Being in a relationship with a narcissist is not a pleasant experience. The negative impact ripples out to all areas of your life – from your ability to focus at work all the way through to affecting your emotional and physical health.
The difficult part is knowing whether your partner really is a narcissist (or are they just overly confident); and the even trickier part – if you know they are a narcissist, what can you do about it?
In this article, we go through the signs (also known as red flags) to indicate you are more than likely in a relationship with a narcissist, and what you can do if you are in this situation.
Signs of a Narcissistic Partner
If your partner exhibits 5 or more of these signs, there is a very high chance you are in a relationship with a narcissist (otherwise known as someone with a narcissistic personality type); or in extreme cases where you are experiencing a relationship with someone that shows all of these signs, they will likely have what’s called Narcissistic Personality Disorder or “NPD”.
Everything Is about Them
Ever tried to have a conversation with someone who is “all about me“? Someone who only listens to him or herself? One thing that will be noticeable is that every conversation will be hijacked and redirected back to them.
Narcissists have a constant need for attention, and if this need is not met, you can expect irritation and resentment. Being in a relationship with a narcissist means that not only every conversation is about them, but every decision, opinion, thought, goal, choice (e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.) is about them.
Part of this all-about-me-syndrome is a sense of entitlement. In relationships, this can come across as “my way or the highway” where your thoughts, feelings and opinions really aren’t valid. The narcissist with NPD truly believes the world revolves around them and that they are entitled to have constant, excessive attention and admiration; and to have everything the way they want it.
They Are so Charming… At First
Early in the relationship, you will experience the highest highs you have ever experienced when dating someone. You will be spoilt, pampered, showered with affection and flattery. You will feel like the most special person on the planet, and think to yourself “how did I get so lucky?” and “is this person real?”. Narcissists are highly skilled at turning on the charm to get what they want.
Research by Michael Dufner and others found that narcissists are considered to be appealing short-term romantic or sexual partners. They found that the mate appeal of narcissists stems from their physical attractiveness and their social boldness – displays of characteristics such as confidence, charm and charisma.[
However, with anyone putting on a show, there is only so long you can sustain this act before your true colors start to shine through. And the narcissist’s act is no exception.
The charm and appeal experienced at the start of a relationship with a narcissist don’t last forever. It may take days, weeks, months or in some cases up to a year. The switch from the charming person you fell so hard for, to someone you feel like you barely know can feel like the wind has been knocked out of your sails.
One minute you feel like you are gliding along the water with the sun beaming on your face, the next you feel like you are in the middle of a ferocious, scary storm.
If you have experienced the Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde switch, where one minute you feel as though you’ve found ‘the one’; and then the next minute wonder who this nasty person is in front of you – you are experiencing the “splitting” personality of the narcissist.
Andrea Schneider, Narcissism Topic Expert explains that the cracks will usually start to show slowly:
“The person with narcissism often may begin—subtly, insidiously, and covertly—to devalue his or her significant other. This may happen via putdowns, gaslighting, intermittently lacking emotional or physical intimacy, withdrawing affection, seductive withholding, inexplicably disappearing from contact, or blaming the target for the narcissistic person’s issues (projection).”
Some narcissists will continue to ‘reward’ their partner with affection (on their terms) or gifts while at the same time devaluing them. This can be a very confusing time for the person on the receiving end.
Lack of Boundaries
People with narcissistic tendencies show deliberate disregard for other people’s boundaries. They regularly overstep the mark and use others without a second thought for the affect they may have on them.
The narcissist shows disregard for other people’s boundaries in many different ways including regularly breaking promises or obligations, borrowing items or money without returning them (and with no intent to ever return or repay), and showing little remorse and blaming the other person when they have overstepped the mark.
You Are Isolated
Isolation is one of the more common ways a narcissist can gain control in a relationship. This control feeds their need to have everything their way, and to have their partner become fully dependent on them.
Some of the ways a narcissist can isolate you are: cutting you off from friends and family; controlling use of and monitoring social media and phone calls; controlling the use of vehicles; pulling you away from hobbies; and even in some cases, disengaging you from the workforce, therefore having full financial control.
Narcissists will use manipulative comments like “Why do you bother spending your time and effort on her when you don’t even like her?”; or “I paid for this car, so of course I get to say when you can use it”; or “I thought you loved me? Why are you spending so many hours at work?”.
Over time hearing continual put-downs, doubts, and jealous comments lead to giving up all of the things that give you your own identity. You become a diminished version of yourself that you don’t even recognize anymore. Someone the narcissist has molded to suit their own lifestyle and needs.
Disregard for Your Feelings
An important part of any relationship is the need to be understood, and to be able to freely express your feelings, desires, aspirations and needs with your partner.
Because of the narcissist’s need to be wanted, they may come across as caring and that they truly want what’s best for you; but the harsh reality is that beneath it all, they are actually more concerned about “what’s in it for me”.
The narcissist will make decisions based on what will benefit them, not what will benefit (or affect) their relationship. They simply don’t have the capacity to take on board your feelings, because they are too concerned about their own.
Delusions of Grandeur
People with NPD believe they are superior to everyone and anyone else, and this delusion of grandeur is the primary reason they are unable to experience love. They do not view others to be in any way equal to them, and they genuinely believe that they are superior in virtually all respects.
They Are Short-fused
As I already mentioned, the narcissist believes everything is about them, and that their way is the only way. When things don’t go their way or when they aren’t getting all the attention, or when someone disagrees with them, this can be like entering a lion’s den. They have trouble regulating emotions and behaviour, handling criticism and can feel hurt very easily.
Narcissists can also become impatient or angry when they don’t receive the “VIP treatment” they believe they rightfully deserve.
Inability to Let You In
Underneath the wall that the narcissist has built to keep themselves above others, there is an underlying current of insecurity, fear, anxiety and shame. Because of their need to feel superior, they will not let this wall down.
To let others in and to be truly vulnerable would be too risky, so they portray a very high level of self-esteem and false bravado and keep people at arm’s length. In intimate relationships, this can be a detrimental game of cat and mouse, with the narcissist continuously baiting for attention, then pushing away when you get too close.
They Avoid Total Responsibility
In a relationship with a narcissist, you will notice they are very quick to take responsibility – when something has gone right. The credit, praise, positive and good feeds the narcissist’s ego.
One thing you will never see or hear is a narcissist taking responsibility when something has gone wrong. In these circumstances, they will blame, deflect, avoid and deny, truly believing it had nothing to do with them, and act hurt that someone could imply it was their fault, to begin with.
Healthy, fulfilling relationships are formed when both partners can feel safe to express who they really are, and be all of themselves without judgement or criticism.
Being in a relationship with a narcissist is the opposite of this experience, and unless your partner is open to the idea and has the financial means to seek professional help, the reality is they probably won’t change.
You do have a choice though. And whichever way you choose, take care of yourself first.
Read more: Signs That You Are In A Toxic Relationship
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