We spend a lot of time recovering from and talking about narcissists and the damage they inflict on our lives. It’s true. Your life can be absolutely derailed by an encounter with a narcissist. Especially when that narcissist is a parent, partner, or close friend. Living with narcissistic personality disorder (or NPD) comes with its own threats too, however. Narcissists spend a lot of time being miserable and filled with rocky relationships and unfulfilling lives. They are their own worst enemies, and they self-sabotage with their inability to separate self from ego.
The dangers of being a narcissist.
While we tend to talk about narcissists (and view them) as the villains, they also happen to be the villains in their own stories. Their toxic behaviors damage relationships and opportunities. The way they think keeps them small. Narcissists wreck the lives of others, but they especially wreck their own lives. The narcissist has no enemy in their life greater than themselves.
Eternally bad relationships
Narcissists are diagnosed (primarily) by their lack of empathy. But if we really broke it down, we also wouldn’t be hard pressed to identify them based on their relationships. Narcissists are notorious for turbulent relationships. Those who are domineering face a lot of conflict and upset. Those who are covert experience the same, but in much more long-term and insidious ways. Because they only see the world through their eyes, the relationships of a narcissist always fall flat in some way.
Getting taken on a wild ride
Narcissists aren’t just monsters with endless lines of victims. They can also be taken advantage of by wily-eyed individuals who swindle them by using their narcissistic urges against them. Birds of a feather flock together, after all. So narcs can find themselves tapped with abusers who are just as toxic and damaging as they are. (Oh, yes. Narcissists can still be traumatized and hurt)
Perpetuating trauma cycles
Trauma cycles can come up again-and-again in a narcissist’s life. Just like they do in ours. Consider my mother’s story again. She kept perpetuating the conflict and loneliness of her childhood by allowing her narcissism to run rampant in her life. She made choices that kept her poor and powerless, even though those decisions were always made with an aim of making excuses or shift the blame for the endless and dismal failures she produced.
Trouble on the legal side
There are a lot of legal troubles the narcissist can find them in; all depending on what kind of narcissist they may be. For those who are anti-social, conflict can erupt into violence and many disruptive behaviors that make it impossible for them to lead a normal life. But sly narcissists, too, can land in a world of legal trouble as their self-centered natures push them to make decisions that are both reckless and superficial.
Preventing new opportunity
Narcissists really can’t get out of their own way. Their turbulent relationships can leave them socially isolated, and their poor behavior can close the door on important opportunities. Worse than that, their black-or-white mentality and absolutism also places them in blinders of sorts. With this tunnel vision engaged, they miss out on a world of possibility — which could include relationships, a chance at recovery, or even material and financial success.
Declining health on all fronts
You would think a narcissist would care for their bodies and their minds, but that’s rarely the truth. That’s because narcs don’t love themselves. They hate themselves. So they self-sabotage based on their insecurities. Their narcissism prevents them from admitting they need help, and it prevents them from doing simple things like taking medication or going to a therapist. This minimizes their world and can lead to a further decline in mental and physical health.
The burnout and the crush
Have you ever seen a narcissist burnout? Crush themselves, voluntarily, under the weight of the world? Of course you have. The lives of narcissists are filled with uncontrollable stress. Totally defined by others (and their insecurities) they develop a desire to be perfect. They work all day to project a specific image (which may clash with their actual ability or even their desires). Eventually, they end up burned out and crushed. And everything else in their life follows suit. It’s self-destruction as an art.
Endless family drama
Not only do narcissists come from families, but they often start families of their own. It’s all a part of projecting the image, or proving to the world that they are better than what they had. In the end, many of these narcissistic parents wind up traumatizing their children, or teaching them toxic habits. Needless to say, this can land them with children in legal trouble, or just basic dysfunction and upset, which makes everything harder than it has to be.
How a narcissist can avoid self-destruction.
Are you a narcissist? Has time with a narcissist touched your own behaviors? Avoiding self-destruction can’t happen without radical action. There’s no “thinking your way out” of the systems that you’re in. You’ve got to get professional help, commit to whatever works, embrace a daily ego death, and consciously break your cycles. There is still humanity beneath you. You can learn how to relate in a better way. Take the leap. Swallow your pride, or stay the course and perish.
1. Take a leap for professional help
There is no helping a narcissist without the intervention of professionals. Narcissistic personality disorder is complex, and it can present with several other complex diagnoses as well. Professional intervention is necessary, as only they have the potential perspective and qualifications to engage the narcissist. Medications may be needed; certainly an agile understanding of narcissism (both overt and covert) is. If you’re a narc who promises to change — it won’t happen without a lot of therapy and a lot of professional processing.
The first step in becoming a better version of yourself has to involve professional help. Narcissists can’t just wake up and change the way they think. Journaling alone will not address the complex issues that they’re confronting. If you’re a narcissist, you must talk to a licensed professional who can help put you on a path to better mental, emotional, and relational health.
Take a leap and find a professional who can put you on an alternative path to discovering who and what you are. Too many narcissists spend their time chasing all the things they think other people want. And in that they become lost. The right professional can help you break out of this one-sighted train of thought and expand your vision on life, love, and yourself. Take your time and look for someone you can trust. Not everyone has experiences dealing with narcissists. Be open about the traits you believe you may have.
2. Embrace the daily ego death
Living in the real world is to accept daily ego death. This is where the narcissist often falls short. Smitten by their own delusions, they live above their understanding of others. They never internalize the fact that they’re not the best, that they’re not above the law. When they are confronted with this, it can cause a disastrous shift with explosive results. All the same, for any narcissist to ever hope for improvement — they have to embrace this ego death and the resulting humanization that stems from it.
Embrace the daily ego death that the rest of us compassion-ridden beasts must suffer. That’s right. The narcissist is no better than anyone else. And when they accept this, they can allow the ego-mutilations that lead to a healthy (and more accurate) view of self.
Are you a narcissist who is trying to bring it back down to ground level? Put your pride on the front line. Let it take hit-after-hit. Then, instead of trying to defend yourself — consciously pretend as if all of it is true. Internalize the idea that you are at fault for everything that’s happened to you, but do this in small bits, with a journal, and within a set time limit. Think about it like a meditation in humanity. By striking your ego in these controlled settings, you can strike at the heart of your narcissistic tendencies and beat it into a different place.
3. Commit to becoming a cycle breaker
Narcissists are prisoners to their own patterns and their own cycles of abuse and self-destruction. Like anyone else who is on a healing journey, the narcissist has to learn how to break their own cycles of behavior and reaction. Perhaps more than anyone else, they have to consciously step outside of everything they’ve ever known, and choose different behaviors which may contradict their natural instincts. For the narcissist to improve, the narcissist must become the breaker of their own cycles.
Commit to becoming a conscious cycle breaker in your own life. So many narcissists have their own histories thick with trauma and disappointment. Your parents probably handed down experiences, and your environment and biology did the rest. If you want to be in control of yourself, then you have to break these cycles once and for all.
Develop a habit of higher questioning. Learn to question your true intentions, your behaviors, and the learned beliefs that feed in to the most narcissistic aspects of who you are. This has to be a conscious exercise. You’re going to have to step back and analyze yourself any time there’s a major decision, or a major upset in your life. Are you reverting back to old habits? Are you reacting in a toxic way you were taught to use as self-defense? React accordingly and give yourself the power to do things differently in every aspect of your life.
Putting it all together…
While narcissists can pose a serious threat to those around them, they also prove to be their own worst enemies. They sabotage themselves and their happiness with their poor interpersonal skills and their lack of empathy. When you’re sure you’re the best person in the room, it makes for a lonely life. And that compounds the complex emotional volatility of a narcissist. Can they be healed? No. But the rare narcissist can make a change in themselves through focused, concentrated action.
If you have been diagnosed with NPD (or suspect you are a narcissist) the only way you can kick-start your journey is by getting professional help. Though not foolproof, this is the necessary first step in identifying your toxic behaviors and thinking patterns. Accept the help and accept and medications which may ease your journey. Embrace the daily ego death that comes with being human, and allow yourself to intentionally see the error in your ways. Find your deep wellspring of humanity. Commit to breaking your cycles in every sense of the word. See yourself for who you are, and an entirely new future becomes possible for you and your relationships.
- Day, N., Bourke, M., Townsend, M., & Grenyer, B. (2020). Pathological Narcissism: A Study of Burden on Partners and Family. Journal Of Personality Disorders, 34(6), 799–813. doi: 10.1521/pedi_2019_33_413