It is important to realize that there is a world of difference between being self-confident or self-absorbed, and being narcissistic. On any social network you’ll find thousands of examples of self-confidence, with the ever-present ‘selfies’. On dating sites we see people talking themselves up. You might have had first dates where they speak incessantly about themselves. But are they narcissistic? We may think so.
In reality, however, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a recognized mental health condition, and a rare one; it is estimated that between 0.5% and 1% of the general population is affected, with 50% – 75% being male.
A true narcissist will show most of the classic symptoms, such as an over-inflated sense of self-importance. They will have a history of failed or troubled relationships. They’ll crave attention, continually seeking compliments. And they will display a marked lack of empathy.
These traits are, in theory, easy to spot. But if you’re in a relationship with someone who suffers from NPD your feelings will cloud the issue, making you doubt your own judgment.
Most people won’t even consider the possibility of NPD being the problem, if they suspect their date of being a narcissist. They’ll simply be wondering if the relationship is a healthy one and whether they are prepared to be treated this way any longer.
It generally takes a qualified expert to diagnose NPD, so if you do suspect that you are dating someone suffering from this condition, don’t confront them and try to make a diagnosis yourself.
It is possible that you are reading because of concerns about your own relationship – possibly even about your welfare. If so, you may find the information below will help you to evaluate your relationship, and find some advice on how to proceed.
#1 The charmer – at first.
In the beginning, it was like a fairy-tale. Constant texts telling you how special you are, possibly even saying how much they love you even though you’d only been seeing each other for a month. This is labeled ‘love bombing’ by certain experts. They may have stressed just how compatible you were, very early in the relationship. They continually told you how smart you are, how special you were to them.
The founder of Kaleidoscope Counseling, Nedra Glover Tawwab, LCSW, says that these are classic signs. Narcissists often believe that only special people are good enough for them, as they’re the only ones who can understand them. They believe that only special people are worthy of a relationship with them.
However, that feeling can disappear within moments. You may not understand what you have done wrong, but their behavior will change when it is perceived that you have fallen short of their standards. In all probability, you have done nothing at all wrong. It is entirely in their minds, and you bear no blame whatsoever.
Some advice to keep in mind: there’s nothing wrong with enthusiasm, but when a date comes across a bit too strong, take care. We all enjoy the feeling of being appreciated and loved. But real love takes time. A relationship is something that grows.
Someone suffering from NPD will fabricate connections very early on, to convince you of your compatibility. When they tell you they love you only a short time into the relationship, without even knowing much about you, this may feel too soon. Listen to your intuitions.
#2 Monopolizing conversation, making it all about themselves
A narcissist truly believes that they are above everyone else. And they will tell you, constantly. Conversations will revolve around them and their exaggerated achievements.
They will embellish their talents, simply to draw praise and recognition. Regarding these traits, Jacklyn Krol, LCSW, of Mind Rejuvenation Therapy, and Dr Angela Grace, PhD, Med, BFA, BEd,are in agreement, adding that this helps the person present an image of themselves that is self-assured.
However, the main warning sign here is how your partner reacts when you try to speak about yourself. Someone with NPD will not allow you the opportunity and will be too busy talking about themselves to listen to what you have to say. Does your partner ask you about yourself? Do they show any interest in learning more about you, or do they instantly turn conversation back to themselves?
#3 Always fishing for compliments
The majority of people with NPD actually lack self-esteem, Tawwab has suggested. They give an image of being supremely self-confident, but in reality they crave compliments and they’ll look to you to provide them. They often attract highly empathetic people, demanding that they supply endless streams of compliments to boost their self-esteem. Their fragile egos are easily harmed, resulting in an increase in the demand for compliments, according to Shirin Peykar, LMFT.
A good tip for recognizing signs of this trait is to realize that normal self-confident people will not put you down in order to build themselves up. They won’t be looking to you, or others, to make them feel good about themselves, they simply are displaying confidence in themselves.
Narcissists punish those around them for their own lack of confidence.
#4 Complete lack of empathy
How does your partner react when you express your emotions? When you explain how your day has been, either good or bad, or when something has upset you?
In a normal, healthy relationship, a supportive, loving partner will react with empathy, showing some recognition of your feelings, providing comfort, compassion and sympathy.
A narcissist, however, is incapable of this. They lack the basic concept of feeling, offering nothing in the way of support or even interest in your own emotional state, as they do not understand it.
It is no surprise, then, that most relationships involving narcissists eventually fail.
#5 Friendships don’t last
You may have many friends, you may only have a handful. But you value them, especially the ones you have known for years. Spending time with them is not only fun, it is healthy.
How does your partner react to you spending time with your friends? How many long-term friends do they have?
Narcissists tend to steer clear of deep, long-term friendships. At best, they will probably have contact with people they don’t know well, not allowing them too close. They’ll probably talk about these people in very negative terms. They may criticize your friends at every opportunity, in retaliation. They will complain about how often you see them and use emotional blackmail to make you feel guilty about it.
#6 Constant criticism
At the start of a relationship, a bit of lighthearted teasing can be fun.
But what if it continues, gets worse, with constant, negative, nasty comments? Nothing you do or say is good enough. People with NPD seek to undermine your self-esteem, always, and it is all to do with exerting power over others. By pushing you down they feel superior, and when you react to this it feeds their ego even more.
As Peykar says, the fact that you have reacted proves to them that they wield power over you.
If you recognize this trait, use it as a warning that you should consider breaking away. If you tell them of an achievement and are met with insults and negativity, it’s a good sign that you need to leave. In their eyes, you can’t be better than they are, so why are you trying?
When someone ‘gaslights’ you, they abuse you emotionally, they manipulate you using lies or by twisting the truth to suit their agenda. In the end, you question your own judgment, your version of events, your reality. Again, this all comes down to them having power over you, as you become more dependent on them when you are eventually so full of self-doubt that you feel there is no alternative.
Signs that you might be a victim of gaslighting include a lack of self-confidence, increased anxiety, blaming yourself and continually apologizing, excusing your partner’s behavior, and a vague sense that all is not well.
#8 Reluctance to define the relationship
Any relationship should be a mutual thing. Whatever it is you expect or want from it should be something you are both happy with and both consent to. However, if your partner displays several of the above traits as well as a lack of commitment to your relationship, then it’s fair to say that this is a warning sign for NPD. Those suffering from this condition often expect you to act like a partner simply to gain the benefits, whilst seeking others who they see as being better prospects. This may even include friends or family, and it may happen right in front of you as they behave in an obviously flirtatious manner.
The therapist, April Kirkwood, LPC, states that if you speak out against this behavior the narcissist will use it against you, blaming you or suggesting that you are delusional. On the other hand, if you remain silent, you are giving them an unspoken sign – in their eyes – that you don’t deserve their respect.
There is no winning this situation. Commitment works both ways, and you deserve a partner who understands this.
#9 No apology
We all make mistakes. We are all human. There are a million ways in which we upset, anger or annoy our partners at times. Most of us recognize this, and we apologize.
A narcissist will avoid doing this, almost every single time. They believe they are right and will not accept either argument or debate. You’ll find, if you are dating a narcissist, that there is no compromise on any issue. No acceptance of responsibility. They will not apologize, even when they are clearly at fault.
Does your partner neither listen to your concerns or seem to even understand? Do they dismiss accusations and blame? If they do, and they show some of the other symptoms here, then you could be dating a narcissist.
The best advice is to not try to argue or reason with them. This only serves to give them the power they seek.
#10 Panic mode when you suggest breaking up
Narcissists generally panic when confronted with a break-up. They’ll say and do almost anything to convince you they have changed and that you should stay together. And soon you’re back where you started and the abuse begins again…
Which is why narcissists often have on-off relationships until they can find another victim.
#11 Retaliation, after a break up
Ego and image are everything to the narcissist. When you are eventually able to escape, they will probably hit out at you. They’ll try making you jealous by dating someone soon after.
They’ll spread lies and rumors about you. Everything will be seen as being your fault, that you have wronged them in some way and damaged their reputation. You will be seen as the bad guy, the one who destroyed the relationship.
So, are you dating a narcissist? If you recognized most or all of these traits, then it could be a possibility, and the best advice, for you own sanity, is to get out of that relationship as soon as you can. But first you need to prepare.
Make sure you have a supportive network of close friends who can reassure you and help you to remember that you deserve better. Suggest to your partner that they seek therapy and even consider visiting a therapist yourself, to aid your own mental health.
Make a clean break. Cut off all ties with no contact, no excuses and no exceptions! You will never change them however much you try to cater to their demands and desires.
Finally, this is not an official diagnosis, merely a guide to what constitutes unacceptable and unreasonable behavior in a relationship. If your partner displays some of these traits they don’t necessarily have NPD, but you might want to evaluate your relationship. After all, you deserve a loving, healthy and thriving relationship, and that’s something only you can achieve if you have a partner who believes likewise.