Dating a narcissist can make you think you have finally found your special someone. However, these relationships quickly turn sour. If you know what to look for in the people that you date, you can end these toxic relationships early and save yourself a lot of heartache. Keep reading to learn more about narcissistic behaviors and how to spot them in romantic relationships.
Michael C. Kinsey, Ph.D.
Past relationships (both romantic and platonic) are a dumpster fire
Does the person you’re dating have a history of catastrophic failures in romantic life (e.g., divorces, restraining orders, bad breakups, etc.)? Does s/he have friends? If your partner does have friends, does s/he have narcissistic tendencies? If your partner has children from a previous relationship, what are the relationships with these children like?
Narcissists leave a wake of destruction. It can be difficult to separate from a narcissist, but once separation occurs, the offended party seldom looks back. If others have run for the hills after getting to know the person you’re dating, it’s probably a good sign it will be your turn soon.
Your feelings are never valid
Anyone who has dated a narcissist knows the feeling of exacerbation that comes from trying to explain feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness, or depression to a narcissistic partner. No matter what you do or say, nothing seems to make an emotional impact on the narcissist. The response could be something like, “Well, that was your fault,” “You should have known better,” or “I can’t believe you’re dumping this on me after I’ve had such a hard day.” Invalidation by a narcissist takes many forms, but the common denominator is you will feel alone, misunderstood, crazy, and perhaps even emotionally violated.
Empathy and emotional validation require a willingness to feel pain and/or admit some kind of powerlessness and/or responsibility. Narcissists don’t express any of these things willingly, so their absence can be telling.
Arguing is a zero-sum-game, and you always end up with zero
All relationships have conflict–even explosive conflict. In healthy relationships, though, when the dust settles, both parties can reflect on their actions and acknowledge ways they messed up and things they hope to do better in the future. When you date a narcissist, this resolution never happens. Arguing with a narcissist is a battle of wills that only ends when you have accepted full responsibility for the injury you’ve caused the narcissist. This is true even if the fight began with an egregious act of insensitivity from the narcissist you’re dating.
Narcissists can be both extremely tenacious and adept in the judo of debate. A common experience among those dating narcissists is feeling a sudden switch from feeling angry and offended to retreat and defense.
Conflict leads to either or “You’re disgusting” or “Poor Me”
Narcissists are brokers of shame and moral righteousness. If you do something s/he doesn’t like, expect an extremely impassioned, compelling diatribe about how you have stooped to previously unknown levels of depravity. Narcissists are experts in evoking in you the same feelings of shame they are constantly trying to ward off. Your mistakes are opportunities to dog-pile on you instead of avoiding shameful aspects of their own internal world.
A frequently overlooked point is that narcissists sometimes assume a “deflated” persona. That is, instead of shaming you through a disgusting tirade, they’ll convince you of your vileness by dramatizing the injury you’ve caused. If you can’t shake the feeling that you are an awful and insensitive person, especially when this is a new experience for you, after having made an error that many would have brushed off, you may be dealing with a deflated or “covert” narcissist.
You may be wondering how to distinguish between situations where you’re responsible for real emotional harm versus [being] entangled in a sadistic guilt trip. The answer is that you may have erred in both cases. However, the difference emerges after you’ve offered a genuine apology, empathically expressed your remorse, and sincerely stated your intention to avoid repeating the error. If your partner still needs to rake you over the coals after you’ve apologized, you are likely dealing with someone who is motivated to make you squirm to satiate covert narcissism.
That sinking feeling in your gut
Your gut knows when you are getting close to a narcissist. Narcissism is toxic, and our body responds to toxins in our environment–whether those toxins are materially toxic or emotionally toxic. You’ll notice a nauseous feeling when a narcissistic partner does or says something that crosses the line between normal self-interest and pathological narcissism.
If you notice that the person you’re dating shows no emotions and no signs of empathy towards others, including you, then it is possible that you are dating a narcissist. Narcissists have no real connection or emotions towards others because their only desire is to be seen and to exalt themselves. If it doesn’t benefit them, make them shine, show them as the “answer,” then it does not serve them. Things that do not serve them, they do not care about. It is easier for people without empathy to harm others and move forward as if nothing has happened. So, if you notice that your partner seems to be overly self-centered and has no emotional connection towards others, you may want to consider moving on to another relationship.
Always Needs Attention
Narcissists are attention seekers. Their sole desire is for people to look at them, to praise them, and to talk about them. Therefore, they require a lot of attention, which is extremely exhausting for those around them. They become jealous if they feel as though you are giving more attention to others (even if that “other” is their own child(ren)). They are quick to turn situations around to make others feel guilty, all in an effort to get the main focus to be about them again. Yes, we all must give attention to our partners in any relationship, but when healthy attention turns into obsessive behavior and a need for over-the-top attention, you are more than likely connected to a narcissist.
Doesn’t Take Responsibility
One easy way to know whether or not you are involved with a narcissist is if everything is always your fault. Most narcissists are extremely controlling, and that control is toxic. They feel as though only they have the right answers and that they know everything. Therefore, they are not good at taking responsibility for any messes or mistakes that they make. Instead, they provide a long list of reasons why others are responsible for their wrongdoing. It is a never-ending circle because the narcissist will never see themselves as the problem in any situation, and that pretty much is the problem.
If you date a narcissist, you can rather easily spot it.
A narcissist has a grandiose idea of his own importance. He (or she) often brags about himself and has no shame of doing this. Quite the opposite – when he has the opportunity to tell the world about his brilliance, this is a chance he just won’t let go by. You see, a narcissist truly believes that he is special and unique and that he should spend his time with other very special people. Therefore, if you date a narcissist, you will most likely also be flooded with compliments and reassurances that you also are a very special and unique person.
He won’t see you as you are, but how he wants to see you.
At the time of the date, you might be [seen] as just perfect. The fatal error some of us make in such situations is to be flattered by his or her compliments and to fall helplessly into the game of the narcissist. You answer back with compliments and declarations of how special, interesting, charming, and great you think he is, and there you go, the date is a “success.” You might even believe that you have found love at first sight. A date with a narcissist might, in many cases, be quite a firework. The reality is unfortunately not so bright.
A classic characteristic of the narcissist is the superficial but excessive expression of emotions.
You are fantastic! You are gorgeous! You are the most wonderful person alive! Yes, in the universe, and even a little more. One way to handle this “love bombing” by a narcissist is to stop for a second to think. Are these fantastic expressions of love and affection maybe a little too fantastic? Deep down, you know the answer to that.
He requires an excessive amount of admiration.
He won’t tolerate the slightest suggestions that he really isn’t as brilliant and amazing as he appears to believe. You will likely experience some peculiar reactions from him if you, in some manner, dare to confront his vulnerability. He might surprise you by showing outright immature behaviors, the likes of what you would expect from a small child that is frustrated, including anger, self-pity, denial, inappropriate logic, and similar behaviors.
Another feature of a narcissist is his arrogant behavior or attitude toward other people.
You might laugh at this in the beginning, thinking that it is refreshing and even a little funny. Unfortunately, if he expresses contempt [towards] other people that seems exaggerated, this is not a joke but his true feelings. Often, this arrogance and hostility are directed at people he thinks should admire him but obviously don’t. Thus, you will likely hear about persons that he sincerely dislikes, combined with compliments of how much better you are compared with these bad people.
In short, when dating a narcissist, you will have enough signs to determine that he won’t be any good for you. Sadly, love can make you blind, and you might make the poor choice of looking the other way or start rationalizing the narcissist’s behavior. ‘He is a beautiful person, just rather vulnerable.’ ‘I can fix him. My love will make him flourish.’ ‘We are just perfect together.’
However, you might feel a little confused with respect to whether or not he recognizes this vulnerability himself. Most likely, he doesn’t. The main psychological mechanism in play among narcissists is that of projection. They project all their weaknesses and deficits to other people, as well as their need to be loved and admired.
Behavior changes can seem very puzzling
First, it is important to understand that narcissistic behaviors fall upon a spectrum. We can all exhibit some narcissistic behaviors at times. However, there is a diagnosis listed for Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the handbook of the American Psychiatric Association that contains the descriptions, symptoms, and criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
People with a narcissistic personality disorder have a mental condition in which they have an inflated sense of their own importance, a need for constant attention, troubled relationships, a lack of empathy or understanding, and a high need to be admired. People with NPD experience problems in school, relationships, work, and finances. They often lack impulse control and have out-of-control spending habits.
So how do you know if you are dating a narcissist?
There is a checklist of behaviors below, and the greater number of traits [a person has, the more likely, they are a narcissist]. However, one cannot be labeled as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder without working with a qualified psychiatrist.
People with Narcissistic Behaviors
If you suspect you are dating a narcissist, you can be surer you are if they have an extreme sense of entitlement, lack of empathy for others, blame you or others for their problems, and engage you in circular arguments that make no sense. Narcissists tend to be very reactive and yet, feel uncomfortable with their own emotions.
At the beginning of your relationship, they will act very interested in you, ask questions to get to know you better, and may even lavish you with gifts and attention, but at some point, that changes, and you begin to see that they are not listening to you, and do not care about your feelings. They only questioned you to find your weak spots so they can attack you with them if you cross them.
The way their behavior changes can seem very puzzling to you because they once acted caring, but they were doing just that, acting, to gain your attention and favor. Once you are involved with them, and maybe even dependent on them, they turn the tables on you and become very demanding and needy of your attention. They expect you to give to them without giving to you. You may begin to catch them in lies. If you haven’t, beware, because they are probably lying and haven’t caught them yet.
If you correct them or embarrass them in front of others, your partner may put you down, criticize, or embarrass you as a punishment. Narcissists have a pattern of emotional immaturity. They can come across as bullying, grandiose, or as playing the victim. Either way, it is all about them, all the time.
Whether you suspect you are dating a narcissist or a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, don’t waste your time trying to figure it out. You need to ask yourself if you want to be in a relationship with someone who treats you or others poorly or with kindness and decency. Don’t waste time thinking that you can help them, because that isn’t your responsibility. If you are dating a narcissist, they usually won’t try to change because they don’t think anything is wrong with their behavior.
Usually self-absorbed and self-obsessed
It can take time to realize you are dating a narcissist because they tend to be extremely skilled at manipulating others. They are expert game-players, and the unfortunate partner will often be oblivious to what is really happening. Although narcissism is often associated with men, narcissists can be of any gender.
While there are some differences between the behaviors exhibited by men and women, they share many common traits. Individuals with narcissist personality disorder are usually self-absorbed and self-obsessed. Although they lack empathy, they do generally have emotional intelligence and are able to read people and respond accordingly if it benefits their own needs and desires. Your date will most likely come on very strong, showering you with attention in the beginning. Sadly, once they feel they have you hooked, they will start to exert control and become hyper-critical. The narcissist will be content as long as you feed their ego but will be quick to anger if they feel they are not getting the attention or treatment they believe they deserve.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if the person you are dating talks negatively about their previous relationships, you can be sure it will be your turn to be the ‘crazy ex’ one day. Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be exciting and lots of fun in the beginning. They are often attractive, smart, and have great stories, although usually around the theme of how awesome they are. However, when the novelty wears off, and their exciting stories don’t excite you anymore, all you’ll be left with is an empty vessel constantly finding fault and gaslighting you at every opportunity. The sooner you realize you are dating a narcissist, the sooner you can get out of the relationship and find someone worthy of your time and emotions.
You are being love-bombed
There are a few kinds of narcissists, and some people may not be full-on narcissists [but may] have narcissist characteristics. There are covert and grandiose narcissists.
If you feel like you are being love-bombed (i.e., offering you a ton of praise and complimenting you on every little thing), that can be a sign. Sometimes narcissist signs are very subtle, and it can be challenging to pick up on them, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Tinder and dating apps are a breeding ground for narcissist personalities because they need a narcissistic supply. What is this? Think of normal humans living on breath, food, water, and sleep. Narcissists live on narcissistic supply – attention. They want your empathy and pity. If your date starts telling you their sob story – red flag. If they have no friends – also a red flag. If they talk bad about their ex but are still friends with them, that can mean that they have manipulated them to be on beck and call if they are in need of supply.
If things start moving very quickly
The biggest red flag is if things start moving very quickly. For example, if I am constantly showered with compliments and made to feel that I can do no wrong very early in the relationship, [I suspect narcissism]. I have been through “love bombing” before so I can spot it easily this time around.
Observe their speech pattern and behavior. If every conversation is about them, their life and how everything relates to them, then you should be careful moving forward.
If they start calling people they have known for very little time their best friends or accelerating relationships in general, you are most likely dealing with a narcissist.
They are expert tricksters
Dating a covert narcissist was a brutal learning experience. My relationship lasted for about two and a half months, and I could write a novel about the experience. Dating a narcissist will feel wonderful in the beginning, as if you have met your soulmate. This is the first red flag. Every narcissist will try to win their victim over with “love bombing,” acting overly charming, polite, and kind, showering their partner with attention, compliments, and gifts. If it feels too good to be true, it probably is.
I felt a shift in energy around 1one month after meeting him. He was unhappy that I did not text him back in a timely manner during my workday. This small conflict was just the beginning of uncovering pathological lies, manipulation, and aggression.
Narcissists are expert tricksters. It can be difficult to spot a narcissist at first but knowing the common first signs can be helpful. Once determined that a partner is a narcissist, it is SO important for the [other] partner’s well-being to leave immediately.
Once a person has entered adulthood, it will be impossible for a narcissist to truly heal and be capable of empathy. They will be able to lie and fake acceptable behavior for a short while until their manipulative self shines through again. Leaving is the only option.
They are often world-class experts in gaslighting
It isn’t always easy to spot you’re dating a narcissist because they are often world-class experts in gaslighting. More often than not, we can wind up convinced that any relationship difficulties are due to our own faults and negative personality traits. That is just one of the ways narcissists chip away at your sanity and self-esteem.
If in any doubt, or even if things appear to be rosy, try asking yourself the following questions;
Are they overly charming and complementary?
We expect our dates to be charming, and this is perfectly healthy within reason. Narcissists will often be excessively attentive and flattering, especially in the early stages. They are just trying to tap into your vanity or insecurities to get what they want from you.
Do they love to talk about themselves and show little interest in your experiences or thoughts?
While narcissists are often incredibly charming, their favorite topic of conversation tends to be themselves. They may start to show more interest in you if they realize they may be about to lose you but only as an after-thought.
Do they appear grandiose and self-entitled?
Narcissists usually have an inflated sense of self-worth and believe they are superior to others. They will act as though the world revolves around them and deserve special treatment.
Do they respond angrily to criticism?
If you are dating a narcissist, observe the way they respond to any form of criticism or negative feedback. Even constructive criticism is unacceptable to a narcissist. How dare anyone suggests they are less than perfect! This ties in with the grandiose and entitled traits of the narcissistic personality.
Have they told you that all of their exes were crazy?
Pay attention to how they talk about their past intimate relationships. Did they all end due to their partner being a ‘psycho’ or some other personality flaw? Narcissists will never admit to any failings or inadequacies. If anything goes wrong in their life, you can guarantee it will always have been someone else’s fault.
There are plenty of red flags to look out for which will help identify a narcissist. Pay attention in the early stages of a relationship, and if you find yourself answering yes to any of the above questions, you’re probably dating one. If that’s the case, RUN! It’s also a good idea to block them as narcissists absolutely hate being dumped.
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