How to Tell If You Are Dating a Narcissist
When Lisa * met Adam * in graduate school, she thought she had hit the dating jackpot. “He was very rich, very charismatic and very charming at first,” she says. “He constantly showered me with gifts, gourmet dinners and romantic evenings. He played by the courting rules of the 1950s. ” But over time, according to Lisa, Adam became indulgent, domineering and cruel. He criticized her working class background and tried to mold her into his own image. He learned about her insecurities and trigger points and used them against her. He made her write him a letter of apology every time they fought. Eventually, he became physically and sexually abused. It took Lisa years to escape from him.
“I was about 20 years old, a hopeless romantic, excruciatingly insecure,” she says. “This was a guy who was charming and handsome and was going to help me fit in with him. I wanted so much to please. “
Although Adam has not been clinically diagnosed as Lisa knows, he exhibits the classic characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which Mayo Clinic defines as “a mental state in which people have an inflated sense of self-worth, a deep need for excessive attention and care.” admiration, difficult relationships and lack of empathy for others. ” What we tend to think of as “narcissism” – vanity and super-potent doses of overconfidence – is a spectrum, and people may lean more towards one end or the other. But the NPL person is more than selfish and narcissistic.
“It’s a lifestyle that a child began as a child to cope with a particular family environment,” says Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D., author of Borderline Narcissistic and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety . “In adulthood, they overestimate achievements, they don’t understand love, they have low emotional empathy.”
Julie L. Hall, journalist and author of The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing Patterns and Breaking Free , characterizes narcissists as people who, in order to suppress feelings of shame and inferiority in childhood, adopt an external personality designed to isolate themselves from criticism. “They are missing out on many stages of development,” she says. “They don’t build a strong sense of identity and self-esteem. They don’t learn good emotional regulation, they don’t learn self-reflection, they don’t learn emotional empathy. They do not develop a complex, mature sense of their own universe or the emotional life of others. ”
People with NPL cannot see other people, which means that they are not suitable for good romantic partners. Many can become abusive, emotionally or otherwise. If you’ve accidentally entered a relationship with a narcissist, it can be difficult at first to understand what’s going on. Here are some signs to help you.
They put you on a pedestal (first)
Narcissists see everything in black and white, including humans. People are either “good,” which means they are idealized, or “bad,” which for the narcissist essentially means they are trash. If the narcissist is stalking you as a romantic partner, it means that you are in the “good” category, and you will likely find that they shower you with compliments and charm to win you over. They will make you feel wonderful, special and, ironically, immediately seen .
“Narcissists fall in love with themselves. They tend to idealize a potential partner or love interest, ”says Hall. “You might feel like you’ve met your soul mate, like, ‘Wow, I hang out with this person so much.’
Narcissists may also try to change themselves to reflect your personality. “They may suddenly share the same interests as you and agree with you and your core values,” Hall says. “It’s not necessarily what the narcissist is or believes, but he tries to define your personality and shows you what they think you want to see.”
But once you get deeper into the relationship, the switch flips. “In the beginning, you get all the great things from them, and they don’t even notice your flaws,” says Greenberg. “As you get closer and they are not just in chase mode, they will suddenly see everything in you that they have not seen before, that seeps through their image of you as perfect and special.”
Many of us idealize our partners at first, but recognize that each has flaws, and eventually idealization is replaced by love and trust. But there is no substitute for the narcissist. “You’re doing it badly,” Greenberg says. “That’s when they start their construction project.”
They are trying to “fix” you
Greenberg describes daffodils looking for a romantic partner as “looking for a piece of cheese without holes.” And since everyone has holes, this mission is doomed from the outset. Once the narcissist sees these holes – which can be as minor as, for example, you unload the dishwasher in a way that he doesn’t like, or pronounce “bagel” incorrectly – he can either “fix” you or dump you.
“You are like a building under construction to them,” says Greenberg. “They feel like a prince in Cinderella .”
Lisa experienced this with Adam. “He knew my background and upbringing and gave me advice on how to hide it,” she says. “I once mentioned that I studied piano as a child and would like to go back and learn it. He said he would give me piano lessons for my birthday because “I think it would be better for you if you were a musician with a classical education.”
She adds, “It was like The Princess Diaries where I was going to be a misplaced middle-class kid and he was going to turn me into this perfect little partner. I was a blank slate that he was going to make his masterpiece. “
They have no boundaries and a sense of belonging.
One of the defining characteristics of any personality disorder is the absence of boundaries, emotional or otherwise. People with NPD are no exception.
“They often feel free to violate the boundaries that most of us accept and respect,” Hall says. “Share intimate details about other people you don’t know about, wanting to quickly become more loyal, promising or expecting promises from you, such as commitments, marriage, and have children right away. Things that are really premature before you had time to achieve them. “
Hall says that daffodils in general just feel entitled. They cannot obey the golden rule of ” before” in relation to others, as you would like them to do to you . “The narcissist walks with very unreasonable expectations,” Hall says. “They think they have a right to get what other people shouldn’t get.”
Narcissists may say, “Can I talk to the manager?” energy. They may bully or criticize other people behind their back. They can rude or yell at the servers. And they walk by believing and / or telling people that they are the best.
Lisa says that Adam, for example, wore a necklace with a formula engraved on the tag. He claimed that he invented it and that it was the “formula of the universe.”
“He said,“ I decided the universe. This decides everything. And when someone questions my strength, I just remember that I am stronger than them, ”says Lisa.
They don’t hold back in a fight
Sometimes it is good for couples to argue. But when narcissists fight with their partners, their lack of empathy can lead to an unpleasant fight.
Greenberg says that narcissists often lack “object constancy,” that is, the ability to maintain positive feelings for someone, even in times of conflict. “Object permanence is what keeps people from mistreating their comrades,” she says. “People with object consistency can remember they love you even when they are angry with you.”
But narcissists can’t always do this. “If you have a fight with someone who has no emotional empathy, who cannot remember that he loves you, he will hit below the belt,” says Greenberg. – All bets are placed. They can tell you nasty things. “
Narcissists love to argue: Winning an argument is another way to prove that they are better than others, and they know how to push your buttons. They also have a propensity for extreme emotional reactions. So if your partner hurts frequently, even through minor violations, that’s a big red flag. And what happens after a fight can also be a red flag:
They never apologize
Narcissists are incapable of self-reflection, which means that they rarely know when they are wrong. So, if your partner tends to peck at you harsh insults during an argument and never meaningfully apologizes for it, then maybe you should reconsider the relationship.
“The ability to see that people have good and bad qualities, the ability to see this in themselves and in other people, is something that the NPD person cannot do,” says Hall. “They cannot see things from an emotional point of view other than themselves.”
If they do apologize, that in itself can be a great insult. “Sometimes narcissists make fake excuses saying that you are really too sensitive,” Hall says. “They cannot see things from your point of view or accept your feelings as legitimate.”
They turn their exes into villains
Here’s an important question: If your partner or potential partner has a story in which everyone they’ve ever met was “terrible,” “terrible,” and solely responsible for ruining the relationship, that’s a serious red flag. Sometimes someone meets up with a couple of jerks, but usually, most people are able to reflect on how both sides contributed to the destruction of the relationship. Narcissists cannot accept criticism, do not see the golden mean and cannot reflect on themselves, which means that they cannot recognize their role in the breakup. To protect their fragile egos, they are “good,” which means the ex must be “bad.”
“They are often very negative about previous relationships,” Hall says. “They harass their exes and vilify them. The other person is “moron”, “asshole”, “disappointment.” Basically, they don’t learn from the relationship and constantly externalize negative things.
They light you up
Without boundaries, empathy, and low-key egos, narcissists enjoy manipulating people. This is one way to feel superior to others and another way to prove to yourself that the rules don’t apply. It’s hard to tell if someone’s haunted by gaslighting – the very nature of gaslighting, that is, psychological manipulation in order to make someone doubt their own feelings and life experiences, is set to gradually weaken your belief, so that you think that the problem to you. But if you start to feel like your partner is manipulating you, go to hell.
Lisa says that Adam often lit it. “We’ve been to a bar, restaurant or somewhere else, and I saw him put his hand on a woman’s lower back and touch her ass or something like that,” she says. “On the way home, I would say something and he freaked out.”
He will deny it, they will argue, and in the end, Adam will be able to convince her that she was wrong. “The rule was that every time we fought, I had to write him a letter, which told how the argument started, who said what and that I was very sorry,” says Lisa. “At the end of [the letter] I would say, ‘You’re right, I didn’t see it, I must have been drunk.’
Narcissists do not truly understand or care about your emotional experiences, your pain and your personality; Moreover, they always have to be right, and if you confront them or call them crap, it means that you are wrong. This means that they can do whatever they want without remorse, and they can do whatever they can to convince you that their wrongdoing is your fault.
If you are dating someone who shows some of these signs, consider trusting someone you trust – friends, family, therapist – and sever ties. Narcissists can sometimes soften their worst urges with therapy, but people who lack empathy have to work hard to find it, and in the meantime, they cause psychological and emotional damage to others. You deserve the best.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.