It can be both scary and confusing when a friend or loved one receives a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis. While you might have noticed some of their behaviors long before any official diagnosis was made, receiving confirmation — and knowing what to do next — can feel incredibly overwhelming.
While these days, the word narcissist is often used in casual conversation to describe someone arrogant, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is an actual mental health condition.
Someone with NPD can have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, with little to no empathy for others. They may also overstate their talents or achievements and expect special treatment like excessive admiration in return. In addition, many people with NPD can show jealous tendencies and be extremely manipulative.
Dealing with these narcissistic tendencies can make you feel like you’re unappreciated. They can cause you to doubt or second guess yourself. Rest assured, what you’re feeling is normal when dealing with NPD. If you don’t know how to handle someone with NPD in a healthy way, you might even begin to feel worthless. Because of this, navigating an NPD relationship can be very challenging, whether that’s with a spouse, parent, sibling, or coworker.
Using the tips in this guide though, you can learn healthy ways to deal with someone with narcissistic personality disorder and learn how to take care of yourself along the way.
Tips for Dealing with Someone With NPD
Navigating NPD doesn’t have to be impossible. The following suggestions will show you that in many cases, you can have a relationship with someone in your life who has NPD.
Educating yourself is probably the most important tip we can give anyone who’s trying to figure out how to deal with someone with NPD. There are multiple narcissistic personality disorder types, like malignant narcissism and covert narcissism, to name a few. Learning about the narcissistic qualities and understanding basic things, like what causes narcissistic personality disorder and how to help someone, will be crucial as you move forward.
You can learn about NPD by reading reputable articles online (NAMI’s Unpacking Narcissism and Stigma is a great one or turn to our very own NPD resource hub), or by talking to a doctor, a therapist through either in-person or online therapy, or a support group.
You can also listen to podcasts that focus on learning how to deal with narcissistic personality disorder. A couple we love are:
- The Narcissists’ Code: What better way to learn how to handle someone with NPD than by listening to a podcast hosted by someone who actually has it? Host Lee Hammock is (in his words) “a self-aware narcissist” who explores the condition and advocates for the efficacy of therapy for narcissistic personality disorder.
- The Narcissist in Your Life Podcast: Dealing with narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging. Get tips from experienced marriage and family therapist Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D. LMFT.
Read books about dealing with NPD, such as:
- Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed: A how-to guide full of practical tips on helping you cope and navigate the narcissistic behavior of someone with NPD.
- How to Handle a Narcissist: Understanding and Dealing with a Range of Narcissistic Personalities: Offers expert advice and focuses on awareness about how to deal with narcissistic personality disorder in healthy and productive ways.
Join a support group
Being able to talk to others who understand what you’re going through can be invaluable. Joining a support group for friends or relatives of people with NPD is so helpful. Some options are:
- Out of the Fog: Forum for caregivers of people with personality disorders
- Narcissistic Family Support Group: Support group for those who have a family member with NPD
- NAMI Family Support Group: Peer-led support group for any adult with a loved one who’s experienced symptoms of a mental health condition
Establish clear boundaries
Once you learn more about the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, you need to learn how to set boundaries with a narcissist. Depending on what type of relationship you have — friendship, coworker, romantic — your boundaries can look different.
Regardless of what type of relationship it is, it’s important not to let a narcissistic person speak to or treat you in ways that make you uncomfortable. If their words or behavior are hurtful, you have every right to say, “I will not let you treat me in this way.”
“While each relationship is unique, when dealing with narcissistic personality disorder, it’s crucial to maintain your own boundaries and limits, as it’s common for people with narcissistic personality disorder to challenge boundaries that they do not like.”Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
You can do the same thing with other aspects of your relationship, too. For example, you always have the right to say something like: “When I say no, I mean no,” or “You may not agree with me, but I need you to respect my opinion.”
When communicating boundaries, it’s essential to be firm and direct.
Communicating consequences is just as important as setting boundaries. Someone with NPD needs to understand that you won’t tolerate certain narcissistic behavior, and further, that there will be consequences if your expectations aren’t met or are disregarded.
If they begin to call you names, ignore your wishes, or treat you with disrespect, it’s essential to establish how you’ll react.
Recognize their patterns or triggers
For many people with NPD, low self-esteem is often a trigger for their harmful and controlling behavior. However, there are many other triggers that could cause someone with NPD to have an outburst. Among them:
- They don’t get their way
- They think someone criticized them
- Someone else is the center of attention
- They’re caught not respecting boundaries
- Someone holds them accountable for their actions
- Their self-esteem was harmed
- Someone reminds them of their inadequacy or shame
These triggers can be the beginning of a period of narcissistic gaslighting when dealing with NPD can be particularly painful. While recognizing triggers won’t stop someone’s narcissistic tendencies, you can be more prepared when things do happen.
If you’re in a situation where you’re being belittled or manipulated, you might be able to disarm them with simple and direct phrases. For example, try saying something like:
- “You are certainly entitled to your opinion.”
- “We can work on this together.”
- “I hear what you’re saying.”
- “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Things to Avoid When Dealing with NPD
Unfortunately, many people with NPD are often selfish and controlling, so there are things to avoid when dealing with someone with narcissistic personality disorder. For example, when learning how to handle someone with NPD, try not to:
- Overreact and confront them when you’re upset
- Bring up past issues
- Expect remorse or apologies
- Look for empathy or loyalty
- Lead or take over a project
It’s not that avoiding these things will stop someone with NPD’s behavior, but it may lessen the likelihood of things progressing.
“Try to avoid being overly critical or telling someone with NPD they’re wrong, as this can often lead to them increasing their behaviors around arguing their position or potentially lead to narcissistic rage. Being able to state your disagreements in a collaborative manner can help to avoid these conflicts.”Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
When to Put Yourself First
Learning how to deal with someone with NPD means you need to surrender to the fact that you have no control over how someone acts, feels, or responds. You do, however, have control over how you react. If you’ve realized you’re doing or feeling any of the following, it’s time to put yourself first:
- You walk on eggshells whenever you’re around them
- You often doubt your version of reality
- You feel isolated from loved ones
- You no longer recognize yourself
- You have low self-esteem
- Because of emotional abuse, your body has experienced physical changes (nausea, lack of appetite, headaches, inability to sleep, etc.)
It’s important for you to get help if you’re suffering (or have suffered) from narcissistic abuse. Most importantly, while it can be very possible to have a fulfilling and healthy relationship with someone who has NPD, that relies heavily on them being willing to actively participate in the process.
There might come a time when it’s not healthy for you to be in this relationship any longer. That can be a difficult realization to come to, but it’s essential that you honor your needs if that’s the case.
Find Support Through Talkspace
If you’re in any type of NPD relationship — whether it’s a romantic relationship or a platonic friendship — it’s never your fault, and it’s not something you can “fix.” In the end, it’s up to the individual to actively choose to make the necessary changes. If they’re unwilling, it’s time for you to find support for yourself.
If you’re in a domestic violence crisis, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text them at 88788 with the word START.
If you want support from others who are going through something similar, join an online support group such as Support for People Affected by Narcissist Abuse (SPAN).
Most importantly, talking to a competent mental health expert about how to deal with someone with NPD is the first step in recovering your self-esteem, developing stress-coping skills, and rediscovering yourself. A competent mental health professional like a counselor or therapist can help you explore and alter negative and harmful thought patterns you might be having as a result of narcissistic abuse. Techniques like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), schema therapy, and other forms of talk therapy can be very effective when managing and dealing with NPD.
If you’re looking for help, Talkspace offers online therapy for people trying to navigate NPD. Our therapists are experienced and ready to support you — whether that’s by helping you and a loved one with NPD or if you need to heal from a relationship. We’re here for you.