How To Protect Yourself In A Relationship With Someone With Narcissistic Traits

Medically reviewed by Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance. It can be challenging to have a relationship with someone with NPD as they may seek attention, desire admiration, and lack empathy and understanding for the feelings of others. 

Because people with NPD can react strongly when they aren't in control of a situation, interactions with them can be challenging. Knowing more about identifying the traits of NPD can help you protect yourself while navigating your relationship.

Interacting with a narcissist requires building boundaries

Characteristics and symptoms of NPD 

Having narcissistic characteristics does not automatically mean someone will be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. A mental health professional diagnoses clients after evaluating long-term patterns and considering many aspects of the person's life.  According to the DSM-5, people with NPD have at least five of the following symptoms: 

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance

  • A preoccupation with fantasies about beauty, brilliance, perfect love, power, or success

  • A belief they are extraordinary and only other special people or institutions can understand them

  • A need for excessive admiration

  • A sense of entitlement or expectation of special treatment 

  • A tendency to take advantage and exploit others for their own purposes

  • A lack of empathy and refusal to identify with other people's needs

  • A tendency to be envious of others or a belief that others are envious of them

  • A show of haughty or arrogant behaviors and attitudes

In addition to individual differences in narcissistic traits, there are two types of narcissism, grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose narcissism is the most recognizable type and may be more malicious. 

Vulnerable or covert narcissism is often less apparent and can be difficult for a clinical psychologist to identify. While vulnerable narcissists may believe they are superior and lack empathy, they may be more introverted. Like grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists do not respond well to constructive criticism, which they could perceive as intended to damage their self-esteem. 

Because vulnerable narcissists are more restrained and subdued in their approach, vulnerable narcissism is also called covert narcissism. Maintaining a healthy relationship with someone who exhibits either type of narcissism can be challenging. 

What is it like to be in a relationship with someone with NPD? 

Conversations with someone with NPD may make you feel that your thoughts and feelings are not valuable or that you are being talked down to. At first, the narcissist may subtly change the subject so you don't realize it. However, the more comfortable they become with you, the more pronounced their behaviors could become. A lack of regard for your thoughts or empathy for your feelings can become more apparent. 

People with narcissistic personality disorder often have a strong sense of self-importance that can lead them to believe that the world revolves around them. They may expect constant, often excessive attention. These people want situations to go their way, even if it means violating your boundaries.

How to cope in a relationship with someone with NPD 

When in a relationship with someone with narcissistic traits or an NPD diagnosis, it may be helpful to remember that they may not consider your emotions or thoughts when you are communicating. If you are not giving in to their requests or manipulation, they may move on and try with someone else. However, it's not your fault if you are in a relationship with someone with NPD and are struggling to leave. 

If you suspect that something is not right in your relationship, take the time to watch how they treat others. If you observe disrespect toward others or catch them lying or manipulating, they may do the same to you. Relationships with individuals with narcissistic traits can be challenging. Below are a few ways to navigate these connections while protecting yourself.

Set boundaries

Setting boundaries can mean deciding what you will and won't accept for your time, energy, belongings, family, body, and home. It involves choices for yourself instead of for others. Make it clear what you are willing to tolerate from the person you're in a relationship. Even though some people with NPD may not care about boundaries, setting them can still be healthy. Be firm with your boundaries, and don't give too many chances. 

Take the focus off of them 

People with narcissistic traits may actively seek attention and admiration. Whether positive or negative, a person with narcissistic personality disorder will try to remain at the center of attention, whether in public or at home. Speak up for yourself and make sure your needs and wants are heard.

Expect unhealthy reactions 

People with narcissistic personality disorder may have an inflated sense of self-importance and expect situations to revolve around them. Therefore, you can anticipate a strong reaction when you take the focus off them. 

These people may not respect boundaries, so they may push back with their own demands when you set them or speak up for yourself. These individuals may use manipulation to make you feel guilty or create self-doubt by convincing you that you are unreasonable or unfair.

Remind yourself that you're not at fault 

People with NPD may struggle to admit a mistake and take responsibility for causing them grief or pain. On the contrary, they may project their negative behavior onto others and experience anger or upset when the situation doesn't work in their favor. Although they may blame you, don't accept the blame for what isn't your fault. Making peace by accepting responsibility can worsen the situation, as they may use this factor against you.

Have a support system

People with NPD may try to cut off their friends and partners from friends and loved ones, which is a reason why having a constant support system can be vital for your safety and well-being. 

Connecting with a counselor or other mental health professional can give you a safe outlet for talking about what you are experiencing and allows you to create a plan of action to get to a safe place to be free from this behavior. 

Interacting with a narcissist requires building boundaries

Talk to a therapist 

If you have a person with NPD in your life, connecting with a qualified therapist may be beneficial. While talking with friends or loved ones can be helpful, there are times when professional help may be necessary, especially if you have experienced abuse or are struggling to cope with manipulation. Talking to a mental health professional can help you process complex emotions.

If you can't meet with a therapist in person, you might also find success with online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp. Online therapy makes it easy to find a therapist, and booking an appointment can be more convenient. You can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions and meet with a therapist on your schedule. 

Studies show online therapy can effectively treat multiple mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. In one study, people experienced significant and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety scores 12 weeks after treatment sustained at six months. 


NPD is a complex diagnosis; many people with it may struggle to accept support. If you are in any type of relationship with someone with NPD, it can be essential to reach out for guidance. Consider talking to a therapist online or in your area for further guidance and support.
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