What Is a Narcissist
Narcissism. Before we dive in, let’s answer an important question. What is it? It’s a bit more complicated than when your partner acts a little selfish sometimes. The term comes from Greek mythology and a story about a guy named Narcissus.
The Origin Story
Narcissus had a lot of things going for him. Mainly? He was pretty. That happens when you’re the son of a god and a nymph. Pretty genes. Lucky guy. What’s the problem? He was so pretty that a) almost everyone fell in love with him and b) he didn’t think any of them were good enough. One day he met a nymph named Echo who fell for him instantly, and when he inevitably rejected her advances, she died of a broken heart. Echo’s death did not sit well with a god-level friend of hers who cursed Narcissus to… wait for it… fall deeply in love with his own reflection. He was so fixated on gazing at his reflection, in fact, that he wasted away and died. Sounds extreme, right? That’s narcissism.
The Present Concern
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a legitimate mental health issue that requires diagnosis and treatment. It’s a curse, if you want to stick with the mythology theme, to be rendered incapable of fixating on anything other than yourself. “Pathological self-absorption” has been a subject of study since the late 1800’s, but it’s actually pretty rare. Only about 1% of the population suffers from the condition, according to Psychology Today.
It’s likely, then, that if you’re wondering whether your partner or someone you know is a narcissist, they’re actually just exhibiting narcissistic traits and tendencies as a coping mechanism for some underlying issue. And often, that means they’re going to need help to change. They’re stuck staring at their own problems, just like Narcissus couldn’t tear his gaze away from his reflection. And even, or especially, when you understand that your narcissist is hurting, their behaviors can be extremely hurtful to you and anyone else in relationship with them.
EVERYONE (even you, yes) is selfish sometimes. With patience and grace for yourself and others, hopefully you recognize and work on areas where you struggle. True narcissists are never going to see that in themselves, but someone with narcissistic ways of dealing with their life… the future depends on a couple of things.
The Red Flags
Like all personality disorders, narcissism is complicated, so there are a few different “kinds” of narcissism. But some common traits among the different types share tell-tale signs that you’re in a narcissistic relationship:
- Your partner has an inflated sense of entitlement.
- Your partner ignores other people’s needs.
- Your partner isn’t great at hearing feedback.
- Your partner engages in manipulation to achieve their goals.
- Your partner dominates conversations or spends an excessive amount of time on their physical appearance.
- You feel insecure in the relationship or pressured to “perform” the way your partner expects.
What do you do if you recognize these tendencies in your partner? I think the most loving, honest thing to do is… ask them about it. Ask them, “Do you think you’re narcissistic?” That’s not going to be a fun conversation! Especially if one of their narcissistic traits is that difficulty with processing feedback. But, if they’re capable of recognizing the signs in themselves, and if they’re open to mental health counseling, they may be capable of growth. If they can’t or won’t see it, you need to know that too.
I want to be very clear here that if you’re in a relationship with someone whose narcissistic behaviors are harming you or your children, you have every right to protect yourself and those you love. Sometimes, the fact may be that you need to leave that situation, if you can. That’s something we can help you with here if you want to reach out to one of our HopeCoaches. It’s never your responsibility to wait for someone to “get better” just because you love them… it’s theirs, even if they can’t see it.
Facing the Problem
Bear in mind one key element of the story of Narcissus–he died. It killed him. Narcissism is not good for anyone, including the narcissist, who is quite literally trapped in a constant thought cycle about me, myself, and I. If you feel safe confronting the narcissist in your life, ask them if they’d be willing to seek treatment or attend counseling. If you’re in a romantic partnership with the narcissist, couples counseling might be the best way to address how their narcissistic tendencies are taking a toll on your relationship.
If you think you might be in a relationship with a narcissist, try reaching out to a counselor for yourself before you try to “fix” them. You need to make sure your own mental health is being tended to before you start analyzing someone else’s–ever heard that Bible verse about the speck and the plank? Essentially it says look at yourself before trying to fix someone else. With some validation and wisdom from a trusted resource, you’ll be more capable of feeling out what your hopes and goals for the relationship are, which will inform how you move forward.
The Simple Truth
There is no doubt that you deserve better than a narcissist’s abuse, but if you’ve been dealing with a narcissistic personality for a while, you may not believe you deserve better. You may have been trained to assume that you’re “annoying to be around” and feel selfish for having needs, wants, or just for existing. But that’s who the narcissist says you are. It’s not the truth.
God loves you for who you ARE. To Him you are precious, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and worthy of unconditional love. He would never gaslight you, withhold approval until you perform “correctly,” or refuse to listen to your needs. His love creates safety, not insecurity. That safe space allows those who live in it to find hope and purpose instead of exhaustion and despair, and that’s the kind of love you deserve.
More Resources for Narcissism
If you would like to take a deeper look into narcissism, the MedCircle series on Narcissistic Relationships with Dr. Ramani may be helpful to you. (We are not in partnership with the Medcircle nor do we endorse any services they offer.)
As always, please reach out to TheHopeLine if you need support. We’re always here to listen, pray, and offer resources without judgment.
Still, have questions? To find out more on how to tell if you’re with a narcissist read, How Do I Know if I Love a Narcissist?
Photo by Michael Easterling