It can be incredibly challenging to watch a loved one try to navigate a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that can cause over-inflated self-esteem and lack of empathy, among other symptoms. Narcissistic behavior often makes friends or family feel worthless and unloved.
Taking care of a loved one with narcissistic personality disorder is important, but you must also remember to take care of yourself. While you can learn how to help someone with NPD, it’s also important to keep in mind that you have needs too.
Read on to learn the 8 best things you can do to help someone with narcissistic personality disorder, without losing yourself in the process.
1. Learn About Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Many people use the word “narcissist” to describe someone with an inflated ego or sense of self, but narcissistic personality disorder is a legitimate mental health condition. Not all people with narcissistic traits have NPD, and knowing the difference is essential.
Know the signs
Start to familiarize yourself with the following narcissistic personality disorder symptoms:
- The feeling that they’re superior to others
- Little to no empathy for others
- The need to be admired or respected
- Dreams about unlimited power
- Expectations of special treatment
- Manipulate or take advantage of others
- Surround themselves with other like-minded individuals
Someone with NPD may have expensive automobiles, clothes, and residences. They might also be loud in group settings and interrupt others with tales of their achievements.
Learn how to navigate someone with NPD
Learning how to navigate someone with NPD can be extremely challenging. Narcissism can drain people’s energy, making them miserable. People often feel helpless, weak, and defeated due to someone with narcissism’s ongoing need for power and control.
However, knowing how to deal with narcissistic personality disorder in a loved one in productive ways can make a difference — we’ll go into greater detail below.
Understand if they’re capable of change
There are 2 main narcissistic personality disorder types — grandiose and vulnerable — and there are several other subtypes within those.
- Dominance, ego, indecency, exhibitionism, and anger are all characteristics of grandiose narcissism (also known as overt or agentic narcissism).
- In contrast, introversion, negative feelings, interpersonal coldness, the need for praise, entitlement, and self-absorption are all symptoms of vulnerable narcissism (also known as closet or covert narcissism).
NPD has an extremely broad range of symptom severity. Not only is it essential to know which subtype someone has, but it’s also important to recognize how severe their narcissistic behavior is.
Those with NPD can have very aggressive narcissistic tendencies — generally seen in the grandiose subtype — and this is often the hardest to treat. In addition, those with grandiose narcissism are typically very unwilling to seek help for narcissistic personality disorder, in large part because they often simply don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with them.
Knowing how to help someone with NPD can be taxing and overwhelming. Therefore, it’s imperative to know what symptoms a friend or loved one is dealing with and if they’re willing and capable of change.
2. Establish Clear Boundaries Where Needed
Knowing how to help someone with NPD means establishing clear and healthy boundaries. Different personal relationships — whether they’re a parent, spouse, partner, friend, child, or coworker — may have different limits. When communicating boundaries, you must be firm and direct.
Not sure how to set boundaries with a narcissist? Here’s what our therapists have to say.
“The best tactic to establish clear boundaries is to create more space when there are negative behaviors and allow more closeness when there are behaviors that are noteworthy. Because individuals with NPD respond poorly to confrontation, it’s best to reroute to more appropriate thoughts and behaviors strategically and slowly over time.”Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC
What you can do: Regardless of their relationship with you, it’s important not to let anyone, even if they have narcissistic traits, speak to you or treat you in a way that hurts you or makes you uncomfortable. You always have the right to say something simple, clear, and direct, such as: “I will not let you talk to me in this way.”
3. Use Empathy to Deal with Them
While it may seem impossible, try to use empathy when dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder. Sometimes validating their feelings by using empathy helps disarm a potentially harmful conversation.
What you can do: For instance, if they get angry because you didn’t go to their housewarming party, you might say: “I wish I could have made it to your party, hope it was great! Maybe we can find another time?” This type of statement is not apologizing for your lack of attendance, but it can validate their feelings.
4. Hold Them Accountable for Their Actions
While setting boundaries is essential, holding them accountable if they don’t respect those boundaries is equally as critical.
What you can do: If they begin to call you names or treat you disrespectfully, it’s OK to communicate that there will be consequences if the behavior continues. You can say something like: “It hurts my feelings when you talk to me with a disrespectful tone, maybe we should take a minute and resume this conversation later when we’re calmer. What do you think?”
5. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Unfortunately, the development of narcissistic personality disorder is often a consequence of childhood neglect. Therefore, one key to improving your relationship with someone with NPD is by trying to empathize with their traumatized child-self.
What you can do: If they belittle or talk to you unkindly, try to imagine an unloved child instead of the adult in front of you. Try to picture narcissism in teens and children — painful feelings, a sense of shame, and loneliness.
Putting yourself in their shoes doesn’t mean you excuse their narcissistic tendencies, but it might make it easier to see why the behavior is happening.
6. Accept Them for Who They Are
While you don’t have to like being around a coworker or family member with selfish and demeaning behavior, accepting them for who they are is really important if NPD is part of the equation. More often than not, someone with NPD isn’t going to (or can’t, without treatment) change, so accepting them for who they are is a necessary part of your role.
What you can do: Accepting them does not mean you need to excuse or tolerate abusive behavior. Sometimes accepting someone with NPD means realizing that they’re not going to change and that you cannot be in a relationship anymore.
7. Support Them as They Seek Therapy
Unfortunately, many people don’t consider treating narcissistic personality disorder because they don’t realize anything is wrong. Instead, they often seek treatment for co-existing conditions such as addiction, anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition rather than NPD.
What you can do: If you have a friend, coworker, or family member who’s willing to seek therapy for narcissistic personality disorder, regardless of the driving force, that’s a significant step forward. Acknowledge and support them in their journey — they’re going to need it.
8. Put Yourself First
All relationships involve some give-and-take. With narcissism, though, the person with NPD is usually doing all the taking, and you’re always doing the giving.
What you can do: Sometimes, knowing how to help someone with NPD means putting yourself first. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’ll eventually have nothing left to give. Self-care is essential if you’re going to be able to develop a healthy relationship with someone who has NPD.
Talkspace is an online therapy platform that can provide support and guidance to you and your loved one. Our licensed therapists can help better manage the effects NPD has caused on you and your relationship. Reach out today.