My friend Jeannie grew up with a narcissist. Her mother was charming, colorful, charismatic, fashionably dressed, and the center of attention at social events. But at home it was a different story. Jeannie’s life was an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes her mother seemed loving and magnanimous. But she made promises, then broke them, and shifted abruptly to cold condemnation when her expectations weren’t met. Chronically insecure, Jeannie kept wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”
The DSM-5 diagnoses Narcissistic Personality Disorder in people with five of these characteristics,who:
- Have a grandiose sense of self-importance—expect to be seen as superior.
- Are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, or beauty.
- Believe that they are “special,” deserve high status possessions and relationships.
- Require excessive admiration.
- Have a sense of entitlement—expect automatic compliance from others and are furious when they don’t get it.
- Exploit other people for their own ends.
- Lack empathy, cannot recognize the needs and feelings of others.
- Envy others or feel that others envy them.
- Demonstrate arrogant, haughty attitudes or behavior. (DSM-5, 2013, pp. 669-670)
Do you know anyone like this? If so:
- You cannot reason with a narcissist—they will not listen or empathize with you.
- You cannot believe a narcissist—they lie, break their promises, and use words as tools to manipulate you.
- You cannot trust a narcissist—they can lash out in narcissistic rage when you don’t meet their expectations
In short, you cannot have a healthy relationship with a narcissist.
In The Empath’s Survival Guide, UCLA Psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff tells how to recognize and deal with narcissists. While they may seem colorful, charming, and charismatic, don’t fall in love with one, she warns. Because they are unreliable, untrustworthy, and emotionally dangerous, avoid narcissistic business partners, bosses, and roommates, and don’t get caught up in the wake of a narcissistic leader.
If there’s a narcissist in your life, don’t let that person steal away your power and peace of mind. Orloff offers practical strategies for setting healthy boundaries and recommends cutting off all contact when possible (Orloff, 2017, pp. 109-113).
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition: DSM-5. Washington, D. C. :Author.
Orloff, J. (2017). The Empath’s Survival Guide. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.