Living With A Narcissist
    By Paul Bretherton | August 22nd 2011 06:03 AM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Paul

    Paul is a Neurophysiologist who specialises in Anxiety-related attentional deficit and modulation. He is also now undertaking a PhD in cognitive


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    'Forgiveness is not something you do for others, nor does forgiving mean the offending behaviour is acceptable. It is something you do for yourself! By forgiving, you choose not to carry the burden of hate'

    Paul Bretherton


    Narcissistic Personality Disorder

    Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a disorder and not a disease. There is no blood test for NPD and three different professionals may diagnose the same person in three different ways. The description is useful as it describes a familiar pattern of behaviour in an individual which can be very pervasive.

    Most importantly a Narcissist is a human being acting in a particular way and, as emotion provoking as they can sometimes be, is not a monster. As unfair and damaging as a relationship with this type of person may be, it’s more useful (and healthy for your own self-esteem and self-worth) to use straightforward descriptive words about their bad behaviour, rather than relying on this term (or more profane terms) to describe them. The purpose of this article is to inform and support. [I hope] It offers information and guidance for those family and friends of people with Narcissism, enabling them to see their behaviour as separate from the Narcissist.

    Knowing what to look for may be helpful in understanding who you are dealing with if you suspect your partner or family member of a personality disorder.


    The Narcissistic Checklist: Are/do they?

    1. ‘Two faced’ putting people down (including family and friends) behind their back.

    2. A tendency to blame their lack of success, disappointments and failures on others.

    3. A different person in private than in public.

    4. Irresponsible and unreliable (often trading off others hard work)

    5. Arrogant, acting superior to people close to them (often also putting their family down).

    6. Lives in a fantasy world which may include pornography, romance novels, flirting and/or affairs and/or dreams of unlimited fame and success.

    7. Will often be addicted to this fantasy oriented behaviour.

    8. May have other addictions such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling, drugs, shopping, computer games and/or sex.

    9. Will lie and distort facts and change the events of history to suit their own agenda.

    10. May misappropriate funds and be irresponsible with money.

    11. Distant and emotionally unavailable unless they want something.

    12. Will lack empathy for others, especially people whom they exploit.

    13. Will be very controlling and often unable to relax.

    14. May appear very charming and even humble in public.

    15. May regularly provoke people and then blame them for the fight.

    16. Will have trouble admitting their mistakes.

    A person with NPD will be two-faced; charming and polite in public, while critical, rude, arrogant, sarcastic and even aggressive in private; usually to the people who they’re closest to and who give them the most love and care. This is because the people closest to them are also the people who are more able to hurt the Narcissist emotionally. To an extreme narcissist, people are things to be used.


    It may start with a significant emotional wound or a series of emotional wounds culminating in a major trauma of separation/detachment. No matter how socially skilled a narcissist is, as a result of being emotionally detached, they have developed a major attachment dysfunction. In terms of emotional maturity, the narcissist is frozen in childhood. They became emotionally stuck at the time of their major trauma and subsequent separation/detachment. Their emotional age and maturity corresponds to what developmental stage they were at when they detached from the emotional world around them. The pain and subsequent trauma involved would have been devastating to the point that it almost killed that person emotionally. In order to survive, and as a result of generalizing that all people are harmful and cannot be trusted, this child constructed a protective barrier that insulated them from the external world of people and potential emotional harm.

    For the Narcissist, the protective barrier he/she constructed is called a false persona. They create a false identity which is not the true person inside. The many types of false personas or identities that a Narcissist creates can vary. Some may have the ability to change into a variety of identities according to the situation. The wounded child inside may choose to present a front as a tough individual. They may look, by appearance, intimidating and scary to the average person. They could also play the “nice-guy” whom everyone likes. A corporate type version can be one that is diplomatic, proper, and appearing to care but in reality does not. A very likeable Narcissist is the one that plays the comedian role. They’re the life of the party and have everyone in stitches, making them laugh constantly. Everyone wants to include this person because they are a lot of fun. This also allows them to be the centre of attention and gain admiration.  


    When you try to get close or ask personal questions they will quickly distract you. They will side step the question with another joke, question, criticism, or even aggression toward you making you forget what you were asking or simply give up pursuing an answer. Narcissists can be very skilled at dodging and ducking personal questions. If you press them, they will then categorise you as “unsafe” and will begin to avoid you and exclude you from their life. Or perhaps, to protect the social persona they have constructed will start rumours about you so that others will exclude you socially as well. If you are in a romantic relationship with them, one tactic is to turn questions or criticisms back on you or they may become verbally or physically aggressive to avoid having their true actions being discovered or being vulnerable. 

    The Narcissist pretends to have high standards, but in reality is often low in perfectionism: Resulting in their behaviour being inconsistent or them being hypocritical. They tend not follow through on promises and may trade off others’ hard work or reputations. They will spend their energy seeking and surround themselves with people who admire them or who they can vent their negativity and aggression on, either directly by put downs, sarcasm or aggression (trying to provoke a fight so they can vent their own aggression) or by talking people down (friends included). Again, those closest to them are capable of hurting them (by emotional proximity) more than anyone else, so they feel this relationship needs to be controlled for their own safety.

    The Narcissist will shift blame and may become aggressive if anyone attempts to hold them accountable for their actions. They will not accept responsibility for their own failings and instead blame their mistakes and/or bad behaviour on others. Sexually, they may seduce and abandon partners including the person they marry; this may also be a cover for performance anxiety. There is often a pattern of seducing and abandoning lovers, friends or people they can make their ‘fans’. Note: Some narcissists are very cerebral and will think themselves as “above sex” altogether and instead pride themselves on their intelligence and academic achievements or they may pride themselves on being ‘unwinnable’.

    A lack of empathy combined with high self-interest and mixed with, for those who have it, a particular cunning charm (those who don’t often end up being well known to the law) and ability to manipulate others will make a person with these tendencies a difficult and potentially abusive person to live with. They will think nothing of exploiting their partner financially, sexually or otherwise, while blaming these behaviours and their own weaknesses and shortcomings on this very same person. A person with these traits may also hinder any attempt by their partner to regain their sense of strength or self-worth and try and stop them ‘getting back on their feet’ or ‘on with their life’ (which would inevitably result in the Narcissist being abandoned). They may even encourage their partner (resulting in them being admired), but then ‘knock them down again’ when they get back on their feet (through fear of being abandoned). Their need for admiration and their fear of being alone or rejected keeps them on this parabolic path of destruction and support. Ultimately, importance lays with enhancing and protecting the self.


    As common as the suggestion is that you must run or “get away” from this type of person, it is important for family members of someone with NPD to learn to stand up for themselves and hold their ground. This response can be highly beneficial for the person with Narcissistic traits as well. This behaviour will not improve on its own however, and it is a mistake to expect the narcissistic partner in a relationship or family member to be the one who will instigate ‘changing’. For partners of the Narcissist, it is important to improve setting boundaries and holding the Narcissist accountable for their behaviour. As difficult as this seems, by defining your own boundaries you will also give yourself space to recover and recharge as these changes can in fact help both partners. It should be stressed however that this does NOT mean that YOU are responsible for their bad behaviour or abuse or that a person with Narcissistic tendencies cannot work on improving the way they relate to others. Remember one of their tactics is to turn things back on you and make you feel like you have hurt them by holding them accountable for their behaviour.

    For you as the partner of the Narcissist, the most important goal should be to yourself. Narcissists are attracted to people who are dependent on others as it affords them the attention and feelings of importance they seek. By being more independent and having your own life outside the relationship, will help to give you some perspective on your own feelings of yourself and your relationship. A good place to start is to take up hobbies or interests independantly. Find things that you enjoy doing that will also give you the opportunity to meet other people. There are also many support groups for families of Narcissists that will help you with strategies for dealing with their behaviour and building your sense of self-worth and esteem (there are some listed below) or you could contact your GP for Psychologists in your area.


    What a terrible description of human beings. I have known a person who got this diagnosis for more than ten years, and this person isn't at all such a bad person as described here.

    Thank you for your comment. Being a Narcissist is not a bad thing and my article was not intended to be either mean nor negative toward those with Narcissistic tendencies. It is however intended to inform and encourage understanding for those who live with (or work with) someone who displays narcissistic traits.

    Hey, thank you for the article.

    I'm 20 and just waiting for a formal diagnosis, which looks like it will be NPD - pretty much everything you described in the article is spot-on, especially when it comes to emotional hurt and exploitation. I really can't get hurt, because it hurts too much.

    Nice to see an article which doesn't condemn narcissists, because a lot of articles online are either written by narcissists (certain Israeli guy springs to mind) or by people hurt by narcissists and there's some vested interest in regards to feelings (or with the Israeli guy.. money). So yeah.. cheers.

    Hi Tom
    Thank you for your message. I am very impressed that you have shown the courage to get some support. There is light at the end of this tunnel and for those with NPD, as this is a learned disorder, the underlying issues/trauma can be resolved over time leading to resolution of the NPD.

    It is very easy for some to be critical of those with NPD, especially if they have been hurt by one.

    Good luck in the future. I am very happy my article was of some positive support for you.

    Wow. You just described my life.

    I think you did a great job describing this person. You did it with compassion and not condemnation which helped me to see the vulnerable side of a narcissist. The line about "protecting and enhancing" self is helpful for my understanding the behavior. I have a few narcissists in my life, my boss who has caused several people to quit because of her abuse, and a friend who is relatively harmless but flaky and self-centered which can be hurtful. One makes me feel occasionally rebuffed, rejected or devalued making question our friendship and myself when I get upset. The other devalued, and controlled in my work. I'll keep reading as I am looking for ways of dealing with both

    Ps. I noticed a few typos.

    Paul i read your column with interest. I assume you are a trained professional. after 10 years of abuse suffered under a extreme narcissist I can tell you that what science knows about this and its pervasive effects on those who live with them, is frankly nothing. Science is not allowed to say someething is incurable . yet thats what it is, because of the resistence of the NARC to do anything about it, and his/her own lack of self examination. Those without a concience are not fit to inhabit a place where the majority of us have a concience.
    the authorities and science together need to stop poking around and listen to first hand accounts from victims without prejudice.
    In this area scientists fall victim to Narcs False personality more than any other group of society.. you wouldnt go into a viral bath and infect yourself knowingly, would you, or into a nuclear facility either, you would run, and run fast. Yet you think you can remain unaffected by the Narcissists schemes, you cant, no one can out smart a narc, science has got to scrap the rule book and get real.. and stop abusing victims of narcissists by proxy.

    until you have given birth, dont try to explain the pain of childbirth, you cant,

    I couldn't agree more with your comment. I feel that the person with N gets off so lightly - after delving out the abuse and making the victim feel so demeaned and worthless, the victim is almost told, as the 'normal' one who has the ability to function empathetically, not to label the N as a bad person but rather to understand them and tip-toe around them. Get real. I was married to someone with N for 5yrs. The games he put me through was nothing short of hell. I also have a mother with N and again have suffered (yes, suffered) abuse as nobody should have to suffer. Stealth-like daily drips of abuse, enough to ware you down to a point where you question yourself and your sanity because that is what they want.

    As you say in your comment don't try to describe what it is like unless you have been there. They are Narcissists and should be labelled so. They should also be labelled with a health warning so they can't try to break new sources of supply.

    My husband is a Narcissist, he will always be. There is NOTHING wrong with him, it is everyone else that seems to have the problem.
    Narcissists are so boring and predictable. They tend to be internally sad and pathetic, real life cowards. Always know that NOTHING you say or do will ever be right in the eyes of the Narcissist, seriously understand that...remove your EGO out of it, stop personalizing it. I know it is hard to believe that it possible because most of us are not that "enlightened" but it can happen. I look at him as a "wounded child" and sometimes like a "pound puppy", I have to to forge through all the BullS***. My husband is not mentally ill, hes a sadist by choice...he takes great pleasure from hurting others, extorting money, being controlling, taking things from women, etc. but isn't that what any good sadist would do?
    He is fully aware that I KNOW who he REALLY is and who he has REALLY been, it confuses him why I stay, it also angers him that i won't leave...but I will leave on my terms when I am ready, IF that is what I choose to do. As the days go by love him more and more but I care less and less...a form of tough love I suppose. My husband would love for me to humiliate myself and beg him for love and affection just to turn me down. My husband conned me, that is how he was able to marry me or date any woman for that matter. Who knows how many there are/were?? Allow your mind to move on even if your body is not ready to just yet.