We live in a time that promotes selfies, posting your life on every social media, becoming a CEO, being the 1st at school, winning awards, prioritizing self-love… We live in a time that loudly revolves around our egos. It is all about “what I choose, what I want, what I wish.” It’s all about the little word “Me.” So, in this kind of narcissistic-western society, how can you tell if you are dating or engaged in a relationship with a narcissist?
These are complex questions with no straightforward answer. However, just as we may all feel anxiety without having an anxiety disorder, a line divides having a healthy ego from having a narcissistic disorder. This post will explore how to tell if you’re in a relationship with a partner with narcissistic traits.
We will cover 9 of the most common signs you should be looking out for. And we will provide you with some tools to learn what to do and not to do if you find yourself in this type of relationship.
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a divine and gorgeous creature. The myth mentions that once Narcissus watched his beauty in the spring water, he became so enticed and in love with his reflection that he died drowning. This ancient myth speaks about a type of personality that has existed throughout the ages, characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-love.
Our contemporary psychology has studied the most salient traits of this type of personality and developed the diagnosis of “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (NPD). In the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual created by the American Psychiatric Association, NPD is defined as “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and with lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood.”
This may look like a very general definition. So, to make things a little bit clearer, the DSM-5 explains that a person should meet at least five of the following criteria:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements)
- They are preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
- Believes that they are “special” and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people (or institutions).
- They Require excessive admiration.
- They have a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favourable treatment or compliance with their expectations).
- They are exploitative and take advantage of others to achieve their ends.
- Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
- They are often envious of others or believe that others are envious of them.
- They show arrogant, haughty behaviours and attitudes.
Note: Please, remember that mental health professionals are the only ones trained to make a mental health diagnosis using specific tests and diagnostic tools. This information SHOULD NOT be used as a substitute for therapy or a professional evaluation.
How Do You Tell If Your Partner Is a Narcissistic?
If you are reading this post, maybe it is because you suspect your partner may be acting a little narcissistic. However, you may feel unsure about whether you have to worry about your partner’s behaviours or not.
While the DSM-5 guides therapists to evaluate if a client has a narcissistic personality disorder, it may not be easy to assess if the person we love has narcissistic traits. This usually happens because our feelings, insecurities, and lack of information may lead us to ignore red flags in our loved ones.
Moreover, people high in narcissistic traits often have attractive qualities that they exploit to gain the admiration of others and shield themselves against any form of criticism. As a result, the victim of a narcissistic partner often blames themselves for not being up to their partner’s expectations. Or, they feel emotionally depleted trying to meet by trying to meet their partner’s needs.
If you find yourself confused, frustrated, or even depressed about your partner’s behaviours, there’s a way out! Below we will discuss some of the most common red flags you may pay attention to in your relationship and what to do if you find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist.
9 Signs & Red Flags You're in a Relationship With a Narcissist Partner
They Use "Love Bombing" To Gain Your Attention
As the name suggests, love bombing consists in showering you with exaggerated signs of affection to gain your undivided attention. There’s certainly nothing wrong with feeling unique to someone. We all want a partner that makes us feel special, loved, and cared for. However, the problem is that narcissists apply love bombing to selfishly. The narcissist’s ultimate goal is not to connect with you deeper but to make you feel emotionally dependent on them.
In other words, the narcissist will behave as irresistibly as possible to make you think that no one in the entire world would make you feel the same way. By doing that, the narcissist aims to make you fall into the trap of giving them the amount of attention they are craving.
A narcissist often uses love bombing as a psychological game to tweak your mind. In the beginning, they may show exaggerated signs of love. However, once they have caught your attention, they may become distant, irritable, or upset to make you think you did something wrong. Hence, you will have to please them. Love bombing is a psychological strategy that seeks to undermine your self-esteem and self-confidence.
Here are some signs to recognize if your partner is using love bombing:
- Your partner showers you with lots of gifts, fancy dinners, upscale dates, or vacation invitations that may look excessive for the stage of your relationship.
- Your partner compliments you excessively.
- Your partner makes a lot of “soul mate claims” even when you are in the initial stage of your relationship.
- Your partner pushes you to move your relationship to the next level out of love.
- Your partner crosses many communication boundaries to get your undivided attention (i.e., calls or texts you multiple times a day or late at night).
- Your partner may behave overly jealous when you do not pay your full attention to them.
- Your partner may act in ways that look needy.
They Behave with a Sense of Superiority and Entitlement
Something that narcissists have in common is a superb sense of superiority and entitlement, which is what prevents them from relating to others as equals. When we think about narcissism, we probably think about those politicians, celebrities, or leaders who love to steal the limelight.
Often, we do not think about the person we have a relationship with. Yet, that person may have an equal sense of entitlement as any other Hollywood star you can think of. But how can you recognize that?
Think about how much attention your partner demands from you and what happens when you do not meet that demand. For example, does your partner feel upset if you are not available to do the things s/he wants to do when they want to do it?
Does your partner think they can criticize you, offend you, or put you down, but not the other way around? Does your partner show a lack of respect for your boundaries (i.e., your couple wants to have sex when you do not wish to; intends to manage your money; or wants to control your social relationships)?
They Gaslight You
Narcissists need to keep their egos bright and shining. That means they find it challenging to receive criticism, take responsibility for any misbehaviour, or accept that you are not paying your full attention to them. When any of these things happen, they may feel under threat. So, they have to react.
How? By undermining your arguments, invalidating your perception, and making you think that the person that needs to be blamed is YOU.
Gaslighting is often used by abusers eager to disregard the victim’s accounts or boundaries. For example, when you ask your partner why he came late last night, and he calls you “paranoid” or “crazy,” he is disregarding your statement. What he is doing instead is belittling you to preserve his ego. A narcissist may use a whole bunch of gaslighting phrases in their attempt to make you doubt your perception and confidence. Here are just a few of them:
- » You are just too sensitive
- » You made me do that
- » It’s your fault that this happened
- » You read into things too much
- » Shame on you
- » You have a very active imagination
(If you want to know more gaslighting phrases your partner may be using in your relationship, check out this list).
They Lack Empathy
One of the most salient characteristics of a narcissistic personality is their unwillingness to empathize with another person. In other words, the relationship gravitates entirely around them and never around your feelings or needs.
A person high on narcissism has a very low emotional maturity. They may act like a two-year-old child who sees the world through the lenses of “Me, me, me” and does not care about the consequences or their actions in others. While this is appropriate behaviour for a two-year-old, it is a warning sign when speaking about adults.
Developing empathy for others means recognizing that we all have insecurities, imperfections, fears, and moments of despair. Empathizing with another human being is an act in which we let our guard down and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with and in front of another person. Empathy is all about sharing vulnerabilities, which a narcissist cannot engage in because it would mean accepting that his perfect and superior ego is not such. Narcissists need to maintain their facade of perfection to protect their self-image.
They Lack Boundaries
Narcissists tend to cross their partner’s boundaries to meet their own needs. Because narcissists have a strong sense of entitlement, it is difficult to accept “No” for an answer. This disrespect for other people’s boundaries is what drives them to engage in abusive, exploitative, or harmful behaviours. In a relationship, they may play a dominant role expecting an absolute commitment from their partner.
They Are Hypersensitive to Criticism
Even though narcissists try to keep an appearance of beauty, perfection, and charm on the outside, they usually feel empty inside.
Narcissists put a lot of effort into being liked, admired, and praised by others. So, when you point out something that they are not good at or have done wrong, your narcissist’s partner may backlash rudely. They may offend you, mistreat you, or become super distant to make you believe you were the one who did something wrong.
Narcissists have a hard time accepting criticism because they see those not as an area to improve but as a direct attack on their ego.
They Manipulate You
Consciously or unconsciously, a narcissistic partner may try to manipulate you in very different ways, either to get your attention or to invalidate you. So let’s clarify these two points a little bit.
As we mentioned earlier, a narcissist has an ego-centric personality and worldview. So, they will look to establish relationships with people that validate their personality traits, skills, and real ego. But, they know that if they want to be validated, liked, and praised by others, they have to behave in particular ways. Before, we talked about the love-bombing strategy, but that is just one way to manipulate their partners.
They can also use lots of persuasive and charming talk to make you do things they want you to do. Or they can even share with you unfortunate things to awaken your feeling of compassion and surrender to them.
On the other hand, when you do not fall into the trap of feeding your partner’s ego, your partner may disregard or invalidate you as a person. Again, the idea is to attack your self-esteem and self-confidence to trigger doubts, shame, and guilt about your behaviours.
They Will Try To Isolate You From Friends & Family
People engaged with a narcissistic partner may feel socially isolated and misunderstood by their loved ones. Most of the time, narcissists keep a charming face in public. Still, they may feel entitled to act in dominant, abusive, and selfish ways inside their relationship with their partners. This duality, of course, may put you in a vulnerable position. How will you convince your family that all the lovely attributes they are seeing in your partner are just a facade?
Moreover, how will you convince your family that something wrong is going on when your partner keeps dismissing every argument you make as “too sensitive”? Narcissists often try to isolate their partners from their social and family circle to maintain the abuse. They know it will be harder for their partner to leave them if they do not count on social support or lack self-confidence.
They Will "Discard" You
We have said that a partner with narcissistic traits may be dismissive, abusive, or inconsiderate towards your needs. In addition, many people engaged with a narcissist may experience being discarded or replaced by other people.
For example, despite all your efforts to maintain your relationship, you may find out that your partner cheated on you or left you one day. Being in this situation may feel shocking, frustrating, and unfair. After all, you did your best to try to meet your partner’s expectations. But unfortunately, narcissists do not consider that (remember that they lack empathy).
Instead, they let people in their lives or disregard them based on their capacity to meet their unrealistic expectations without question. So, if your partner breaks up with you, try to see this as a blessing! It may be a sign that you made a step on the right track to reinforce your healthy boundaries, self-worth, and dignity.
What Can You Do If You Are In A Relationship With A Narcissist?
If you have realized that you are dating or engaged in a long-term relationship with a partner with many narcissistic traits, we want to let you know there’s a way out! Here are some tools you can start to consider putting an end to your toxic relationship and regain your self-worth:
- Please, avoid blaming yourself for falling for a narcissist. We are all equally vulnerable to fall for charming, attractive, and famous people.
- Take the first step to stand up for yourself and set healthy boundaries.
- Talk to people who will support you to navigate your relationship and who will take your side.
- Engage in activities that will boost your self-esteem and self-confidence.
Look For Support & Get Your Own Therapist
Being in a relationship with a narcissist is complicated. Despite your love for your partner, you may feel continually down, frustrated, or unheard. If you think you are engaged in a toxic relationship and need help finding a way out of it, or rebuilding your self-esteem, here we are for you!
Please, do not hesitate to call us and tell us what is troubling you at this stage of your relationship. We will walk along with you to help you navigate the difficult moments, so you can find ways to cope and rebuild your life according to your values. Remember, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel! If you are ready to embark upon the journey of finding that light, so are we!
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