When people hear that someone they just met is a narcissist, they’ll want to stay away from that person. Being a spouse of a narcissist isn’t easy. Few people want to associate with narcissists and with good cause. Dealing with such people is toxic, and it sucks the life out of you.
But spotting narcissists isn’t as easy as people would hope. Sometimes we can spend months, or even years, around a narcissist, convinced that they are the sweetest person on earth. Many people even fall in love with narcissists and sometimes marry them. And it’s only after the wedding that they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.
Aside from spouses of a narcissist, many people live with narcissistic family members, friends, or partners. In most cases, you must deal with their personality disorders eventually. If you don’t have any way to remove them from your life, you have to learn to live with them. You need to know how to look after yourself and counterbalance all their toxicity.
What Is Narcissism?
Narcissism is a word that is often used by people in everyday conversation. But not everyone knows what it means from a psychological standpoint. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just another way to call someone selfish. But the word describes a personality trait and characterizes an incredibly self-involved person. It is a behavior that makes a person ignore the needs of the surrounding people. Usually, narcissists see themselves as better than most.
Because of that, they tend to consider that their time is much too valuable to spend it helping and respecting others. While most people can occasionally display narcissistic behaviors, that doesn’t mean they are selfish. In psychological terms, a narcissist shows a frequent disregard of others’ feelings and lacks empathy. They don’t understand how their behavior can affect others, and they don’t care. Being self-centered is common for these types of people.
They tend to have an inflated sense of self, which makes them entitled. Because of that, they appear arrogant. That doesn’t mean they don’t have insecurities. But they act as they see themselves as perfect. They are desperate to seem perfect and have a deep need for attention. These people often manipulate and gaslight others, either for fun or to control a narrative. While narcissism is a trait, it can signify a personality disorder called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
It is essential to understand that narcissism is a spectrum. Not all narcissists have NPD. Only the people on the higher end of the spectrum are classified as suffering from NPD. The people on the lower end are still narcissists but don’t suffer from this mental health disorder. All narcissists exhibit similar character traits, but they differ in gravity. The further up you are on the spectrum, the worse you become. People with NPD feel little to no empathy and aren’t ashamed to step on others to get ahead.
The ones on the lower end aren’t as extreme. Sure, they are still arrogant and don’t care much for strangers. They still gaslight and manipulate, but they at least have a sense of right and wrong. Often, they feel some amount of guilt after hurting someone they care about. Most people think narcissism is an overt behavior. While that’s true in most cases, a narcissist doesn’t have to be honest about their true self. This behavior is not all about being loud and flashy. Just because they don’t feel empathy doesn’t mean they have to show it.
Narcissists are great liars, and they can easily fool people into believing whatever. In recent years, in-depth studies on this behavior have determined two types of narcissism: covert and overt. Overt narcissism is something you can easily spot. The overt narcissist doesn’t hide who they are, and they aren’t ashamed to show just how mean and manipulative they are. Covert narcissism is the one harder to spot.
The covert narcissist is introverted and reserved. How is that possible, you might ask? Isn’t that a contradiction? Well, no, and this makes sense. A study at NYU determined that narcissism often stems from insecurity. Because of that, even they need reassurance. And if they can’t get it through showing-off, they will act vulnerable. Because most narcissists are covert, they can blend in and appear friendly and trustworthy.
You wouldn’t be able to tell how dangerous they are unless their mask starts slipping. Some people get so fooled by their act that they marry them. And most spouses of narcissists figure out who their partner is only after the wedding. Or maybe you have narcissistic relatives you are forced to interact with. So, when you often have to interact with such a person, what can you do to keep yourself sane?
4 Self-Care Tips from the Spouse of a Narcissist
If you married someone who has NPD, the red flags might not appear until after marriage. Here are some coping mechanisms to try while deciding if you can make the relationship work.
1. The Spouse of a Narcissist Learns How to Avoid Arguments and Confrontation at Inappropriate Times
When talking to a narcissist, they will often try to gaslight you or manipulate you. They will lie, cheat, and generally drive you insane. Many things they say are objectively wrong. They throw blame around like nothing, and they often pick fights. While all that is emotionally draining, it’s even worse to engage in an actual fight with them. Please don’t allow them to play the victim card or emotionally destroy you.
A narcissist doesn’t care about what’s right and wrong. They aren’t interested in communicating and solving issues. They’ll cast aside your feedback and complaints. They are only interested in being right and getting what they want. So, an argument will not do you any good. And, if you end up in a confrontation with them, don’t try to defend yourself.
They don’t care about your actions as much as they care about being validated. Just nod and go along with what they say, then go on with your day. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t expect to “win” any arguments. Keep your expectations low, and you’ll avoid getting hurt.
2. Find a Support System
One of the most dangerous things that narcissists do is chip away at your self-esteem. They gaslight you so hard you believe you are potentially the worst person alive. You think that everything is your fault, and you are just awful as a human being. When you get to that point where your self-esteem is gone, they can virtually do anything to you. When you lack respect for yourself, you accept all types of behaviors.
What spouses of narcissists recommend is creating a robust support system to keep your confidence high. Have friends and family you can confide in. As established before, trying to communicate with them is futile. Conversing with them about their behavior and ways they should change won’t lead to any improvements. It’s better to leave them to their own devices and talk to other people about your struggles.
Create a support system that can lift you and help you rebuild your self-esteem. They can comfort you when you are down, thus counterbalancing all the toxicity the narcissist threw your way. If you don’t have anyone you can confide in, you can always start seeing a therapist. They can help you navigate this toxic relationship better and give you tips to shelter your mental health.
3. Establish Non-Negotiable Boundaries
Setting boundaries won’t work the same with narcissists as it does with non-narcissists. You can’t have a logical and calm discussion and decide what limitations to enforce. You need to take matters into your own hands and implement non-negotiable boundaries. Think of these boundaries as kind of an ultimatum. If they do or don’t do something, you will take a specific action.
For example, if they try to manipulate you, you will stop interacting with them for a few days. If they do something worse, you could even consider leaving. Even though these boundaries are similar to an ultimatum, there’s one significant difference. You don’t want to share these boundaries with them. If they know the limits, they can start manipulating them and taking advantage of loopholes. Instead, think of these boundaries as your battle plan.
It’s all about setting guidelines for what you can accept and what you can’t. Even though you’ve set those boundaries, don’t expect the person to change. No matter what you do, there is no way to make them act differently. After all, those toxic traits are just who they are. But you can control how you act around them. And, if they go too far, you can always decide to leave.
4. Treat Yourself Well, Warns a Spouse of a Narcissist
Don’t put your life on hold just because someone in your life is acting like a complete piece of work. There’s no reason you should stop caring for yourself just because they need to be treated like babies. Taking time to be alone and pamper yourself can make a big difference. Go out, start a new hobby, take a bubble bath.
Do whatever you can to stay happy and positive. Especially after being emotionally drained by a narcissist, you need to relax and feel good. Even something as small as watching a movie can instantly brighten your day.
Final Thoughts on Self-Care Tips from the Spouse of a Narcissist
If you ask a spouse of a narcissist how they deal with their partner, they’ll probably point you towards self-care. They know better than anyone that the people who interact with narcissists need to take extra care of their mental health.
All of the tips that spouses of narcissists can give you revolve around shielding your emotions and treating yourself. One of the most important things you need to do if you live with a narcissist is to avoid fights. Just nod and go along with their crazy ideas. Create a support system that can listen to you and build your self-esteem.
Enforce some non-negotiable boundaries. And, always remember to make time for yourself. Start a new hobby, go to a party, make new friends. Find ways to spend time in a healthy environment. And make time to be alone from time to time.