NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner

In my prior article, A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Self Esteem, I began a discussion that described the primary characteristics of many people with narcissistic traits and provided a composite vignette to illustrate the challenges of being with a narcissistic partner.  In this article, I'll focus on some strategies for dealing with a narcissistic partner.

Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner

As I mentioned in my prior article, some people have narcissistic traits with certain characteristics and not others (see my prior article for a list of the most common traits).

The strategies that I'm about to recommend are not for situations where there is emotional and/or physical abuse.  So if you're in a situation where you're being abused, you need to do whatever you can so you can be safe.

Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner

It's not unusual for people who are narcissistic to be emotionally abusive (sometimes without even realizing it) because they often lack empathy for others, even their loved ones.

If your partner is unwilling to get help to change, there is little hope that your situation will improve. At that point, it's best to seek help yourself as an individual.

Strategies for Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner

Become Aware of Denial:  Your Partner's Denial as Well as Your Own
Denial is common for both the person who is narcissistic and the person who is in the relationship with a narcissist.  People with narcissistic traits often lack insight into themselves so they either unwilling and/or unable to see their narcissistic traits.

People who are in relationships with narcissists often in denial about their partner's narcissism.  It might be an emotional blind spot that they have or there might be some other reason (fear of being alone, not knowing what to do, having little self regard for themselves and so on).

Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner: Be Aware of Denial

You can't change your partner, no matter how much you would like to do it.  But you can change yourself.

You'll need to be honest with yourself about how you feel about your partner, your relationship and how you feel about yourself in this relationship.

People with narcissistic traits often "put down" their partners, either directly or indirectly to boost their own egos.  If you're in denial about this, it can be detrimental to your self esteem.

Having a sense of awareness is the first step in overcoming denial.  Although it might be difficult, you need to see your partner, your relationship and yourself clearly.

Find Out If Your Narcissistic Partner is Willing to Get Help in Therapy
As I mentioned in my prior article, for many people with narcissistic traits, shame is an underlying issue that is covered over by grandiosity (see my article:  Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame).

Unfortunately, many people with narcissistic traits are unwilling to get help because they're either in denial or they're too ashamed.  Without help, people with narcissistic traits usually don't change on their own.

Find Out If Your Partner Is Willing to Get Help in Therapy

For people who do seek help, they often do so because the shame becomes too painful or they've had a very big blow to their sense of self (a breakup, a job loss or other losses) or, despite their grandstanding, they feel empty inside and this has become unbearable.

Become Aware of Your Partner's Possible Manipulative and Sociopathic Tendencies
Some people who are highly narcissistic also have sociopathic tendencies.  This can include manipulative behavior where they "use" people for their own gains, possibly including you.

It can also include criminal behavior.

Narcissism: Possible Manipulative and Sociopathic Tendencies

Because narcissists are often charismatic, it's easy to be taken in by them, so you might not see sociopathic tendencies at first.

But if you see that your partner has an attitude that "the ends justify the means" to get whatever s/he wants, whether this is in his or her personal life or career, beware.  This is definitely a red flag, and you might become a victim of your partner's whims or implicated in a scheme.

Once again, not all narcissists are sociopaths, but some are, so you need to be especially aware of this possible tendency.

People who are narcissistic tend to externalize their problems and blame others, including their loved ones.

So, for instance, if you talk to your partner about something s/he is doing that you don't like, your partner could manipulate by trying to turn it around and blame it on you by telling you something like, "You're imagining things" or "It's your fault."

It takes courage to stand your ground, especially if you know that you're being negatively affected by your partner's behavior.  S/he might not see it and, often, has little or no motivation to see it.

Unfortunately, in many circumstances, narcissists, including sociopaths, are rewarded for their behavior, even when their behavior is unethical or illegal.

For instance, in some companies, if a high-ranking employee is making money for the company, even if the higher ups know that his or her behavior is illegal, this behavior is condoned and, often, encouraged.

So, if you're the one calling your partner out on his or her behavior, your partner might justify his or her behavior by telling you that it's what makes him or her successful.

Become Aware of Whether You're Complicit in Your Partner's Narcissistic Behavior
Narcissists often choose partners who are willing to not "rock the boat" and call them on their behavior.

Are You Complicit in Your Partner's Narcissistic Behavior?

Even though your partner is responsible for his or her own behavior, you need to become aware of whether you're being complicit in the behavior:
  • Are you turning a blind eye when your partner puts down your family members or your friends?  
  • Are you going along with your partner's assertions that other people are "too sensitive" when you know that your partner is being hurtful to them?
  • Do you make excuses for his or her behavior to yourself and to others?
All of this is part of denial and nothing will change as long as you're complicit with your partner's behavior.

Getting Help in Therapy
Being honest with yourself about your partner as well as your own role in the relationship might be one of the hardest things that you do.

Getting Help in Therapy

Many people find it difficult to do this on their own and need the professional help of a licensed mental health professional.

If you're struggling with effects of being in a relationship with a narcissist, rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed psychotherapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.