published Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Tabi Upton: Surviving a narcissistic relationship

Ever been around someone who thinks they are generally superior to you and most people they know? Or wants you to recognize all their lovely achievements, but can't remember to give you a compliment?

Better yet, who thinks you're just exaggerating your feelings when you cry, refuses to adjust behavior when you tell them they've hurt you, but claims to love you?

These situations may sound familiar to those in a relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Personality disorders in general are negative, persistent patterns of interacting with the world and others that develop over time. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder tend to feel rather grandiose (e.g. "I'm king of the world!"), lack empathy toward others and have an overwhelming need for admiration and praise from others.

Of course, it's possible to have certain traits of narcissism without having a disorder. Some of its other traits include intensely believing in one's own specialness and uniqueness; taking advantage of others for one's own gain; fantasizing about one's own unlimited success, beauty or fame; feeling entitled to having certain things or being treated a certain way; often being envious or jealous of others or believing others are envious and jealous of you; appearing arrogant or haughty.

If you think being in the same room with such a one is a challenge, try being married to a narcissist or having one as a boss or a parent. These situations require skill and self-awareness to keep from feeling bruised and frustrated.

In a marital situation, experts advise staying in contact with others and even building a support team to help you maintain a more balanced view of yourself and situation. Sometimes narcissistic spouses will tend to put their mates down in order to maintain their own sense of exaggerated superiority. Maintaining a healthy self-concept and high self-esteem is the challenge.

In addition, it will be imperative to set boundaries for yourself and to hold to them consistently. Sadly, sometimes your most personal information should be guarded because, in a fit of anger, it can be used against you. Seek professional help if you feel you are in danger of any kind, emotionally or physically.

If you find yourself working for someone who seems to fit this diagnosis, one psychologist gives this advice, "Frame every request in terms of how it will benefit the narcissist." They are looking for what's in it for them and, if they can't see it, how it will benefit you alone will not be enough for them to agree to it.

Growing up with a parent who has narcissistic tendencies can be challenging. Usually these parents see their children as either extensions of themselves that can be molded to become what they desire or simply as a nuisance. Sometimes these parents enjoy their children when they are young and easily managed, but then shut them out when they become old enough to challenge and question them. Narcissistic type parents may have great difficulty empathizing with the feelings of their offspring or accepting them as independent agents.

Once grown up, an adult child with this type of parent may need to determine the type of relationship he or she can have with the parent. If it is continually abusive and the parent refuses responsibility for his or her actions, it may be best to keep a distance. If the parent has mild traits and insight for change, sometimes understanding and change can happen with a trained counselor.

Either way, the most important thing is that individuals seek help for the wounds they may have sustained along the way.

Tabi Upton is a local therapist and free-lance writer. Email her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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