Over the last few years, narcissism has become a buzzword and part of our daily vernacular. There is a lot of curiosity about narcissists and how one can “spot” or recover from a relationship with one, and a lot of the work that I do involves supporting individuals who are leaving, navigating, or healing from abusive relationships with a narcissist.
Before we get into what dating a narcissist looks like, it's important to differentiate a "narcissist” (an individual with narcissistic personality disorder) from someone with narcissistic traits. Many individuals have observable narcissistic traits and tendencies but do not meet the criteria for, or warrant a diagnosis of, narcissistic personality disorder. For example, someone might frequently put their needs first, have a difficult time with perspective-taking, or tend to believe or insist that they are always right. In this case, someone might come off as “narcissistic” but could still have the capacity (maybe with some coaxing) to demonstrate empathy and compassion and acknowledge their faults and shortcomings.
Narcissistic personality disorder is a different story. Someone with this disorder, per the DSM-5, has a “grandiose sense of self-importance.” In other words, they have a delusional sense of superiority and truly believe that they are inherently different from everyone else. They navigate the world and relationships under the assumption that they are special and at the center of the universe. They feel entitled to praise and validation and seek out admiration from others. They talk endlessly about themselves and their achievements (or what they believe to be their achievements). They lack complete empathy and will manipulate and abuse others for self-serving purposes and to further inflate and reinforce their ego. These personality traits are persistent, and their behaviors and ways of thinking are fixed.
So, dating a narcissist is no walk on the beach. They are not open to change and will never believe that they are in the wrong. They will not seek help because they do not believe that they need help, nor do they want it. They cannot be reasoned or argued with because they are not interested in having a conversation or discussion. Basically, they are who they are, and, despite your best efforts, you will not be able to change them or make them think or act differently.
Here are 5 signs that you are dating a narcissist:
- Overly charismatic. They may be extremely charming or charismatic initially. They tend to pursue relationships with great intensity and will do or say whatever it takes to “win” you over. They will often be excessively flattering and validating. But if you have the feeling that “it’s too much, too soon” or believe that the relationship is moving unnecessarily fast, it most likely is. Narcissists are manipulative and will do or say “all the right things” to snag a partner. After they “get" you, they will typically flip the switch.
- Abusive. They can be abusive—emotionally, physically, or both. Often the abuse is so subtle, especially at first, that it is almost undetectable. Sometimes it’s in the form of small put-downs here or there; other times, it's criticism or jokes at your expense. They might blame you or accuse you of things that didn’t actually happen. They will try to use your “weaknesses” or vulnerabilities against you through blackmail and other forms of manipulation.
- Gaslighting. They won’t take accountability for anything. If you try to call them out on their abusive behaviors, they will either deny the accusation or justify their behavior by blaming it on you. They will purposefully try to make you feel “crazy” and you may start to question your own judgment.
- Two-faced. They are good at deception. They have that “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” persona. They may present as incredibly kind and pleasant with others and in public, but then act cruelly and belittling toward their partner behind closed doors. And they will justify this behavior and act like it is “okay” or “normal.”
- Isolating. They purposefully try to isolate you from others in order to have complete control over you and the relationship. They will insist on spending lots of time with you—away from friends and family. They will do whatever it takes to convince you to prioritize them and the relationship and guilt you for feeling or doing otherwise. You might notice yourself feeling guilty when you are not with them or feel a sense of responsibility to devote all of your time and energy to them, even if it’s not something you actually want to do.
If any of these red flags resonate with you or seem all too familiar, check in with yourself and assess the health of your relationship. Ask yourself: Are your needs being met? Does this person generally make you feel good about yourself? Do you have an identity and sense of autonomy outside of the relationship? Does your partner take accountability for their actions?
If you answer “no” to at least one of these questions, it is not recommended to wait for a narcissist to change or for things to get better. You deserve a relationship based on mutual respect, and a partner who will work with you, not against you.
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