How To Tell If You Are In A Relationship With A Narcissist
Published on 12th April, 2023
Individuals may find themselves in relationships with partners who display narcissistic behaviours. People with narcissism are not innately bad people, but behave the way they do as a response to the pain they have experienced in the past. However, being in a relationship with them can be unhealthy and challenging. Therefore, it is essential for you to look out for narcissistic love patterns in your relationship to identify if you are dating a narcissist.
What is narcissism?
Narcissism refers to having a high sense of self-importance. It is not necessarily a negative or unhealthy trait as most people live with it to a certain degree. Having a positive sense of self can be healthy as it allows us to draw boundaries and not let others take advantage of us. However, it can be concerning when an individual shows signs of unhealthy narcissism, where they possess a grandiose sense of entitlement and constantly put others down for their own needs or wants.
On the other hand, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a formal condition characterised by lack of empathy, over-inflated sense of self, and an intense need for admiration (Pedersen, 2022). NPD and narcissism are not synonymous, and only a mental health professional can make an accurate NPD diagnosis. It is important to note that narcissism exists on a spectrum. If a person has insight, takes accountability, and establishes reciprocal relationships, they may possess narcissistic traits but not a personality disorder (Lebow, 2022).
A partner who exhibits narcissistic patterns is more likely to act in manipulative ways, play mind games, and even exploit you for their benefit. If your partner possesses these traits, it does not necessarily mean your relationship is ill-fated or that you are dating a narcissist. However, dealing with a partner who displays narcissistic behaviour can be different from what you are used to.
For example, dating someone with narcissistic love patterns or traits may require you to shift expectations, accommodate your partner, and understand that there might be significant potential for hurt. Most narcissistic people are unaware of their condition, which requires you to prepare for potentially toxic behaviour. Couple therapy is an excellent way to navigate your relationship if you or your partner exhibits narcissistic behaviour.
Signs of a narcissistic relationship
There are many signs that could indicate that you are in a relationship with a narcissist. Although these behaviours can be indicative of a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or narcissistic behaviour, you should be careful not to mislabel your partner as being a narcissist as only a mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis.
Below are some signs you should look out for in a narcissistic relationship.
1. You are constantly walking on eggshells
One of the major red flags when dating a narcissist is if you feel like you are walking on eggshells because you never know when your partner might be in a bad mood and go into a rage.
Narcissistic rage can be triggered by something as small as your partner feeling overlooked when someone else is being recognised for an accomplishment (Cuncic, 2022). Being in a relationship with a narcissist might make you feel like you must make all your decisions based on what will keep your partner happy.
2. You constantly feel gaslighted
Gaslighting in relationships is seen as a common tactic in narcissists and is common in controlling and abusive relationships. When your partner constantly denies things that you know for a fact are true, they may be gaslighting you. For example, your partner might fabricate stories about your actions and make up incidents to fit their view of what happened rather than the truth. You could start to doubt and second-guess yourself.
However, note that it is sometimes difficult to tell if your partner is deliberately denying your view of reality. They may be unintentionally invalidating your feelings, perhaps due to a low emotional capacity or because they genuinely cannot remember the facts. In such cases, it is best to voice out your perception towards your partner without guilting or shaming them, e.g., that you wish for them to listen to your perspective. Offering to listen to their point of view also increases the chances of having a healthy and productive conversation.
3. Your partner constantly criticises you
Your partner constantly criticises the way you look. They might remark on your appearance, clothing, or haircut. They ridicule or degrade you; this may occur in front of you or behind your back.
Narcissists also tend to make fun of others, particularly those they consider inferior to them (i.e., someone they deem less wealthy or attractive). They are harsh critics of everyone in general.
4. Your partner always needs to be in the centre of attention
It is common for narcissists to feel that they must always remain the centre of attention in anyone's life. Narcissists often use relationships to boost their status and gain attention. For example, even if they have never shown interest in being a parent, they might change their mind once they realise that the title of “mom” or “dad” may elevate them in status and gain them respect from others. There is also a strong tendency for them to define their relationships by status, photos, trophies, milestones, and perfect social media posts (Hochenberger, 2022).
It is also common for narcissistic partners to boast about their own accomplishments or skills without recognising others' talents or achievements. They often seem to be convinced of their own superiority; a behaviour commonly seen with grandiose narcissism.
What to do if you are in a narcissistic relationship
Being in a relationship with a partner who exhibits narcissistic behaviour can negatively affect your mental health and well-being. Consider re-evaluating your relationship if your partner’s narcissistic tendencies extend to emotional abuse, or if they show blatant refusal to work on their unhealthy habits despite your attempts to raise them.
If you choose to leave your relationship, ensure you have a support system of people you can trust to help you go through this difficult time. For example, these people might be your family, friends, or therapist. Individual counselling for adults in Singapore can also be effective in navigating your feelings after leaving a narcissistic relationship.
Although there are many signs and indications of narcissistic behaviour, only a mental health professional can accurately diagnose your partner or yourself for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Having one or four of these signs does not immediately make your partner a narcissist. Instead, it's a good opportunity to re-evaluate whether your relationship is thriving or if you need to seek professional help.
Lebow, H.I. (2022). Narcissism vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Telling Them Apart https://psychcentral.com/disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder/the-difference-between-narcissism-narcissistic-personality-disorder
Pedersen, T. (2022) How to Know If You're Dating a Narcissist https://psychcentral.com/disorders/how-to-know-if-youre-dating-a-narcissist
Cuncic, A. (2022). 17 Signs You're in a Narcissistic Marriage or Relationship https://www.verywellmind.com/signs-you-re-married-to-a-narcissist-5208165#citation-4
Hochenberger, K.L. (2022). Narcissistic Obsession with Attention https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/love-in-the-age-narcissism/202202/narcissistic-obsession-attention