Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition wherein the affected aggrandizes their self-importance in exaggerated and often destructive ways. It is largely believed to be the product of certain parenting styles coupled with sensitive personalities and is often combatted with talk-therapy. NPD makes for a particularly destructive personality disorder when paired with alcoholism, drug abuse, or physical abuse- most especially when the person suffering from NPD is the one with these further problems, although coping with others in their lives suffering from these issues can be nearly equal in their negative effect.
NPD is generally characterized in two distinct mindsets. The first is a sort of inflated self-worth wherein the sufferer tends to see themselves in an unrealistically positive light. These people tend to have wildly unrealistic expectations in relationships and have difficulty acting with humility and respect towards others. The second is the exact opposite wherein the sufferer feels constantly pressured to perform at above average standards and that failure will be met with extreme consequences. In both cases, the sufferer’s impact on the outside world is exponentially magnified in their own perception and they find immense difficulty in empathizing with others. They can act selfishly and appear cold and sometimes even arrogant; NPD has also exhibited advanced egocentrism in some sufferers. Irrational outbursts are common with both personalities, often times it is feelings of hopelessness and anger that are the most prominent, and these can appear in great force at seemingly small triggers. It is also common for sufferers to exhibit both of these mental states, wherein they operate with an inflated ego and seemingly solid confidence and yet are extremely vulnerable to criticism.
Living with a parent suffering from NPD can be especially confusing and difficult, as children look to their parents to provide stability and rational, objective responses to both good and bad behavior. As an adult, I have come to terms with my dad and his lifelong suffering via NPD. I did not understand him very well as I grew up and it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I started to realize the answer to his irrational thinking and inability to empathize with his own family. He exhibits many classical symptoms of NPD- irrational, inappropriately forceful outbursts of anger and frustration, the inability to empathize emotionally with anybody, even close family members, feeling that the entirety of our homelife rested solely and totally on his shoulders, and the consistent deflection of expressions of concerns or frustration on the family’s part, often exacerbated by defensiveness, further irrational anger and egocentrism. Any talks that my dad should seek professional help were usually met with an angry, sarcastic retort or, on better days, deflected by humor. Anything resembling a confrontation about his destructive attitude was usually met with fierce resistance and he usually did everything he could to turn the situation into a ‘me versus them’ or attribute any problems to our own sensitivities.
As with most mental and social disorders, most therapy is intended for the sufferer themselves while family members and friends must find their own methods. Coping with a friend or family member who has NPD is a challenge and sometimes and worse still it is a challenge that you have very little control over. Here is a short and certainly not complete list of things to keep in mind when coping:
- Know what you’re dealing with – Understand what NPD is and how it affects self-perception. Being knowledgeable about NPD will help you expect and cope better with outbursts, feelings of frustration or self-loathing, and other emotional overflow from the sufferer. Understand that these feelings aren’t always rational and that you won’t be able to simply explain them away or expect words of comfort- no matter how eloquent or well intentioned- to fix the problem. Learning about the disorder might also help you anticipate trigger terms or situations in your loved one, which can help you avoid them altogether or approach them with some preparation. Above all, use this knowledge empathetically.
- Rationale isn’t always rational – It is important to understand that the person suffering from NPD may see a logical path of reaction in their outburst while bystanders are completely flabbergasted. It is important to keep in mind that someone with NPD has a very skewed view of the outside world. Things may make sense in their internal monologue but egocentrism might inhibit the outsider from seeing the full problem. Being aware of this skewed world view can help diffuse outbursts or avoid them altogether.
- Familiarize yourself with symptoms – Coping with a loved one who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an immense challenge, and one that can be hurtful. Someone with NPD can believe themselves better than others, even their own family, and will belittle and explode at them just as they would anyone else. This makes it vitally important that you are aware of the characteristic symptoms of NPD, so that you can better cope with outbursts or inappropriate comments. The most common symptoms of NPD are: inflated ego, expectation of constant praise/admiration, belief that they are special/better, willingness to take advantage of others, disdain for others, jealousy, oversensitive to criticism, inability to recognize other’s feelings or accomplishments, manipulative behavior, unrealistic goals/dreams, outbursts of rage/contempt with little provocation, sense of entitlement.
- Consider treatment but expect resistance – Treating NPD is made nearly impossible thanks to the disorder itself. Explaining to someone with NPD that they should seek counseling will rarely be met with an open mind. Generally, the person will become defensive and possibly belligerent, perhaps even going so far as to blame family members, friends, or deflect concerns entirely. The hardest thing about NPD, is getting the sufferer to seek treatment. And this brings me to my final tip…
- Understand that this is out of your control– You cannot force the sufferer to go to therapy and you cannot force them to consider others’ opinions. NPD is a personality disorder and will not respond to well-intentioned attempts at reasoning. You need to understand and accept that expecting someone with NPD to empathize with you or others is going to lead to frustration and disappointment. You cannot control the way someone thinks, even if it is frustrating and destructive and hurtful. You can, however, realize that they are struggling and suffering in their own right. You may need, if the severity of the case demands it, to stop expecting appropriate emotional investment or empathetic responses entirely. If your loved one will not seek counseling, it may be wise to seek it yourself. Cognitive therapy or counseling may provide you with new insight to coping with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Always remember that you cannot control others, but you can control yourself and the way you react to a given situation.
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