Toxic family relationships can take a toll on anyone who has to deal with them, especially when mental illness is involved.
Any sort of mental illness among family members, especially left untreated, can cause stress and discord in the family, but sometimes, the affected person doesn't even realize there's a problem.
If you've ever dealt with someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), you'll know exactly what I mean.
"They tend to exaggerate in an immensely obvious way - as people they're unusual in their personality," says clinical psychologist Jillian Bloxham. "It becomes very evident when a person is narcissistic."
Healthy self-esteem is important for everyone, but some people develop an over-inflated sense of self-importance that leads to the belief that other people's feelings, thoughts and beliefs have no relevance. This is the first sign many people recognize in a person who suffers from NPD.
NPD is a tricky condition, because often, narcissists don't even realize anything is wrong--so identifying narcissistic personality disorder can be a challenge--but mostly for the narcissists themselves.
In general, narcissists are known for their sense of personal entitlement that causes them to expect people around them to cater to their every desire, to anticipate their every need and to respond post-haste in fulfilling them.
"It is good to think highly of yourself - but for these people it is out of control," says personality disorders expert and consultant forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes. "It has gone off the scale."
Do you know a narcissist?
Narcissists tend to be caught up in their own lives, their own personal worlds. This means that in general, they have no time to consider the feelings, thoughts or needs of the people around them. Rather than offer sympathy if you are dealing with pain or frustration, they'll just share some of their own with you (which, of course, will be far more serious than your own.)
While a narcissist may appear to be an upbeat, happy person to outsiders in his or her life, people who know him or her intimately are likely to see a whole other personality. This can manifest in several ways--but a primary marker is that they are unable to empathize with those around them, and they consistently blame others for problems they've caused.
Since narcissists tend to see other people as objects or possessions, they cannot fathom it when they are not obeyed or catered to. If the person is a friend or acquaintance, the narcissist may just discard them and pretend they don't exist--but if it's a family member, things can get more serious.
For example, the narcissist may try to pressure the family member into conforming to his or her wishes, and if that doesn't work, additional and potentially life-altering steps may be taken to get what is desired.
Because narcissists are incapable of empathizing with others, they don't even consider (or care) how their words or actions could affect others--and they will never admit that they are wrong. Instead, they will play the victim and use the situation to gain more attention from others around them.
As with any other toxic family situation, it may be best to distance yourself from a person with NPD. This is especially true because they don't generally realize that anything is wrong. Plus, there is currently no known "cure" for NPD--though if a person affected with it seeks therapy, change is possible. However, it's very unusual for a person with NPD to seek therapy since they don't see a problem with their behavior.
"Why would someone who thinks they're special and great come for therapy?" Bloxham says.
Do you think someone you love might have NPD? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy reading Gaslighting, Love Bombing and Flying Monkeys: The Ultimate Toxic Relationship Survival Guide for Victims and Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse by Angela Atkinson
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