Mayo Clinic reports that there are less than 200,000 cases of Narcissistic Personality Disorder documented each year. The disorder is described by Mayo Clinic as “excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feelings, an inability to handle any criticism, and a sense of entitlement;” there is no cure. Symptoms include “grandiosity, callous and unemotional traits, disregard for others’ feelings, excessive need for admiration” or social isolation. Other characteristics include taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own goals, a belief that he or she is “special,” and a preoccupation with “fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.”
Many of us have dated someone that fits this bill. It can be overwhelming, draining and emotionally damaging. Some of us have parents who are narcissists. In turn, narcissists attract people with co-dependent personalities who are expert at sacrificing their own needs and happiness in order to please their partner. If this dynamic is not recognized soon enough in a relationship, the results can be devastating. Many articles that I’ve read on narcissism suggest that narcissists are to be avoided like the plague. But narcissists are people, too, and what if you fall in love with one?
Throughout my life I have dated several narcissistic men. They were not monsters or completely horrible individuals… all the time. They definitely had redeeming and charming qualities. Sometimes a textbook definition of a personality disorder can sound so concrete, permanent and daunting. Like, “If you meet a narcissist, run away now! Don’t even try to help or save this person! Abandon all hope ye who enter here!” Ultimately, people cannot be changed unless they want to change.
At the heart of many narcissists lies a very wounded soul. I want to whisper in their ear, “I see you for what you are.” I used to hold one of my exes whenever he was being particularly mean or salty and I would softly repeat, “I understand you. I accept you. I embrace you. I love you.” Many of them tell tales of having the perfect childhood or of accomplishing deeds much greater than actuality. The truth is that this is a mask of insecurity. It is a mask to keep people from getting too close. Closeness is dangerous to a narcissist because it leaves him or her feeling vulnerable and exposed.
If you have a narcissist in your life, be gentle but firm with her. And love her. See her for what she truly is but don’t let her get away with being a brat. Learn how to set boundaries. When he is bragging to his friends about how cool he is, let him do it if it’s harmless. When he gets mad because dinner isn’t ready as soon as he gets home, realize that he is upset because he realizes he depends on you.
Do not tolerate abuse, but understand that people who are narcissists are usually just deeply insecure. Flip the script on them once in a while. The power is in your hands.