7 Red Flags That Your Partner Is a Full-Blown Narcissist
You met someone so fun, attentive, and captivating that you got embroiled in an intense relationship before you even knew what hit you. But at some point, things shifted — your partner began making more and more undermining comments with unpredictable emotional outbursts. Before long, it felt like you were constantly tiptoeing around, unsure of what move would lead to an explosion.
Being narcissistic is way more than being self-centered or egotistical. In fact, it’s a serious mental disorder that can severely impact someone’s relationships, along with many other areas of their life.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are nine specific criteria for this personality disorder. Someone only needs to meet five of them to clinically qualify, however. Those criteria include:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- A preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- A belief that they’re special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other high-status people
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement Interpersonally exploitative behavior
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others and a belief that others are envious of them
- The demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
That said, narcissism exists on a spectrum, which means that just because your partner may not qualify for a clinical diagnosis doesn’t mean they don’t exhibit signs of this disorder. Unfortunately, research supports the fact that narcissism can be extremely challenging to spot. According to clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., narcissists are prone to engaging in periods of seemingly healthy and appropriate interactions before things take a dark turn.
“If you go along with what they say, how they interact in the world, and what you ask of them fits with their desires, then you will likely see a charming, friendly seemingly caring person,” he explains. “This is misleading and can throw you into believing that they care. The reality is they care about themselves — you are merely a supplement that may or may not fit their narrative.”
With all of that in mind, here are some major red flags you should keep an eye out for.
7 Signs That You’re in a Relationship With a Narcissist
1. You Don’t Know Who You Are Anymore
Experts say that one of the easiest ways to tell you’re dating a narcissist is to do some soul searching about how your life has changed since you began dating them. Have you lost your sense of self? Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Jordana Jacobs says that the intense affection and adoration a narcissist showers you with in the beginning — known as “love bombing” — can sweep you off your feet to the point where you feel off balance.
“Your brain is flooded with dopamine and oxytocin and it becomes exceedingly difficult to see others and yourself clearly,” she explains. “While this happens to a certain degree at the beginning of most relationships, be wary if that foggy, disoriented feeling remains consistent over time.”
Jacobs points out that a narcissist cannot truly see you for who you are because their perception of reality is distorted through their narcissistic lens, leaving you feeling confused about your identity.
Narcissists may also resort to gaslighting, a form of manipulation and emotional abuse, in order to maintain control over you. Since gaslighting involves spinning the truth to the point of questioning reality, it can severely damage your self-confidence, self-esteem, and your overall beliefs.
2. Conversations Are a One-Way Street
When was the last time your partner showed genuine interest in your thoughts and feelings, asked about your day and demonstrated active listening, or made you feel like your perspective was valued? Can’t remember? Experts say that if your partner tends to dominate conversations by focusing solely on themselves, that’s definitely a red flag.
“People with narcissists for partners often report not feeling important within the relationship,” says psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. Laurel Steinberg, PhD. “This is characteristic of classic narcissistic behavior because narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self importance — their partner’s life rarely even registers as a priority to them.”
Even when a narcissistic partner does appear helpful, supportive, or caring, Klapow notes that there will likely be a self-serving motivation underneath.
3. They Can’t Handle Negative Feedback or Criticism
When your partner’s behavior is bothering you or somehow damaging the relationship, it’s important that you’re able to communicate those things. Unfortunately, that’s downright impossible with a narcissist — experts say they can certainly dish out the criticism, but they can’t take it.
“Since they survive emotionally off of validation, much of which comes from their primary love relationship, narcissists cannot tolerate anything other than your complete adoration,” says Jacobs.
When you try to bring up an issue you may be having with a narcissistic partner, they are likely to either become enraged or dismissive in order to avoid having to acknowledge parts of themselves that don’t line up with their own self-image.
“The cycle for the narcissist in conflict is typically to deflect, blame, and repeat so as to effectively avoid reflecting on their own imperfections,” adds Jacobs.
As a result of these reactions, you may be left feeling like you’re walking on eggshells around them, unable to honestly share any problems within the relationship or their behavior specifically.
4. They Are Unable to Empathize With You
A narcissist’s true colors can start to come out when you need them most. Steinberg says that narcissists are almost incapable of being supportive because they don’t experience empathy in a way that allows them to relate to you and your feelings.
Pay attention to how they behave when it’s just the two of you versus around other people. They may feign empathy and support, for example, when you’re in the presence of friends and family members to uphold their pristine reputation. When the two of you are alone, though, they probably won’t bother to put on a show.
5. They Never Apologize
It’s crucial in any relationship that both partners are able to admit wrongdoing in order to learn and grow. Unfortunately, a narcissistic person will rarely own up to something they’re at fault for.
“Because they see the world through lenses of their unique abilities, sense of entitlement and concern for themselves, they rarely believe they are wrong, even when they are,” explains Klapow.
This is why, according to Jacobs, you won’t know for sure if you’re dating a narcissist until you fight with them.
“In an interpersonal conflict, the narcissist will have tremendous difficulty accessing empathy, seeing things from your perspective, apologizing, or taking responsibility,” she says. “This is because the primary issue for the narcissist is that they have trouble seeing humans as nuanced beings that have positive and negative qualities — in order to preserve themselves as ‘all good,’ they have to make others ‘all bad.’ The latter, unfortunately, is you.”
6. Their Friendships Are Short-Lived or Shallow
If your partner doesn’t seem to have a lot of friendships that go beyond the surface, it’s time to ask yourself why. Narcissists have trouble maintaining long-term relationships, and whenever a friend no longer serves their needs sufficiently or threatens their own lofty self-image, they won’t hesitate to cut them off completely.
“You’ll find that most narcissists have a long history of severed friendships, which they may tell you about, but will always portray themselves as the victim,” says Jacobs. “If a narcissist is indeed able to repair a deeper relationship, it is usually because their friend has begged for their forgiveness and taken full responsibility for the issue at hand. Otherwise, narcissists are so preoccupied with the way others feel about them that if they perceive a friend to view them in a negative light, rather than doing the hard work necessary to heal the relationship, they are more likely to distance or drop that person so as to avoid the deep discomfort they feel when someone is anything but adoring.”
7. They Frequently Refuse to Follow Rules or Respect Boundaries
If there’s one thing to know about narcissists, it’s that they truly believe they are superior to others.
“That means the rules of your relationship, family, work, and society don’t apply really to them,” says Klapow. “It goes beyond confidence and rebellion. When you hear them saying things like ‘It doesn’t matter what we are supposed to do, this is what we are going to do,’ or “only I can do this, no one else can,’ you know you’re with a narcissist.”
Does your partner act like they’re above the law? Ignore your personal boundaries or lash out when you try to reinforce them? Those are red flags worth paying attention to.
Dating someone with a narcissistic personality disorder can be confusing, emotionally overwhelming, and downright stressful. However, just because someone exhibits one or two of these traits doesn’t make them a full-blown narcissist. For example, if your partner is steamrolling you in conversation or seems to be struggling to accept constructive criticism, Steinberg advises having a heart-to-heart discussion about what you’ve noticed and how it’s making you feel.
“Be ready to cite examples and to also describe what permanent improvements or changes you’d like to see happen,” she tells AskMen.
And if you’re not really sure how to proceed in the relationship, Klapow suggests getting a reality check by talking to trusted friends and family members about your observations. Are they seeing what you’re seeing? Do their positive attributes outweigh the issues they need to work on? Then, he advises doing a gut check to assess how you feel about the way the relationship is going and the overall way your partner is treating you.
On the other hand, if you’re in a relationship with someone who’s constantly belittling you, gaslighting you, or making you feel unsafe in expressing your needs and concerns, it’s best to just GTFO. You cannot change a narcissist no matter how much you love them, nor can you convince them to want to change their own problematic behaviors.
Whatever you do, Jacobs says you should never be hard on yourself for falling for a narcissist.
“Remember, darkness seeks light,” she says. “Narcissists are often attracted to highly empathic people who willingly give them the adoration and validation that they crave.”
Rather than beating yourself up for getting into the situation, Jacobs recommends focusing on what you may have learned about yourself through the experience. And since dating a narcissist can take a serious toll on you mentally and emotionally, you may want to talk to a therapist so you can rebuild your self-esteem and self-image for your healthier relationships down the line.
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