Vail Relationships column: Help! I’m in love with a narcissist
Dear Neil: Please help me. I’m in love with a narcissist. I left my job because I was stressed, depressed, anxious and suicidal. It’s hard to leave him, even though I know he’s bad for me.
Desperate in Malaysia
Dear Neil: I agree with most of your recommendations, but all bets are off if you are talking about a narcissist. One example: Unless you are catering to his needs and/or making him look good, almost everything you do will disturb or offend him. Another example: To disagree with a narcissist is to reject him. To fail to follow his “rules” is to reject him. Also, if you’ve ever ignored him, expressed hurt because of his behavior at social gatherings, supported someone else’s point of view, disagreed with him in public, tried to set boundaries or failed to collapse in a quivering mass after his latest rage incident, then you’ve hurt him.
Relationship agreements about future behavior and consequences mean nothing to someone with strong narcissistic traits. Rules apply to everyone but the narcissist. I strongly feel that relationships with narcissists are doomed from the start. Narcissists don’t want to change, and it is my understanding that therapy is not likely to make a meaningful difference long term.
Experienced in Colorado
Dear Neil: I attract women who are narcissists. I sometimes say I’ll do anything for love, but a narcissist never cares about me as much as I care about her. So start looking after your own needs, because if you’re with a narcissist, she won’t.
Unhappy in Alberta
Dear Malaysia, Colorado and Alberta: The three emails above do a pretty good job of defining what a narcissist is, but I could add some additional descriptions. If you are with someone with strong narcissistic traits, she tends to be selfish and self-centered, while lacking empathy for you. He is a taker more than a giver. She can easily become rageful, punishing, belittling or abusive when she doesn’t get her way but has trouble accepting someone else’s criticism or disagreement. He is manipulative and controlling and has trouble being accountable for his behavior, so he exhibits a poor conscience and tends to be very defensive. Problems or mistakes are typically someone else’s fault, not her fault.
A narcissist consistently needs to be willing to make your needs, wants and desires equal to his or her own, but you don’t have any control over whether your partner does this. So what can you do? Recognize that there are real limits to how loving a narcissistic partner is to you, and quit catering to his or her feelings and desires so much — and start focusing more on your own. If your partner won’t look out for your feelings, then it is imperative that you do.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 24th year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website at http://www.heart relationships.com. He is the author of the new book: “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Keeping the Flame Alive.”