He’s boastful, arrogant, the center of attention and gets angry when anyone questions his authority. She’s outwardly unassuming but equally self-centered and touchy. Both feel entitled to whatever they want. These people have the classic personality traits of a narcissist.

If you have a friend or coworker who is a narcissist, you know how stressful it can be. And living with a narcissist can be hazardous to your mental and emotional health and your overall well-being.

What’s new: A growing body of research is uncovering key aspects of the narcissist’s personality—and showing how best to cope with such a person.


Good relationships are based on reciprocity—you listen attentively and empathetically to the other person’s joys and sorrows, for example…and he/she listens to yours. With narcissists, it’s a one-way street. A steady diet of this can be toxic to your sense of self.

Important new finding: In a study recently published in Personality and Individual Differences, researchers found that narcissism is closely tied to perfectionism, making narcissists extremely demanding and hypercritical of others.

If your partner or spouse is a narcissist, this means you may well be subjected to insults and admonishments for always doing something wrong and never measuring up. Belittling you makes the narcissist feel bigger.


So what’s the source of all this self-centeredness? Some people become narcissists because they were spoiled from early on. Taught that they were special and that others exist to serve them, narcissists carry these beliefs into adulthood.

Ironically, though, narcissists usually do not feel good about themselves. Their earliest emotional needs often went unmet. They may have never gotten the love, support and approval that nourishes true self-worth, so they ache deep inside with emptiness. Beneath the boasting and arrogance is likely a very wounded person.

Having insight into the narcissist’s suffering soul isn’t going to change his behavior—and certainly doesn’t excuse it. But this understanding can relieve you of the often painful burden of taking it personally. It’s not your fault.


Because narcissism is deeply rooted in one’s personality, it’s not something that you alone can change in another person. What you can change is the way that you respond to situations as they arise.

Helpful: With the use of empathic confrontation, you demonstrate that you appreciate how the other person feels while making an unambiguous statement of how you feel and what you need.

Example one: Your spouse comes home an hour after you were planning on dinner—again—and says, “So I’m late, OK? I’m tired, and I don’t want to hear any of your complaints…let’s eat.”

What not to say: “Don’t you dare talk to me that way!”  What to say: “I know that you’re the boss at work, but I’m not one of your subordinates…our relationship doesn’t work that way. And I know you’re exhausted and you’ve had a tough day, but I’m allowed to be disappointed when you’re late. It’s been three times this week.”

Example two: Your partner talks at length about a series of frustrating encounters with a friend, then starts reading e-mail on her cell phone when you start to describe your day.

What not to say: “I can’t believe how selfish you are!” What to say: “It sounds like you had a lot to deal with today, and I know you like to stay on top of your e-mail. But our relationship is a two-way street. I care about you and would like to feel that you’re caring for me, too.”


Whether this approach can help your relationship evolve so that you feel more empowered ultimately comes down to a question of leverage. Does your partner care enough to change the way he acts? Will your partner respect reasonable limits on selfish, entitled and inconsiderate behavior?

If you’re not sure whether your change in behavior is improving your relationship enough to stay in it, consider trying psychotherapy. It can help you clarify your feelings and give you the strength to stay strong in a taxing environment…or make an informed decision to leave the relationship.

With or without professional help, it is crucial to take care of yourself.

What to do: Spend as much time as possible with friends and family who value and care about you. Cultivate healthy distractions such as exercise and reading…and pursue self-soothing pleasures such as music, yoga and meditation.

Also helpful: Journaling. Writing out your feelings of frustration and anger can help keep your appraisals of the situation as objective and accurate as possible.

Warning: Don’t be tempted to escape into alcohol, overeating or drugs. This will only fuel the self-blame and insecurity you’re likely feeling and exacerbate any depression you may be experiencing.


Narcissists usually know who they are. In fact, a recent Ohio State University study found that the answer to a single question, “Are you a narcissist?” identified these individuals almost as well as a 40-item personality test. To take the full test, go to Personality-Testing.info/tests/NPI.php.

Think you may be a narcissist? Therapy can be very helpful. You didn’t ask to be put together this way, but it’s your responsibility to make it better. An evidence-based approach known as schema therapy can be highly effective in treating narcissism. This therapy focuses on changing maladaptive behaviors that develop in childhood and are relived in adulthood. To find a therapist who uses schema therapy, consult the International Society of Schema Therapy.

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