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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
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What are the basic personality characteristics and behavior

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What are the basic personality characteristics and behavior patterns for a person with narcissism and how is it best to help a person with these character traits and behavior patterns see that these are causing problems for himself and others and discontinue being in denial about the subject?

Hi! I believe I can be of help with this issue.

First, let me say that if you are close with him or live with him, then you've put up with a lot for a while now. And this is actually the key to my answer to you that you need to consider and think about. Your question is how to get him to have insight into himself. Because if he could see the effects of his actions then he would realize he needs help. And then he would get better.

Your logic is correct. Except.

Narcissism is a personality disorder. The definition of personality disorders is that the behaviors come from disordered awareness. And that the person's awareness disorder is so deeply entrenched in who he is as a person, that it is part of his personality. With Narcissistic Personality Disorder, there are those in the field who hypothesize that it cannot be changed because it forms so early in life. Even psychoanalysts of the purely Freudian school are not certain as to the long term prospects for "true" change in a "true" narcissist. I simply don't know. Why?

Because narcissists hardly ever come to therapy for their own sake, to actually get therapy. They come for some ulterior motive. That's been my experience as well as my colleagues I've discussed NPD with. It turns out to be a contest wherein the client/narcissist is attempting to manipulate the therapist and the therapist is attempting to not only NOT be manipulated but to show the narcissist that she's manipulating. This can frustrate and enrage the narcissist and narcissists that are enraged will try to destroy those who are enraging them. Most therapist don't repeat the experience! I've never had this happen personally, but I know from seeing it with colleagues. So I don't have first hand experience of success.

Is that a life sentence? I can't say; I can only share what I shared above.

You know, however, from your own experience that he will not accept help in a meaningful way; he manipulates as I discussed above. Why?

Because narcissists never believe the problem is in them. The problem is always in YOU. So if they ever seek help, it is only to get what they want. Then they stop coming to therapy once they've convinced the people who have forced them to get help that they have tried. And all the while, they keep doing what they believe they should be doing.

Let me remind you of what you know within yourself is true because you've experienced it:

It is very difficult for people to imagine how pervasive NPD is. They tend to keep doing things with the narcissist as if he's normal. Then they get burned and they are very hurt. He will alternate charm and invective. You will be hurt. You are a normal person and have a view of personality that we call "whole". Your view does not allow for what has happened to his personality: it has become "fractured". What do I mean?

Let's use a parable of a house. You understand personality as being an open plan. There is the main big room where everything in the personality is and there are some smaller rooms off the main room, but they all have open doorways so that there is a unity there. If a person reacts from one of those smaller areas in his personality, it is coherent with the rest of the house, it fits into the decorating scheme of the main room, etc. It's all unified.

He isn't like that. He has different closed rooms. When he says something to you, it responds to some need and "truth" of a certain room. When he wants something else, it responds to a different room that contains that "truth". They don't have to agree for him to feel he is being okay and truthful. Because they are responding to different needs in him. Like different closed rooms.

You would not be able to feel whole that way. You would feel rather creepy. Well he doesn't feel whole. But he doesn't know how to feel whole. And he doesn't know what feeling whole is like. And this by the way is part of what makes him charming to women: they (and you) get their "I can fix him" module all tingling because they can sense that broken aspect.

Most people wind up not being able to stay with the narcissist, even if he is a family member. Here's an important book for when it's time to save oneself and protect oneself and disconnect from the person:

It is called: Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life by ***** *****ez-Lewi.

But if you maintain a relationship, what can you do? Well, I am going to give you two step program that has had success in my practice for loved ones of people with personality disorders. You are already considering divorce and even before I begin with what you can do, I have to tell you that most people I see who are married to narcissists, if indeed he has this personality disorder, do wind up divorcing. They are charming at first but then they are so controlling and belittling that it is intolerable. So, if you choose to divorce, know that I will support your decision. But you may want to try more ideas now, so here are the best ones that can help for at least a little while.

Step 1. You must accept that you cannot change him. This is the heart of the matter: what you see is what you are going to get for a long time (see step 2) if not for the rest of him life. Your job and your goal is to learn how to accept him the way he is and not be affected negatively by him. Yes, this is a tough, big job. But that is what he needs. You cannot be his therapist; you have to accept that this is how he deals with the world and that your job is to be there for him and with him without you getting too hurt by him personality difficulties.

Step 2. You can encourage him to seek professional help. You know better than anyone that even encouraging him will probably not go over well with him, and he won't go, so you have to go back to step one!

So, that is your situation. Acceptance is the key. Making sure not to get too wrapped up in his negativity and his rigidness is vital. This is the way you will be able to continue in your relationship with him if you decide to stay.

I'm going to prescribe a couple of excellent books you can get on how to live with a narcissist. Because you are not going to change him. What I wrote to you above is even more what you must stick with. But these books WILL help you as they have been tried and I've seen them have good effect if you follow the suggestions of the authors. They are both easily available online:

1. The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship by Eleanor Payson. This is a great book that will help you with the lack of self-esteem that living with a narcissist or being close with a narcissist will do to you.

2. The Object of My Affection is in My Reflection: Coping with Narcissists by Rokelle Lerner. This book is newer but is extremely clear and insightful and has helped people since it came out 3 years ago.

I wish you the very best and support whatever you choose to do in this difficult situation!

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