As a psychologist and marriage & family therapist, I have worked with many people diagnosed and undiagnosed that exhibited significant narcissistic characteristics. Narcissism falls under the category of personality disorder. The clinical name for those with pronounced symptoms of grandiosity is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Personality disorders are conditions in which people have traits that cause them to feel and behave in socially distressing ways, limiting their ability to function in relationships and other areas of their life.
People with NPD can present as arrogant, conceited, self-entitled, grandiose, boastful, etc. Those with narcissistic characteristics enjoy and indulge in being the center of attention, often dominating conversations, or steering the conversations back onto the topics perceived to be “more important” to the narcissist. Narcissists thrive in environments and relationships that appear to focus predominantly on them, fulfilling only their needs and interests.
Narcissistic people have an inflated view of self, often erroneously believing no one can do things as well as they do, are as smart and clever as they are, or as engaging, etc. As mentioned previously, chronic narcissism is a personality disorder. Up to 30% of people who require mental health services have at least one personality disorder (PD) -- characterized by abnormal and maladaptive inner experience and behavior. Personality disorders, also known as Axis II disorders, include obsessive-compulsive PD, avoidant PD, paranoid PD, narcissistic PD, and borderline PD, which can be very difficult and complicated to both identify and treat because its symptoms often overlap with other disorders. Personality disorders represent some of the most challenging and mysterious problems in the field of mental health.
Marriages and relationships can be a delicate balancing act for many couples as they try to balance relationships, careers, and families. However, when you add a personality disorder and other mental health issues, relationship and marital issues can become further exacerbated.
It can be very confusing when partners are in a relationship with someone that does not acknowledge or validate their needs. Narcissistic people often consistently ignore, dismiss, and explain away your feelings, wants, and needs, while complaining that you never do what he or she wants. It can also be very hard to feel safe, cared for, or even heard and considered in such a relationship. For partners married to or involved in a relationship with a narcissistic person, the pressure to live up to his or her “standards” and demands can be intense. Partners may feel under constant pressure to say and do just the right thing in just the right way to please her or him or just to keep the peace.
The pressure for perfection or to do the “right” things in the eye of one’s narcissistic partner can lead to feelings of depression, confusion, low self-esteem, anxiety, fear of making a mistake, low energy, and/or frustration, etc. Partners that base their self-esteem on the opinions of someone else are placing themselves in a very vulnerable proposition, but when you are married to a narcissist, it is devastating. A narcissist feels most secure when his/her partner looks really good but feels really needy and dependent. The narcissistic partner strives to keep their partner under wraps via constant criticism, impossible demands, withholding affection and love, insults, etc.