If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you are going to know that the standard response from most is to leave. Sometimes however it’s not as easy as just leaving. Perhaps you are truly in love, maybe you have children together, perhaps the narcissist is your child or your parent. Whatever your reasons for wanting to stay in the relationship, this blog is an attempt to offer a guide for you to make the relationship as good as is possible.

What is a narcissist?

In our society, we commonly believe that narcissists are really arrogant people who simply love themselves. However, it is more accurate to use a definition such as that supplied by Stephen Johnson, a psychologist. He defined a narcissist as someone who has “buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.” Essentially a narcissist is someone who is in love with an idolised, projected image of themselves. They use and love this image exaggeratedly in order to stop themselves feeling like their true wounded real self. They will do anything to stop other people seeing this true side to them.

If you have a narcissist in your life, whom you love but are struggling with the challenges this relationship incurs, it may be helpful for you to know that you can continue the relationship by deciding the limits of the compromises you are prepared to make.

If the narcissistic person in your life is open minded enough to talk through their issues, the best option for you to pursue would be to discuss personality disorder treatment options. However, whilst this discussion is happening, and before they go into treatment, here are some tips to help you navigate your relationship with the narcissist in your life.

Establish boundaries: You will have your own value system and moral code. It is important that you determine this before you attempt to continue any relationship with a narcissist. Remember that verbal abuse has the potential to escalate to physical abuse if you don’t clearly set boundaries around what you are and are not prepared to accept. If they venture outside these boundaries at any point, you need to be consistent and true to yourself and leave the relationship.

Pick your battles: Generally people with narcissistic personality disorder believe they are better than other people and that they deserve to be treated thus. If you disagree with them over any small thing, they may feel disrespected and as though they are being attacked. Try to respect their point of view and not engage in a debate about it if at all possible. If it is something that is completely out of line with your own boundaries, remove yourself from the situation instead of arguing the point as generally speaking, a narcissist won’t be able to understand normal disagreements and will feel misunderstood and hurt.

Understand that they can’t offer emotional support: A narcissist finds it almost impossible to empathise or relate to other people’s trials and tribulations. If you need emotional support, make sure you have a strong network of people around you – from friends, relatives and support groups to professional therapists, who can provide you with strong emotional support when needed.

Learn about narcissistic personality disorder: If someone in your life is displaying signs of being a narcissist, you may find that learning as much as you can about narcissistic personality disorder will really help you. The more you understand about their personality traits and the reasons behind them, the more you may be able to cope with the negative feelings they may bring up in you.

Feed their ego: Their egos are of utmost importance to a narcissist. In order to remain happy and pleasant to be around, they will need a daily serving of attention, validation, affection and love. By discovering new ways to show appreciation and gratitude to the narcissist in your life, you may notice that their rages and irritability decrease. This is not about manipulating them, it is showing that you understand how a narcissist works and that you want to help keep the stability in both of your lives.

See the good in them: Having a personality disorder doesn’t make someone a bad person. Their behaviours stem from unresolved trauma. However, even awareness of this doesn’t mean you will always be able to find the good in someone who is consistently testing you. However, there are tools that can help you do this. For example, every time you get frustrated at a behaviour or action, remind yourself of something positive about them.

Making any relationship with a narcissist work is going to test you. However you will find it easier if you educate yourself and adjust your own expectations of what you can get from your relationship. You also really need to understand where to draw the line if it gets too much. Be prepared to defend your boundaries. As we have already mentioned it is important to have people outside the relationship who can support you when things get really tough. It is also really important to encourage the narcissist in your life to get treatment for their personality disorder. If they do, make sure you are committed and able to participate actively in their treatment in order for you to build a healthier, happier and stronger relationship together.