Donald Trump, narcissist in chief, has given us the opportunity to illustrate the characteristics of a classic narcissistic personality. In my previous blog post on the traits of a narcissist, I described each feature and related it to quotes from “the Donald.”
What happens if you are in a relationship with a narcissist? To explain how narcissistic characteristics show up in relationships, I’ve illustrated each trait with statements we’ve heard from narcissistic clients over the years.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder, according to the DSM-5, the book of psychiatric disorders, is defined as: A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration and a lack of empathy, as indicated by at least five of the nine characteristics below.
1. A grandiose sense of self-importance.
Wife: “How could you have an affair with my best friend?”
Husband: “I thought what you didn’t know wouldn’t hurt you.”
Wife: “What did you think would happen if I found out?”
Husband: “I didn’t think about it.”
2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
Wife: “I’m leaving you. I’ve found my soul mate. He really ‘gets’ me in a way I’ve never felt with you.”
Husband: “But you have only known him for two weeks.”
Wife: “I know, but our connection is amazing, something I’ve never felt before; like we’ve known each other for years. We are so much alike. I can’t explain it. I just know it’s the right thing to do.”
3. A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.
Husband: “My new co-worker invited us over. He said his wife is having a potluck dinner. Would you like to go?”
Wife: “Potluck dinner? That’s classless; I would never ask people to bring something if we were hosting guests. If she can’t cook, why doesn’t she have dinner catered? I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that.”
4. A need for excessive admiration.
Husband: “You didn’t text me back for an hour. I need you to respond to my texts right away.”
Wife: “Honey, when I’m at work and I’m in the middle of something, I have to concentrate. Sometimes, I can’t stop to immediately answer you.”
Husband: “What do you mean? You can’t take a minute and text me back?!! I’m more important than your work.”
Wife: “You just don’t get it!”
Husband: “Damn right, I don’t!”
5. A sense of entitlement.
Husband: “I just got the bill from Nordstrom. How could you spend so much money on clothes and shoes? This is outrageous.”
Wife: “I’m entitled to look good. Just because I don’t work doesn’t mean I can’t have nice things.”
Husband: “It’s not about you working or not working. It’s about you spending more money than we have budgeted for clothes.”
Wife: “I can’t live by a budget. You’ll figure it out.”
6. Interpersonally exploitive behavior.
Wife: “You’re never home for dinner. You work till 10pm most nights. There’s never any quality time for our relationship.”
Husband: “Stop complaining. You have a big house, a nice car, and loads of jewelry. Any woman would be jealous of you.”
Wife: “You just don’t understand.”
7. A lack of empathy.
Wife: “How could you continue sleeping with that woman after you promised me the affair was over? You’ve been lying to me. And to the therapist we’ve been seeing for 6 months. Supposedly we have been trying to work on our marriage.”
Husband: “I know I lied. I couldn’t break it off because I didn’t want to hurt her.”
Wife: “Hurt her?!! Did you think about my feelings?”
Husband: “No, but I still love you.”
8. Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her.
Wife: “I saw Sue’s new house today. It’s 3500 square feet; they have 2 acres and a built in pool.”
Husband: “Well, that’s nothing. Our next house is going to be 4000 square feet, have 4 acres and we’ll get a pool and a tennis court.”
Wife: “You don’t have to be so competitive.”
Husband: “I’m not; that’s just the truth.”
9. A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes.
Wife: “Ellen’s kids are going to public school. Can you believe it?”
Husband: “What’s wrong with that. I went to public school and so did you.”
Wife: “Thank goodness our kids are going to private school. That’s the only way they’ll get into the best colleges.”
Husband: “What if they don’t want to go to college?”
Wife: “They won’t have that choice. Everybody in my family will get their college degree.”
You’ll know you are talking to a narcissist if their responses often make you angry; or, if in response to their statements you find yourself thinking, “I can’t believe he/she really said that.” The reason this happens is because the true narcissist has no idea how he makes others feels. He lives in his own universe and operates in the world as if everyone else lives in his world too.
When people disagree with him, he is devastated and suffers what we call a narcissistic wound. He thinks, “How dare you have an opinion or think I’m wrong.” He may become dramatically hurt or fly into an angry rage.
So what if you are married to a narcissist? The good news is that there are degrees of narcissism on a continuum. If your partner has a few of these characteristics, he may be able to make progress in therapy, understand that others do not think exactly like him and learn to be more empathetic.
Here are some tips to deal with a narcissist:
1) Validate his feelings but be assertive.
Tell him I understand that you see it this way; and here’s why I see it differently. Don’t give up your sense of self or give into him all the time in the relationship. Retain your boundaries.
2) Teach him empathy.
Use situations where he has been hurt to understand your pain or your experience. Relate one of his experiences to what you are trying to communicate about your experience.
3) Understand where narcissism comes from.
Usually underneath the strong self-centered personality is an insecure, anxious person who is afraid of rejection and criticism. He may have always been the prince and doesn’t understand why others say “no” to him as an adult. Or he may have been abandoned as a child and never have had his needs met. In this case his narcissism is like a false front or mask.
If none of this works or your partner has all of these characteristics above, you may have to make a choice about whether you can tolerate the relationship or not. But don’t give up unless you have tried everything, including couples therapy.
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