😪😁😰 This article was written by Jay Reid, LPCC and by wikiHow staff writer, Glenn Carreau. Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) in private practice in San Francisco, CA. He specializes in helping clients who have survived a narcissistic parent or partner. Treatment focuses upon helping clients identify and challenge self-diminishing beliefs as a result of narcissistic abuse. Jay holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and an MS in Clinical Psychology from Penn State University.
😪😁😰 Dealing with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a challenge, especially within your family—but rest assured, it can be done. It's normal to feel an obligation to your family, but remember to care for yourself first and foremost. Narcissistic people lack empathy and demand validation from everyone around them, making them damaging to your mental health. We've put together a comprehensive guide to recognizing NPD and a list of practices to help you deal with the narcissistic relative in your life.
This article is based on an interview with our licensed professional clinical counselor, Jay Reid. Check out the full interview here.
Section 1 of 3:Recognizing a Narcissist
- 1NPD is characterized by a lack of empathy and a need for admiration. Because they don't have empathy, a narcissistic family member won't try to understand your feelings (or anyone else's) and will have no remorse for their actions. At the same time, they'll constantly seek validation from everyone around them—despite lacking compassion for others.
- Narcissistic family members may "love bomb" you, building you up with excessive flattery and attention to gain your trust in hopes that you'll become a constant source of praise for them.
- Someone with NPD will also struggle to control their emotions and have intense mood swings. They might seem calm and then suddenly become angry, aggressive, and manipulative.
- 2They're self-obsessed and need to be the center of attention. Narcissists have strong feelings of entitlement and become petulant when the spotlight moves away from them. They're also hung up on looking better than everyone else in terms of physical beauty, career success, wealth, and reputation.XTrustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source
- Family members with NPD will often silence you, ignoring your needs and desires in favor of their own and making you feel like your voice doesn't matter.
- Narcissists often come off as vain and self-absorbed to others because they have a prideful personality.
- 3They manipulate you with lies, exaggeration, and gaslighting. Lying is a common symptom of NPD; narcissistic people will often lie to get attention and soothe their egos. This includes exaggerating the truth to make themselves look better and gaslighting—distorting the truth to convince you that things happened differently than you remember.
- They may try to twist your perception of them (and yourself) by using phrases like "You're overreacting," "You're acting crazy right now," and "You seem insecure."
- If you walk away from them feeling confused and unsure of yourself, they may be gaslighting you.
- 4They're incredibly proud and can't take any kind of criticism. In a narcissist's mind, they're always right. They'll want you to believe this and likely demand that you side with them in family disputes. If they feel like someone is challenging them, a narcissist's pride will cause them to get angry and lash out.XTrustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source
- Calling your family member out on lousy behavior may seem impossible because they get mad at the littlest things.
- 5They expect too much of you. A family member with NPD will constantly demand your attention and admiration.XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source You'll likely be asked to perform favors and go out of your way for them while they give nothing in return. They'll make you feel like you're responsible for their happiness—which isn't true.
- When interacting with a narcissistic family member, you may feel like their love is conditional and that you need to earn their love by fulfilling their needs.
- You may also feel anxious around them and worry about how they'll react if you don't say or do the right thing.
- 6They get jealous easily. Despite outward appearances, people with NPD typically have low self-esteem. They want to feel like the most successful person in the room at all times, which will translate to arrogance and overconfidence. If they feel like they're being overshadowed by another person, they'll become jealous at the drop of a hat.XTrustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source
- A jealous narcissist will try to tear down anyone they perceive as "better" than them.
- Jealousy is a common trait in narcissistic siblings, where rivalry can naturally develop.
- 7They have many other strained or unhealthy relationships. If you feel like you have a toxic relationship with a narcissistic family member, you're probably not the only one. Narcissists usually have strained relationships with the people closest to them, creating tension with their constant jealousy, aggressiveness, and carelessness.XResearch source
- You may notice the narcissist calling other people names and talking about them behind their backs.
- Other family members may decide they've had enough and cut ties with the narcissist.
- Narcissists dehumanize people, only engaging with those who seem useful or important enough to associate with. If they feel like someone has failed them, they'll abruptly cut ties.
Section 2 of 3:Short-Term Solutions for Dealing with Narcissistic Family
- 1Stay calm and reason with the narcissist rather than fighting. It’s natural to get frustrated by their negativity, but a narcissist's obsessive need to be right makes it hard to resolve things by arguing. Give them a compliment before offering constructive feedback, and finish by expressing confidence in their ability to change. Let them know that your relationship will improve if they do.
- Remind yourself that the conflict results from the narcissist's personality and are not really about you, so you don't need to fight back or defend yourself.
- Don't call them a narcissist outright, either. You might be trying to make them stop and think about their actions, but they'll likely just try to prove that you're the problem, not them.
- 2Remind yourself that you both have choices. When your family member starts complaining to you, let them know that they can choose to let go of their perceived issues and direct that energy elsewhere. Similarly, you can find support and purpose outside of the narcissistic relative if they take a toll on you.XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source You're not obligated to stick around!
- Realizing that you have a choice is often empowering enough to help you relax in stressful encounters.
- Rather than engaging with your family member's negativity, try saying, "I can see that you're frustrated. Have you considered focusing your energy somewhere else? You're always free to choose your own path."
- 3Set boundaries with that family member. Because they're prone to such intense manipulation, people with NPD don't have a sense of boundaries. Put reasonable limitations on your interactions with them for your own mental health. It falls to you to decide what you will and won't do for them and how much time you're willing to invest in them.XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source
- If they demand too much attention with frequent text messages, put your phone down without replying.
- Let them know that you won't participate in negative conversations where they're rude to you or talk about other family members behind their back.
- 4Remove yourself from toxic interactions. Be prepared for your narcissistic family member to disregard your boundaries initially.XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source If they do, show them that you won't accept their bad behavior by excusing yourself and leaving. You don't have to cut contact right away; just make it clear that your limits need to be respected.
- You could say, "Hey, I'm going to get some air. I feel uncomfortable talking about our cousin like that, so let's try talking later once we clear our heads."
- Stick to your guns, and don't let them make you feel guilty. Your boundaries are clearly defined, so you're not overreacting by getting the space you need.
- 5Treat yourself with love and compassion. Narcissists are normally quite negative, and interactions with them can make self-love even more of a challenge. Take care of your physical, mental, and emotional needs. You're worthy of kindness, so choose to love yourself unconditionally regardless of what the narcissist says to tear you down.XResearch source
- If your family member insults you, keep track of the facts. Do they have any evidence for their claims? Or are they just expressing an exaggerated opinion?
- Practice self-care by exercising, eating well, calming your mind with peaceful, enjoyable activities, and getting plenty of sleep.XTrustworthy SourceHarvard Medical SchoolHarvard Medical School's Educational Site for the PublicGo to source
Section 3 of 3:Long-Term Solutions for Dealing with Narcissistic Family
- 1Built a support network, both inside and outside of the family. Spend time with friends and other family members who make you feel happy and good about yourself. Rely on them to give you unconditional love, and seek their advice or encouragement when dealing with the narcissist.
- Trusted friends are especially helpful because they're removed from the situation and can offer a more objective perspective.
- A family member you trust can back you up and offer moral support during face-to-face interactions with the narcissist.
- 2Limit future interactions with them. Decide in advance how often you want to see this family member and communicate with them over the phone. Ensure that you only spend time with them when you're comfortable and have agreed to do so. Reiterate your boundaries to them in advance, so they understand your expectations.XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source
- If they live close by, you could resolve to only see them once a week for a quick lunch. Alternatively, you might decide you only want to see them when other people are present at family events.
- Set time limits for phone calls so you won't have to listen to their negativity and complaints for too long.
- 3Keep a journal and record your interactions with them. A journal will help you set the record straight when your narcissistic family member tries to lie or gaslight you.Write in the journal regularly. Then, go back and read your previous entries when the narcissist tries to accuse you of something or belittle you, and remind yourself of what really happened.
- Write the date with each entry. Gaslighting is based on vague generalizations; you can refute the accusations when you have solid facts, dates, and times on your side.
- 4Cut the narcissist from your life if necessary. If your narcissistic family member can't or won't respect your boundaries despite all your efforts, consider cutting ties with them entirely. It isn't an easy decision, but remember that your well-being comes first. You're not a bad relative for distancing yourself from a toxic person.XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source
- Make a plan before you cut ties. Discuss it with friends if you need a second opinion, and make sure you can safely cut the narcissist off.
- 5Seek support from a therapist. A therapist can be an essential part of your support network if you have the means to see one. They can examine your situation with fresh and professional eyes and offer insightful advice for coping with a narcissistic family member. They can also coach you through an exit plan if you need one.
- If you’re not sure how to find a therapist, start by asking your primary care physician for a referral.
- If you have health insurance, you can check your plan’s provider directory online.
- You can also search for a therapist using a helpful database like Psychology Today.