioral patterns is key to effectively using coping strategies.

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This Byte has been authored by

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Quincy Cooper

Senior Instructional Designer