Typically defined as an inflated sense of self-importance, narcissism is misunderstood by most as simply an excessive interest in one’s physical appearance.
However, narcissism is a real full-fledged personality disorder (Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD) that can cause irreparable damage.
More accurately described by psychologist Stephen Johnson, a narcissist is someone who:
Buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.
The compensatory false self which narcissists create to protect themselves often manifests as vain and egotistical. Unfortunately, in a society where social media and self-image dominates, narcissism has found a perfect breeding ground to blossom.
Nobody can be kinder than the narcissist while you react to life in his own terms.
– Elizabeth Bowen
While it’s true that narcissists tend to come across as self-absorbed, that’s an oversimplified explanation of true narcissism and its causes. The heart of narcissism is more complicated.
At their core, narcissists lack self-worth. They lack confidence in themselves and experience pain because of it. The outer shell of narcissism is just their way of coping with it.
The psychological elements of narcissism
Someone who truly has NPD has a combination of qualities that create a narcissistic personality:
- Entitlement: Narcissists believe that you’ll do whatever they ask of you.
- One-mindedness: A narcissist believes that one point of view or opinion exists– their point of view– so they act as if they’ve been directly attacked anytime you or someone else disagrees with them.
- Lack of empathy: Another critical quality of narcissists, they have low emotional empathy (and therefore low emotional intelligence– or EQ– in general) and don’t understand how you feel.
- No sense of proportion: When a narcissist gets angry, it really doesn’t matter if you forgot the hot sauce or broke off the relationship. They have a hard time differentiating between events of varying levels of importance and treat them as of the same magnitude. The smallest thing can set a narcissist off and lead to a very big, nasty blow up that results in unreasonable threats.
There are many signs you may be in a relationship with a narcissist, however, the above are the most important factors to watch out for because they’re the underlying causes, or “ingredients”, if you will, of narcissism.
8 major signs you’re in a relationship with a narcissist
So, how else can you know if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist? There are a lot of warning signs, some more obvious than others — and not all apply to every narcissist.
Also, keep in mind that we all experience some of the behaviors below at one point or another. What defines a narcissist is a continuous pattern of such behaviors with an inability to understand how others feel because of them due to the lack of empathy mentioned above.
1. They frequently threaten you
If your partner frequently threatens you, that’s a big sign you’re in a relationship with a narcissist.
- “I’ll walk out this door right now and NEVER come back.”
- “I’ll tell EVERYONE you’re [X] kind of person.” (even if it’s untrue)
- “The next time you want something from me you’re getting nothing!”
- “Go ahead and leave– I never needed you anyway.”
- “You better stop or I swear…”
2. They make you feel guilty
Narcissists will try to dig up “dirt” on you so they can use it later– even if it’s entirely fabricated (and it often is). They’ll make you feel as though you’re the one at fault and often project off on you the very things they’re doing themselves (even if you’re not actually doing them– which will make you feel like you’re going crazy).
- “You wouldn’t have done any of that without me”
- “I’m the reason you even got this far”
- “Wow, you won’t even do that [millionth minuscule request] for me. You’re horrible.”
Narcissists are often master manipulators and will attempt to make you feel both guilty and discouraged. It’s critical you either get out now or have a tough enough skin (and enough love for them as a person) to weather their storm of criticism.
3. They act entitled
Entitlement is another sign of narcissism, however, it’s one which is less exclusive to narcissism itself. A narcissist often acts as if their needs are greater than their partner’s and want those needs to be met without any sort of reciprocal gesture.
4. They believe they’re someone very special
Does your partner believe they’re some sort of messiah? If your partner thinks of themselves as someone special whom others cannot live without, that’s a sign you’re in a relationship with a narcissist.
5. They act as if rules don’t apply to them
A narcissist often acts as if rules don’t apply to them. They act as if they’re far too important for them to have to abide by the rules of other people. If your partner often cuts lines, pushes ahead of others in a public setting, or disregards others around them in general, you might be in a relationship with a narcissist.
6. They’re hot, then cold
Narcissists like to lay it on thick when they want something. Whether that means simple compliments or becoming sexual at the right time, they’re great at making you feel wanted and admired.
However, don’t blink, because two seconds later they can go from warm and sweet to cold and scorned for no particular reason (however, again, they’ll make you think it was you).
7. They have an obsessive focus on the external
This one is much more common, however, it’s still something to look out for if for nothing other than it being an easy sign to pick up on.
A lot of narcissists have an obsession with making themselves look impressive externally, whether that’s by having an attractive physical body, material possessions, social life, career, or other.
Imagine the narcissist “collecting” things they can cover their body with to make themselves feel and look bigger and more impressive. Deep down, their small self is there, but it’s covered in an avalanche of objects that offer a false sense of self-worth.
8. They’re manipulative
Narcissists can be dangerously manipulative. Depending on how intense their narcissism is, they’ll do everything they can to make themselves feel good at the expense of everything– and everyone– around them.
This can come in many forms, but within an intimate relationship, this often comes in the form of making you meet their self-serving needs such as acquiring things and being a specific type of person– even if that isn’t who you are. They have an image in their mind of what they want and need to be happy and will often stop at nothing to realize it.
So, you’re with a narcissist.
You have one of two options:
- Stay and learn how to deal with it
I’m not one to judge as every person is different and every narcissist has different qualities. If the person is manipulative or verbally abusive and shows no signs of remorse or empathy towards you at any point, you need to get out now.
However, if you know the person well, you may already have seen how beautiful they are on the inside and be willing to weather the storm so to speak, especially if they’ve committed to doing something about it.
Which brings us to the first and most important thing you can do to deal with a narcissist:
Convince them that they need help
The most important thing you can do of all, assuming this is someone you expect to be with for the long-haul, is to convince the person that they need to see a professional.
Narcissism isn’t like depression or anxiety. It isn’t a super defined condition which medication can treat. Therefore, it’s technically not “curable” by scientific terms. However, that doesn’t mean the person can’t overcome it.
Meeting with a professional to discuss therapy options is absolutely number one. From there, other options can be discussed and you can really get them plugged into a system of accountability so they can start making real progress.
Get them to meditate
Being that one of the defining characteristics of a narcissist is a lack of empathy, it would make sense that developing empathy would be critical for overcoming narcissism. And various forms of meditation just so happen to be effective for developing greater empathy.
Again, this is something that needs their cooperation. However, you really should only be considering staying with the person if they’re willing to make an effort. If they’re not, you’re wasting your time and your life away with someone that is just trying to serve their own needs with your blood, sweat, and tears.
Use compliments and agreement to thwart unnecessary conflict
What if you can’t convince them that they need help? What if, for whatever reason, you’re in a relationship with an extreme narcissist that you can’t get away from? Well, then it’s all about using your own fair bit of manipulation.
For that, I’m not talking about mistreating the other person, I’m talking about taking strategic actions based on what you now know about how narcissists behave and act to influence the relationship.
There are two primary things you need to get good at:
- Agreement: Are there times where agreeing with what they’re saying won’t make a difference anyway? Use the opportunity to “keep the peace” so to speak and pacify the narcissist, like a wild beast that must be tamed.
- Strategic compliments: Complimenting a narcissist is a powerful tool which you can use to your advantage to secretly take control. A compliment at the right time can completely avert an argument with a narcissist, making them feel good and, therefore, no longer needing to attack you to feel better. Typically, showering someone with compliments would seem unrealistic, but a narcissist is much less likely to catch on to this as they’re ready and waiting to eat it right up.
If the above doesn’t sound preferable to you, I get it. I’m the kind of person that much rather tear someone down that’s being a bully verbally then play to their immoral behavior.
However, if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist without any way to truly get away from them, depending what type of person you are it might be necessary in terms of retaining your own sense of sanity. After all, narcissists are sociopaths who are great at making you feel like you’re the crazy one.
In any case, know that there’s much you can do to help the situation. Continue to learn more about narcissism, how it works, and what specific signs your partner displays to understand more about how you can work through it– whether together or alone.