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Can you live with a narcissist?

What is narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy. People with narcissistic personality disorder believe they are superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. They tend to exaggerate their own talents and achievements while being intolerant and impatient with others.

Some key signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include:

– Grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement
– Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, or ideal love
– Belief they are special and unique and can only be understood by other special people
– Need for excessive admiration
– Sense of entitlement to special treatment
– Exploitation of others for personal gain
– Lack of empathy for others’ needs and feelings
– Envy of others or belief others are envious of them
– Arrogant behaviors and attitudes

What is it like to be in a relationship with a narcissist?

Being in a close relationship with someone who has strong narcissistic traits can be very challenging and draining. Here are some common experiences when dealing with a narcissistic partner:

Feeling devalued

Narcissists tend to lack empathy and have little interest in their partner’s feelings, needs, or interests. Their partner exists mainly to cater to the narcissist’s constant needs for affirmation, admiration, and service. The narcissistic partner rarely reciprocates or shows appreciation. Their partner’s role is to prop up the narcissist’s inflated ego.

Walking on eggshells

Having to constantly tiptoe around the narcissist’s moods and avoid triggering their anger or disappointment is a common experience. Their outbursts and rage can happen without warning over seemingly small incidents. Their partner often feels like they have to be on guard constantly.

Blame shifting

Narcissists have difficulty taking responsibility for their own mistakes and misdeeds. They will find ways to shift blame to their partner and make them feel responsible. Their partner often feels excessively guilty over issues they did not cause.

Undermining self-esteem

A narcissist’s belittling comments, name-calling, gaslighting, and emotional abuse often leave their partner feeling worthless and inadequate. The constant criticism erodes the partner’s self-esteem over time.


A narcissist tends to isolate their partner from outside influences and support networks. They may actively sabotage their partner’s relationships with family and friends. The partner becomes increasingly dependent on the narcissist, while the narcissist gains more control.

One-sided relationship

Relationships with narcissists tend to be very one-sided with little reciprocity. Their needs and interests are central, while the partner’s are considered insignificant. Their partner often feels more like an accessory or a servant than an equal partner.

Why is it so difficult to leave a narcissistic partner?

Ending a relationship with a narcissistic partner is often extremely challenging for several reasons:

Trauma bonding

The ongoing cycle of abuse followed by affection or apologies helps create strong trauma bonds or Stockholm syndrome-like effects. The victim becomes emotionally bonded and dependent on their narcissistic abuser.

Eroded self-esteem

The narcissist’s continual belittling, gaslighting, and even outright emotional abuse eats away at the victim’s self-esteem over time. They start to believe the criticisms and feel unworthy of love, incapable of independence.

Social isolation

The narcissist systematically isolates the victim from friends, family, and other previously supportive relationships over time. The victim feels like the narcissist is the only person they have left.

Financial dependence

In some cases, the narcissist may deliberately sabotage their partner’s job prospects, education, or financial independence. The victim feels trapped due to lack of financial resources.

Fear and threats

When the partner tries to leave, the narcissist often unleashes their full fury through threats, aggression, and frightening behavior. The victim feels too terrified to leave.

False hope

The narcissist will sometimes promise change and behave with remorse or charm after incidents of abuse. The victim desperately hopes the nice persona will last, but the abuse always returns.

How should you approach a relationship with a narcissist?

If you find yourself involved with a narcissistic partner, here are some tips that may help:

Set firm boundaries

Make it clear which behaviors you will and will not tolerate from your partner. Clearly articulate your boundaries and follow through with consequences when boundaries are crossed.

See a therapist on your own

Seek professional counseling to work through feelings of fear, trauma, anxiety, low self-worth and learn coping techniques. Having external validation and support is very helpful.

Build your support system

Lean on trusted friends, family members, support groups, and domestic violence resources. Do not allow your narcissistic partner to completely isolate you.

Have an exit plan

Quietly open your own bank account, consult with a lawyer, make copies of important documents, and formulate a plan for how to safely leave the relationship when ready.

Don’t expect change

It’s crucial to recognize that narcissists are very resistant to change, even with therapy. You cannot expect to “fix” or fundamentally transform your narcissistic partner.

Set your own goals and priorities

Focus on your own dreams, interests, personal growth, and happiness. Do not get sucked into an endless campaign to please your narcissistic partner.

Enforce clear consequences

When setting boundaries, you must also establish clear consequences when those boundaries are crossed. And be prepared to follow through consistently when those consequences are earned by your narcissistic partner’s behaviors.

Consider leaving the relationship

In many cases, cutting ties altogether is the healthiest choice. A narcissist who is repeatedly causing you harm or trauma may never change. Prioritize your own safety and wellbeing above saving the relationship.

Are there ways to effectively communicate with a narcissist?

Communicating effectively with a narcissistic partner is often extremely difficult, but there are some approaches that may prove useful:

Avoid provoking defensiveness

Frame discussions neutrally and avoid language that might provoke shame or trigger narcissistic rage. Stick to “I feel…” statements rather than accusations.

Establish facts concretely

Back up points with objective examples, data, and evidence since narcissists are prone to distorting facts to suit their narrative. Avoid debating over subjective perceptions.

Acknowledge some truths

If they make a valid point during an argument, be willing to acknowledge when they are right about something. Narcissists hate being wrong, so conceding some truth can open communication.

Set discussion goals beforehand

Decide what you hope to achieve during the discussion. Focus on resolution and stay on topic to avoid circular arguments.

Remain calm and detached

Don’t mirror their dysfunctional communication patterns. Keep emotions in check and refrain from using sarcasm or passive aggressiveness.

Follow up in writing

Summarize important conversations in a brief, unemotional email or text message. Written records are harder to refute.

Seek counseling together

A professional therapist can facilitate healthy communication by promoting empathy, regulating emotions, and keeping conversations on track.

Limit discussions when escalated

If communications start turning toxic, call for a break. Revisit the issues later when emotions have settled down.

What are the long-term effects of being with a narcissist?

Sustained relationships with narcissistic, abusive partners can have long-lasting detrimental effects, including:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The ongoing toxic stress of emotional abuse and controlling behaviors can lead partners of narcissists to develop PTSD symptoms like hypervigilance, anxiety, sleep issues, and flashbacks.

Codependency problems

Constantly catering to the narcissist’s needs often turns their partners into codependents who suppress their own needs and emotions. Partners have to “de-program” these unhealthy relationship habits.

Difficulty trusting others

After being thoroughly deceived and manipulated by a narcissist, former partners often struggle with trusting new people. They expect the same lies and exploitation.

Rumination and obsessiveness

The endless mind games narcissists play can make their partners obsessively ruminate over their confusing behavior long after the relationship ends.

Low self-esteem and confidence

The narcissist’s verbal abuse and distortions of reality gradually undermine their partner’s self-esteem. They internalize the criticisms and feel undeserving of love and respect.

Social withdrawal

The isolation and gaslighting imposed by narcissists leads to severe disconnection anxiety when their partners eventually try to reintegrate into society.

Ongoing health impacts

Chronic stress worsens depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, hypertension, cardiovascular risk, a weakened immune system and more.

Addiction issues

Partners traumatized by narcissistic abuse often turn to drugs, alcohol, compulsive behaviors, and other addictions to self-soothe their pain.

How can you heal after leaving a narcissistic relationship?

Recovering from narcissistic abuse requires time, self-care, and often professional help. Some tips for healing include:

Get therapy from a trauma specialist

Find a therapist well-versed in treating victims of emotional abuse to work through trauma, distorted thinking, and codependency.

Go no contact

Completely cutting ties with the narcissist is usually critical, including blocking them on all devices and social media. No contact prevents further manipulation.

Join a support group

Connecting with others who have similarly experienced narcissistic abuse can help validate your feelings, reduce isolation, and aid healing.

Practice self-care and self-love

Focus intently on your own needs – get plenty of rest, physical activity, nutritious food, and engage in hobbies you enjoy. Surround yourself with beauty.

Limit or abstain from intoxicants

Avoid leaning on alcohol, recreational drugs, or addictive behaviors to cope. Stay grounded in your recovery process.

Immerse in new communities

Make new connections through healthy social groups, clubs, classes, volunteer work or other communities. Bond with emotionally safe people.

Learn about narcissism

Read books and articles to deepen your understanding of narcissistic behaviors so you can untangle their manipulations.

Be patient with yourself

Healing from abuse takes time. Let go of shame over your choices – focus positive energy on growth. Expect ups and downs through recovery.


Relationships with narcissistic partners are painful and arduous. Their behaviors can cause significant long-term trauma. While challenging, it is possible to have healthier dynamics by setting firm boundaries, prioritizing your needs, and being ready to detach from the relationship. With time, support and self-care, you can heal and regain your sense of self-worth.