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What is living with a narcissist like?

What is narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration. 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 achievements and talents and expect to be recognized as superior. They often take advantage of others to get what they want. Overall, their behavior typically creates significant problems in their relationships and daily functioning.

Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder

Inflated sense of self-importance Believing they are superior, special, or unique and expecting others to recognize them as such without having achievements to warrant it
Sense of entitlement Unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment, automatic compliance with their expectations
Lack of empathy Unwillingness or inability to recognize and experience how others feel
Exploitative behavior Taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends
Arrogant attitudes and behaviors Behaving in haughty ways, coming across as conceited, boastful, pretentious

People with narcissistic personality disorder often display arrogance, a sense of superiority, and lack of empathy that cause problems in their relationships and lives. They tend to see themselves as special, overestimate their abilities, and pursue gratification at the expense of others. These behaviors often lead to interpersonal difficulties as others do not want to associate with them.

What is it like to live with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder?

Living with a narcissist can be extremely challenging and draining. Here are some common experiences people report:

Feeling devalued

Narcissists routinely put down others around them, including their romantic partners. They tend to degrade, criticize, and insult their partners frequently. Their partners end up feeling worthless and inadequate, even when they are accomplished individuals. The narcissist maintains a superior position in the relationship by keeping their partner’s self-esteem low.

Lack of empathy

People with narcissistic personality disorder show very little concern for others’ needs or feelings. They are unable to empathize with a partner’s perspectives or emotions. Partners of narcissists describe feeling invisible in the relationship because the narcissist is unable to see things from their point of view.

Manipulation and gaslighting

Narcissists use manipulative tactics to get what they want. This includes gaslighting, which is distorting the truth to confuse partners and make them question their own sanity and memory. They deny or minimize their harmful behaviors when confronted by partners, placing the blame on the partner instead. Partners feel manipulated into doing things to please the narcissist.

Affairs and controlling behavior

The sense of entitlement narcissists have means they feel justified pursuing affairs or other selfish behaviors, while exerting extreme jealousy and control over their partners. They have different standards for themselves versus their partners. Partners may feel constantly monitored and micromanaged by the narcissist.

Unpredictable moods and outbursts

The fragile self-esteem of narcissists means they have difficulty handling criticisms, challenges to their superiority, or perceived slights. Partners describe walking on eggshells because they never knew what might set off an emotional outburst or rage from the narcissist. Partners feel they have to be careful not to do anything that might provoke them.

Signs you may be in a relationship with a narcissist

Here are some common signs your partner may have narcissistic traits:

– They put you down and criticize you frequently
– They gaslight you and distort facts to avoid taking responsibility
– They show very little empathy for your feelings and needs
– They blame you for problems rather than looking at themselves
– They act controlling and jealous to an unreasonable degree
– They have double standards, expecting more lenient treatment for themselves
– They rages or sulk when challenged or criticized
– They feel entitled to special privileges and exceptions to the rules
– Conversations tend to revolve around them and their achievements
– They takes advantage of you frequently without reciprocating

If you notice a pattern of narcissistic behaviors from your partner, it may be helpful to reflect on whether this relationship is healthy for you. Seeking support from a mental health professional can also provide insight on how to handle the challenges of this type of relationship.

Effects of being in a relationship with a narcissist

Relationships with narcissists can take a heavy toll on mental and emotional well-being. Here are some common effects partners experience:

Lower self-esteem

Being routinely put down leads to partners internalizing the criticism and seeing themselves as flawed, worthless, and unlovable. Their self-esteem can be gradually worn down in the relationship.

Loss of identity

Partners may start living to please the narcissist and suppress their own needs and preferences. Over time, they can lose touch with their own identity, likes, interests, and goals for their future.

Mood issues

The dynamics of narcissistic relationships are linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Partners may feel constantly on edge, fearful of setting off the narcissist’s anger. They may also feel hopeless and despairing from the chronic invalidation and blaming.


Narcissists may actively work to sabotage their partner’s other relationships. Partners end up feeling isolated from friends and family. They have no one to turn to for support and reality testing.

Confusion and self-doubt

Being continually told that you are the problem can genuinely distort your self-perception. Partners start distrusting their own feelings, instincts, and perceptions. This “gaslighting” effect creates profound confusion about what is real.

In summary, these relationships undermine psychological health and destroy partners’ positive self-concepts. The cumulative behaviors can be described as psychological abuse.

Why people stay with narcissists

It’s common to wonder why people remain in difficult, personality disordered relationships for so long. There are some reasons why leaving does not feel viable:

Trauma bonding

The psychological impact of narcissistic abuse mimics the dynamics of addiction. The narcissist’s periodic affection or approval helps create powerful emotional bonds, like a trauma bond. The partner becomes addicted to chasing tiny crumbs of affection from the narcissist.

Low self-esteem

The partner’s confidence, self-worth, and self-perception gets eroded after being mistreated for so long. They feel stuck and hopeless, believing they do not deserve better treatment.


Partners may fear the narcissist’s vindictiveness if they try to leave. The narcissist may have explicitly or implicitly threatened them for attempting to end the relationship.


The manipulative behavior of narcissists leaves partners unable to trust their own judgment. With their reality continually distorted, they no longer feel capable of making decisions.

Lack of support

Isolation from other relationships means the partner has no one to lean on while considering leaving. They have been cut off from input that could provide clarity.

False hope

Narcissists sometimes promise change and improvement, giving false hope. When partners see glimpses of the person they thought they knew, they hold onto that slim possibility that the narcissist will alter their behavior.

In summary, the psychological impact of narcissistic abuse combined with external barriers can make leaving feel terrifying or impossible for partners. They need compassionate support to rebuild their self-worth and leave safely.

How to deal with a narcissist

If you have to continue interacting with a narcissist, these strategies may help protect yourself:

Set firm boundaries

Make your needs and limitations clear. Follow through consistently with enforcing boundaries.

Seek validation elsewhere

Build relationships outside the dynamic with the narcissist to maintain perspective. Seek support from people who increase your self-worth.

Avoid escalation

Keep interactions emotion-free and fact-based when possible. Don’t get drawn into arguments.

Document issues

Keep records of incidents and conflicts in case you need evidence of behaviors later.


Work with a professional to process the emotional effects and develop coping strategies tailored to your situation.

Limit interactions

Keep conversations brief and only communicate as needed. Interact at your discretion, not on demand.

Conceal information

To gain power, narcissists collect secrets and personal information. Be selective about what you reveal.

Expect manipulation

Steel yourself for lies, distortion of facts, guilting, and other tactics. Recognize manipulation when it occurs.

Leave safely

Create an exit plan if you decide to leave. Get support from professionals to navigate leaving in a strategic way.

With narcissists, it is often impossible to have a reciprocal, equal relationship. Focus on self-protection and seek support from outside sources.

Treatment options for narcissistic personality disorder

While narcissistic patterns can be difficult to change, some treatment options to consider include:


Types like cognitive-behavioral therapy can help narcissists relate better by focusing on building empathy. Schema therapy and transference-focused psychotherapy are other options.


There are no medications specifically for NPD. But antidepressants or mood stabilizers could help co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety.

Group therapy

Groups provide opportunities to practice relational skills and confront maladaptive behaviors through peer feedback. Group modalities can supplement individual therapy.

Couples counseling

This can assist narcissistic individuals to communicate and connect better with their partners. It requires motivation to change from the narcissist.

Informal support groups

Joining community support groups for people impacted by narcissists validates experiences and provides coping strategies.

Success with treatment depends on how willing narcissists are to acknowledge their behaviors. Therapy outcomes tend to be better with milder variants of narcissism versus malignant, extreme forms.


In summary, living with a narcissist regularly exposes you to entitlement, exploitation, manipulation, humiliation, and other harmful behaviors. The experience often gradually erodes self-worth and self-concept. While narcissists see their actions as justified, their relationships usually have severely negative effects on partners. Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder exists in the form of therapy and medication, but the narcissist must own their behaviors for progress to occur. Partners of narcissists would benefit greatly from working with a mental health provider to process the psychological effects, rebuild self-esteem, and safely exit the relationship.