How to Handle Living With a Narcissist

They're so used to the blame game already

ljubaphoto / Getty Images

Living with a narcissist, whether it is a romantic partner, roommate, or family member, can be challenging. Knowing more about narcissistic traits and understanding some of the ways to deal with them can help you feel better able to cope.

It is important to remember that narcissism exists on a spectrum. Some people might possess high levels of narcissistic traits or engage in narcissistic behavior frequently. In other cases, people may have a condition known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which can exhibit more extreme behaviors.

This article discusses what it's like to live with someone who shows frequent narcissistic behaviors, how their behavior might affect you, and what you can do to care for your own emotional well-being.

Signs You Are Living With a Narcissist

Everyone puts themselves first or focuses on their own needs to a certain degree, but narcissists engage in self-centered behaviors to a much higher degree. This can be confusing, hurtful, and damaging to the people who live with them. 

In order to deal with a narcissist, the first step is to recognize the signs that you might be living with one. Some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Do they lack empathy? People with narcissism are so focused on themselves that they struggle to empathize with other people.
  • Do they self-aggrandize? Narcissists have an inflated sense of self and are preoccupied with their own importance. They often exaggerate their accomplishments and importance—often to cover up the fact that they are insecure and have a weak sense of self.
  • Are they unapologetic? Narcissists have little regard for the feelings and needs of others. They won’t apologize for hurting others—unless it benefits them in some way.
  • Do they overreact to criticism? People who are narcissistic lash out against even the slightest criticism. Rather than accepting responsibility for their own mistakes, they will blame others.

Are they manipulative? When you are living with a narcissistic, you might often feel like you are being lied to, manipulated, or mistreated. It often seems like they will say and do anything to get what they want and what they think they deserve.

Sometimes narcissistic characteristics are easy to recognize, but some people may engage in what is known as covert narcissism, which is more difficult to detect. Covert narcissists still have a grandiose sense of importance, exploit others, and lack empathy, but their narcissistic behaviors are more difficult to spot.

Tips for Living With a Narcissist

Living with a narcissist can be exhausting and stressful. It can make it difficult to be comfortable in your own home and can be detrimental to your mental well-being.

Finding ways to cope is important. Understanding what makes narcissists tick and exploring some key coping strategies can help you manage your relationship with the narcissist while preserving your own mental health.

Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

Understand that the person you are living with may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Experts don't fully understand what causes NPD, but it is often linked to factors such as genetics, childhood abuse, trauma, personality, and upbringing.

They cannot simply change their behavior on their own and may not be able to recognize that there is a problem. People who have NPD need professional help, although they rarely seek it. You might encourage them to talk to a therapist, but it is likely they will resist or respond negatively.

The problem is that even if you know that narcissistic behavior like manipulation and lack of regard isn't really about you, these behaviors tend to feel like personal attacks. Remind yourself that it's not personal.

You aren't to blame for their actions and you didn't do anything to cause them. You can encourage them to get help, but you are not responsible for supporting them or fixing their mistakes.

Establish (and Enforce) Boundaries

When you are dealing with a narcissist, one of the most important things that you can do is to set firm boundaries. Boundaries are the things that you are willing and not willing to accept in a relationship. They are non-negotiable limits that tell others what counts as acceptable and tolerable behavior. 

When you are living with a narcissist, for example, you might make it clear that you won't accept behaviors such as rudeness or name-calling when you are communicating with one another. If they engage in this type of behavior, the conversation will end.

Creating boundaries isn't an effort to change the other person. Instead, these limits make it clear that certain behaviors will not be tolerated. Once you set a boundary, it is important to stick with it. If the other person violates your boundaries, immediately enact the consequences. 

In the example above, immediately end the conversation and walk away as soon as you can. Don't argue or wait for them to respond. Simply end it.

And don’t make idle threats or create ultimatums that you won’t follow through on. Failing to enforce your boundaries means that the other person won’t take them seriously. By carrying your plans, they will be more likely to believe you the next time you tell them you won’t accept a behavior. 

Example:

“If you continue to talk to me that way, this conversation is over.” The moment they engage in the behavior they have been warned about, leave the situation as quickly (and safely) as you can.

It is also important to be aware that setting and maintaining your boundaries is an ongoing process. Remind people what your boundaries are and keep enforcing them.

Watch for Gaslighting

If you are living with a narcissist, you may have experienced a behavior known as gaslighting. People who engage in this type of manipulation deny reality in a way that causes you to doubt yourself and your experiences.

For example:

  • They might deny saying things or suggest that they were just joking and you are being too sensitive.
  • They might undermine your confidence by suggesting that you don't know what really happened or accuse you of misinterpreting the situation or overreacting.
  • In other cases, they might simply flat out deny the things that they have done or said.

Dealing with gaslighting isn't easy, particularly when it is your word against theirs. One way to cope is to keep records of things that have happened, either by writing them down, keeping paper documents that corroborate your experiences, or enlisting others to witness your conversations with the other person.

When they do try to gaslight you, make it clear that you know what you are doing and that you won’t tolerate it (again, creating a boundary).

Boost Your Self-Esteem

Narcissistic people will often undermine others in order to boost up their own sense of self. This can be particularly damaging when you are living with someone who is always running you down in both subtle and non-subtle ways.

One way to ensure that you have the mental strength to cope with the narcissist you are living with is to make sure that your self-esteem remains healthy, even in the face of challenges.

Recognize that it isn’t just people with low self-esteem, poor boundaries, or a shaky sense of self that end up in situations where they are living with a narcissist. What seemed like confidence and charisma at the beginning of the relationship may become more easily recognizable as narcissism the more you get to know the other person.

Keeping your own self-esteem high, even if they try to manipulate and undercut you, can help you deal with some of their more interpersonally harmful behaviors more effectively.

You can build your own confidence by:

  • Engaging in positive self-talk
  • Forgiving yourself for your mistakes
  • Surrounding yourself with supportive people who believe in you
  • Advocating for yourself
  • Treating yourself with kindness and respect

Find Support

When you have some type of relationship with a narcissist, whether it's a roommate, family member, or romantic partner, it’s important to maintain healthy relationships with other people who are caring and supportive. 

Dealing with a narcissist's dysfunctional and sometimes abusive behavior can be exhausting. Having other people you can turn to talk about what you are coping with can be a way to get emotional support and perspective. 

In particular, having friends who know what you are going through and who can back you up when you need it. Look for healthy relationships with other people where you listen to one another. You should feel like these are people you can be your real self around and who will accept you for who you are.

Recap

Social support can help offset some of the stress of living with a narcissist. Confiding in people you trust is an important way to gain support and strength.

When to Leave

If living with a narcissist is causing you distress and making it difficult to function normally, you should also consider ending the relationship, leaving the situation, or having them leave. 

Toxic relationships can have a serious detrimental impact on your mental well-being. And if the situation has turned abusive or otherwise dangerous in some way, it is important to seek help.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Getting Help

Whether you are still living with a narcissist or have gotten out of the relationship, talking to a mental health professional can be helpful. Look for a therapist who has knowledge and experience in dealing with narcissism. Your therapist can offer insight and help you better understand your situation and experiences. 

They can also help you work on coping and communication skills that will help you effectively deal with a narcissist. For example, they might help you learn to recognize signs of gaslighting, work on establishing clear boundaries, and practice being assertive and standing up for yourself.

A therapist can also help you deal with the emotional aftermath of having lived with a narcissist once you are safely free of the situation. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), your therapist can recommend appropriate treatments that can help, which may include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Recap

Living with a narcissist can take a serious toll on your mental wellness. Talking to a therapist can help you process and understand your experience.

A Word From Verywell

Living with a narcissist isn't easy. It can be exhausting and difficult, but there are things that you can do to stay strong, supported, and mentally healthy.

Remember that you're not the problem and don't take their behaviors personally. Create strong boundaries, protect your self-esteem, and seek out healthy relationships with people who understand what you are going through.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to wait for a relationship to become toxic to end it. Oftentimes, getting out of the situation is the best thing that you can do for your mental well-being. 

Was this page helpful?
5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC; 2013.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Narcissistic personality disorder.

  3. Kacel EL, Ennis N, Pereira DB. Narcissistic personality disorder in clinical health psychology practice: case studies of comorbid psychological distress and life-limiting illness. Behav Med. 2017;43(3):156-164. doi:10.1080/08964289.2017.1301875

  4. Love Is Respect. What are my boundaries?

  5. Thomas L. Gaslight and gaslightingThe Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(2):117-118. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30024-5