I found this question and answer in Quora and liked it so much, I think it belongs here. The title to this could be “A Healthy Relationship Between an NT and NPD,” although I think anyone can benefit from these insights.
Karen Arluck, Clinical Psychotherapist in private practice
Answered Sep 16, 2017
When I first moved to Austin, TX, I found the most adorable 7 week old puppy who was sitting in a cardboard box. His owner said that he could not afford to keep these “Staffordshire Terrier” puppies, and was looking to get them new homes. After I took home this sweet, adorable, tiny puppy, I looked up this breed only to learn that I had just inadvertently adopted a Pit Bull. I was immediately freaked out, and felt as if I had just taken home a wild Lion cub who would grow up to be some dangerous creature, who was somehow destined to hurt me. I realized that each dog (regardless of their breed), is a unique animal whose personality is greatly affected by it’s upbringing, temperament, my ability to take care of them, and could not be reduced to such a negative and overarching stereotype. 7 Years later, Rocky, is curled up on the floor next to me as I write this answer.
Similarly, each person who has the diagnosis of NPD is a unique person, with their own strengths, weaknesses, and level of emotional functioning. There are some narcissists who would be extremely difficult to have any kind of healthy relationship with, and many who you could, provided that you give some thought to the following criteria as it pertains to this particular person with the diagnosis.
How someone defines “healthy relationship”:
People who suffer from NPD, or have the flavor without meeting the full criteria are likely to struggle in areas affected by their emotional issues (like struggles with object constancy, splitting, emotional empathy etc.), regardless of how wonderful you may be as a friend to them. They usually feel happiest when the focus is on them, their needs and their feelings, and will need a lot of validation and support that they may not be able to adequately reciprocate when you need it. In addition, you may find that they are inadvertently insulting and/or unsupportive and will likely enjoy giving you “advice” and “feedback”, but they will have difficulty tolerating any feedback from you, blame, confrontation, or even gentle assertion that they are wrong in any way. When they feel narcissistically wounded, they may confront you angrily, act passive aggressivily, guilt trip you, or may simply complain about you behind your back.
That being said, they may have other wonderful qualities that can make them very intelligent, interesting, funny, and engaging to spend time with. Emotionally higher functioning narcissists are much easier to have friendships with than someone who is less emotionally high functioning, but it may also be more emotionally taxing than relationships with someone who does not suffer from these issues.
2. Realistic expectations:
One of the issues that makes it so hard for people to maintain relationships with people who suffer from NPD, is how hurtful and disappointing it can be when their narcissistic friend acts out their inner emotional struggles in some way. Usually this is based on a conscious or unconscious hope that their friend would be the emotionally supportive or more self-aware person that they hoped they would be. To have a healthy relationship with a person who suffers from NPD, it is really important to try to maintain realistic expectations that if their friend actually suffers from NPD, it is not a matter of *if* they will act out some of the issues inherent in their disorder towards them, but *when*.
If your friend with NPD acts out in some way, they are unlikely to be able to tolerate any suggestion that they were wrong or hurt you, or to validate your feelings about any of this. This is not a reflection of how much you mean to them, it is a reflection of their struggles, and an important area to manage your expectations of them. On the other hand, they may be very supportive about areas that they do not interpret as a narcissistic injury. Your ability to maintain realistic expectations of this person and their needs, as well as their current emotional limitations, will greatly effect how healthy this relationship feels for you.
3. What is this person’s individual level of functioning:
NPD is a very wide diagnosis, which can encompass everyone from a high functioning and charming person who goes out of their way to help people around them because it makes them feel good about themselves, to someone who regularly steals from and otherwise takes advantage of everyone around them. If this is a higher functioning and more self-aware person with the diagnosis, they may be a better friend than an emotionally lower functioning person or a malignant narcissist, who feels better about themselves by devaluing and emotionally hurting people around them.
4. Personal sensitivities:
Some people may be more sensitive based on their own temperament and past experiences, and may find it too painful to be in a friendship with many of the people who suffer from NPD. A person’s own emotional stability and ability to recognize that a narcissist’s acting out behavior is a reflection of their shortcomings, not of theirs (even if the narcissist tells you its all your fault), can greatly affect how healthy this friendship is for them.
For example: A person has a deep insecurity about not being smart enough, has a narcissistic friend who is always lecturing them about how they “should be doing x”, “should have known x”, or otherwise got something wrong, and then telling them what they should have done differently. This might be too upsetting for many people with this sensitivity to handle in order to have a friendship that would feel healthy for them. Other people would not be as bothered by this particular issue.
5. Other supportive people in your life:
There are plenty of high functioning people with NPD whom I have had as clients or as friends, who I absolutely adore and like very much. However, I think it is important to have other supportive people in your life, so that you are not completely reliant on people with these challenges as your only support systems. It can be helpful to have other people who are more emotionally self-aware and able to be supportive in ways that this person may struggle with.
The point is…
Whether you can have a healthy relationship with someone who has NPD often depends on your definition of “healthy relationship”, this particular person’s strengths and difficulties, your individual sensitivities and tolerance for their issues, and having other supportive people in your life.
The point is, I don’t love all Pit Bulls, but I do adore this one.