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Dating a Narcissist: Recognizing & Living with NPD

Dating a Narcissist: Recognizing & Living with NPDUpdated on September 13, 2020 | Published on February 20, 2020
Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, Psychiatrist

Dating a Narcissist: Recognizing & Living with NPD

It’s the age of Instagram, and most of us enjoy social media as a tool for entertainment and connecting with other people. But everyone has that one friend who posts too many selfies or flexes too much about their life. It’s easy to deem such a person as a narcissist, but this is entirely wrong. Someone who talks about themselves too much, or is only focused on their own problems may be selfish or a jerk – but that is not the same as being a narcissist.

A true narcissist is someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It is a mental health disorder, and it involves more than harmlessly posting selfies or talking about yourself too much. If you think you, your partner, or some family member of yours is suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder, you have landed at the right place. Read on to find out what this disorder is, how to identify people with a narcissistic personality, and how to deal with such a person in the long term.

Narcissist Definition

A true narcissist suffers from NPD. This condition is recognized by the following characteristics:

  • A heightened sense of self-importance
  • And an increased sense of entitlement and need for excessive attention
  • Lack of empathy for people around them
  • Difficulty in maintaining relationships

According to Rebecca Weiler, narcissism is basically selfishness that has been taken to its extreme, and the inability to consider people’s feelings. But like all mental disorders, NPD does not have very clear boundaries. Dr. Fran Walfish, who is a relationship psychotherapist, says that NPD is a spectrum disorder.

What Causes Narcissism?

The main cause of narcissism is still unknown. However, there are certain childhood experiences that are responsible for the development of this personality disorder. 

Some of these childhood risk factors include:

  • Lack of attention from parents or family members
  • Trauma
  • Emotional, mental, and physical abuse
  • Excessive pampering or over-care from parents
  • Extremely high expectations from self and family members
  • Excessive criticism from close people or otherwise
  • Parents excessively focusing on the talents on the physical appearance of the person
  • Low development of self-esteem

Apart from childhood factors, the development of narcissistic tendencies is also a result of biological, social, psychological, genetic, and environmental factors that directly or indirectly affects the person. Let’s learn about these factors in detail.

Dating a Narcissist: Recognizing & Living with NPD
Dating a Narcissist: Recognizing & Living with NPD

However, the research in the field is still in fancy to get to the bottom of the problem.

The 9-point Diagnosis Criteria

According to the American Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there is a 9-point criteria for diagnosing someone as a narcissist:

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. Belief that one is special and can only be understood by or associate with special people or institutions
  4. A need for excessive admiration
  5. A sense of entitlement (to special treatment)
  6. Exploitation of others
  7. A lack of empathy
  8. Envy of others or the belief that one is the object of envy
  9. Arrogant, haughty behavior or attitude

It should be noted that someone needs to meet only five of the conditions mentioned above to be classified as a narcissist.

WARNING
Just knowing the official criteria for diagnosis of NPD does not mean that it will be easy for you to identify a narcissist. This is even more difficult if you are in a romantic relationship with a narcissist. Only a qualified psychologist can diagnose NPD.

Narcissistic Traits

While the 9-point criteria may seem self-explanatory, the truth is that there is a lot behind those words that the general person doesn’t understand.

Here is a breakdown of what it means to be a narcissist:

1. Narcissist have a grandiose sense of self-importance

They have a grandiose sense of self-importance
They have a grandiose sense of self-importance

Grandiosity is, indeed, the defining trait of a narcissist. People often mistake arrogance or vanity for grandiosity. But the truth is that grandiosity is much bigger than either of those traits. A narcissist truly believes that he is unique and special.

Additionally, this sense of grandiosity is closely related to the third criteria, which says that the narcissist firmly believes that he is special and can only be understood by or associate with special people or institutions.

Because of this sense of excessive self-importance, narcissists also expect everyone else to believe in their special status. They can exaggerate and even lie about their achievements to get the desired effect on their audience.

2. They live in a world of fantasy

They live in a world of fantasy
They live in a world of fantasy

Narcissists have this grandiose view of themselves that does not align with reality. That is why they resort to living in a world of fantasy. These fantasies often involve success, intelligence, attractiveness, and even love.

Narcissists use these fantasies to protect themselves from their feelings of inadequacy. That is why any facts or opinions that contradict all these fantasies are automatically rejected by them. If someone tries to penetrate their world and threatens to destroy their fantasies, they can become very defensive and angry.

3. Narcissist need constant praise and admiration

They need constant praise and admiration
They need constant praise and admiration

The sense of superiority that a narcissist feels is like a balloon with a hole. It needs to be constantly pumped with air to keep itself inflated.

People with NPD need those around them to constantly feed their egos. Just a compliment here and there is not good enough for them. They surround themselves with people who are ready to feed them with applause on a regular basis.

That is why a relationship with a narcissist will always be one-sided. they only care about what their partner can do for them, and how they can feed their ego. They do not spare a thought for their partners needs and well-being. Over time, they can even resort to emotional abuse to get what they want.

4. They have a heightened sense of entitlement

They have a heightened sense of entitlement
They have a heightened sense of entitlement

Since narcissists believe that they are special people, they also want special treatment. They genuinely think that people should offer them favorable treatment wherever they go. Whatever they want, they should get, no questions asked.

Not only that, they also think that the people around them should automatically fulfill all their wishes. And if you dare ask for something for yourself, or defy them in any way, you will be treated coldly, with rage, aggression, or even worse.

5. Narcissist exploit other people without any shame or guilt

They exploit other people without any shame or guilt
They exploit other people without any shame or guilt

Narcissists do not have the ability to empathize with other people. In other words, they cannot identify other people’s feelings at all. That is why, they tend to see those around them as mere objects.

And because of this, they do not feel any shame or guilt in using them. Everybody is a means to serve their needs. It is not surprising that they do not think twice before manipulating someone or taking advantage of them.

TIP
Because of the inability to empathize with other people, narcissists use other people shamelessly. But it should be noted that this behavior is not out of malice. It is simply obliviousness.

A narcissist simply does not understand how their behavior can affect other people. That is why, even if you explain to them how their behavior is hurting you, they will not understand. All they understand is their own desires and needs.

6. Narcissist often belittle and demean others

They often belittle and demean others
They often belittle and demean others

Narcissists can be easily threatened. When they see someone, who has something they don’t – they get defensive. If someone is smarter, more popular, richer, or more attractive than them, they feel challenged.

As a result, they feel the need to put such people down. Their only response to such threats is contempt. Even if you do not actively pose any threat to the narcissist, he or she will try to put you down as a preemptive attack. This is the only way they can preserve their own ego.

The contempt that narcissists feel can manifest in several ways. They can be dismissive of your achievements, or they may resort to attacking you. This can involve insulting you, calling you names, even bullying you.

7 Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist

Reading the above-mentioned criteria may have forced you to ask yourself – am I dating a narcissist?

As we stated above, it can be hard to identify a narcissist, even if you know the criteria through and through. Here are 7 signs to look out for, to know if you are dating a narcissist:

1. Narcissist love-bombed you in the beginning 

They love-bombed you in the beginning
They love-bombed you in the beginning

Love bombing refers to a situation where the narcissist showers you with love in the first few days of your relationship. Maybe they told you they loved you within a month, or texted you all the time, or made you feel good by telling you how smart and beautiful you are.

Nedra Glover Tawwab, who is the founder of Kaleidoscope Counselling, says that narcissists believe they are special. That is why, they think they should only be with people who are special too. But as soon as you stop doing what they want, they will turn on you. And that is something to be wary about.

Therefore, if someone comes on strong early in the relationship, be careful. If you think it is too early for them to love you, or that they don’t know you enough to love you – they very likely don’t.

2. They always only talk about themselves

2. They always only talk about themselves
2. They always only talk about themselves

According to Dr. Angela Grace, the narcissist often embellish their stories, accomplishments, and talents to pose themselves as better than others. If your partner is always focused on talking about themselves and does not engage in any conversation about you, they may be narcissistic.

TIP
To test this, you have to start noticing things – does your partner show interest in talking about you? What happens when you do talk about your problems? Do they express any interest? Do they ask any questions? Or do they end up making it about themselves.

3. Narcissist are always fishing for compliments

They are always fishing for compliments
They are always fishing for compliments

This in itself is not a sign of narcissism. Most people suffer from a lack of self-esteem and look towards their partner for support in the form of praise and compliments. But if your partner paints themselves as confident and then punishes you if you don’t constantly inflate their ego, they may be narcissistic.

According to Shirin Peykar, LMFT, people who are really confident do not need others to lift them up, and they don’t feel the need to put others down to inflate their ego. These are two things you are bound to find in a narcissist.

4. Narcissists lack empathy

Narcissists lack empathy
Narcissists lack empathy

If your partner fails to make you seen, heard, and understood, it is a good sign that they may be narcissistic. Since NPD people do not have the ability to empathize, they do not understand the concept of feelings at all.

In other words, they simply do not care about your problems. They do not validate your feelings or show any interest when you are sad or mad. And this inability to empathize is going to make your relationship break down someday.

You need to remember that a narcissist does not want a partner, ever. All they want is someone who is obedient, is an admirer, and does all that they want them to do. Remember that you are only valued because they are using you to inflate their own ego.

5. They belittle you all the time and don’t celebrate your accomplishments

They belittle you all the time and don’t celebrate your accomplishments
They belittle you all the time and don’t celebrate your accomplishments

It may seem impossible right now, if you are in the early phase of your relationship. But know this – if a narcissist manipulates and hurts other people in their life, they will do the same to you. If not today, tomorrow. It may start out as an occasional joke. But then it will become constant and mean.

If your partner is constantly insulting you, belittling you, or picking on you – they are very likely suffering from NPD. Because the narcissist can never accept that someone is better than them. And the only way to ensure that you never realize that you are better than them, is by lowering your self-esteem.

Ask yourself – does your partner celebrate your accomplishments? Or do they pull you down when you achieve something? Do they make excuses for your achievements? Do they make it look like you had an advantage they didn’t, and that’s why you achieved something they couldn’t?

6. A narcissist will gaslight you

A narcissist will gaslight you
A narcissist will gaslight you

This is the biggest red flag you need to look out for. Narcissists tend to blatantly lie about their partner, accusing them of things, and distort the situation to paint you as the villain.

Here is what gaslighting looks like in real life:

  • You feel more anxious than you used to be before you got into this relationship
  • You are always questioning your behavior
  • It is always your fault when anything goes wrong
  • You apologize way too often
  • You can sense that something is wrong here, but you can’t put your finger on it
  • You’re always wondering if you are being overly sensitive

7. Narcissist never apologize

They never apologize
They never apologize

No matter what happens, it is never their fault. If your partner never apologizes for their behavior, they are likely to be NPD.

You will notice that fighting with a narcissist is impossible. This is because they don’t see any disagreement for what it is. All they see is their own point of view. And what’s more, they will not even try to understand your concerns.

If you feel that your partner does not hear you, is not willing to understand you, and does not take any responsibility for their actions – there is a good chance that they are a narcissist.

Ask yourself – has your partner ever apologized for their mistakes? Do they compromise? Do they give up control?

Can a Narcissist Change?

After reading all this, you must be wondering if you can help your SO become better. Is it possible for them to get over this? Is there room for improvement?

The simple answer is yes, narcissists can get better. However, it requires a lot of will power on his or her part along with a lot of hard work. He or she must also have a desire to change and become a better person. 

There is a common misconception that narcissists and empathy are two ends of a circle and that there is no way that they empathize with someone else’s feelings. According to Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist and founder of the Cognitive Therapy of Center of New Jersey, says that narcissists are capable of empathy and once they start working hard on themselves, there is no stopping them.

They meet their deepest emotions and once that happens, it triggers a change in their personalities. Thus, they themselves know what to do to heal themselves and start bettering themselves, for better or worse. 

Apart from self-help, emotional therapy and medical help also helps them a lot. 

Can a Narcissist Love?

Someone who is in a relationship with a narcissist often wonders whether their partner loves them or not. Well, if you are then here is a heartbreaker for you—almost all narcissists are incapable of true love. Yes, they just do not know how to do it. 

They do not care about their partner’s happiness. The only person they are capable of loving and caring is themselves. It is a game of chase for them. When they get what they want, they lose interest in the person and want to end the relationship. In most cases, their ‘love’ lasts from six months to one year. That would be it. 

A narcissist, if gets married, would generally lack any motivation to make their partners happy or feel loved. However, if people with these traits are capable of learning that there is something wrong in their personality and are willing to change, then they can, in fact, fall in love with a person and care about them as well. 

Can Narcissism be Cured?

As of now, there is no cure for narcissistic personality disorder. However, research is still going on to learn more about the treatment of such people. The main treatment with narcissists traits includes emotional therapy.

Problem is that most narcissists refuse to agree that there is something wrong with them. While they agree to disagree with their problem, it has been found that almost all of them have low self-worth and self-respect. 

For now, the only option for them is mental health treatment. To get there, they have to be willing to look at themselves first and learn that there is a problem in them that needs to be treated.

Breaking Out of the Illusion

Dating a narcissist can feel very exhilarating – especially in the beginning. This is because they can be very charming and magnetic. But you need to know that this is all an image, and if you do get caught in their web, it can have very negative effects on your mental health.

Here are a few things you need to remember in order to climb out of the fantasy you may have built up:

See Things for What They Are

Narcissists are confident, smooth and suave. They will make you feel special, seen and heard in the beginning. You will feel as if you have found your soulmate.

But it is important to take off those rose-tinted glasses and see the narcissist for who they are. Do not make excuses for their behavior, and do not deny your feelings. You are not overly sensitive. Do not allow them to gaslight you. Recognize the signs of narcissism, and either get help or walk away.

WARNING
You may feel like the mental health of your NPD partner is your responsibility, especially if you have been with them for a long time. But the truth is that how the narcissist feels is not under your control and you are not equipped to handle it.

In such cases, you should consider getting some medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment options. Although treatment of narcissistic personality disorder is imprecise, you can consult a psychiatrist for information regarding any counselling options.

Set up Healthy Boundaries

Narcissists do not recognize boundaries. They do not see you as a different person. And so, they do not see you or hear you. Because of this, they tend to violate other people’s boundaries without any thought. And they will do it with a sense of entitlement.

If you have suffered from emotional trauma in the past, or have lived with an NPD parent, you may think this is normal. You may even learn to tolerate it. But it will eventually prey on your mental health.

Learn what to set up boundaries. Stand up for yourself. If you feel uncomfortable with something, learn to speak up. Have a well-defined plan on how you are going to enforce these boundaries. And remember, do not set up a boundary if you don’t think you can keep it. The narcissist will try to violate it, but you have to be firm and stand your ground.

5 Ways to Deal with a Narcissist

Some traits of narcissism are present in everyone. However, if it continues developing even after childhood, then such people are referred to as full-fledged narcissists. The bottom line is that all narcissists feel terrible about themselves in the core of their heart. Thus, even if it seems like they are the ones hurting you, look at it this way that they are 24/in pain and hate themselves, truly. 

There are however certain things that you should know about dealing with them.

1. How to talk to a narcissist

There are certain things to keep in mind, if and when you spot signs of narcissism in a person, whether a friend or family. 

2. See the bigger picture

Be wise enough to understand their perspective. When they talk to you about their world and their stories, take a step back, breathe and learn that they are full of themselves and that they aren’t aware of their behavior.

3. Keep the boundaries up

Keeping a boundary with them is not only important, it’s necessary. When they try to barge into your lives with their problems and stories, simply know when to remain unavailable for them. Try to maintain the balance. Make an excuse, if you have to, that you have to be somewhere else than being there for them all the time. 

4. Don’t get toxic with them

There is no doubt about the fact that narcissists are toxic; you will notice and agree with it, sooner or later. Just know that they will expect you to be toxic with them. Well, don’t. The best way to avoid them is to not play their game. Just don’t engage in a toxic conversation with them. Control yourself and avoid them. 

5. Be nice but not empathic

This might be hard for some people, especially empaths, but still, it is important to not try to heal them or tell them that they are showing narcissistic traits. So, please, be kind but do not empathize with them. 

How to Shut Down a Narcissist

There are certain ways to keep a narcissist at bay and it is highly important for all of us to learn about them. Some of these ways include:

  • Limit the encounters. Do not take their bait, stop seeing them, and do not feel guilty or bad about the same.
  • Communicate. If something doesn’t feel right about this person or you are feeling hurt by their behavior, communicate as much as you can. Even if it doesn’t make a difference in their behavior, it will make you feel better about yourself.
  • Be selective with what you share. It is very important to not go all-in with them instantly. They can be very charming but also, they can be dangerous and can leave you devastated. So, the best way to shut them down is to share very limited information with them.

Ignoring a Narcissist

Perhaps the best thing to do to a narcissist is ignore them. When they learn that they are losing, or have lost power over you, it makes them learn a good lesson. In fact, it might trigger their personality for good reasons.

They might focus on learning more about themselves and that whether what they did to you or do to people is in fact, wrong. They may check into therapy to lessen their pain and if the psychologist is good, they will let them know that they are dealing with narcissistic personality disorder

The bottom line is to be as boring and emotionless toward them as possible. This won’t fulfill their ego and they will look for attention in other people, which for better or worse, isn’t your problem.

If it still seems like an uphill task to you because that’s not who you are, remember all the times, this person has hurt you for reasons you can’t understand. So, keep them away and go on to live a happy and functioning life. 

Final Thoughts

If you think your partner, parent or SO is suffering from NPD, the first thing you have to do is consult a mental health specialist. Know that you are not equipped to handle this disorder alone. And if you have tried all that you can and done all that you could for this person with no change in their behavior, love yourself enough to walk away from them.