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The impact of narcissism on relationships

Narcissism occurs on a spectrum and some degree of self-focus can be considered healthy and relationships can still function normally. Narcissism becomes more problematic when self involvement or excessive self love dominates the person's personality and starts to have a negative impact on relationships. At the most extreme end of the spectrum is Narcissistic Personality Disorder where the person may present as grandiose or more covert in their need for excessive attention and admiration. These behaviours can include boasting, talking about themselves, needing to dominate conversations or to have their needs or opinions take precedence over others. or they may seek reinforcement and attention through highly visible acts of service, self-sacrifice or appear highly vulnerable and constantly need others to tend to them and meet their needs. It can be particularly difficult to be in a relationship due to the person with narcissism severely lacking in empathy or consideration for the needs or rights of others. In some relationships this can lead to verbal, emotional and even physical abuse. One of the causes of pain in a relationship with a narcissist is what has been termed gas-lighting, where truth or reality is distorted causing the other person to feel confused, undermined and even start to doubt their own perception of reality and memory. In a relationship with a person who is narcissistic, the other person may find that their self-worth is eroded and over time it can can lead to patterns of co-dependence when the person adapts their behaviour to primarily meet the needs of the narcissistic person. Intense narcissistic traits often develop in response to trauma. Some people that score highly on narcissism can have insight into their behaviour and may improve if they are willing to engage in therapeutic work. Unfortunately it is most often the work colleagues, partners and adult children of people that are highly narcissistic that present to therapy with the legacy of pain and distress from their experiences. 

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