How To Cope With A Narcissistic Family Member

Updated April 5, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

The word “narcissist” is often used to describe people who engage in various selfish and often conceited behaviors – some of which aren’t related to narcissistic personality disorder or NPD.

Although many people may demonstrate certain traits or symptoms affiliated with the condition, getting a diagnosis takes more than displaying a couple of symptoms or traits. We don’t know the exact number for what percentage of people who meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, but statistics indicate that it’s somewhere from 0.5% to 6.2% of the population.

Still, what we can take away from this statistic is that NPD is not uncommon. You're not alone if you have a family member with narcissistic tendencies.

Familial relationships are often complicated, but when they negatively impact your mental or physical health, self-esteem, and other parts of your life, it can put you in a tough position. It’s always important to take care of your own mental health.

If you have a narcissistic family, you might wonder if maintaining a loving relationship with this person is even possible. Many find it too much and decide to break off contact, but this isn’t always an option. There are some strategies that can help you do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Understanding NPD

Navigating family relationships can be difficult

First things first: what exactly is narcissistic personality disorder or NPD?

NPD is a personality disorder characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance combined with a lack of concern for the feelings of others and an excessive need for admiration from other people. These patterns must be ongoing for a diagnosis of NPD to occur.

Common symptoms include but aren’t limited to:

  • A grandiose or inflated sense of self-importance

  • The belief that one is “the best of the best,” special, or unique and can only be understood by or affiliated with other people or institutions who they feel are of the same high status

  • An excessive need for praise or admiration or to be the center of attention

  • A lack of empathy for other people

  • The exploitation of other people

  • A sense of entitlement

  • Fantasies about success, beauty, and power

  • The expectation that others will comply with all their desires without question

  • Envy, or accusations of envy in others

  • Exaggerations of their skills and accomplishments

Someone with NPD may have interpersonal skills that may be hurtful and result in strained relationships. They may feel that their way is right, nitpick others, and manipulate, shame, blame, or guilt others. 

But, with all these glorious feelings of superiority comes a deep sense of insecurity that’s often held inside. Many people living with NPD find tolerating even the slightest real or perceived criticism difficult. A narcissist’s behavior may include reacting defensively or even angrily if you try to call them out on problematic behaviors. In that scenario, the individual may turn it around or blame it on you. Some people will gaslight others, making you question your sense of reality.

Despite a high sensitivity to criticism, people with NPD may not hesitate to dish out criticism and insults at every opportunity. A person with NPD might put others down to make themselves feel better. Often, this person feels the need to be the most powerful, successful, and intelligent in the room. If they sense that anyone else might outshine them, they will likely make degrading comments to keep that person firmly below them on the totem pole.

Loved ones may struggle with non-stop put-downs and insults, whether those jabs at you and your self-esteem are overt or covert. In time, this treatment, regardless of the cause, can break a person down. All the insults can harm your well-being. Your self-esteem may lower, and you may question your intelligence, perception, or ability. Overall, you may feel stress or strain. You may also get nervous about future angry outbursts or setting other people off in any way – even over reasonable things – because you have gotten used to walking on eggshells and receiving this treatment.

How is NPD diagnosed?


Narcissistic personality disorder can be diagnosed by a qualified medical or mental health provider such as a psychiatrist. NPD can be more difficult to diagnose and treat for several reasons. One of the biggest is that it can be challenging for someone with NPD to realize something is wrong. This is why many individuals living with NPD start by seeking help for another concern or condition, whether a comorbid or co-occurring condition or trouble in interpersonal relationships.

That said, someone who lives with a narcissistic personality disorder may, in some cases, acknowledge their symptoms and behavior and seek help. Treatment for NPD is available, and while it’s not necessarily a cure, proper care can help someone with NPD manage their symptoms. Individual psychotherapy is a commonly used treatment, but family therapy can also be beneficial.

But what if your family doesn’t seek help? There are some things you can do.

What to do if a loved one is unwilling to seek help

If a relationship of any kind, including a familial one, impacts you negatively, putting yourself first is essential.

Often, that is easier said than done. If your parent is a narcissist, you may feel guilty about putting your needs ahead of theirs. If it is your child, you may feel like you have failed. If it’s a spouse or partner, you may think this is the price to pay for keeping them in your life. If it’s an in-law, you may feel frustrated or hurt if your spouse doesn’t support you over their family member.

It’s common for someone to play on these emotions, using your feelings of guilt to their advantage. If this person has a pattern of manipulative behavior, they likely know all the right buttons to push to elicit strong feelings. And, if they lack empathy, they may not feel any regard for how these behaviors are hurting you. You can’t control those behaviors, but you can control your own. That said, finding peace in your life again is possible, especially with strong boundaries, self-care, and support.

Coping strategies

Any of these strategies, or some combination, can help you cope and build parameters for interactions with your family. Let’s take a good look at the pros and cons of each.

Limit your contact

If you take this route, you must be clear and up-front about limiting contact if certain behaviors occur, and you have to stick to the boundary once you assert it. Decide how often you want to see this person (once a week, once a month, etc.), then set parameters for that interaction.

For example, you might say, “I want to spend time with you on the 1st, and I am excited to do that. In advance, I want to let you know that if you make any insulting remarks about my parenting skills, I will not be able to be in the same room with you. My children and I will leave immediately.” Or, “If you come to my house, I need you to avoid commenting about its neatness or cleanliness. Otherwise, I will have to ask you to leave.” You might even set explicit boundaries about when, where, and within what contexts you’ll see this person. Maybe, you’ll only spend time with them when your spouse or other family are present – not when you’re alone. You can modify this based on what you can stick to and what is most helpful for you.

This strategy addresses any potential problems before they arise. It also sets clear boundaries so that they know what you expect.

Also, some people who show symptoms of NPD don’t like it when their behavior can be predicted or controlled. When you tell them ahead of time what you expect them to say or do, they will be motivated to do the opposite and surprise you.

The key to this strategy is using specific language and sticking to your words. Define the exact behaviors that you dislike and communicate the precise way in which you plan to respond to ensure that there is no misunderstanding. Then, follow through. If you say that you’ll leave, leave. Setting limits like this can help you.

Set boundaries related to specific behaviors

Sometimes, people living with NPD have a hard time with or don’t have a sense of boundaries. This person might know how to manipulate people and situations to meet their needs. Persons with vulnerable narcissism can be highly neurotic and very sensitive to criticism. Over time, families become accustomed to enabling individuals with these traits, simply giving them what they want to keep the peace. But, you don’t have to take part in this. You can clarify that you will not tolerate certain behaviors or engage in certain topics.

What are some examples of limits you can set? A person might demand special treatment, or they may yell at you and ask you to back them up when they enter an altercation with someone or something else.

You can say, “If you’re going to keep speaking to me that way, then we’re done with this conversation,” or, “If you raise your voice at the cashier, I will leave,” or, “I’m not going to go with you to talk to the landlord because I don’t have a problem with him.”

Make no mistake. With a prideful personality, your loved one may attempt to push the issue and pressure you to jump back on their manipulation train. Don’t allow them to push your buttons. Repeat your position in the same words calmly and firmly, and do not go back on what you said.

Cut off contact

Navigating family relationships can be difficult

This is the best option in some situations to preserve your emotional and psychological well-being. If you have kids or if other loved ones are involved, you may also want to save them from facing the same treatment you have. If you’re the adult child of a person with NPD, removing yourself and your children from the toxic family dynamics may become necessary.

Often, this comes after trial and error. Despite your best efforts, you may find the drain on your mental health is no longer worth it. If this happens, there is no shame in cutting off ties for the sake of your own mental health.

Of course, while this is the best decision in many cases, it’s not easy. Here are some tips to help you through the adjustment:

  • Go cold turkey. Sometimes, if you don’t go cold turkey, the person will try to work their way back in.

  • Know that they will disrespect your boundaries. If this person cannot understand or respect boundaries, it’s up to you to keep those boundaries in place. They may try to create some reason or necessity to see you. Be prepared for your family to call you constantly or even show up at your home until they figure out you mean business. This may take time, and it can be emotionally tumultuous. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other people.

  • Don’t argue. This person may try to play the victim and portray you as the betrayer no matter what you say. If they feel they are the most important person or are always right, arguing will only make you feel drained and possibly, question your sense of reality yet again. Keep rigid boundaries and do not engage. Remember that you can’t control the narcissistic traits of a relative, but you can control your own behavior.

  • Take care of yourself. Reach out to trusted friends for support during this difficult time. Therapy for yourself, either in person or online, may help you to work through your emotions. Be gentle with yourself and realize that healing from a toxic relationship with a narcissistic loved one may take time.

Most of all, don’t give up hope. With firmness and plenty of self-care, you can find your way to the other side of the pain, start to trust yourself again, and maintain peace of mind.

Find a therapist

If you’re dealing with a narcissistic family member and need help setting and keeping boundaries, or if you’ve chosen to go no-contact and need some support, online therapy can help. With online therapy, you’re matched with an available, licensed therapist to get started right away. You don’t have to worry about commuting to an office or being on a waiting list. You can attend sessions from the comfort of home or anywhere you have an internet connection, and you can communicate with your therapist via email, phone, video chat, or text. Research shows that online therapy is an effective treatment option. In fact, one analysis of 14 studies found that online treatment is just as effective as face-to-face intervention. If you’re ready to take the next step, sign up for Regain to get started.

Counselor reviews

“Yumi is amazing and a perfect fit for us. Just having one video session helped our family so much in so many ways. His responses are on point, and we value them greatly. I can’t thank her enough for all she has continued to do to strengthen our family. I would recommend her to the world; that’s how amazing she is.”

For Additional Help & Support With Your ConcernsThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.