Dating someone with the traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be challenging and emotionally distressing. However, once the relationship is over, that doesn't mean that the difficulties end with it: you may have long-term difficulty trusting people or take some time to recover from what you experienced in the relationship. To learn more, who talked to Dee Johnson, Psychotherapist and Senior Addiction therapist at Priory about how dating a narcissist changes you.
How dating a narcissist changes you
What is narcissistic personality disorder?
To begin, it's important to get our facts straight about what NPD actually is. Many individuals may label others as "narcissistic" but while the word is being used to describe someone who is self-involved, generally individuals aren't saying that someone else has NPD. Narcissistic personality disorder, on the other hand, is a complex and serious mental illness.
"One of a few recognised personality disorders, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a condition when a person has a super inflated sense of their own self-belief and importance, very grandiose with entitlement, controlling and may make false attachments to people in order to control, explains Dee Johnson, a Psychotherapist and Senior Addiction therapist working at Priory Hospital, Chelmsford. "Often, they will not have natural empathy. People with NPD may be emotional and psychological manipulators, and demand admiration."
How does dating a narcissist change you?
As Johnson explains, the long-term impact of dating someone with undiagnosed NPD can be serious. "We see people left with deep rooted emotional and relational trauma – where they can even suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and be too fearful to date again."
He even notes that self-harming tactics can be common as a means of coping with the emotional effects of being in a relationship with someone with NPD. "Self-harm and substance abuse is common, not just to numb the emotional pain but they actually finally feel they get to control something."
What is narcissistic abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional abuse delivered by individuals with narcissism or sociopathy and may involve gaslighting, criticism or put-downs.
At the beginning of the relationship, things may appear to be going well and the connection may seem particularly strong. Johnson explains that it may seem like a "romantic, 'soul mates' whirlwind romance" but this is ultimately, on the behalf of the narcissist, so that "their new partner believes everything they say and do and become dependent on them in some way."
From there, a steady devaluation of the other person may ensue. "They will ‘chip away’ at a person’s self-belief and autonomy."
What support is out there for individuals in relationships with people with NPD?
Johnson explains that being in a relationship with someone with NPD can lead to your own boundaries and quality of life being compromised, so it is important to listen to your own internal voice and what loved ones may say. "Put in boundaries, learn to say no, recognise you have rights, autonomy and should have equality in a relationship. Listen to what friends and family are saying - as much as it may hurt at the time, they are on your side."
He also recommends seeking professional support for issues around confidence and ultimately help you break out of the dynamic. "Seek professional mental health support, i.e. a therapist – look at your self-worth, confidence, people-pleasing responses, and work on learning to change that. You need someone objective to help see reality."
How can individuals with NPD work on their behaviour in relationships?
While individuals with NPD can cause harm to others, it's important to keep in mind that they have a mental illness and the best thing for them is to recognise this and seek professional help.
"The biggest hurdle is getting people with NPD to see that they have a problem - a chronic personality disorder that harms people and understanding that other people do not have to tolerate this," says Johnson. "It’s not a choice to have an NPD so for them, it’s just the way they are and how they see the world – but if they can be honest with themselves, they will see a pattern of behaviour that ends in pain, resentment, loneliness, arguments and that it very rare to have long term friends, family members or relationships."
His solution is to start a process of self-education and accessing therapy. "Through seeking psychoeducation on their personality disorder, their life could in fact become easier, less combative and aggressive. They should learn to connect and understand what love is, for themselves and for others. Psychotherapy is a good place to start."