Article by: Emily Bosman (Intern) and Dean Harrison (Principal Counselling Psychologist)
Are you living with a narcissist? Perhaps you have recently ended a relationship with a narcissist, or are attempting to severe the bonds of a destructive relationship with a narcissist? Whether it be a co-worker, parent, partner, family member, friend, or romantic partner, a relationship with a pathological narcissist can have severe negative effects on a person’s mental well-being.
Pathological narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a strong need for admiration and attention, and a diminished ability to empathise. The pathological narcissist does not engage in healthy and mutually fulfilling relationships. Rather, the pathological narcissist views people only in terms of how they can be of benefit to the narcissist. That is, individuals are tools to be used and discarded when no longer needed.
Think of a narcissist as being similar to an individual who is addicted to drugs. The narcissist’s drug of choice, however, is the way others react to them and the image they present to the world. Narcissists present a false self to others, advertising themselves as more charming, accomplished, intelligent, heroic, altruistic or sexually desirable than they actually are. The narcissist feeds off the attention, admiration, respect or fear they illicit through their false self. They are addicted to being idealised by others, the way a person might be addicted to cocaine or heroin. Responses to their false self is referred to as narcissistic supply and, like someone seeking drugs, the narcissist constantly seeks new sources of narcissistic supply to meet their limitless need. Some examples of narcissistic supply include:
Achievements or winning,
Feeling powerful or having power over others, and
Being in control or having control over others.
If you have encountered a narcissist in your life, chances are, you have been a source of narcissistic supply. To illicit narcissistic supply from their sources, narcissists commonly utilise seduction, manipulation, anger, and bullying tactics. Not all narcissistic supply needs to be positive. Narcissists will often garner negative attention and emotional energy. An example is the narcissistic parent who deliberately makes scheduling mistakes to provoke an angry reaction in the other parent giving them a sense of power.
If you think you might be acting as a source of narcissistic supply, often the best course of action is to remove the narcissist from your life. Cease communication. Eliminate any possible means through which they might be able to influence you. Be aware, however, that the narcissist might employ techniques to retain control over you. This could take the form of ‘love bombing’ consisting of flattery, being overly affectionate, implying that you are ‘soul mates’, telling you they need you. It might also involve bullying tactics involving degradation, lowering your self-esteem, making you doubt yourself.
Sometimes, it is not possible to eliminate a narcissist from your life. For example, if the narcissist is a family member or a co-worker. In this instance, keep communication brief, neutral and non-emotive. Learn to implement appropriate boundary setting. Stop sharing personal information about yourself with the narcissist, and refrain from seeking the same from them. Finally, see a psychologist. Prolonged interaction with a narcissist can leave a person depressed, anxious, unsure of their own beliefs and with self-doubt and low self-esteem. A psychologist can help you develop the tools and insight necessary for recovery. There is light at the end of the tunnel!
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