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Narcissistic Partners May Be More Dangerous Than You Think

New study reveals link between narcissism and aggression.

Key points

  • Having an intimate partner who is narcissistic can jeopardize one's mental and physical health.
  • Higher levels of narcissism are related to more aggression before reaching what has been known as pathological narcissism.
  • Before addressing the narcissist’s aggressive behavior, create a thoughtful approach with a safety plan and domestic violence resource support.
 Anete Lusina/Pexels
Source: Anete Lusina/Pexels

In the realm of intimate partner abuse, the connection between narcissism and aggression is at play. The narcissist regards himself or herself as superior, sees others only as inferior, and needs to orchestrate a relational experience in which their partner is made to feel inferior. The means to doing so often involve verbal or physical aggression. According to a recent research study from Ohio State University, narcissism is linked with aggression. Knowing that a narcissist may become verbally or physically aggressive, the message is clear—to avoid hurt and injury in an intimate relationship, one should avoid narcissists.

In a recent comprehensive analysis of 437 studies from around the world, narcissism showed up as an important risk factor for both aggression and violence. In fact, the link between narcissism and aggression was identified in all dimensions of narcissism and with various types of aggression. It is noteworthy that the results were similar regardless of the age, gender, or country of residence of the participants (Kjaervik, 2021).

Defining Narcissism

The term narcissism comes from a Greek myth in which the character Narcissus falls in love with his own image that’s reflected in the calm water. He comes to show disdain and contempt for those who fall in love with him.

Narcissism is identified by an excessive sense of self-importance, with the key factor being entitlement. Two components of narcissism include grandiosity with overblown self-esteem and “vulnerability” with low self-esteem but still holding beliefs of being more important than others. Both types were found linked to aggression. The types of aggression that narcissism was related to included physical, verbal, bullying (direct or indirect), and displaced aggression onto innocent targets (Kjaervik, 2021).

Bushman, co-author of the study, points out that the study revealed that higher levels of narcissism are related to more aggression even before reaching the level of narcissism that’s currently recognized as pathological—the malignant narcissist.

Relationships With Narcissists

Narcissists do not identify themselves as having a problem or conflict but rather see the problem existing between them and their environment—and the problem is always the other’s problem. They can be antagonistic in their interactions with or without provocation. They show no genuine sensitivity or empathy for the other—whether a colleague, a friend, or an intimate partner. They dominate others in attempts to fix themselves.

The grandiose type of narcissist does not feel badly. Their grandiosity can be developed as a defense against deep shame that keeps them feeling good. This same grandiosity can come from growing up with parents who provided false empowerment, not a loving attachment. Either way, a courtship with a grandiose narcissist usually involves love-bombing—excessive attention, affection, flattery, compliments, and extravagant gifts. It truly is too much, too soon. The narcissist is manipulating the experience to appear as if he or she is the perfect partner and finding the perfect mate. The grandiose narcissist is out for admiration.

The vulnerable narcissist doesn’t display the love-bombing during courtship. This type of narcissist wants to be paired with someone they admire and to feel elevated by the other. Deep down, this covert narcissist believes that it’s they who deserve to be important and admired. Attending to others, supporting causes, etc. are ways that they build self-esteem when witnessed by others.

The “pathological narcissist” is what we know as the malignant narcissist. They are the most dangerous and need to destroy their partner’s total self-worth to feel superior. Sociopaths and psychopaths can be malignant narcissists.

Narcissists do not have the capacity for a healthy loving connection. They are severely afraid of vulnerability and emotional intimacy. Having a narcissist for an intimate partner is confusing, painful, and detrimental to one’s physical and mental health.

Although it doesn’t show up at first, the narcissist will eventually shift behavior that was originally subtle to overt in the service of overpowering their partner in order to obtain control in the relationship. Often, this occurs when the relationship becomes serious like engagement, living together, or marriage. The behavior becomes aggressive—antagonistic, demeaning, undermining, and at risk for physical violence.

The Partner of the Narcissist

Intimate partners of narcissists often come to feel entrapped with experiences of confusion, loss of confidence, inability to trust their own perception, loss of agency, loss of their identity, and feelings of being “crazy” when they’re not. When you come to experience some of these conditions, take it as a red flag and look to your partner and his or her behavior that’s creating your painful condition. It’s often necessary for the partner to get emotionally stronger first in order to address the narcissist’s aggressive behavior, if they choose to do so. It’s important to create a thoughtful approach including a safety plan with the support and help from a domestic violence resource. Eventually, holding the narcissist responsible for his or her aggressive behavior becomes necessary in order to see what may or may not be possible going forward. Some narcissists can find their way to accepting help.


The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE,


Kjærvik, S. 2021. "The link between narcissism and aggression: A meta-analytic review." Psychological Bulletin.

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