Somewhere in the mists of time, the word sounds vaguely familiar. Searching…searching….Narcissus? Aren’t those daffodil-like flowers? Yeah, but this is a personality trait, so that is not quite it. Narcissus…Ah, yes…something to do with that freshman English class long ago. One of the characters in that thick book. Wasn’t Narcissus one of the characters in Greek or Roman mythology? Wait a minute…he is coming into focus…Yes! That is it: Narcissus was the hot dude who fell in love with his own reflection when he was looking at himself in a pond. Yes, that is it! But wait. Didn’t that guy then fall into the pond and die? Bingo!!!
What does a handsome dude who drowns have to do with anything?
Let’s think about it. We have all known (and probably dated) somebody who thought they were God’s gift to planet earth.
Initially, their incredible good looks and self-confidence may have been why we were attracted to them in the first place. And admit it, we were secretly a bit smug when people in our group of friends would say things like, “He is so hot,” or “Her clothes! They are always so on point.!”
These kinds of comments gave us feelings of self-validation. We liked the fact that this person seemed so magnetic, so positively perfect.
All well and good but then…
You have been seeing this gorgeous person who seems a bit too self-involved, but still, the good points about this person outweigh the bad points…slowly though that balance changes. You wake up one morning and discover you are involved with, engaged to or married to what you have discovered is a narcissist. What to do?
Can a narcissist change or be changed, or is it once a narcissist, always a narcissist?
What exactly is the definition of a narcissist?
According to the world famous Mayo Clinic, a narcissist is a person who has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which “is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” For a more detailed definition, you can read here.
And what more should I know about NPD?
- It is more common in men than in women.
- Its cause is unknown but scientists think its roots are partly in genetics and partly caused by the environment.
- It often begins in the teens or early adulthood, although increasingly, children are being diagnosed with NPD.
- Since its causes are unknown, there is no known way to prevent its development.
- Harvard professor, Dr. David Malkin, believes there is a narcissism epidemic. If you would like to know more about this and other research in this area, you will want to check out his book.
What to do? Here’s where to start:
So there you are. Originally blinded by what you thought were your partner’s good looks, intelligence, wit, charisma, sense of style, etc, you now see that your partner is, in fact, suffering from NPD. This person, with whom you were initially so infatuated, now seems arrogant, haughty, snobby and impossibly condescending to many people.
They seem obsessed by status, their achievements, and material comforts. They seem like a poster child for NPD.
But, fundamentally, you are still attracted to that person what to do? First, communicate your feelings (tactfully!) to your partner. You may want to start here.
NPD can be treated
That is well and good, but many people with NPD will totally fail to see that there is anything the least bit wrong with them. You may have communicated with your partner that there is a fundamental problem, but due to the nature of NPD, they simply cannot conceive there is a problem. This may present a very difficult impasse, but if the problem is eventually acknowledged, there are effective treatments.
What is one kind of treatment for NPD?
Psychotherapy (sometimes referred to as talk therapy) is considered the best treatment for NPD. You should do research before choosing a therapist–do not just choose the first therapist you find on Yelp or by googling “NPD Therapists”.
What do experts have to say
Generally, these NPD specialists will have similar advice. People who suffer from NPD are full of themselves. They think everything and everybody in the world revolves around them, so the first thing they must learn to recognize is that this simply is not true.
They must learn empathy–the ability to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes. Empathy must be developed in someone who has NPD.
How to do this?
The therapist may give you super specific strategies for developing empathy, but there are some ways you can encourage empathy.
So how can I develop empathy in someone with NPD?
You can use what is called “empathy prompts.” These are questions designed to make the person with NPD to think about something or someone other than themselves. Here is an example:
“I consider you an important friend. When you are late so often, I feel you don’t value our time together.” This lets them know you value them, but it also shifts the focus to you. You state the importance of the other person, and you nudge the other person into thinking about you and ultimately we.
What are other treatments for NPD?
Finding the right sort of treatment for mental disorders is very difficult. With NPD, this is even more so because most times the person suffering from NPD does not believe there is any kind of problem. This research for finding the right sort of treatment for NPD is detailed here.
Group therapy is also another way that NPD can be treated. This can also be more cost-effective than one on one therapy.
No matter which sort of therapy is sought, rest assured that narcissists can change.
Take a look here for more information about having a successful relationship.