Living with someone who has narcissistic traits carries unique challenges. So we asked a bestselling author and expert on narcissism for a few tips.
We all have some level of healthy assertiveness and a desire to put our needs first, from time to time. This kind of self-advocacy helps us preserve our confidence and celebrate our accomplishments.
But with narcissism, it’s a different story. For many, living with someone who has narcissistic behaviors can be a distressing experience.
If you have such a roommate or loved one, know that you’re not alone, and support is available. There are several ways to stand in your power and cope.
When you interact with someone who has narcissistic traits, you may feel confused, frustrated, or invalidated. You may also be asking yourself why they behave this way.
It’s understandable. Folks with narcissistic behaviors may be oblivious to how their actions have hurt you, perhaps due to brain differences (as some
Research from 2018 shows narcissistic behavior may stem from childhood abuse and neglect.
It can be useful to view their patterns from this vantage point: They may be someone who craves love, acceptance, and validation, but they don’t know how to get it in an authentic way.
Characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissism exists on a spectrum. It may be diagnosed as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) when it’s a clinically recognized recurrent pattern that pervades every aspect of life.
Some symptoms of NPD include:
- exhibiting a grandiose sense of self
- having limited empathy (more common in men, according to a 2018 study)
- exploiting others for social clout or resources
- feeling entitled to special treatment
- having fantasies about beauty, success, or power
- feeling special or superior to others
Quick tips for dealing with a narcissist personality
Whether your roommate or loved one has been diagnosed with NPD or you suspect that their behavior might fit the bill, there are several ways to navigate their narcissistic behaviors.
1. Articulate non-negotiable boundaries
“Boundaries are very much an inside job,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and author of two books on narcissism.
“Setting boundaries doesn’t mean that you expect the other person’s behavior to change, but rather that you set a limit in your mind of what is acceptable, tolerable, and behave in line with that,” she explains.
“For example, if you set a boundary around communication or being late and that boundary is violated, then you have to make a choice on what to do for you — but not link that to their behavior.”
What it sounds like
“I will not tolerate being spoken to that way.” If they persist, leave the room (safely).
2. Learn the signs of gaslighting
Gaslighting can be a manipulation tactic. It occurs when another person uses manipulation to cause you to doubt yourself or your sanity. As a result, you may feel confused or insecure, or lose self-confidence.
When someone gaslights you, it can sound like:
- “I was just joking.”
- “I never said that.”
- “That didn’t happen.”
- “You’re overreacting.”
- “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
To combat this, you might consider getting as many interactions as you can in writing. You can keep a log of important notes, dates, receipts, and quotes in your phone or journal.
3. Detach from emotional outbursts
Engaging with a person during an emotional outburst is pointless, says Durvasula.
“Disengage. Don’t personalize their outbursts, as hard as it is, especially if they are directed to you. Recognize that dysregulated behavior, especially if it is hurtful or harmful is not acceptable, and give yourself permission to not engage,” she says.
Durvasula adds that you can express your unwillingness to continue the conversation until they approach you calmly and healthily.
“You are not a psychological punching bag. It is their responsibility to learn to regulate, and you are not their therapist. It’s not your responsibility to teach them,” she adds.
4. Learn the art of negotiation
People with narcissism may not respond to traditional communication or “I” statements, as their empathy may be limited.
You could instead try to use the same transactional or cause-and-effect language that they use, but rather to healthily assert your boundaries.
What this sounds like
Rather than, “I feel hurt when you’re late for date night,” you can try this:
“Our reservation is at 6. If you’re not there by 6:15, I plan to leave and go to the movies with a friend. You’re welcome to join us, but I won’t wait for you to show up.”
5. Fortify your self-esteem and self-soothing
It’s a myth that only people with low self-esteem end up in these dynamics, Durvasula emphasizes. “Plenty of people with a strong sense of self get pulled into these relationships for a whole range of reasons,” she says.
To self-soothe, you can do hobbies that make you feel good and build your self-confidence, particularly activities that prevent you from becoming isolated.
A strong sense of self and comfort with your own company can help you set better boundaries, she adds.
6. Cultivate a tight and knowledgeable inner circle
Durvasula advises that you try to keep a solid support network of those who are aware of this person’s behavior, which includes finding a therapist who “gets” narcissism.
A therapist can help you:
- understand what’s happening
- address co-occurring issues
- help you devise a safety plan
- provide a safe space to problem-solve
- validate your experience
Durvasula recommends evaluating your next move if you:
- feel isolated from loved ones
- doubt your sense of reality
- repeat the same arguments
- justify their behaviors
- repeatedly fall for false promises
“If these things are happening, this relationship may no longer be healthy,” she says.
It may take some time to recover. For some, this process could take months. For others, years. Each person is different.
To support your healing journey, consider:
- educating yourself about narcissism
- fostering new friendships
- leaning into your support network
- journaling for self-discovery
- pressing pause on romantic relationships
- working with a therapist
“The end of a relationship with a narcissist is not an end,” says Durvasula.
She adds that “it’s actually a beginning and a real opportunity to take what happened as a lesson and a wake-up call to honor your authentic self, celebrate the opportunity that the end of this relationship brings, and view healing and growth as a lifetime process.”
Living with a narcissist may feel difficult, but it’s possible to preserve your well-being with strong boundaries, a solid support network, and a therapist who’s informed on narcissism.
You may also find it useful to attend a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) family support group in your area.
Also, consider adding these books to your wishlist:
- “Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist” by Dr. Ramani Durvasula
- “‘Don’t You Know Who I Am?’: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility” by Dr. Ramani Durvasula
- “POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse” by Shahida Arabi