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Narcissism, Self Love, & Recovery

If you have been in a relationship, with someone exhibiting the behaviors associated with narcissism, then you are likely left with anger, pain, confusion, and fear.  It's helpful to take a look at the use of a label like narcissism; how it might impact you and others, how you can make the best and highest use of it, and how to take care of yourself in the face of the associated tragic behaviors.

Narcissism is a well-used label in recent years.  Like any label, its uses are limited.  A mental health label like narcissism provides a description of patterned behaviors and thus can help you to see someone's behavior in the context of that chronic reactivity rather than taking them at face value.  This might help you to set boundaries and become more clear about what to trust and what not to trust regarding someone's words or behavior.

Unfortunately, learning of someone's mental health label (or giving them one) is often accompanied by dismissal and the impulse to reject the person entirely.  Thus, when using a mental health label like narcissist, it is vital to be incredibly grounded in compassionate and wise intention and to make an effort to go beyond the habit of dismissal.  

The label narcissist, is often accompanied by the idea that the person labeled as such is "in love" with themselves and other similar comments.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Behaviors that you might call arrogant, self-serving, boasting, attention getting, righteous, know-it-all, divisive, etc. are typically attempting to protect a very fragile sense of self and avoid an enormous feeling of underlying shame.  Thus, for this person, almost anything can be a trigger for shame, resulting in harmful behaviors.

True self love is an integrated sense of self that is resilient and confident.  Someone living from self love doesn't need to boast, defend, or convince people to take their side.  Self love is expressed through simple self-care and equal care for others.  At the core it is really a loving orientation toward all life.


When you are recovering from or in the midst of a relationship with someone acting out the behaviors described under the term narcissism, finding this label to name what is happening can be a relief at first.  You experience a bit of clarity, perhaps, about what has been happening and how you have been entangled in it.  This relief will usually be quickly followed by the impulse to get away from this person or get them away from you.  You've been in pain and naturally you want to protect against future pain.  This might be skillful to do when it's possible.  Sometimes though it's not so simple and someone is a part of your community long term.

In either case, the next thing you likely need is emotional first aid.  You need empathy and understanding for how painful the experience has been for you.  You might come together with others affected similarly to share empathy and support.  At this stage you might find yourself toggling back and forth between the anger and and your own sense of pain, grief, and fear.  It's helpful to allow some of this toggling and then to settle into the difficult emotions of fear and grief so that you can fully receive empathy and begin to lighten.

When you have been nourished by empathy and support, your attention will naturally turn toward compassion and wise action.  If you try to push yourself here before you are ready, anger, pain and grief will be extended and unskillful action will likely result.  When you are ready though, you will be able to go slowly, learning the new skills you need to behave differently with this person and with others affected by harmful behavior.  

Again and again, it will be essential that you return to the intention to support yourself and others in the face of harmful behavior while not attempting to punish, manipulate, or fix the person whose behavior you are associating with narcissism or any form of harm.  

Bring your attention to compassion, wisdom, and new skills.  Compassion helps your heart stay open and alive.  Wisdom helps you realistically discern what you can trust and not trust in another.  New skills help you set boundaries and offer support to those that are able and willing to receive it from you.  Your focus on compassion, wisdom, and new skills is the best gift you can offer yourself and others.


Take a moment now to become aware of any labels you are clinging to and holding anger around.  Identify the feelings and needs alive for you as you hold onto to that label and with whom you could receive empathy and support.


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6 Responses

  1. Jan 31, 2018

    So interesting to receive this. My partner has been exhibiting some behaviors that lead me to believe that are congruent with narcissism and/or another personality disorder. It has been a trying year for me.

  2. Jan 31, 2018

    I am very grateful for this post ! I have just spent the last week talking to and emailing a family member who exhibits some of the characteristics you describe. This post helped me evaluate my responses and accurately name my feelings and needs.
    This post was my emotional first aid ! Thank you LaShelle, for the gift of these gems.

  3. Feb 01, 2018
    Fiona Niedermayer

    Thank you for this (to me) always helpful gem!

  4. Feb 06, 2018

    Yes, I can imagine. I hope that this starts to help you find a way through.

  5. Feb 06, 2018

    Your welcome Fiona. Glad to hear it's helpful!

  6. Mar 17, 2018

    Thanks so much, LaShelle. Tho certainly not an intimate relationship, the following is impactful globally. I have thot for a long time that our President must be very afraid inside to spend so much energy and time on his image. It helps me to have compassion for him--at the same time that I expend energy toward what I think will be for the Common Good.

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