How Narcissism Harms Your Relationships

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About Lion Goodman

Lion Goodman is the co-founder of Luminary Leadership Institute (, an accelerated initiatory program for leaders of businesses and organizations. With his partner, Carista Luminare, Ph.D., he developed a program to help couples transform old patterns of insecurity and trauma into a secure and passionate relationship: Confused About Love ( Lion is a co-founder of The Tribe of Men, an initiatory program in Northern California, and he served as the Director of Men’s Programs for The Shift Network, where he produced the Ultimate Men’s Summit, attended by 20,000 people around the world. He is the author of three books: Creating On Purpose (with Anodea Judith, Ph.D.), Transform Your Beliefs, and Menlightenment: A Book for Awakening Men. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, but considers himself to be a world citizen.


  1. Powerful stuff! Thank you.

  2. “After a few frustrated attempts at telling you what you did to hurt them, their communication starts to sound and feel like emotional castration….”

    This is very true…I just withdrew from my husband for a while when he and his ex-best friend were at the height of their drinking buddy phase….I could feel that I was not being listened to at all…and I would just come home really late just to avoid a confrontation….my husband hardly noticed that I wasn’t there, but his ex-best friend and his other friend could see it….Years later, my husband has broken off his relationship with this particular destructive friend after I threatened to break off with him….my husband has since apologized but it feels like it is too late and too little….emotionally I keep a distance from him because it seems impossible to expect anything resembling a mature relationship with him….the only time he pays attention to what I say is when I text him… face to face communication seems to scare him away (as if he is afraid I am going to bring up some uncomfortable topic)…..

    • I found all comments you made are about how bad your ex or how creepy your male friends. What a greta woman you are

    • Lela: Your experience is quite common among women who are in relationship with self-absorbed men. That’s the purpose of my articles – to wake men up to the damage they’re causing in their relationships. Of course, women cause damage, too. That’s why we’re educating both men and women — because it takes both people to commit to awakening from their trance and begin to construct a more positive and healthy form of love. It’s nobody’s fault. We got really bad programming from our parents. The good news is, it’s possible to re-wire when both parties commit to doing so.

      John: It seems like Lela’s comments pushed your buttons. I wonder what lies beneath your reaction? Perhaps shame or guilt? That, too, can be cleaned out, but it takes the willingness to do some inner work. Our reactions are just signals that there’s something beneath the surface, in the subconscious mind, that needs tending to.

  3. Awesome and insightful…..I recently ended a relationship with someone because they were too self-centered and self-absorbed to see how their actions (and inaction) affected my feelings for him, as well as our relationship. In the course of trying to explain my feelings, in reaction to his insensitive behavior, I was cursed, demeaned, and marginalized – all because his life, issues, and overall perception of himself (and me) was askew. His excuses for his lack of attention and empathy was never-ending and always pointed to the fact that I was judgmental and my desire for him to constantly prove himself, his dedication to the relationship, and his love for me, was just ridiculous, and after reading your article, I’m convinced that you know him….

  4. I’m hesitant to criticize because this is all well intentioned and obviously things like yelling at your partner or especially your children are behaviors you should avoid because it can be frightening. However overall I don’t like the tack this article and the comments take because it has this overall man = block-headed narcissist, woman = beacon of truth angle embedded in it. I recognize the traditional masculine gender role and applaud the attempt to break it down, but I feel that most of us are somewhere in between these two extremes regardless of gender, and that one party to a relationship is rarely solely responsible for it’s breakdowns, yelling-matches, or faults.

    A possible example is Cookie’s. Now maybe that guy had NPD and is solely responsible because he is a block-head, I acknowledge that possibility and that I don’t know the full story. On the other hand he expressed that Cookie was too judgmental/demanding and Cookie expressed a need for more attention – so it seems that there was something wrong in the relationship itself for both parties, not necessarily just with him. This reflects the stereotypical man – woman scenario where the man traditionally finds the woman judgmental or demanding, and the woman finds him emotionally distant or inattentive – both partners are flawed human beings and need to move toward each other in this situation, one is not a block-head and the other a beacon of truth.

    To expand – yes he should listen to her more, but she should also listen to his truth. The fact that what he expressed as his truth is framed by Cookie as “excuses” and “just ridiculous” is a red flag to me that she may not have listened herself, and I venture to say that most relationship breakdowns involve two people who aren’t listening to each other – I’m not sure men deserve the sole bad-rap for this one. (I’m sorry if he really was just a horrible narcissist, but I’m talking about average men – who I suspect often have this lens put on their behavior to devalue their own concerns and perceptions).

    To put it another way – this article tries to view men through the guise of Narcissistic personality disorder as a way of challenging the traditional male role. You could actually likewise look at women through Histrionic personality disorder (which is pretty much just a feminine gendered NPD) and challenge women’s traditional need for more attention/affection, and tendency to criticize when this need is unmet. Personally I think both approaches frame the issue incorrectly by using a personality disorder, because most people fall somewhere in the middle regardless of socialization, and they need to solve things together egolessly and according to their own individual needs.

    Sorry if that is unclear, I guess I’m saying that this article has half the equation?

    • No. You are clear. And you have good arguments.

      But is it correct to say that histrionic personalty disorder in a woman= narcissistic disorder in a man?

      I think not.
      Men can be diagnosed with histrionic personalty disorder. They are what we often call Don Juan’s .the male variety of “hysteria “..
      I am not a psychologist ( obviously).

    • RMNZ: Note that I did not use the term “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” in this article. This isn’t about a psychological label for an extreme disorder. It’s about narcissism itself, selfishness, and egotism – all within the normal range of human psychology. Read my other articles to see that I’m talking about a range from low to high, not the extremes. I am also careful to point out that both men and women have these qualities — given how our parents and culture raised us, it’s understandable. This isn’t a knock on men or putting women on a pedestal. It’s about the search, within each of us, for this tendency to be more self-oriented than other-oriented, to be self-absorbed rather than caring for others. I’m also not challenging traditional male roles, or female roles. There ARE differences between the sexes, but if you think about “masculine” and “feminine” rather than what appears between one’s legs, you can expand your thinking to include the masculine aspect and the feminine aspect in men, women, and all the other genders. I even stated at the beginning of the article, “I speak as a masculine man in relationship to feminine women. Please adjust the gender terms to suit your relationship experience.”

      The truth is, we all have the same need — secure love. Every infant (with a few exceptions) needs that kind of love, and most of us didn’t get it in sufficient quantities. We go into detail about childhood attachment styles in our program, “Confused About Love.” ( We’re trying to point to the trouble spots that appear in most relationships. And in 1200 words, it’s hard to go into much detail. So summarize we must. Thanks for your comments.

      • Thank you for clearing that up; nowhere in the original text was there any mention of narcissistic personality disorder – obviously RMNZ took the article and my comments out of context and to the extreme. I believe that it was mentioned that it’s not about gender specific behavior; rather commentary on the idea that anyone can exhibit this type of behavior which can in turn ruin their relationship. It’s not about putting a woman on a pedestal, or demeaning a man because his needs or ways of communication are different; rather it is an observation on how narcissism can ruin relationships – it’s just as simple as that.

  5. double standard? says:

    “As long as I was getting what I wanted from the woman in my life, I was happy. I felt good about my relationship. I was cooperative, kind, and loving. But if I didn’t get what I wanted, if she wasn’t showing up consistently as the perfect Love Goddess I expected, I began to shut down, withdrawing my energy and attention. I frequently became resentful. I stopped caring about her as much as I had initially. I got snappy, overly irritable, and reactive. I would hit an internal limit, then started looking for an exit, or someone else who would be more pleasing, and less of a problem.”

    So, when your girlfriend is not acting the way she used to and you’re less interested in her… that’s narcissism? Why in the world wouldn’t you look for someone more pleasing and less of a problem?

    And the reason she stopped doing whatever it was that was making you happy? Couldn’t be her narcissism. You’re the guy, it must be your fault!

    I guess it’s baaad to have expectations of your partners and of your relationships? They shouldn’t make your life more enjoyable?

    • This is an article about taking full responsibility for your part of the relationship dynamic. Of COURSE both people need to delve into their shadow and find out what’s going on, but it’s amazing what can happen when you look inside yourself for the causes of problems, and stop blaming the other person for what’s happening. In our program, “Confused About Love?” we encourage BOTH parties to commit to making the relationship more secure and passionate. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to make a relationship work. It’s fine to have expectations, but expectations inevitably lead to disappointment. I prefer making specific commitments – to yourself, to the other person, and to the relationship itself. When you do that, you’re brought up against your own inner junk-pile, and you have the opportunity to clean it up.

      It’s not anybody’s role to make you happy. It’s your job. Do whatever it takes to create BEING happy, rather than waiting around passively to see whether your woman is going to make you happy. THAT’S narcissistic (and infantile).

  6. Listen, men:

    If you care enough to truly listen to your women’s truth, especially when it’s about your behavior or overpowering energy, she will be able to care for you and your needs much more consistently. A woman needs to feel safe, and trust that you will honor her truth (as HER truth, not necessarily THE truth). If you do, she can give you her Feminine Best. If you are scary, don’t expect her to open to you. If you miss her signals, or if you can’t hear that she needs you to be more gentle (for example), don’t expect her to be happy. If you can’t say you’re sorry, or if you ignore her needs after you’ve hurt her, (whether her need to be held, or her need to be treated more kindly), don’t expect her to “get off it” about her upset.

    The truth is, we all need to be loved and respected by the other – it’s a universal need for both men and women. We’re all self-absorbed at times. All of us have to learn how to be more loving in a sustainable way, day after day. We’re all just confused about love.

    Lion and I teach specific ways to rewire your old reactions into positive and loving responses. See our program at

  7. FlyingKal says:

    Love is caring. This isn’t just an adage — it’s a description of a specific set of behaviors that demonstrate real love. When you care about the other person, you care about her (or his) needs, and about the impact of your behavior on them.

    What if your partner has a need, not something spectacular, just somehing that seems like a minor thing that you are trying yor best to meet. But doing so repeatedly on a day-to-day basis really starts to grow on you, and in getting “confirmation” the need also grows, and finally it’s something that makes your skin crawl and turns your stomach into a hard lump.
    How do I demonstrate real love in a situation like this?

    • FlyingKal:

      Love is caring – both about the other person, and yourself, equally. If you sacrifice a part of yourself to please the other person, you’re not caring for yourself. And if you ask the other person to sacrifice their own integrity or wholeness for you, you’re not caring for the other person. Real love in this situation would be to say, “Honey, I’ve been trying to meet your needs, but I find that it’s no longer working for me. I’m reacting badly, so we need to find another way for you to get your need filled, because I can’t do it – or I can’t do it in that way. I care about you, and I also care about myself. We both have to feel good and win as we take care of our own – and each other’s – needs and desires. What is possible?”

      I hope this approach helps you. Love thyself!
      - Lion

  8. Richard Blackmore says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you and again, thank you!!! This beautifully written article is the first I have found that treats narcissists, like me, like people. I am currently working on breaking the biggest bad habit of my life, my narcissism, so that I can fix my relationship with my wonderful girlfriend and, eventually have a strong and healthy union with her. It is so very hard to find help when you truly want to change. Most advice is directed at women victims and tells them to leave. This is justifiable. These women have been put through a lot and have a right to feel victimized, because we do victimize them.

    But what if you are in love with your partner, the way my girlfriend and I are in love with eachother. She doesn’t want to leave, which is why she gets so upset when I get on my high horse. If she didn’t love me, she wouldn’t care and would just leave. Thank you for this wonderful advice. Thank you for providing us with the tools to fix our relationship.

  9. LGWalker says:

    I’m so grateful to you for sharing your insight and awareness about your own experiences; thank you. Looking back, before your recovery began, is there any thing or any way a loved one might have talked with you productively about your narcissistic traits? I believe I know what I’m looking at, am devastated daily by it, but don’t know how to approach it. Feels so much like wanting to help an an injured animal but can’t figure out how to approach it in a way that keeps both it and me safe from its shock and fear. Again, many thanks for all.

  10. Angry wife/mom says:

    i want help but i’m a women… is there a good women project out there somewhere?

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