I’ve been a therapist for over three decades so I’ve seen relational and individual patterns and trends come an go. Today, I thought I’d talk about something that has become a hot topic. It literally is everywhere. If I go on to social media, I’m inundated with lists, reels, memes, or people commenting in some way about this topic. In practice, there isn’t a week that goes by without someone labelling their partner as this. I’m guessing you know what I’m talking about already. If you thought narcissism, you would be right.

I understand why people look for help when someone in their family or someone they love, especially a parent or a partner, has strong narcissistic traits/behaviours or NPD. It can feel lonely. It can feel unrelenting and mentally exhausting, like you are under the microscope for anything and everything, and those things can change so quickly you can’t keep up. It can feel like you don’t matter and are, simply put, wrong. Your needs don’t get met, in fact, in can be impossible or nerve-wracking to talk about your needs, so you don’t. Friends and colleagues all seem to love your partner because they do all of these extra things for them but you are the one who takes the heat behind closed doors. I don’t want to hash things up on here, there is enough information out there already. I am not putting myself forward as an expert on this subject, either. This is simply an opinion piece.   

It’s important to note that narcissism is more than a personality disorder. It’s considered to be part of healthy developmental processes in childhood – it helps children question, or seek, to protect their things, and it’s common for adults to display some traits of narcissism in day-to-day life without being a narcissist. For example, quite a few people have a strong desire for success or to have a well-paid job or have wins in life, maybe work too many hours for that car they want at their family’s connection expense. Or we like to feel or look good – ‘she seeks/likes attention’, ‘he seeks/likes admiration’. When this forms part of the larger overall of the person, because when we think on it further, these same people also display flexible, adaptive, and caring parts to them as well – ‘they’re a good friend, or a loving parent’ – that would make them pretty healthy people because no one is perfect.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder itself is relatively rare. The estimated presence of NPD in the wider community is somewhere between 1% – 6%. And it’s important to note that like any umbrella diagnosis, there are degrees.

It’s also kind of important to remember that the major distinction between narcissism and NPD is that narcissism is not a mental illness or personality disorder. NPD is. No matter whether strong narcissistic traits or NPD, it’s difficult and painful to live with.

So, yes, we can all have traits of narcissism. Because narcissism sits on a spectrum there are so many ‘narcissist lists’ or ‘questionnaires’ online asking, ‘is your partner a narcissist?’ that people can quite readily see someone they know somewhere on those lists. Maybe the site doesn’t ask a question, per se, but tells you the ‘facts’ about narcissists. Sometimes they’re interesting, well thought out lists. Sometimes they aren’t terribly nuanced because they can’t take everything into consideration about their ‘diagnoses’.  

Sometimes people have strong narcissistic traits. Sometimes it’s a matter of a person you love pushing back at your boundaries, maybe they’re not sure how to be a good partner, for example. It can be good to think from our partner’s perspective sometimes. Or maybe, if we give it thoughtful consideration, they often only seem interested in their own wants and needs being met. That can certainly leave you feeling hurt or confused. Angry, even. Questioning. Are they being narcissistic? Maybe. Maybe things have been complicated lately and they were lacking empathy or generally being insensitive at that time or in that moment. That does occur the longer you live with someone. However, if it happens a lot, and when you think about it, you are worried or genuinely scared about voicing how you feel because it gets nasty or you feel you are continually being told how wrong you are, then it could be more.

If there is emotional abuse and constant berating, it certainly is unhealthy, please seek help over reading online lists. Speak to a therapist to help you piece together how you, yourself, feel, not what someone else tells you to feel. Certainly, get help with your psychological, containing, physical, and executed boundaries. And if you believe you are in a relationship with a person who displays strong narcissistic traits, listen to your gut. And make sure you are safe while you do any work, as you re-find yourself. Maybe even find yourself for the very first time.

And although people who are narcissistic are often seen as entitled or having strong self-esteem, this is not always the core of them. It can be far more shades of grey than that. If you are looking for some well written information on narcissism, then check out Wendy T Behary’s Disarming the Narcissist, an empathetic look at the narcissist, including discussing Schema Therapy. There is also Dr Patrick Carnes’ book, The Betrayal Bond, which gives people living in maladaptive, abusive relationships support and knowledge around trauma-bonds. Or there is The Gaslighting Effect, the title is self-explanatory, by Robin Stern.

I hope this piece I’ve put together helps you in some way. I wish you all the best mental health and a wise, kind, and safe personal journey.