10 Red Flags That Your Partner Is A Narcissist — And What Can You Do About It
Relationships with narcissists can be painful and complicated.
Narcissists can seem different every day.
They can be charming and loving one moment and demeaning and hateful the next.
They tell you one thing and then do another and when you confront them, they blame you and make you feel you’re the crazy one.
The relationship that started out almost like a fairy tale, turned almost instantly into a source of anxiety and frustration.
After showering you with flattery and telling you that this was the perfect relationship, almost suddenly they became controlling, blaming, and self-justifying.
You start feeling unheard, unappreciated, frustrated, anxious, and often depressed.
In an attempt to get your lover back, you discounted your needs and feelings and instead, you gave them more love and attention, hoping to get that loving feeling to return.
However, nothing seemed to make a difference for very long.
Despite the hopeful signs when they would suddenly be just as sweet and loving as you remembered, soon they switched back into anger and blame when everything didn’t go perfectly.
Eventually, one day they announced that the relationship just is no longer fulfilling or exciting or you’re too negative and needy.
If this describes your current or one of your previous relationships, then know that you’ve been dumped by a narcissist.
This article will help you understand your narcissistic partner.
Ready? Let’s get started!
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association’s official manual of mental disorders DSM-5 defines narcissistic personality disorder as “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.”
Diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder defined by the DSM-5 include:
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
How Do You Know If Your Partner Is A Narcissist?
#1. They Work Hard To Present A Perfect Image To The World
Narcissists have an intense need to look perfect and more significant than anyone else. They hide and deny, even to themselves, these inner flaws.
Although they work hard on maintaining their façade, eventually, they become immersed wholly and completely in their fantasy of themselves and start believing it. That is why they are so believable.
The truth is narcissists are two people in one body. The façade or false positive self is only there to protect and hide a repressed, vulnerable, and despised inner self.
#2. The Person Who Once Was Charming And Loving, Suddenly Became Needy And Controlling
They entered the relationship quickly and intensely, with lots of charm and attention on you.
However, once you got really close, you found they’re deeply selfish, needy, angry, and controlling.
#3. You Fell Into A Caretaker Pattern
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you find yourself discounting your needs and giving up your dreams and opinions, and even your sense of individuality.
Instead, you start taking care of the narcissist’s need for attention and would even provide a scapegoat for their blame.
Instead of a team that works together for the benefit of all, you feel like the parent because the narcissist acts like a child who needs lots of caring and attention.
#4. They Don’t Feel Empathy
Narcissists can’t seem to figure out what you feel, and would respond with little caring.
When you tell them that you feel different or you want something different than they do, they don’t believe you and would accuse you of being wrong, stubborn, or even mentally ill.
In his book Zero Degrees of Empathy, Simon Baron-Cohen shares his thirty years of research on empathy. He concluded that narcissists have permanent underactivity in their empathy circuit and thus have minimal ability for empathy.
With intense training and motivation, narcissists can learn to respond to others more empathetically and appear caring, but they don’t feel more empathetic. They just learn what to say and do more appropriately.
#5. They Are Unable To be Truly Intimate
Because of how strongly they came on at the beginning of the relationship, you might have had the impression that they truly wanted to be close and intimate.
However, narcissists don’t share their deepest feelings and true inner thoughts, and any attempts to reach these inner feelings are usually met with stonewalling and avoidance or outright anger and defensiveness.
Narcissists will give you just enough of whatever it is that you absolutely need to keep you in the relationship, while also allowing him a satisfactory level of control.
When something happens you immediately want to talk about it and fix it. However, narcissists just want to bury it and move on. They believe that talking is your way of trying to change them.
#6. They Think Everything Belongs To Them
Narcissists are unwilling to share. They think everything belongs to them are surprised that you would get upset when they take what they want.
In case of a divorce, Male narcissists who made more money than their female partners or who talked their wives out of working would blame their wives for not “contributing” and expect to keep all of the assets.
#7. They Blame You For Everything They Feel
Narcissists have a delusional belief that everything they feel is caused by the things that happen to them and the people around them.
So when they feel uncomfortable, dissatisfied, or unhappy, they’ll blame you and make you feel responsible, even though the way you reacted or the things you said were perfectly acceptable or even delightful to someone else.
Narcissists are highly biased and skewed in their thinking, they can’t seem to understand how our interpretations and thoughts are the main reason behind the way we feel.
#8. Your Attempts To Change Them Have Been Futile
You may have tried to fix things by changing how and what you said, and meeting more of the narcissist’s expectations.
However, in the long run, nothing really changes, and the narcissist always does what he wants to do.
When you try to explain and get him to understand how you feel or to follow your suggesons, your words don’t seem to make any sense to them. They pretend to understand, but in the long run, you can see how cluless they are.
#9. They Try to Make You Leave First
Narcissists want to be always seen as blameless, especially when the relationship ends. The best way to do this is to make you leave them.
They would devalue you, put you down, make wounding comments, or just rudely ignore you along with doing and saying bizarre things while pretending that everything they do is perfectly normal and appropriate.
This leaves you furious and doubting yourself, and keeps them feeling righteous.
#10. If They’re Not The Ones Leaving You, They’ll Manipulate You Into Staying
They might even seem like they don’t want you to leave and are ready to work on the relationship.
Make the right promises and maybe even agree to go to therapy. However, they can’t seem to control their behaviors for any length of me.
They tell you all the “reasons” why you shouldn’t leave. However, these reasons are actually negative remarks, such as “You were nothing before I married you. Go back to that stupid family of yours. I can find someone who will really love me.”
These are manipulations to lower your self-esteem so you won’t leave.
Other ways to manipulate you include guilt.
Narcissists would bring up everything he has done for you or reminds you of the wonderful moments you’ve shared together.
And if you’re to point out anything wrong in what they did or said, they will blame it on you, especially when reacting with anger or start screaming.
Their blame and accusation of you being selfish, unkind, uncaring, or hurting their feelings, can increase your feelings of guilt, and make you redouble your efforts to prove to the narcissist that you’re not that kind of person. And this is what the narcissist wants because it reengages you in the relationship.
Should You Stay? Should You Leave?
There is no right answer here.
Some people believe that when it comes to marriage, you need to “fight” for it, unless the marriage becomes too toxic, such as physical abuse, verbal abuse, drug, and alcohol use, or repeated infidelity.
Other slow and subtle damages caused by the narcissist include disconnection and self-doubt, which may result in deep internal wounds. Such damage is not as obvious to others and makes getting support more challenging.
But whether you decide to stay or to leave, there’s one important thing you need to keep in mind; narcissists don’t change.
Can a Narcissist Change?
Human patterns such as addictions are hard to change, but because of the dire consequences addictions have on the addict’s life, at some point, that person will likely attempt to change.
Narcissism, unlike addictions, works for the narcissist. And today, we live in a culture that supports and celebrates narcissism, providing constant validation and portraying grandiosity as a key indicator of success.
Because his needs are being supported and are constantly met, narcissists don’t think there is anything wrong with being who they are, which makes the likelihood of change close to zero.
However, narcissists can be quite vulnerable, oftentimes, oscillating back and forth from grandiose to fragile. During these moments of vulnerability, you may feel like rescuing him and believe that he’s going to change.
The truth is he will soak up your attention until he no longer needs you or the encouragement.
Furthermore, there is virtually no evidence of good treatment outcomes in the literature on narcissism. Even if narcissists get into treatment, there is no evidence that it will make a difference and definitely not in the long run.
If You Choose To Stay
#1. Manage Your Expectations
Healthy relationships are based on respect, growth, and shared experiences. However, when it comes to the narcissistic relationship, those healthy expectations don’t exist.
You maybe have already abandoned these expectations a long time ago. You may have gotten used to living under the narcissist’s regime of control, deceit, rage, neglect, insults, gaslighting, and are now in a place of survival, trying to get through the days.
You should not expect the narcissist to start behaving respectfully and empathically or to change in any way.
Communication might make him change his behavior, but it’s unlikely to change his feelings. You can make a narcissist show up on time, but you can’t make someone feel something he can’t feel.
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#2. Sharing Information With Your Partner
Sharing information with the narcissist can be one of the most challenging aspects of the relationship.
The narcissist is not tuned in to you, and will likely criticize you, minimize you, view your successes as a threat, or humiliate you.
1. Sharing The Good News
If something good happens to you, such as getting a promotion, an award, compliments, etc. don’t share it with your narcissistic partner.
If this sounds extreme, try to reflect on the last three times you told your partner something wonderful that happened to you. How were these pieces of good news received?
If you can’t remember, try sharing good news and consciously observe his reaction.
Typically, narcissists would either ignore you or respond back in an unsupportive way, such as saying “it’s about time,” or, “the only reason the waitress commented on your eyes is because she was hoping for a tip,” or, “why do you always need so much validation from other people?” or simply not responding to the text you sent him.
Chronic criticism will eventually affect your self-esteem and confidence, and can even lead to anxiety and depression.
Instead of sharing your good news with your narcissistic partner first thing, try sharing them with your “good-news people.” The people in your life that support you and believe in you. These may be close friends, safe family members, coworkers, or members of a religious community.
Sharing your news first with them helps you celebrate properly and have a positive experience that you can access in case your partner makes you start doubting yourself.
Not telling your partner anything is also an option, but one that can present some risks.
If the good news has implications for the household or is something that will be mentioned by others, or at some point he will need to know, it might be safer to tell him eventually. But make sure you tell your supportive people first.
2. Sharing The Bad News
Sharing bad news such as a broken window, a late bill, a lost job, etc. can be twice as challenging in a relationship with a narcissist. Not only are you not getting any comforting, you’ll also be blamed for bringing more stress into his life.
Just like with the good news, don’t share it. And if you need to share it, prepare for it.
There are two types of bad news:
1. Bad news that affects only you, such as difficulties in the workplace, an argument with a friend, a loss of a loved one, a health issue in you, etc.
2. Bad news that by extension affects your partner, such as loss of a job, broken dishwasher, your child sent home for behavior issues in school, etc.
Each type of bad news will require different approaches.
Bad news that affects only you
When something bad happened to us, venting and talking about it with our partners help us feel better and get us through it.
However, sharing your bad news with your narcissistic partner you’ll probably get one of these two responses; irritability or indifference.
Just as with the good news, it’s best to find empathic people with whom to share these daily stressors.
Ultimately, realize you are in much of this alone. Find other outlets, such as exercise, meditation, and journaling to help manage your emotions.
Bad news that by extension affects your partner
In this case, although you know your partner will get angry with this kind of “disruptive” bad news, you can’t afford not to share them, or even delaying sharing them.
So prepare yourself.
Try to mindfully take the emotion and the expectation out of it so you are no longer disappointed.
No amount of reasoning will get into your partner, so cut to the chase and offer answers right away.
If You Choose to Leave
#1. Prepare for Narcissistic Rage
Narcissists tend to be paranoid. They do not like to be played or abandoned.
A separation, especially when children and assets are involved, is highly inconvenient for the narcissist. And if you’re the one who asks for a separation, you need to expect withdrawal, rage, and pettiness.
If you think you’re going to in risk of violence, you need to mobilize legal and public safety entities to address the situation.
* If you believe you are in danger call 911.
* The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233 (1-800-799-SAFE) (TTY 1-800-787-3224).
* The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (www.nrcdv.org)
#2. Practical Preparation
Here are some practical things you might need to consider when leaving a narcissistic partner:
1. Documenting everything
Because narcissists are skilled liars and deflectors, you will need to document everything. This includes:
* Keeping a log of relevant facts that you might use for litigation or simply for your own sanity.
* Saving abusive and other relevant e-mails and text messages
2. Reach out to your friends and family
Feelings of shame might have prevented you before from sharing your struggles with the other people you trust. When leaving the narcissist, you’re going to need support and comfort.
3. Get therapy or counseling
Therapy is essential to grow and heal, especially after the damage of a relationship with a narcissist.
Choose a therapist who knows the landscape of narcissism.
Therapy may also be an important for your children. Regardless of the circumstances, divorce is always challenging for children, and support is much needed.
Talk to a therapist anytime, anywhere
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4. Make structural changes
Changes such as changing locks, shutting down joint accounts or shared phone account, informing employers, might be necessary.
Seek legal counsel to ensure that you can make these changes in a timely manner so you can protect yourself and your finances.
#3. Psychological Preparation
The “psychological” preparations are as important as the practical ones.
1. Ignore the blame and accusations
2. Remember that your partner will never change
3. Embrace your emotions—and take care of yourself
Why Do We Become Attracted To Narcissists?
If you came from dysfunctional or abusive homes, healthy self-love was probably never modeled or displayed. Therefore, a narcissist who appears to exude self-confidence and entitlement may seem to you someone who has all that you were not given as a child.
A relationship with a narcissist can be a traumatic experience. The following article will offer actionable steps to support your healing.
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- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Healing from a Narcissistic Relationship, © 2017 by Margalis Fjelstad. All rights reserved.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Should I Stay Or Should I Go, © 2015 by Ramani Durvasula. All rights reserved.