Can You Have A Healthy Relationship With A Narcissist?
You may have just discovered that you’re in relationship with a person who is a narcissist, and feeling overwhelmed right now. The question that you may be asking yourself is, can you have a healthy relationship with a narcissist? Perhaps you want to understand the ways you can make a relationship work with a narcissist. Or, you may be wondering if there’s any hope in the relationship at all.
After being lured into a relationship with a narcissist, you may have realized that the actual person was not who they portrayed themselves to be, once you’ve encountered narcissistic rage, devaluation, gaslighting, infidelity and being discarded. Perhaps you can identify with this.
So, why is it difficult to have a relationship a narcissist? Can a narcissist get close? Why do they lack empathy for their partner and only consider their own needs?
To have a relationship that is heathy with a narcissist, it is important to understand how the narcissist relates.
Why its difficult to make a relationship work with a narcissistic person?
- The narcissist was not valued for who they really were, and were shamed when expressing vulnerable feelings. So they struggle to show vulnerability or feelings because it causes them to feel weak or inadequate.
- They protect themselves from feeling this way by pushing their feelings down, by projection, discarding, gaslighting or devaluation.
- You cannot confront a narcissist when you’re in a relationship, otherwise they will turn it around. They cannot hear criticism, but deflect blame, so it will be your fault or everyone else’s.
- A narcissist feels special, so they expect admiration, acknowledgement and perfect mirroring and gets extremely disappointed when others do not acknowledge their importance.
- A narcissist can portray that they are the victim, so others are wrong. They can discard or devalue their partner when they do not treat them special or stop supplying their needs.
- They have unrealistic expectations of what to expect from their partner.
The narcissist can cut off from feelings when they feel hurt, by appearing cold and aloof. Underneath the grandiose false self is a vulnerable and fragile person (impaired real self), who hides to cover the vulnerability. This makes it extremely difficult to form a close relationship with a narcissist because they feel ashamed when they feel vulnerable or hurt, causing them to appear aloof or distant.
They will stonewall and disregard your feelings, if you injure or wound the narcissist. So, it feels that narcissists are incapable of having a healthy relationship. If you do not understand what really underlies their tough exterior, you can’t connect with them at all.
Many want to know why is it difficult to have a relationship with a narcissist and how can they have a relationship with a person with narcissistic traits? So, why do so many struggle to connect with the narcissistic partner?
Once a narcissist has captivated their partner into a relationship, the real problems start to emerge when the partner starts to expose what is really behind the false façade, when the idealised fusion disappears.
Once the partner stops mirroring their grandiosity or how perfect they are, the narcissist feels deflated, since they rely upon the idealised supplies or approval of others in order to keep their fragile self-esteem intact, to boost their grandiosity.
They may not be consciously rejecting you, but defending against feeling vulnerable when they stonewall or pull away.
The narcissist believes it is the partner causing them to feel inadequate or empty, instead of realising that these feelings are within themselves. So, they project their feelings on to their partner and find things wrong with them.
Gaslighting is one way to make the partner feel wrong about their perception of reality. The narcissist defends to protect their false grandiose self by projecting their inadequacies onto their partner, so the partner feels blamed for the problems
If a narcissist felt exposed when his partner caught him having an affair, he would blame his the relationship for how terrible he was feeling, rather than take ownership.
The partner is seen as a narcissistic extension, a reflection of their self-esteem, who must also be perfect. Many realise that the narcissist has high expectations of their partner, often correcting their behaviour.
Narcissists expect a lot in a relationship and often the partner feels that they do not measure up to the narcissist’s standards. The narcissist can put pressure on their spouse to be perfect or do things their way. The relationship with the narcissist becomes about meeting their expectations in order to satisfy them.
They will expect their partner to mirror how perfect they are by admiring them, or do the things they want of them. So their partner often feels pressure to live up to their expectations to make them feel special. Otherwise the narcissist feels empty or inadequate when others do not prioritise them.
Many individuals feel it is like walking on egg shells, fearful to say anything that ruptures them, because the narcissist is fragile underneath. Many feel they have to be perfectly attuned to their needs and feelings all the time, otherwise the narcissist will devalue or stonewall.
It seems the only way to have a relationship with a narcissist is to meet their expectations, be on the same page as them, perfect oneself, and not disagree or have a separate opinion.
Those in a toxic relationship with a narcissist tend to accommodate their every need. Many end up losing themselves in the relationship with a narcissist, or giving a lot, in order to meet their needs, to fill the empty void of the narcissist.
Many spouses say that the narcissist has no empathy for them and does not consider their needs, so it is impossible to have a relationship with a NPD person.
Directly raising issues in a relationship with a narcissist goes nowhere. Any attempt to bring up their behaviour can cause the narcissist to turn it around and blame you for the problem, so its easy back down and give up your own mind. So you’ll go along with them and keep the peace, giving up your sense of self.
It seems futile communicating with narcissists.. They can avoid listening to their spouse when they feel injured or feel criticised, in order to protect their vulnerability and avoid getting hurt.
Having a romantic relationship with a narcissist means you risk getting hurt. They pick themselves up by having affairs, addictions such as porn. They cut off from feelings or attack back instead of take ownership for their problems, so they cannot take responsibility for their issues. They cannot handle criticism or exposure of not being perfect, so they devalue those who expose them. When others confront their mistakes they often prove that others are wrong, in order to defeat others and win.
It is destructive having a relationship with a narcissist. The partner questions themselves or doubts themselves, often backing down or gives up on their own thoughts and opinions. Narcissists cover up the things they do wrong, to avoid judgment, shame or humiliation. Narcissists hide their hurt, and avoid intimacy when they feel exposed. The relationships feels cold and empty.
You will feel weighed down in a relationship with a narcissist. They depend on others for supplies. Otherwise, they feel the emptiness underlying their impaired real self. When wounded, they inflate their grandiosity or boost themselves up by proving how good they are or criticise the injuring partner, to avoid feeling inadequate. Addressing their behavior causes them to devalue.
Ways You Can Have A Relationship With A Narcissist that’s not unhealthy
Usually the partner tries to accommodate the needs of narcissists or placates their anger, but it only reinforces their behaviour and supports their pathological grandiosity.
Tips to handle a relationship with a narcissistic partner
- Accept who they really are
The only way to relate to the narcissist is accepting who they really are, a vulnerable real self that feels flawed for not being perfect, not admiring their false grandiose self that covers how they really feel. This means not propping them up by meeting all their needs or demands. They can relate more authentically when they feel accepted for who they really are.
2. Do not take on board what they say, it doesn’t reflect you.
Narcissists project their fantasy onto others by thinking wrongly of others intentions or being suspicious of them. While also project that others are critical of them. So, you have to be mindful that they will most likely see you the wrong way, but its not who you really are, so do not take this personally. Do not try to defend yourself because they will feel attacked and attack you back.
3. Understand the feeling behind their reaction and communicate to how they feel.
Instead of react, ask yourself what are they feeling behind their reaction and acknowledge their feelings. You can say “I understand that you felt hurt when I forgot to call, and now you feel not important, which I am sorry you felt this way”. By doing so, you’re indirectly letting them know you are not what they think you are, by being attuned to how they are feeling and acknowledging their hurt.
4. Accept how they feel
Directly pointing out how they are wrong will cause them to devalue you for exposing who they really are. Unless, you show you understand them and offer the space to be heard and accepted for how they really feel – the real self.
The only way to get close to a narcissist is show that you get them, and understand their pain by acknowledging how they feel, while understanding their vulnerable feelings. So they can feel accepted for who they really are – an imperfect human being.
5. Set limits and boundaries on unrealistic expectations, don’t give in.
Having a relationship that’s healthy with a narcissistic person does not mean you collude with their expectations or give into them. You need to set limits on their grandiosity, otherwise they will expect the world. But gently let them fall off the pedestal, so they can live in the real world, and re-align their expectations in accordance with reality. The world is not their Oyster and they should not get away with everything they want. Otherwise, they continue to live within the delusional grandiose fantasy world, of seeking endless supplies.
5. Do not confront their behaviour or react
If the narcissist feels criticised they will attack back, rather the take on board feedback about themselves. So, you have to gently deflate their grandiosity, so they do not fall so hard and break.
There is an art form for talking with narcissists, to open them up and let down their emotional guard. Behind the false self façade is usually a very vulnerable individual.
No one should put up with narcissistic abuse, or let them get away with their behaviour, otherwise it enables them to continue to get away with it and damage the partner.
Therapy is always recommended in dealing with ways to handle a relationship with a narcissist.
The Masterson therapeutic approach dismantles the grandiose defensive layer by accepting the real vulnerable self underneath, while modulating the pain of not feeling perfect, so they can feel less defensive and able to process information, rather than become defensive.
If the defensive behavior is abusive, then perhaps the partner needs counselling to address what unhealed aspect of them causes them to subjugate their needs. So that they can take better care of themselves.
When narcissists feel criticised, they feel inadequate and project these feelings onto others, rather to listen to their partner. So couples therapy can assist the narcissist to take-in how their spouse feels and take on board constructive feedback about themselves.
Our narcissistic individual counselling services assists to modify the harsh self representation, where the narcissist are critical of themselves and assist them to mange the pain of deflating grandiosity, so that they can allow themselves to feel more comfortable with intimacy and vulnerability. So, they can overcome the pattern of discarding or cutting from their emotions when they feel hurt or wounded.
Therapy assists to modulate the harsh feelings, so that they do not need to project their feelings onto others. Therapy helps to re-align their expectations in accordance with reality, while considering how others feel.
Melbourne’s Couples therapy for narcissists is designed to assist the narcissist to deal with issues in the marriage without gaslighting, discarding or devaluing, so that they can take responsibility for their problems.
The entry point for reaching a narcissist is connecting with their real self, not complying with their false grandiose desires by giving them what they want. Once they feel understood, they are more open to listen to others, rather than being defensive. Yet, it depends on how severe the pathology is. You always need to protect yourself with dealing with a relationship with a narcissistic person.
Nancy Carbone offers relationship counselling Melbourne. She specialises in dealing with relationships with narcissistic personality disorders, trained from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute for treatment of personality disorders. If you want to know if you can have a relationship that is healthy with a narcissist you can contact Nancy on the contact form. You can also sign up on her newsletter for free advice and tips
All content is copyright Nancy Carbone 2017Back to Blog Home