Narcissism, relationships, and counselling.
The narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is described by the Mayo Clinic as a mental health condition where the person has an unreasonably high sense of self-importance. The narcissist has a great need to be admired but lack the ability to care and understand the feelings, needs and emotions of others. Narcissism significantly impairs a person’s ability to function in social, occupational, and other important areas of life. Behind the mask of extreme confidence, they are not sure of their self-worth and become easily upset by the smallest amount of criticism.
Signs of a person with NPD.
- They can be very charming. This attitude only continues till trust is gained and then they will start to devaluate you.
- Every conversation is about them.
- They always expect preferential treatment.
- They act like they are more important than anyone else.
- They show little concern for other people’s feelings.
- They focus on superficial matters.
- They have very few (if any) friends.
- They are very sensitive to any form of criticism.
- They are very good at manipulation.
NPD affects more males than females. It generally starts during teenage years or during young adulthood.
Is it possible to have a relationship with an NPD person?
It is very difficult to have a long loving and caring relationship with a person who makes everything about themselves. In most cases a person who is in a relationship with a person with NPD, can experience ongoing psychological and emotional abuse. Various forms of domestic violence can also take place in this relationship.
For this relationship to survive it is important that the non-NPD member of the relationship has strong self-esteem, strong boundaries, patience and has a reason to stay in the relationship.
How can counselling help the couple?
Treatment for NPD is generally talk therapy, that is also known as psychotherapy.
Normal couples therapy does not always work for the couple where one of the partners has NPD. It is important that the counsellor has experience in couples counselling. For counselling to work it is important that both partners in the
relationship embrace the counselling process but also be fully aware it is not going to be easy process or a quick fix.
The reason why counselling this couple is difficult is because narcissists cannot admit their faults without moving from feeling special to feeling worthless. This change in feelings is one of the reasons why an NPD person struggles to stay engaged in the counselling process. Narcissists generally disengage from counselling when they are challenged. It might be more effective for the NPD person to engage in one-on-one counselling than couples counselling.
How can a counsellor help the non-NPD member of the relationship?
- Help them to work through their denial, guilt, and shame.
- Process the grief of ending the relationship.
- Challenge all negative thoughts and feelings.
- Dealing with depression and anxiety.
- Self-forgiveness and reclaiming of identity.
- Helping to identify coping skills.
- To be accountable to the counsellor not to contact or re-engage in the relationship with the abuser.
How can a counsellor help the NPD member of the relationship?
The counsellor can help the NPD client:
- To relate better with other people.
- To discover the causes of their emotions and what is the origin of the drive to compete.
- To have the tools to be able to work better with their co-workers.
- To create awareness of the cause of their distrust and dislike in people.
- To get the tools to understand and manage their feelings.
- Having an awareness how to cope with their self-esteem and self-worth issues.
- To learn the ability to recognise and accept their abilities, potential and skills.
- Discover the potential to tolerate criticism and failure.
In the short-term therapy can assist the person to manage stress and everyday crisis situations. On an ongoing basis therapy can help the person to set, achieve and maintain their goals. Narcissism cannot be treated my medication.
In conclusion, narcissism can have a significant impact on a relationship. While it is possible for the NPD individual to seek therapy and challenge their behaviour, it is important for their partners to prioritize their own well-being and safety while exposed to narcissistic behaviour. A healthy relationship requires mutual empathy, communication, and a willingness to prioritize the needs of both partners.
Narcissism can undermine these foundational elements which can be a challenge to build a strong connection. To be in a relationship with a person with NPD can be very challenging but can be achieved with counselling and a willingness to embrace the process of change by both partners in the relationship. It is important that both partners are honest with each other and admit it to themselves when the relationship does not work.
Author: Corey Human, B Th (Hons), M Counselling, Dip Youth Work, Dip Youth Justice, Dip Couns, Dip Pentecostal Theology, Dip Ministry. Member of PACFA and CCAA.
Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience working with teenagers and young people at risk, or struggling with self esteem, depression, video game addiction and other problems. He provides counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
1. Grande D. & Fuller K.; https://www.choosingtherapy.com/narcissistic-relationship/
2. Greenberg E.; https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/understanding-narcissism
3. Mayo Clinic; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder
4. Relationships Australia; https://www.relationshipsnsw.org.au/blog/can-you-have-healthy-relationship-with-narcissist/
5. Thomas, N. & Westphalen, D.; https://www.choosingtherapy.com/narcissistic-abuse/