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Can you have a healthy relationship with a narcissist?

Mar 6, 2024

Can you have a healthy relationship with a narcissist?

I am not someone who will give a blanket yes or no to almost anything because there are almost aways exceptions.

The thing that I would say about having a healthy relationship with a narcissist is that narcissistic tendencies, narcissistic personality traits, narcissistic personality disorder, these things exist on a spectrum.

All of us have some elements of it at some point on the spectrum.

You call someone – or we say that someone has narcissistic personality disorder when they have enough of those traits and enough of a severity over a long-enough period of time.

But it indicates that that is an element of how kind of their personality, their self is structured.

If someone has narcissistic personality disorder and they have not like deeply committed to working on that in very intensive therapy, which is not super common.

Narcissistic personality disorder tends to be highly treatment-resistant.

They don’t tend to engage much because the core of the personality disorder is a belief that it is other people who are wrong, not them.

So, if someone has full narcissistic personality disorder, they have not engaged in deep and meaningful treatment.

It is unlikely that you can have a healthy, balanced relationship with them that is particularly closer entwined.

You can have a well-boundaried, strongly-boundaried, very structured relationship with them really.

You could be a coworker with them, with very strong boundaries.

You could be a like casual friend of theirs with very strong boundaries.

But in order to maintain a relationship that is healthy for you, it is likely that you could not get particularly close with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder who again has not engaged in some fairly deep and significant therapy work to work through those elements that create that diagnosis, right?

Who has not worked through this evaluation of themselves above others, the grandiosity, the lack of concern for other people.

Like those are kind of at the heart of this diagnosis.

When we talk about narcissism, these days, it’s a term that is widely misused, I believe.

I think a lot of people apply it in situations where it’s not actually applicable.

So, if we’re talking about like a more broad narcissism or people who are acting in a narcissistic fashion, that is much more messy and complicated.

People can behave in narcissistic ways or, you know, engage in narcissistic abuse patterns for a variety of different reasons.

For instance, when we are very poorly-resourced, so when we do not have what we need in order to feel comfortable and safe, what we tend to do a lot of times is like try to put ourselves very strongly first and take things from other people with less of a regard for how it affects them.

Sometimes we may be, you know, very strongly destabilized because of something else that’s going on for us.

Maybe an activated trauma and then get into the space of, you know – Jojo, what are you doing?

Stop that baby.

Of like only focusing on our wants and needs over those of others.

I think that someone who is behaving in those ways, it is possible to have a healthy relationship with them at some point or in some ways and when people are actively engaging in these behaviors, they are definitionally unhealthy to a relationship.

So, like if it is someone who has in the past engaged in these behaviors but they’ve done a lot of work on themselves, they learned why they were doing them, they figured out different coping strategies, it could be possible to have a healthy connection with them.

I think if it is someone who is still engaging in these behaviors, again the only healthy connection you can have with them is one that is very strongly boundaried, that maintains very strong separations and that keeps them at some amount of distance because what can often happen with narcissism is this kind of takeover of those around them to the extent that they are allowed.

Again, this is not that they are bad people necessarily.

This is not saying it is like never something people can work through or something they can never overcome.

It is not to say that they don’t deserve connection or closeness or love.

It is to say that sometimes the ways in which these people behave within their connections is harmful to those in those connections.

So, when someone is engaging in those behaviors, they are damaging the relationship.

They’re damaging the person with whom they have that connection.

So again, if they engage in a lot of work, if they do a lot of work on themselves to get through whatever it is that’s causing them to use these strategies, then yeah, you can have a healthy connection with them.

If they respond well to you setting strong boundaries and saying like, “Hey, this is not OK. You don’t get to treat me that way,” and they’re able to kind of like snap out of it and change, then yeah, you can have a healthy connection.

But if someone is actively behaving from a place of narcissism, if they’re actively engaging in narcissistic abuse, if they are for whatever reason unable to move out of that space, then no, you can’t really have a healthy connection with them.

I think – again it’s about how close a connection, how close a relationship and what it is that you want from that, you know.

There can be someone in your life who has narcissistic tendencies or traits and you don’t have to like never speak to them.

You just have to be aware of how those tendencies and traits will impact how they show up in that relationship and then what that in effect does to you and to your system.

I think that when we talk about healthy relationships, healthy relationships are something that take both people working on it and something that happens in the middle, right?

It is three components.

It is me, you and us that makes a healthy relationship and so with someone who is narcissistic, the “them” part has some issues and the “us” part often has some issues.

You can still take care of yourself and still show up in a way that is healthy for you.

What tends to happen when you do that is it creates more distance, right?

Because part of being healthy for yourself is setting good boundaries, is being firm on how people get to treat you, is being firm on what you are and are not available for.

When we have those strong boundaries, it tends to create reactional distance from someone who is more narcissistic because it does not allow them to play the game that they want to play.

So, is it possible?

Sure, anything is possible and a lot of people who have narcissistic traits, even some people who have narcissistic personality disorder seek out treatment.

They work very hard on not behaving in those ways.

It is possible in some cases to have healthy relationships with them and it may not be possible for every person at every point in their life.

So just be aware of like where you are and what it is that you want and need and go from there.

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