Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder and something that can make relationships very difficult if not impossible. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may struggle with friendships, family relationships and romantic relationships. When it comes to narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships, what should you know and what should you be prepared for if you believe you could be in an intimate relationship with someone who has this disorder?
Learning More About Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Relationships
Before exploring the connections between narcissistic personality disorder and relationships, it’s useful to have a true understanding of what narcissistic personality disorder is. Many people throw the term “narcissist” around casually, but narcissistic personality disorder is a diagnosable and serious mental health disorder. When narcissism exists in a person, it can make relationships challenging if not impossible.
- Narcissistic personality disorder or NPD is defined by a sense of grandiosity about oneself, a lack of empathy for others, and a need for constant admiration.
- Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder may be described as self-centered and demanding, with an inflated sense of self.
- Arrogance and manipulation are other defining characteristics of this personality disorder. Other features include someone being emotionally abusive. It’s difficult for a malignant narcissist to make a good partner.
- Someone with NPD believes they require and deserve special treatment and they see themselves as being superior to others. For example, they may believe because of their beauty, intelligence or success others should treat them differently.
When someone has narcissistic personality disorder, they may believe they can and should only associate with other people who are equally as brilliant or wonderful as they are.
Despite feelings of grandiosity, when someone has narcissistic personality disorder they often actually have a fragile ego beneath the surface. People with narcissistic personality disorder aren’t able to tolerate criticism. If someone does criticize or reject them, it can be crippling.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
If you are wondering about narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships, you may have already noticed some of these symptoms. Specific symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder may include:
- An over-inflated or exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Requires constant admiration and attention from other people
- Preoccupation with success, beauty, power, intelligence or having the “ideal” romantic relationship
- A belief that he or she can be understood only by other very special people
- Unreasonable expectations for how he or she should be treated
- Manipulates or takes advantage of others to achieve one’s own goals
- Disregards feelings of others
- Lack of empathy
- Is envious of other people or believes others are envious of him or her
- Arrogant attitudes and behaviors
Research indicates that anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of people diagnosed with this particular personality disorder are males.
When a person is diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, treatment can be difficult.
- As with other personality disorders, when someone has NPD, they may not realize they have a problem. Instead, they may believe the problem lies in others or the situation around them.
- Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may be defensive when confronted with potential problems
However, if someone is willing to receive treatment, psychotherapy can be helpful and depending on the situation, medication may be used to treat specific symptoms. There isn’t a particular medicine approved to treat personality disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder vs. Narcissism
The terms narcissist or narcissism are thrown around in many circumstances, but how do these differ from a narcissistic personality disorder? A narcissistic partner doesn’t necessarily mean that your romantic partner has a personality disorder.
Only around one percent of the population has narcissistic personality disorder. At the same time, many people who have narcissistic personality disorder don’t receive a diagnosis or treatment.
Around 75 percent of people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder are men.
- A narcissistic personality disorder is one in which the narcissist feels they are in the right and they see nothing wrong with their beliefs, behaviors or emotions.
- Someone with true NPD feels a sense of superiority about others, yet below the surface, the person is often very delicate.
- Someone with NPD has a hard time functioning not only in romantic relationships but in many other situations as well. Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder can become socially isolated, yet they still see nothing wrong with themselves because of their personality disorder.
- A person can be narcissistic without having a personality disorder. A narcissist may be difficult to get along with and have many of the same negative traits of someone with a personality disorder, but they aren’t mentally ill.
People who are narcissists are often very successful in their lives because of their over-abundance of confidence and self-assurance. Someone with a personality disorder is not likely to enjoy a lot of success in their life, and personality disorders can significantly impair functionality.
Are There Different Types of Narcissists?
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist and you’re learning how to deal with a narcissist, you may be surprised to learn there are actually different types. While all narcissists may have some shared characteristics, not all types are the same.
The two broad types of narcissists are grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists.
A grandiose narcissist will display patterns of grandiosity, as the term implies. A grandiose narcissist will also often display behaviors of dominance and arrogance. Someone who is a grandiose narcissist may be even less sensitive to the needs of other people than the other type, which is a vulnerable narcissist.
A vulnerable narcissist is someone who is sensitive, and their narcissism is a cover for deeper feelings of inadequacy.
The development of vulnerable narcissism often occurs as a coping mechanism when someone has dealt with neglect or abuse in their childhood. Someone who is a vulnerable narcissist tends to have concerns about how their romantic partner views them, and that can lead to outward signs such as jealousy and paranoia.
What Is a Covert Narcissist?
When it comes to the topic of relationships and narcissism or romantic relationships and narcissistic personality disorder, it’s also worth discussing covert narcissists. A covert narcissist might be more introverted than a typical narcissist or someone with narcissistic personality disorder.
For example, a covert narcissist might be less likely to crave attention, but no less damaging to be in a relationship with.
Instead of displaying signs of narcissism like aggressiveness or the need to be the constant center of attention, a covert narcissist will often seem depressed and will have feelings of emptiness. Outwardly and initially the covert narcissist may appear to be anxious or shy. However, over time it becomes apparent that a covert narcissist will often feel misunderstood and not appreciated.
Someone who is a covert narcissist will often think they deserve greatness and to be treated as if they are special and it makes them angry when that doesn’t happen.
Someone who is a covert narcissist can still be diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder.
Other signs and symptoms of a covert narcissist include:
- While the traditional narcissist wants and demands to be the center of attention, a covert narcissist tends to feel angry at the fact they’re not getting the attention they feel they deserve
- A covert narcissist will often play the victim as a way of gaining attention
- A narcissist thinks other people are stupid or boring, and they aren’t good listeners even though they seem introverted
- Covert narcissists get other people to do what they want through using passive-aggressiveness
- Manipulation is one of the main characteristics of all narcissists including covert narcissists and getting people to pity them is one of the primary ways this type of narcissist will gain control over others
- Self-pity can be a sign of a covert narcissist and rather than putting other people down this particular type of narcissist will often express a sense of jealousy over people
Why Are People Drawn to Narcissists?
There is a reason that people are so drawn to narcissists and may find themselves in romantic relationships who either have characteristics of narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder.
In the beginning, narcissist partners tend to have a lot of allure. They often appear to have larger-than-life, confident personalities and they are the center of attention in many situations. Someone who is a narcissist may come off as being the life of the party.
They can also convince potential romantic partners that if they were to choose them, they would be as special and wonderful as the narcissist.
Most narcissists on the surface and when people first meet them are likable and attractive, and it takes time for that façade to wear away and for someone to see the true characteristics of a narcissist.
What Are the Effects of Narcissistic Personality Disorder on Romantic Relationships?
As you may already know or be able to imagine, the combination of narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships is one that can be extremely challenging. Narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships can often lead to abuse patterns, whether physically, verbally or both.
So why are the patterns of narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships so difficult? There are many reasons. Some of these include:
- When someone has narcissistic personality disorder, they have little to no empathy for the emotions of others. Empathy is extremely important in any relationship because you can consider how your actions will make another person feel. You don’t want to hurt others, and you’re able to recognize this through your sense of empathy. If you lack empathy, as most people with NPD do, you aren’t able to understand how your words and behaviors will affect another person. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may even be able to realize they are causing someone pain, but they might not even care.
- Someone with NPD often isn’t able to accept a person for who they include the good and the bad. They can’t accept what they perceive as another persons’ imperfections and still value them. Narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships can often lead to extreme black and white scenarios where in the beginning the narcissistic person puts you on a pedestal and then when they realize you aren’t perfect; they begin to devalue or abuse you.
- People with narcissistic personality disorder often do want to settle down and have a long-term relationship, but they want perfection. When they can’t find what they view as perfect, it becomes problematic.
- People with narcissistic personality disorder who are in romantic relationships can’t accept their flaws or their own imperfection, so they don’t take accountability for their actions or their wrongs within the relationship. If you are in a romantic relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder and you do attempt to criticize them or point out their poor behavior, it may be met with rage.
- If you are in a relationship with a narcissist or narcissistic personality disorder, you may feel lonely because you become more like an accessory than a person. You may feel that your partner is always perceiving himself as right while you are wrong. This leads to a diminishing sense of self, and a negative self-image.
Narcissistic personality disorders and romantic relationships can be troubling, to say the least, but as with other personality disorders, NPD does occur on a spectrum. This means not everyone has severe narcissistic personality disorder. Having milder or more moderate symptoms is possible. In fact, of the people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, less than five percent have severe, full-blown NPD.
What Should You Do If You’re In a Romantic Relationship with a Narcissist?
Another question you may have about narcissistic personality disorders and romantic relationships is what to do if you are already romantically involved with a narcissist.
It’s easier for this to happen than you might think because, in the beginning, someone with NPD will often worship their new romantic partner. It’s not until later in the relationship they might start to show the negative signs of narcissistic personality disorder.
- Once you start to see red flags, the first thing to do is learn more about narcissistic personality disorder. The more you learn, and you educate yourself on the traits of NPD, the less likely you are to spend time trying to figure out if you’re the problem or how you can help the other person.
- You might also look for support resources such as online support groups for people who love a narcissist and are involved in a romantic relationship with them.
- Once you learn more about narcissistic personality disorder, you will likely find that you have only two real options. The first is to leave the relationship and the second is to try and encourage the person to receive help.
- You may try to set boundaries, and this can help, but only if the person you’re in a relationship with is willing to accept those boundaries.
- Remember if you are in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, you should leave.
If you are in a romantic relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder you may have to create strict emotional boundaries for yourself. It can also be extremely time-consuming, and it can be a long-term process for someone with NPD to receive intensive psychotherapy to help them with the condition.
Assessing Why You Would Be in a Romantic Relationship with a Narcissist
Sometimes, if you find that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist or maybe you have a pattern of being in relationships with similar people, you might want to tackle what it is about these people that are attracting you and what changes you might want to make yourself.
Ultimately when it comes to narcissistic personality disorder and romantic relationships, while they aren’t impossible, it’s extremely difficult. For many people who find themselves in a relationship with someone who has NPD, the best option is to leave the relationship if possible, as hard as it may be.
For example, many people who end up in romantic relationships with narcissists grew up with a narcissistic parent. As a result, they may feel more comfortable being in a similar role in romantic relationships where the narcissistic person dominates that relationship.
Another reason that someone might be in relationships with narcissists can be because they have a negative sense of self-image. The person in a relationship with a narcissist might either want to be in a relationship with someone who seems to be in the spotlight all the time, or they might feel the negative way they’re treated by the narcissist reinforces how they feel about themselves.
A third big reason some people find themselves in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic tendencies or has narcissistic personality disorder is because of co-dependency. Someone may feel comfortable in the submissive role because they lack the confidence to set healthy boundaries for themselves.
When you have a better understanding of your role in the relationship dynamic, it can help you gain a deeper sense of what to do next. For example, maybe this helps you realize the only option is leaving the relationship entirely, or perhaps it helps you realize that both of you in the relationship would benefit from therapy.
Is a Narcissist Capable of Real Love?
If you’re in a narcissistic relationship and you’re unsure of what to do you may wonder if the other person is even capable of real love.
Many narcissists will try to remove themselves from real or perceived negative feelings or feelings of rejection. They do this as a protection mechanism, and so in doing so they also often block out the feelings of affection or love they may have for another person.
At the beginning of a relationship, a narcissist may appear more loving because they don’t feel as vulnerable. However, as time goes on and they feel as if they’re hurt or wounded, or they become afraid of showing their true self to their partner, they will increasingly push the other person away.
When someone has narcissistic personality disorder or symptoms of narcissism, they often don’t allow themselves to feel love or form a loving relationship because of their own fears of inadequacy and rejection.
The thought of getting too close to another person or letting them into their world can make the narcissist feel extreme discomfort and distress to the point that they’re so guarded that there’s no way for them to be in a meaningful relationship with another person.
The bottom line is that a narcissistic relationship is one that’s challenging and perhaps nearly impossible.
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Mayo Clinic Staff. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed January 29, 2019.
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