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.
Table of Contents
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”.
1. 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.
2. 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 colours start to shine through. And the narcissist’s act is no exception.
3. Split Personalities
The charm and appeal experienced at the start of a relationship with a narcissist doesn’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.
4. 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.
5. 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 leads 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 moulded to suit their own lifestyle and needs.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. The Green Eyed Monster
People with narcissistic personalities typically obsess over power, status, beauty, success, class and status. They exhibit jealousy towards people who have what they want. On the flip side, narcissists may also accuse others of being envious of them, including their own partner.
The critical point in this, is that how the narcissist presents on the surface is entirely different from how the narcissist feels deep down inside. There are two selves at work with the narcissist: their authentic self (the one experiencing jealousy), and the fraudulent, fantasy self they try to sell to the public (the egotistical self accusing others of being jealous of them).
12. They Are Manipulation Experts
Although I have already covered some of the ways a narcissistic partner can manipulate you, it is worth delving into their manipulation techniques a little deeper.
Most people can identify when someone is trying to manipulate them, and avoid them completely; but the narcissist has a very stealth, underhanded way of manipulating those around them, especially their partner.
Here are two common narcissistic manipulation tactics:
- Belittling – Whether in the comfort of your own home or out in public, the narcissist won’t have any issues with putting you down. They will cover up their put-downs with phrases like “can’t you take a joke?” or “come on, we were all thinking it”
- Playing the victim – Think of this scenario, you are trying to explain how much you hate it when they argue with you, and the narcissist turns around and says “See? You’re always trying to start an argument with me”. Which leaves you baffled, because that’s the exact topic you are trying to raise with them. The narcissist will always turn things around to make themselves out to be the victim.
Also known as “gaslighting”, is a slow, calculated process to have you believing that you are crazy, and that you can’t trust your own judgement. It is the height of deception and a means of control.
Gaslighting starts with the narcissist planting seeds of doubt. You may notice something your partner is doing or saying that doesn’t seem to add up, but when you mention it, you are made to feel like it’s the most absurd thing you have ever said. You start to doubt yourself.
Then the next time, you actually DO catch them out with a lie. Again, you are confronted in such a way that they have you convinced you somehow got it wrong. They will deny things they have said. They will change the story to confuse you. They will project their behaviour on to you. And they may even form alliances to reinforce ‘just how crazy you are’.
14. No Grey Area
The narcissist sees the world in black and white. There is no grey area. This is part of their personality splitting mentioned previously, and includes two very strict categories – winners or losers.
According to Seth Meyers Psy.D.:
“There is no possible outcome they can conceive of in which everyone gets their needs met. There isn’t enough attention and praise for everyone to go around, so according to narcissistic logic, only a few lucky ones will be selected.”
He goes on to explain that if the narcissist sees any threat to their ego, they will get in first to seek and destroy, and ultimately win. They will do whatever it takes to ensure they don’t feel weak, unnoticed, defective or defeated. Even if it means verbally or emotionally destroying their ‘opponent’ (yes, this includes their partner).
15. Pull And Push
The narcissistic partner will pull you into their world. They will take all of your love, money and respect, drawing you into their world like a tornado. But just as easily, they will spit you out. Once you are of no use to a narcissist, they will discard you like you never existed; as long as it is on their terms.
If you try to end the relationship before they have finished with you, the force of the tornado pulling you back in will be the strongest it has ever been, as the narcissist pulls out every trick in the book to get you back.
What Should You Do If Your Partner Is a Narcissist?
I’m not going to sugar-coat things here, speaking from personal experience leaving a narcissistic relationship is no easy feat. But for me, the reward on the other side was worth the initial discomfort.
According to Psychology Today author Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D., one of the main reasons it’s so hard to leave a relationship with a narcissist is because “you have become ‘Trauma Bonded’ to this person”. Because of the initial showering of love, and feeling like all of your dreams have come true then the slow process of isolation, manipulation, crazy-making, control, loss of self, and confusion sprinkled with reward and a dash of intimacy; you are now addicted and bonded emotionally, physically and more importantly mentally to your narcissistic partner.
So what on earth can you do when you are Trauma Bonded to another person?
1. Educate Yourself
The first step is to educate yourself on what narcissism is, and how it works. The more you understand your partner’s condition, the more you will understand their behaviour.
This isn’t to say you can excuse or dismiss the behavior, but that you can get a greater insight into why they do what they do, and say what they say.
Researching online is a great place to start.
2. Make a Choice
Once you know everything there is to know about narcissism, you have a choice — either stay and put up with the behaviour, and / or try to convince your partner to seek help; or leave.
And if you choose to stay, you now know exactly what to expect from your partner, and what they aren’t able to give you if they don’t seek help.
And if you leave, you will need to ensure you are prepared for what comes next.
3. Be Prepared
Whichever way you decide, you will need to be prepared. Educating yourself is not enough to keep you safe if you decide to stay in a relationship with a true narcissist. You will need to go above and beyond to ensure you are protecting yourself emotionally, physically, financially and mentally.
And if you decide to leave, you will need to be prepared for the tornado force that is the narcissist trying to pull you back in. One of the best ways to do this is to leave quickly and cut all contact. This may be easier said than done if you have children or assets with the narcissist, however there are qualified professionals that can get involved in these circumstances.
Another way to prepare yourself is to make a list of all the reasons you want to leave — this will be an important reminder when the tornado is in full force. Also, because of the trauma bonding, there will be a grief process to go through. Ensuring you have plenty of support throughout this process is integral.
You can learn more about how to deal with a narcissist in this guide:
Narcissistic Personality: What Is It and How to Deal with a Narcissist?
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.
More Resources about Relationships
- The Invisible Violence in Relationships That Destroys People
- Why Trying Hard to Stay in an Unhappy Relationship Is Not Love, but Fear
- 8 Signs It’s Time To End The Relationship
- How to Recognize a Controlling Relationship and What to Do About It
- 12 Signs It’s Time To Move On From a Relationship
- What You Really Need to Feel Secure in a Relationship
- If Opposites Attract, Why Do They Retract?
Featured photo credit: Parker Whitson via unsplash.com
|||^||Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin: Are Narcissists Sexy? Zeroing in on the Effect of Narcissism on Short-Term Mate Appeal|
|||^||Good Therapy: Idealize, Devalue, Discard: The Dizzying Cycle of Narcissism|
|||^||Psychology Today: Why Narcissists May Be So Jealous, Competitive, and Mean|
|||^||Psychology Today: Understanding Narcissism|