Have you heard of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is something that few people seem to have heard of. Once you become aware of it you may discover examples of it in relationships friends or family members are in, or even recognise that you have perhaps been in such a relationship. Knowledge is power, so read on!
Many people are at least vaguely familiar with narcissism, “You know you are around a narcissist when someone brings all conversations back to them and their stories and interests. They really can’t listen for more than a mere moment to others (unless the topic is about them).” Narcissistic Personality Disorder is at the extreme end of the narcissistic spectrum.
So, what what does Narcissistic Personality Disorder look like in a relationship context?
This slideshow gives an excellent introduction into how Narcissistic Personality Disorder tends to present in relationships:
What you need to know
A relationship with someone who has signs of NPD creates a lot of confusion. The relationship will often start out seeming “perfect”, often with lots of synchronicity.
The relationship will typically become serious fast, with trust quickly established, meaning you may feel comfortable to agree to buying property, getting engaged, falling pregnant etc more quickly than may usually happen in a developing relationship.
The narcissist may be very charismatic and mould themselves to fit the absolute ideal of their partner; a “soul mate.”
How things unfold
As the relationship progresses, there are often lies and manipulation, things that don’t add up, false promises, betrayals, strange behaviour and forms of abuse. Weaknesses are found and exploited. Negotiation on almost any point is impossible; it is their way or the highway. This can sometimes be mistaken for strength or decisiveness. Obsessive or controlling behaviour may be mistaken for simply knowing what they want, or “true love.”
When questioned or confronted about particular behaviours or stories, such people will tend to talk in circles, deflect, project or become enraged. Words don’t match actions. They don’t follow through. Nothing is ever their fault. Setting boundaries in such situations is almost impossible, as the boundaries won’t be respected. And yet, behaviour can also quickly switch back to charming and “normal”, providing hope that maybe the person was just having “a bad day” (week/month/year).
Very often, there are “valid reasons” for the behaviour – a difficult childhood which may include abuse, life challenges, “bad luck”, or acknowledged mental health or dependency issues, which can cause the partner to feel sorry for them and even defend their poor behaviour to others.
The promise of the “fresh start”
Occasionally the person with signs of NPD may seem to “own” their behaviour and even seem to make attempts at change. However this will tend to be temporary.
There may be promises of a “fresh start” or “new beginnings” – but despite an optimistic outlook, this won’t translate into reality.
Sometimes, when confronted, or when you’ve reached a point where you’ve had enough, they might seem to do a rapid about face, and seem to completely change. This can create a sense of relief – maybe you won’t need to break up with them after all. These kinds of dramatic turnarounds tend to be short-lived, and old patterns soon return.
You start taking on more responsibility – for them
When in a relationship with such a person, you will often end up feeling like you are taking on increasingly levels of responsibility, both for their wellbeing and happiness, and to try to drive the relationship and your life together “forward.”
You may find yourself justifying that things are “fine” and your partner does have great qualities – even though deep down it’s just not feeling right. You may not recognise the dysfunction that is progressively unfolding, and your own behaviour may become dysfunctional in an attempt to deal with the dysfunction. You may start normalising and defending the dysfunction. Your true feelings may feel like an inconvenience to be managed rather than a clear indicator that something is wrong.
You don’t just need to work harder
The “injured party” often holds onto the “perfect partner illusion”, hoping if they work harder, things will return to “how they were”, even as the relationship continues to deteriorate. The perceived perfection of this person and the relationship can be hard to let go of and means that many people in this kind of relationship might find it hard to leave, and in fact wonder (as the narcissist will no doubt be telling them) if the problem is actually their own.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder certainly goes beyond typical relationship “difficulties” and contains elements of abuse that may not be so readily identified. As such, many smart, capable, kind, caring, compassionate, seemingly independent women (and some men) can find themselves caught up in such a relationship and not understand how it possibly could have happened.
How do you know for sure the person has NPD?
It is very difficult to get a diagnosis, as someone with the disorder will not typically feel they are the one with the problem; it’s everyone else. They will also tend to manipulate and lie to therapists even if they do seek treatment. So don’t get too hung up on the diagnosis aspect. Don’t try to fix or educate the narcissist (ie, there’s no need to send them this post!) If you recognise the signs in a present or past partner, and have associated pain, seek support, in whatever form feels best for you.
If you or someone you know is in a relationship with someone who shows the signs of NPD, it’s likely that you, or they, will be feeing rather confused for a number of very good reasons. However all the confusing behaviours and feelings are in fact quite a predictable formula in the context of the disorder, and once you can identify and understand what might be going on, you can take action and get the help you need.
Don’t get stuck in the gathering information phase
For someone who has been in such a relationship and then finds out about the disorder, it is apparently common to become quite obsessive about learning about it as it’s such a relief to put the pieces together. However it keeps you focused on the narcissist and their behaviour.
Whilst it is quite natural to want to learn all about it, once you’re over that initial phase, and have educated your support network (you might send your friends and family this post), your focus must go onto your own healing and how you’re going to move forwards, not stay stuck focused on the narcissist. I recommend NARP.
The healing process
There is a chemical addiction that is created when you are in/leave a relationship with someone with NPD, as your body has become used to being in a state of fight/flight, high alert, confusion, weirdness, chaos and stress all the time. It is common to literally experience withdrawal symptoms as you come off that (like, literally the same as coming off a drug addiction), and to feel worse rather than better. This is why people sometimes go back to abusive relationships. Melanie says that “no contact” with the perpetrator is mandatory (or “modified contact” if children are involved).
The months after the narcissistic abuse has ended/contact has been severed and things quieten down is considered a real danger time. Symptoms like adrenaline surges, panic attacks, PTSD (post traumatic stress), flash backs, obsessive thoughts and depression are very common in the months or years afterwards. Of course, understanding what is happening and seeking an appropriate level of support can substantially decrease the severity of such symptoms. You must focus on yourself and what you need to heal.
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program
Melanie Tonia Evans is an Australian who specialises in Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You can join her informative newsletter here.
Melanie’s excellent Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program (NARP) is what I now recommend to all my clients or contacts who feel they have been in this kind of relationship. Clients who have used it speak very highly of it.
Her program helps you clear the pain out of your body energetically, and deal with many other aspects, such as releasing the illusion of the “perfect” partner. Being a digital program, you can use the modules every day if needed, to help you move forwards powerfully and decisively.
NARP is useful whether you’ve just left such a relationship, or you know you’re holding onto wounds from years ago. I recommend it to anyone who has experienced any form of abuse in any relationship, people who feel they always attract unavailable partners, who are scared of being abandoned or who just can’t attract the relationship they desire.
Healing any inner wounds related to these issues is ALWAYS worthwhile and this program helps you do that on a deep level. In fact I used this program myself to heal from a relationship with someone who had NPD.
Melanie has since interviewed me for her Thriver series.
As you move forwards, at some point you are likely to be ready to open yourself up to new relationships. You might be worried about attracting another narcissist. Spend time learning about what makes a great relationship and let go of old relationship patterns.
Whilst paying attention to red flags is certainly wise, the best “defence” is a combo of:
- Knowing you are worthy of love and respect
- Respecting and caring for yourself – as your FIRST priority
- Having a strong “no” (and backing it up with action if it’s not heard)
- Knowing that your “weaknesses” and “faults” are NOT a justification for put downs
- Expecting other people in your life to treat you with respect and courtesy, even if they disagree with you, are stressed, are going through “a difficult time”, had a challenging childhood or whatever
- Knowing you can and will remove people from your life who put you down or don’t respect your opinions, needs and boundaries
- Knowing you are always better off alone than with someone who is treating you poorly
- Learning to trust your own feelings and gut instinct – and acting on them
When you know that you will always respect and honour yourself, look after your own best interests first, recognise unhealthy patterns and walk away in a flash when you recognise your needs aren’t being met, you are far more likely to attract a healthy relationship, and move on at any sign of dysfunction.
If you’re going through this yourself, remember knowledge IS power. You can and will move on from this. Commit to your recovery. Freedom awaits.
Please send this post to anyone who you think may benefit from learning about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.