You’ve been dating for a while now. Everything seems and feels great on the surface but your partner has certain moments when you wonder about their perception of themselves and the world around you.
While some degree of self-absorption is normal, the new love of your life takes it to entirely new and concerning levels. Their bragging and sense of self-importance sometimes reach a point where they look down on others and ignore others’ needs, including yours.
Indeed, self-confidence is an attractive quality in a potential partner but could they be taking it too far? Are you right to feel alienated by the behavior?
You often wonder: is it narcissism or is your partner just an extra confident individual?
The answer is important because one is an attitude while the other is a personality disorder.
Before you go any further in your relationship, read this article to find out more about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and if your partner may have it.
What is NPD? Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental state wherein a person displays a deep-seated need for lavish amounts of admiration and attention. While they crave and seek the approval of others, they often display a surprising lack of empathy for them.
Narcissistic individuals have an overinflated perception of themselves and their abilities. However, they can be ruffled by the smallest and subtlest criticism despite their overconfident and self-reliant exteriors.
How can you tell if you’re dating a narcissist? Note that people can be confident or narcissists without having NPD.
To know if your partner has clinically disturbing symptoms of NPD, let’s take a look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders. The DSM-IV and DSM-5 list nine criteria described here:
- They exaggerate their achievements to garner praise and attention and have a grandiose sense of self-importance.
- They are preoccupied with fantasies about a life where they are at the top of it all, e.g. in terms of money, love, beauty, success, etc.
- They believe they’re special and unique. They try to associate with “special” people who understand and validate their beliefs about themselves.
- They need to be excessively admired to feel loved.
- They have a sense of entitlement. Their needs and wants must be met at all times.
- They exhibit interpersonally exploitative and manipulative behavior.
- They lack empathy.
- They feel jealous and threatened by other people’s success or believe that others are envious of them.
- They’re arrogant and can be downright rude and condescending to people who are less “special” than them.
Do these descriptions sound like someone you know? A person doesn’t have to tick all nine boxes to be diagnosed with NPD. They only need to meet five of these criteria.
To put you in a better position to tell if you’re dating a narcissist, read the next section where we describe five classic narcissistic behaviors.
1. From Prince Charming to the Big Bad Wolf
“But he was so nice to me when we first started dating! Who knows what he’s going through?”
Like most people, narcissists are focused on winning you over at the start of the relationship. They are charming, smart, and funny. They give you lots of attention and affection, say all the right things at the right time, and show how invested they are in your relationship.
Later in the relationship, you’ll notice a change in their behavior for the worse. How they communicate with you, tolerate your “mistakes,” and deal with you when you don’t validate their beliefs about themselves can all be red flags for NPD.
Playing mind games with you, gaslighting you, and getting you to believe things that have no basis are an NPD’s tools for getting the attention and validation he or she craves. It keeps NPDs in a position of power that supports their warped sense of self.
How can you tell if you’re being manipulated? See if any of these sound familiar:
- You find yourself apologizing for everything, even things you have no control over.
- You begin doubting yourself. You feel you have nothing worthwhile to offer and are grateful to your partner for putting up with you.
- You start making excuses for your partner’s manipulative behavior because that’s what “love” is.
- You’re made to feel like you’re overreacting and being too sensitive when you try to call out your partner’s gaslighting behavior.
- You begin to question reality. It’s hard to go with your gut and you feel doubtful about things that you used to be certain of.
- You feel like you can’t speak your mind because it would jeopardize the relationship.
Narcissists love to talk about themselves. They’ll talk about their achievements, their accomplishments, their talents, and their connections, basically anything that fuels their grandiose sense of self-importance. In a way, it reassures them of their “special” nature.
Narcissists tend to embellish their stories with “never-happened-before” quips, lies, and exaggerations to impress people.
In the midst of all their self-directed conversations, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise — unless you’re agreeing with them or validating their sense of worth.
Given how arduously you were pursued at the beginning, it’s surprising how your partner seems to be struggling to make a commitment to you. Despite an agreement to be mutually exclusive and the reassurances you’ve been asked to give on your own commitment, you have a date who flirts and checks out other people.
This is a classic red flag for NPDs who are constantly on the lookout for mates who fit their exaggerated perceptions.
If you try to call them out on it, they gaslight you, put you down, and/or make you doubt yourself.
As much as you love them and were charmed by them, narcissists live in a universe where they and their self-esteem are at the center. This continuous search for validation often makes them overlook the needs of others.
While it’s a nuisance for those who only occasionally encounter them, being in a relationship with a narcissist can be draining and hurtful. They seek validation, understanding, and acceptance but cannot offer it in return.
Of all the behaviors we’ve listed here, this is the biggest reason why many people dating a narcissist often tap out.
If you’re dating a narcissist, your best course of action is to get out. While it’s possible for narcissists to get help, it isn’t common since getting help doesn’t fit in with their overinflated perceptions of themselves.
Being in a relationship with someone who constantly gaslights you, makes you feel insecure, criticizes you, and fails to make you feel seen and appreciated is not how you’re meant to live the best years of your life.
The sooner you cut ties with one, the better. Waiting will only make it harder. You should also expect that initiating the break-up conversation will likely trigger their neediness and have them offering explanations. Stay vigilant. Don’t hand out second chances on a silver platter.
The best way to date a narcissist is not to.
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When Keren is not actually tapping away at her keyboard, you’ll find her staring into space or drinking copious amounts of coffee. But make no mistake, she's hard at work even then. Come close enough and you’ll hear the whooshing noise of countless words as they go whizzing by - in her head of course.