Just One ‘Top Dog’: Rooming With a Narcissist Like Myself

Reader’s Question

I have a roommate who is also a close friend. We have gotten along great the entire time we have known each other and have so much in common that it’s a little scary sometimes. One way we’re alike is that we are both very self-confident, and I would be the first to say we are probably a little narcissistic.

In the last week we’ve been having debates that turned into his telling me I’m attacking his judgment and character when I was simply voicing some disagreement with his views. He will get to the point of saying “You’re this close to the line” as a way of signaling he’s ready to fight me. Admittedly, being hard-headed myself, I was not going to let him intimidate me or make me agree to his point of view, which probably only makes the chance of escalation greater. One time my girlfriend was in the room when this was happening, and she was baffled about where all the aggression was coming from.

This level of aggression is very out of character for him and after stumbling across an article online about narcissism and its becoming a personality disorder, I was wondering if this could be the case and why he has been acting so aggressive with me lately. Because he never thinks he’s wrong and won’t admit he’s been out of line, I know he will make no attempt at an apology.

I would mainly like an answer to this because I am more then ready to throw this friendship out the door, but like I said we are roommates, and that’s not the easiest thing to do when you have a lease.


Psychologist’s Reply

All of us have various “traits” of personality that mark as as individuals. It’s when our traits become so narrowly defined, inflexible, or extreme that they impair our ability to function well socially that we might be considered to have a personality “disorder.”

It’s one thing to have some narcissistic traits. And both aggressive and assertive personalities tend to have such traits. (I write about this extensively in my book In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] and my upcoming book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].) But it’s another thing entirely to have a narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists tend to view others as mere extensions of themselves or as objects whose main value is only to validate and heap adulation upon them. So, whenever someone in a relationship with a narcissist tries to establish an independent identity or to challenge the narcissist’s inflated self-perception, trouble is likely to follow. Validate and adulate and you’ll be temporarily at peace. Challenge and you risk hostility and attack. Only you can decide whether you want to maintain such a relationship. If you choose to continue it, you’ll probably need to be content with keeping some of your opinions to yourself, maintaining a reasonable distance, and not digging in your heels unless it’s really an important matter (and most of life, of course, is the “small stuff”). If you’re not capable of this, you’ll likely have to take a closer look at your own narcissistic tendencies. For the narcissist, there’s only room in the room for one “number one.” And aggressive personalities do the best they can to ensure they hold the dominant position. You’ll have to decide whether you want to play these games or move onto something far more constructive.

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