Thank you to Kimberly Sandstrom, LMFT for the following article. In it she shares her important insights on identifying narcissism and understanding the damage it can cause in relationships.
4 Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist
Guest Post by Kimberly Sandstrom, LMFT
Do you feel unimportant, like an accessory, and alone in your relationship? Does your partner exhibit the characteristics of narcissism listed below?
While everyone has some narcissistic traits, only a small percentage (about 1% of the population, and mainly men) have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are notoriously difficult to be in relationship with, leaving their partners feeling unimportant, negative about themselves, incompetent, alone, and sometimes crazy!
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
The Mayo Clinic defines it as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Partners of narcissists often describe a whirlwind romance — being swept off their feet initially only to find that their partner’s likability diminishes over time as the narcissistic partner begins to exhibit the traits below. Narcissists tend to “love bomb” (excessive charm and attention) their partners in the beginning and as the relationship unfolds, withdraw from the relationship as the narcissist’s self-centered behavior increases. Many narcissists will label others as selfish and narcissistic, demanding respect for what they need and giving no regard for what their partner might need. You cannot convince a narcissist to see their behavior as hurtful. Don’t even try.
Narcissism is Not Selfishness
We all have selfish and/or narcissistic tendencies, but the difference lies in the lack of empathy narcissists display towards their partners and the inability to take responsibility for things that go wrong. Narcissism exists on a scale. (See The Human Magnet Syndrome by Ross Rosenberg for more information.) The most extreme narcissists will appear warm and inviting, but their motivation is to draw you into a relationship with them, and when the first sign of conflict arises or you express disappointment or challenge them, their deep sense of shame ignites narcissistic rage or manipulation in the form of gaslighting.
4 Signs You’re in a Relationship with a Narcissist
- They are charming. This is what is so confusing for someone who intersects with a narcissist. They are charming. Many will move quickly in a new relationship, often telling you that “you are the one” or that they have “saved you from the dating world” and all the things you long to hear. Many people in the beginning of a relationship, put their best foot forward. The difference is the motivation behind the charm. For most of us, we want to make a good impression, but for narcissists it is about being “fed.” Narcissists need constant feeding of their ego because their ego has been damaged in childhood by a narcissistic parent who rejected them over and over when they weren’t feeding that parent’s need for affirmation and admiration. Narcissists’ need for their fragile egos to be fed is constant and unrelenting. So a child who doesn’t make the parent look good, for instance, is then rejected or neglected emotionally.
- They lack empathy. Narcissists are good at sympathizing for about a half second, but quickly move on to what they want to talk about or need. They only sympathize (not empathize-which is to step into someone else’s shoes and feel what they might feel) in order to keep you intrigued with them and to look good. The validation a narcissist needs is challenged when they experience their partner’s disappointment or hurt feelings. To them, your hurt shouldn’t exist because they don’t feel it. Their own childhood experiences with a narcissistic parent have damaged their ability to empathize. Narcissists have become very adept at keeping people in connection with them — they learn what looks good and what doesn’t, and they always want to look good.
- It’s always your fault. Any conflict or anything that goes wrong in the narcissist’s life ends up being your fault. Practically everything ends up being your fault — the reason they aren’t doing well at work, or the reason they aren’t getting along with your children, or the reason they ended the relationship….fill in the blank.
Narcissists rarely apologize. But you, as a partner of one will find yourself apologizing for EVERYTHING. And narcissists find your distress (especially after a break up), a source of pleasure. They will never admit this to you, but for them it becomes a source of power in the relationship. You “made” them miss paying rent, or you “made” them get that angry and lash out, or go silent. (Narcissists LOVE to use silence to punish and control the relationship when angered.)
Narcissists have fragile egos and cannot bear to have anything be their fault. They will hurt you (inadvertently or on purpose with their critical nature) and then turn the tables on you saying they cannot believe you would even be upset about something so small. To a narcissist, it will always be your fault.Very rarely, when narcissists are feeling good about life and themselves will they accept blame. Typically, they will make a big deal about the fact that they apologized as a BIG gesture.This leaves you, as the partner, in a constant state of vigilance and feeling unsafe emotionally (and sometimes physically when their narcissistic rage becomes so intense).
Often a narcissist will tell you, that YOU are the narcissist or describe their past relationships with one. The projection and spin-around to deflect blame is so cunning and sometimes so subtle that you will begin to question your self-worth and who you are. This is the very worst outcome for a partner of a narcissist: losing your sense of self. Unfortunately, narcissists will prey on your vulnerability.
- They are constantly “educating” you. They think they have to educate you about anything and everything — for “your sake.” You’ll often hear, “if you had just listened to me” or “I’m telling you this because you need to hear it.” The “education” is often compulsive (they can’t help themselves to help you!), critical and harsh.
Without knowing they are doing it, they want to create a dependence in you, to control you—they aren’t generally aware of this constant need for affirmation and feeding of their damaged egos. Unfortunately, you’re likely to be subject to constant criticism of who you are, internalize the information and end up feeling “less than.”
You were probably drawn in by a narcissist’s charm and once hooked and in love, you learn to keep the peace and apologize for things the narcissist did, all in an effort to avoid more criticism of you or the impending narcissistic rage. Narcissists have a very deep need for admiration. By educating you about how to run your business, relationships, life and friendships, they retain value. There is no brainstorming with narcissists unless it’s about their interests and even then narcissists will always claim the best ideas as their own. There is very little collaborating or giving credit to others for their success. Narcissists like to retain control of their work and relationships so they aren’t open to learning from you or constructive criticism.
If this article resonated with you and you think you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you are not alone. There is professional help available to support you in either navigating the relationship and becoming less victimized, or help you to get out. Most importantly, working with a therapist or support group can help to restore your sense of self and sanity.
Kimberly Sandstrom, LMFT, is a marriage and family therapist in San Diego CA who specializes in helping people set healthy boundaries in all their relationships and can help you journey to wholeness again after narcissistic abuse. More information is available on her website: kimberlysandstrom.com. You can connect with Kimberly on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.