Narcissism isn’t always apparent. The signs of narcissistic behavior can be subtle. You will find them charming and charismatic in the beginning. It’s only when you are knee-deep in the relationship that you realize you are dating a narcissist who only likes to surround themselves with people who can boost and feed their ego.
So if you have finally arrived at this conclusion after about four months into the relationship, don’t blame yourself for falling into a narcissist’s snare. There is no way you could have seen it coming because they are cunning and devious. Dating someone who has personality and mental disorders like Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be damaging to your self-worth and self-esteem.
With counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Psychology and international affiliate with the American Psychological Association), who has been helping couples work through their relationship issues for over two decades, let’s dig deeper into what it could be like to date a narcissist.
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Before we find out what Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is, let’s burst a myth. Narcissism is not always synonymous with NPD. Narcissism can be a trait in some people, whereas, in others, it can be a full-blown disorder. No two people with NPD behave, feel, and think the same way. It’s essential to know that narcissism is a spectrum and falls under the category of personality disorders. Those who are at the extreme end of this spectrum are the ones who are classified as having NPD.
So, what exactly is NPD? However, a new study reveals that narcissism is driven by insecurity and low self-esteem. It’s one of the types of personality disorders where people have an inflated sense of self. They have an intense need for attention and admiration. They are demanding and want everything to go according to their wishes. In simple words, they expect the world to revolve around them.
This attitude is one of the main reasons why people push them away once they find out about their narcissistic tendencies. According to a study, what most people see as negative traits, narcissists may see as their strengths. They perceive their arrogance, rudeness, and general toxicity positively. Some other common signs you have a narcissistic partner are:
- An expectation to be recognized as the superior person in any room
- Using people for their convenience
- Being envious of others who might be deemed better by others
- They will make you feel guilty for everything wrong happening in their life
- They act offended when you react to their hurtful accusations and claims
- A narcissist feeds on attention and loves to be the center of attention
What Is A Narcissist And Types Of Narcissists
While it’s always convenient to declare anyone more than a little enthusiastic about themselves as a narcissist, the reality is a little more complex than that. Narcissism as a behavioral trait includes a desire to be admired and approved by everyone, to want to be the center of attention and to be treated specially by others.
They think there is nobody more sexually appealing than them and that beauty and sex appeal can’t be matched. This is what leads them to think they are better than anyone and everyone else. People at the higher end of the narcissism spectrum think that this inflated sense of self-worth is completely warranted and acceptable. Narcissism is known as a direct result of a person’s childhood. This proves the fact that how you were raised affects the relationships you make later in life.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have had a childhood where they were either the center of attention or suffered complete neglect. In the first scenario, a person with narcissistic traits is likely to have received elitist treatment at home as a child and they expect the same kind of treatment even after growing up. They are very confident people who are fueled by their aggression and dominant nature. They don’t just fake their exaggerated importance. They believe they are important.
On the other hand, when narcissism is the result of a traumatic or haunted childhood, kids who have seen bad times and were neglected, develop this disorder as a coping mechanism. They feel anxious and offended when they aren’t given the importance they give themselves. They think it’s always someone else’s fault when their feelings get hurt. If you are dating a narcissist and don’t know which type of narcissist you are dealing with, below is a list to help you out.
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1. Grandiose narcissism/The overt type
This is one of the most common narcissists you might date. They are aggressive, self-centered, and attention-seekers. You need to be extremely careful around them because they sense vulnerability in an instant and won’t hesitate to use it against you. Overt narcissists will do anything to have their way as they will even hurt feelings to prove they are better than you. They are highly competitive people. They will leave no stone unturned and will go to the extent of humiliating you to gain a win.
2. Vulnerable narcissism/The covert type
Covert narcissists will come across as helpless. They will portray themselves as victims and are masters of passive-aggressive behavior. They quickly end up crying to gain sympathy from people. They have deeper mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
3. The hypervigilant type
These people take the body language, tone, and reaction of others way too seriously and get offended. They take everything personally and are very sensitive to criticism. This is also one of the signs of low self-esteem behaviors in relationships.
4. The exhibitionist type
People who think they are better than everyone else are exhibitionist narcissists. They think they are physically, intellectually, and even financially better than others. They take immense pride in their beauty and sex appeal. They often look down upon others, including their friends and family members. They are very materialistic and think everything is about status and class.
5. The sexual type
Sexual narcissists are those who think they are entitled to their sexual needs being met anytime and anywhere they want. This type of narcissist believes they are amazing in bed and ignore their partner’s emotional and sexual needs. When their sexual favors are rejected, they take it poorly. They don’t know how to deal with rejection.
6. The malignant type
This is one of the most dangerous types of narcissism. This is the highest level of NPD where the person has no empathy. These are the people who are known as “psychopaths” or “sociopaths”. They indulge in emotionally and physically abusive behavior to get what they want. Many studies argue that tyrants like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were malignant narcissists.
What Is It Like Dating A Narcissist?
A new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that one of the reasons why it is difficult to have a healthy relationship with a narcissist is their inability to accept that their romantic partner could be better than them. This is one of the major reasons why narcissists can’t maintain intimate relationships.
Dating a narcissist can soon turn toxic and can put your mental health at risk. It won’t be long before your narcissistic partner becomes emotionally abusive. They may indulge in manipulation, gaslighting, and even verbal abuse. Some other things that will happen when you date a narcissist are:
- They will blame you for their unhappiness
- Their hot and cold behavior will leave you confused
- Their manipulative tactics to attract attention and admiration will start to make a void inside you
- You will be isolated from your loved ones
6 Signs You Are Dating A Narcissist
Moving on, let’s find a way to assuage the confusion about whether your partner may be a narcissist. Let’s clear all doubts then and understand what narcissistic behavior really is. Here are the top 6 signs you are dating a narcissist:
1. They pursue you desperately
Kavita tells us, “They will want to give you the moon and the stars, they might even promise you a perfect future. This way, you might not see anything amiss in your relationship as they are working extremely hard to paint you a picture that is inside their head.” This extreme love-bombing overwhelms you so much that you might not be able to focus on their shortcomings. This is the main intent behind love-bombing from a narcissist.
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2. When you start dating a narcissist, they will sometimes pull back
Once this initial stage of extreme displays of affection has passed, a narcissist will pull back and start making you do all the work. You might even feel like you have to put in all the work or that you are in some kind of a push-pull relationship, which might start baffling you.
Kavita says, “Once you respond to their advances and tell them that you love them too, narcissists feel like their task is done and they tend to move a few steps back. They could possibly vanish for some time, ghost you over text, leaving you feeling lost and distressed.”
3. They’re often emotionally abusive
The abuse in narcissistic relationships is usually so subtle that it often doesn’t even strike as abuse to the victim. Sometimes they gaslight you, convincing you that they weren’t at fault in the first place and that you are overreacting. Or they put you down in front of friends and family or make jokes at your expense. As you get used to it, hoping they won’t get worse than that, their abuse escalates.
Related Reading: How Saying Hurtful Things In A Relationship Affects It
4. They can be cold-hearted
Giving you a long hug after you opened up about childhood trauma to them or giving you a long kiss when you suddenly had a bad dream in the middle of the night are gestures that narcissists will never make. In a narcissistic relationship, your partner will never emote in any sort of conventional manner once their love-bombing phase has passed.
Neither can they comfort you nor will they be vulnerable with you. Talking to a narcissist might sometimes feel like talking to a wall because they won’t give you the answers that you want from them. Also, they don’t react as easily and tend to become aloof at times.
5. The silent treatment is their favorite weapon
One of the signs you’re dating a narcissist is when your partner heavily uses silent treatment on you. Taking off, and leaving after a big argument – are all second nature to a narcissist. As Kavita points out, “For narcissists, it’s always, “My way or the highway.” If you ever try to put your point across, they will always throw a tantrum and might start to ignore you and give you silent treatment. This can go on for a long time in a narcissistic relationship. Even months in the case of married couples.”
6. They isolate you from other aspects of your life
A narcissist isolates you from your friends and other acquaintances so as to have complete control over you. They try to convince you to spend as much time with them as possible and prioritize them the most in your life. They might even guilt-trip you into prioritizing their needs above your own.
How Dating A Narcissist Changes You? 4 Ways
If you’re in a panic because the above checklist matches perfectly with your partner’s characteristics, then you’re going to want to read about how being in a relationship with them may affect you. Here are 4 ways dating a narcissist changes you:
1. You become obsessed with them and chase them even more
Narcissists can make you lose your sanity. One of the major signs you’re dating a narcissist and your relationship is being driven to the rocks is when you also become too invested in your partner’s affairs and make them the center of your own life.
“You will think about them all the time and obsess about them constantly. Instead of focusing on your own goals and pursuits, they will be the only thing on your mind as you continue to think about how to deal with a narcissist and make them love you more. You might think about the old, romantic days when they used to shower you with love, and leave no stone unturned to bring those days back,” says Kavita.
2. You second guess your own opinions
As we discussed above in the signs you’re dating a narcissist, they know exactly how to push your buttons and might even demean you and dent your self-esteem. Once that happens, you begin to lose your confidence and sense of independence, and perhaps even become enmeshed with your partner.
Kavita explains, “You start seeking their validation and even their permission for things all the time. Instead of being as assertive as you used to be, you erode all boundaries and start to feel completely enmeshed with them. Your identity, your freedom, and your self-expression go for a complete toss.”
3. You live in a world of fantasy
It’s not that you don’t see the red flags or you don’t notice every time they ill-treat you. It’s just that you conveniently choose to ignore it because you believe in a different version of them. This idealized image of them and your relationship is what can make you hold on for so long even though you have every single reason to let go.
Realizing that this image only lives in your head can be hard and you may not be able to accept it easily. Even though you may feel hurt or shot down, you continuously try to achieve a higher version of this relationship that does not exist.
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4. Developing mental and physical ailments
If you feel like you have gotten sicker lately or that the stress of your current relationship is weighing you down, you shouldn’t take it lightly. This is one of the common signs you dated a narcissist at some point or are dating one.
Kavita tells us, “Headaches, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, and a state of depression are all consequences of dating a narcissist. Since you have become so engrossed in the relationship, you might feel like you have completely jeopardized yourself – be it your interests, your friends, or your job. Your social circle might have shrunk because you have become completely dependent on your partner as you continue to let them destroy you even further.”
When To Leave A Relationship With A Narcissist?
When the narcissist refuses to seek help, that’s your cue to leave. When a person isn’t ready to accept their shortcomings, you can’t make them understand how damaging it is for you to hold on to this relationship. This is where it becomes important to let go of people who bring nothing into your life except misery and hurt.
The trouble is that given the characteristics of a narcissistic personality, it’s highly unlikely that a narcissist will accept that they need help unless the stakes are high and there is a risk that their perfectly constructed image will be dented if they don’t. However, in the rare instance that your partner acknowledges their issues and wants to work through them, here’s how you can help them:
- Encourage and validate them
- Stimulate vulnerability in the relationship
- Appreciate them for their progress
- Don’t demotivate them and tell them they are hopeless
- Accept that they won’t change overnight
- Have patience because it’s a slow healing process
Here is when you need to leave a narcissist without giving it a second thought:
- They are physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive
- They are controlling you and monitoring your every movement. In such cases, you need to know how to get out of a controlling relationship before it’s too late
- They humiliate you in front of others
- They are the reason for your anxiety and depression
- They have completely cut you off from your friends and family
- You are beginning to cope with this situation with the help of alcohol and drugs
- You have thoughts about self-harm
If your partner’s narcissism is getting out of control and you feel suffocated in your relationship and you need professional help, Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors is only a click away.
- Narcissists like their ego fed and have an inflated sense of self-worth
- Narcissism is a spectrum where NPD is the highest level
- It’s time to leave the relationship when you are being abused physically and emotionally
Clearly, dating a narcissist is not fun and games, and not easy to break out of. It creeps in slowly but by the time you realize that this relationship is wrong for you, you are already neck-deep into this mess. But don’t worry. With time, patience, and the right approach, you can walk out of this excuse of a relationship and get onto the path of recovery.
A narcissistic relationship can last years. A lot of people even end up marrying narcissists and live with them for decades. But the longer it lasts, the worse it will be for you individually as it will continue to erode you.
The answer to this question and the question of ‘How to deal with a narcissist and date them?’ does not exist. Until a narcissist gets the correct help and stops being the way that they are, dating a narcissist will never make either of you happy or make you feel as if you are in any kind of successful or happy relationship.
Ironically, no. Narcissists like feeling validated and constantly need someone who can do that for them. This is why they easily walk into relationships by giving their partner the world and making them completely dependent on them.