“Don’t Try to Win Over the Haters; You are Not a Jackass Whisperer.” Brene Brown

I don’t mean any disrespect to donkeys/jackasses/mules in the natural world. I actually really love animals. But for the purpose of illustrating a point to my readers and clients, the jackass archetype is your basic stubborn, arrogant, narcissistic (fill in the expletive) jerk/diva.

I work with many clients who are healing in the aftermath of toxic relationships in love, work or family. And today I’d like to share some advice on moving forward from these hollow, dangerous people.

Information about recovery from narcissistic abuse abounds on the internet. For simplicity sake, I will presume that the reader already has some cursory knowledge of the shark-infested waters that narcissistic types swim in. If you need a primer on the basic terminology of narcissistic abuse recovery, I will point you to my ebook, Soul Vampires: Reclaiming Your Lifeblood After Narcissistic Abuse (2015) as well as Christine Louis de Canonville’s excellent read, The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse (2015), as well as other resources below. Both of the above books are written by clinicians who work with clients, healing in the aftermath of narcissistic abuse, and from a strengths-focused, client-centered, and empowering perspective for survivors.

We, as humans, all have narcissistic behaviors that can hurt other people. But most of us also have empathy and the capacity to be accountable to our actions and own responsibility when we make a mistake and hurt someone. Most of us have remorse and know when we need to change a behavior if we have caused harm in a relationship. And we work to make it right through consistent and steady action.

By virtue of diagnostics, the individual with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) has extreme limitations with empathy, accountability and compromise (DSM-5, 2014).  This very wounded soul, crippled with NPD, is not able to maintain any consistent level of accountability or compromise in a relationship. The world revolves around their needs, to the sacrifice of their significant other/family member/co-worker.

It’s hard to imagine a person could have such limitations with empathy, but that is truly the case. A person with NPD manifests entitlement, grandiosity, and rigidity in their close relationships in which people serve as “ego fuel” (or narcissistic supply) to fill a psychic void. No reciprocity (or give-and-take) manifests to a significant degree in any exchange with the narcissist.

So here are my suggestions to my readers and clients, who may be considering whether or not the person they are dating, or perhaps a family member or co-worker, is a narcissist:

  1. All healthy relationships involve the following qualities: empathy, accountability, compromise, reciprocity, integrity, authenticity, and honesty.  Without those qualities, a relationship (in love/work/family) will not survive long-term, and often, psychological harm ensues as a result of the encounter(s) (definitely if the person has NPD) (Payson, 2002).
  2. An individual with NPD will have very limited capacity for empathy and the above essential ingredients of a healthy relationship (DSM-5, 2015).
  3. Narcissism exists on a spectrum, such as the following, where one end is a sprinkling of narcissistic traits and the other extreme end is psychopathy (Schneider, 2015):
  4. Narcissistic Traits —-> NPD —->Malignant (Extreme) Narcissism—>Psychopathy
  5. A healthy person can be impacted negatively by a narcissistic person even if the latter “just” has traits of NPD, versus full-blown NPD or beyond. Narcissistic behaviors cause emotional harm and suffering (Brown, S.L., 2009).
  6. The individual who has “traits” of NPD may be more capable of change, if they are truly motivated and have some element of insight. Someone who falls squarely in the diagnostic category of NPD or beyond has extremely limited capacity for change. Therefore, it behooves the partner of the NPD individual to really consider how the relationship is adding any element of joy or health to their lives. If contact is resulting in psychological pain, time and time again, then it is important to consider the choice of opting out of the relationship.
  7. People who have insight and empathy do not need to be told how to behave appropriately in a relationship, whether in love, work or family. We all have room for improvement and personal growth and evolution. However, it’s truly a red-flag when someone you love/work with/are related to requires the definition of empathy, reciprocity and compromise spelled out for them. It’s either a part of their psychological make-up as a grown, mature adult, or it isn’t.

Here are some resources that may be of help in your journey of discovering who belongs in your inner circle, and what weeds need to be pulled, making space for new growth.

“You don’t have to be a jackass whisperer.” Brene Brown

Brown, S. L. (2009). Women who love psychopaths: inside the relationships of inevitable harm with psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists. Penrose, NC: Mask Pub.

Carter, S., & Sokol, J. (2005). Help! Im in love with a narcissist. New York: M Evans & Co, Inc.

Ciccarelli, S. K., & White, J. N. (2014). Psychology: DSM 5. Boston: Pearson.

Louis de Canonville, Christine (2015). The three faces of evil: Unmasking the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse. Black Card Books.

Payson, Eleanor (2002). The wizard of oz and other narcissists: Coping with the one-way relationship in love, work, and family. Julian Day Publications.

Schneider, Andrea (2015). Soul vampires: Reclaiming your lifeblood after narcissistic abuse. Bookbaby.