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Narcissism is one of those words that people use a lot. Have you heard something similar to these statements?

He only cares about himself. Only doing what's best for him. He's so selfish.

She is so into what she looks like. Did you see all those selfies? She's such a narcissist.

Did he really just take all the praise for that project? He didn't even acknowledge those who helped him.

While many of us may have narcissistic traits, it's essential to recognize that there are levels of narcissism, and that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is something altogether different. NPD is a legitimate mental health condition. According to Christina Gregory, Ph.D., "narcissism exists on a spectrum: On one side, it's craving the occasional compliment. On its darkest side, it can creep into pathological territory."

So, are you dealing with narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder? That's a great question. Let's take a look.

Some narcissistic characteristics include:

— Having an inflated sense of self.

— Needing constant praise.

— Taking advantage of others.

— Not recognizing or caring about the needs of others.

On the other hand, NPD is defined by The Mayo Clinic as "a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism."

Let's look at how narcissism, in general, can impact relationships. Studies have found that only about 1% of the population suffers from NPD. However, this number could be higher because many who have NPD never seek treatment. Researchers say it is challenging for those with NPD to truly build a trusting, equal relationship. If you believe you are in a relationship with someone who suffers from NPD, look for a therapist who has experience with narcissism. Narcissism at any level can be severe and is harmful to maintaining a healthy relationship.

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., lists some common traits of a narcissistic relationship partner that can exist at varying levels:

— Sense of entitlement or superiority.

— Lack of empathy.

— Controlling behavior.

— Strong need for admiration.

— Focus on having their needs met while ignoring the needs of others.

— Higher levels of aggression.

— Difficulty taking feedback about their behavior.

Here are some practical ways to deal with a narcissistic partner.

1. See them for their true self.

Those with narcissistic tendencies can be incredibly charming when they want to be. They may draw you in with this, but when you see their lying and manipulative behavior toward others, recognize that they may do the same to you. Your needs are likely unimportant to them. To begin dealing with a narcissist, you must accept who they truly are and realize that you can't change them.

2. Set clear boundaries.

Narcissists are often very self-absorbed. Their sense of entitlement may push them to disrespect your personal space. Set clear boundaries with consequences that you will carry out. Serious consequences that affect them personally may catch their attention.

3. Recognize that it's not your fault.

Someone with NPD or any level of narcissism will rarely take responsibility for hurting you. You may feel the need to accept blame, but if you've recognized they are a narcissist, there's no need to blame yourself. Hold on to that truth.

4. Build a support system.

You need to surround yourself with healthy relationships. This relationship may emotionally drain you, so you need to have others you can lean on. This may be family, close friends or those who share a hobby or interest. Don't let this relationship isolate you.

5. Seek professional help when needed.

The person you are in a relationship with may need professional help. Narcissists often will not seek out help, but you can suggest it. If you're experiencing anxiety, depression or health issues, get help for yourself. If you don't know where to start, reach out to your primary-care physician or support network.

If you are being mentally, physically or emotionally abused, seek help immediately. You can reach out to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Being in a relationship with a narcissist is emotionally and mentally draining. For the relationship to survive and thrive, the narcissist must come to terms with who they are and be willing to overcome those traits. If you're in a relationship with a narcissist, you need to take care of yourself first and find someone to guide you along the way.

Mitchell Qualls is the operations director at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at mitchell@firstthings.org.

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Mitchell Qualls
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