Being the partner of a narcissist can leave a person feeling alone, unheard, and uncared for. While narcissists may appear kind at first, this façade soon falls flat as they begin exhibiting their true manipulative and abusive identity. Eventually, the narcissist’s repeated criticisms, gaslighting, and rageful reactions to perceived slights can result in the partner thinking that they are “not good enough.”
11 Signs of a Narcissistic Relationship
A relationship with a narcissist can be incredibly challenging, emotionally draining, and exhausting. There are many common narcissistic relationship patterns and behaviors that can affect your ability to move forward in your partnership in healthy ways. Unfortunately, if you are the partner of a narcissistic boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse, you will likely end up feeling rejected and alone.
Here are 11 signs that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist:
1. They Where Once Incredibly Charming
When you first met them, they seemed like the perfect partner. They were sociable, kind, generous, and very affectionate. They would go out of their way to show you how they feel and show you they care about you and treat you like a prince or princess (a classic sign of love bombing). They kept this up until you started to trust their intentions were pure and you were on the same page. Over time, this charming attitude goes out the window and they begin to devalue you. This begins the cycle of narcissistic abuse followed by attempts to keep you in their life, so you can continue to feed their narcissist supply.
2. They Make Every Conversation About Them
The topic of conversation is always redirected toward their life and experiences, and the narcissist may say phrases like “you’re just insecure.” They will often interrupt you in order to bring the attention back to themselves with comments about an incident in their past or accomplishment of theirs. If your opinion differs from theirs, they might correct you, dismiss you, or simply ignore you.
3. They Expect Preferential Treatment
Narcissists feel entitled to special privileges. For example, they may hop to the front of a line to get seated immediately at a restaurant, even if others are waiting. When this sense of entitlement is refused by others, the narcissist might become angry, critical, or react with narcissistic rage. Alternatively, they might retreat into silence and withdrawal.
4. They Act Like They Are More Important Than Others
A narcissistic partner will brag about their own accomplishments or skills with out recognizing the talents or achievements of others. They appear to be convinced of their own grandiosity, a behavior commonly seen with grandiose narcissism.
5. They Feed Off of Compliments From You & Others
We all like to receive compliments, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, narcissists feed off this external validation. Compliments boost their ego to such a degree that it validates the grandiose sense of self that they have. If they are constantly looking for praise from you or others when you are out in public, and they are relying on that, it’s likely that the narcissist is looking for supply.
6. They Show Little Concern For Your Feelings
Narcissists are preoccupied with their own feelings and needs, seem cold and detached when you need emotional support, and have difficulty making a sincere apology and accepting responsibility for any harm they cause. This can leave you feeling entirely alone and dissatisfied in the relationship.
7. They Are Focused on Superficial Matters
Narcissists prioritize their own appearance, beauty, and social status. They put a lot of effort into their own appearance and criticize any perceived flaws in other people, including you. You may be expected to meet their standards of perfection because they see you as an extension of themself. However, it’s important to remember that criticism in a relationship is never healthy and should not be tolerated.
8. They Have Few (If Any) Friends
Narcissists have a hard time keeping friends because of the one-sided relationship that comes with the territory of NPD. If they have long-time friends, it may be that those friends are empaths and utilizing people-pleasing to feel good about themselves. If you find that your partner fits this description perfectly, it could be indicative of narcissism.
It’s important to note that situations such as friends moving away or being in different life stages doesn’t mean that someone is narcissistic. Friendship takes effort from both people, so the qualities that make a friendship work must be reciprocated.
9. They Are Charming When It Suits Their Needs
A narcissistic partner will be capable of superficial charm and appear to be extremely confident. However, this engaging social manner can quickly change as they experience a narcissistic injury after being slighted or dismissed by others.
10. They Are Extremely Sensitive to Criticism
They respond to constructive criticism with heated arguments or sudden detachment. A common response is to judge, criticize, or gaslight you, blaming you for the problem or offense that you brought to their attention.
11. They Often Manipulate Others
They use others to meet their own needs, or to fulfill their own dreams. At times, this involves portraying themselves as a victim of unfair circumstances. This is done in an attempt to persuade you or guilt you into doing something that is not in your best interest but does serve their needs.
How to Recognize Narcissistic Abuse
A common sign of emotional abuse is frequent harsh criticism from a narcissist. This can cause you to feel diminished and full of self-doubt. People exposed to constant criticism in a relationship often feel as though their personality or worth is lacking in some way. If the relationship with the narcissist continues, more signs of emotional abuse may begin to appear.
When signs appear, it is important to take them seriously. Narcissistic abuse syndrome can be a devastating experience, but it can also be recognized and treated. Recovering from narcissistic abuse is possible and the help of a skilled therapist can make all the difference.
Other signs of narcissistic abuse are:
- Frequent lying: The narcissist may frequently lie, potentially about difficulties in their past, to evoke sympathy or protection.
- Gaslighting: A narcissist will use narcissistic gaslighting to convince you that what you’re experiencing never happened, leaving you to question your memory or sanity.
- Exploitation: A narcissistic partner may be revenge seeking, and even go as far as telling other people lies about you to turn them against you or harm your reputation
Understanding the Narcissistic Relationship Pattern
Narcissists tend to deflect all their feelings onto others because of the pain they feel about their own feelings. They too may have had narcissistic caregivers or experienced some kind of abuse which shaped their upbringing. However, this is not an excuse for the emotional or physical abuse they inflict on their victims, which becomes a cycle.
Narcissistic manipulation tactics often include gaslighting and guilt-tripping to condition you to behave and think a certain way. The next steps in the narcissistic relationship pattern includes periods of fighting, followed by the narcissist trying to win their partner back, before once again devaluing and discarding the partner, which only restarts the narcissistic abuse cycle over again.
How to Deal With a Narcissistic Relationship
If you’re involved in a narcissistic relationship, it’s best to accept that reality as soon as possible so you can begin to protect yourself. Although it’s usually advised to walk away from this type of relationship, that’s not always possible. For example, the narcissist may be a spouse, co-worker, or close family member to whom you’ve made important commitments.
If, for whatever reason, you can’t leave the narcissist, here are eight tips for coping and protecting yourself:
Manage Your Expectations About the Relationship
This is possibly the most difficult yet important way to cope with narcissistic behaviors. Remember, it’s unrealistic to expect a narcissist to change. According to experts in narcissism treatment, a highly motivated narcissist might make small behavioral changes, but even then, it will require persistent effort by them to maintain these changes, and most are not likely to put in that effort.2
It’s common to neglect oneself when caught up in a relationship with a narcissist. Self-care involves daily routines that enable you to maintain emotional, physical, and mental well-being. These routines may be a combination of exercise, healthy diet, time with others, and/or a favorite hobby.
Self-care also includes being kind and compassionate to yourself, both in your thoughts and your actions. The narcissist might react to your self-care with complaints that they’re being neglected, but it’s important to maintain self-care. If needed, get support or reminders of your self-worth from others.
Shift Your Time & Energy To Healthier Relationships
Unhealthy relationships can be frustrating, confusing, and disappointing. Try to put your energy and efforts into the relationships you value (who value you, too), such as family members or friends. Talking with others about the problems caused by the narcissist might help you see the facts of the situation more clearly and respond wisely.
Educate Yourself About Narcissism
A therapist can help you to identify true narcissistic behaviors. If you’re only experiencing one or two signs of being in a relationship with a narcissist, you may benefit from getting a deeper understanding of what’s happening in your particular relationship.
Set Boundaries & Stick to Them
Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship is important, as they determine the limits of what you will and will not tolerate. For example, the narcissist may repeatedly borrow items from you and not return them, or ask you to lend them cash without paying you back. Try setting a limit as to which items (if any) you are willing to lend in the future, or how much cash you are willing to lend.
Narcissistic people might react badly to limit-setting. They will not easily accept that your needs are equally as important as their own.3 Remind yourself of the consequences of their past refusal to keep their promises.
Be Aware of Your Own Vulnerabilities
Narcissists are often drawn to people who are kind, forgiving, and eager to help others. Although these are admirable traits, they become vulnerabilities when in a relationship with a narcissist, who will try to appeal to your sympathies by portraying themselves as a victim.
They make the “pity play” at times when they hope to gain your sympathy or create a feeling of guilt on your part. Usually, this is done to compel you to do something for them that is against your better judgement.3 By remaining aware of your own tendencies to help, you’re better able to make good decisions.
Don’t Rely on the Narcissist’s Promises
Narcissists are frequently deceitful. At times, they deceive just to see if they can get away with it. Other times, they deceive in order to manipulate others to do something specific. Due to this persistent need to deceive, it is unwise to rely on their promises.4
Don’t Take Their Criticisms to Heart
Criticism and judgment are tools used by a narcissist to control others. Repeated criticism often leaves a person feeling as though they’re “not good enough,” or that they need the narcissist in their life. Keep perspective on any criticism from the narcissist. Ask a trusted friend, family member, or therapist for a supportive reality check.
When to Break Up With a Narcissist
Breaking up with the narcissist is usually the best plan of action, but it’s rarely simple or easy. Narcissistic abuse may have already caused you to doubt your own reality. With injured self-esteem and lowered self-confidence, you may be fearful of making any major life changes. It’s usually best to distance yourself so you can start the stages of healing after narcissistic abuse.5
When to Seek Professional Help
Therapists can help you stick to the boundaries you set to protect yourself. Maintaining these limits can be challenging during the separation process as the narcissist often tries to re-establish contact and draw you back into the relationship.6 A therapist can remind you of the importance of your boundaries.
Therapy can also help you gain insight into your own behavior and vulnerabilities, and work on recovering from any relationship PTSD you may have experienced. Effective trauma therapies include trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) and eye movement and desensitization reprocessing therapy (EMDR). To start finding the right therapist, you could ask your primary care physician for a referral or browse an online therapist directory.