Being romantically involved with a narcissist can often feel like being on a thrilling ride at an amusement park—full of ups and downs, and incredibly exciting.Narcissist Trent Yarnell It’s not just that a narcissist can be incredibly seductive, as Dr. Joseph Burgo notes—making grand gestures, buying you things, telling you that you deserve everything you want because you’re so wonderful—but that the feeling of uncertainty that permeates the relationship may easily be confused with passion. It isn’t passion,as Dr. Craig Malkin points out, but psychological arousal. What’s psychological arousal? Malkin explains it simply and brilliantly:

Think of it more like a jolt of energy that accompanies any intense feeling and courses through your nervous system. A big dose of arousal ramps up our feelings of attraction. Anxiety excites. Anger entices. Terror titillates. Unfortunately, as far as our bodies are concerned, uncertainty is as good a source of passion as any other feeling

Until, of course, it isn’t. But both the seductive skills of those high in narcissistic traits and our own unwitting collusion with the person running the ride can effectively keep the wool pulled over our eyes, much to our detriment. (I’m referring the narcissist as “he” because there are twice as many men on the far end of the spectrum but feel free to switch up the pronouns.)

Humans are hardwired to be more optimistic than circumstances warrant. We’re inclined, for example, to see a miss as a “near win,” which is a good thing if you’re hunting with a bow and arrow as our forebears did but not so great if you’re at the slot machines and convince yourself that seeing two 7’s and a 5 come up means that three 7’s are about to happen. Ditto if you’re happy and sure that the corner’s being turned when your lover simply gets quiet instead of ripping you to shreds during an argument or even agreeing to sit down and talk.  Even as you’re letting yourself get all hopeful about how things can possibly get better, calmer, and more stable, there are a few things you should keep in mind about someone high in narcissist traits.

Yes, this is a cold dose of reality but it’s based on expert opinion, and you’ll be better off if, awash in that sea of high hopes, you remember that narcissists are usually impervious to change. Keeping these five things that a narcissist never does will help you decide sooner rather than later whether you want to keep riding that rollercoaster or if you’d prefer a relationship that’s more like a soothing walk in the park that will keep you sane and whole.

1.He won’t own his feelings

Projection is the name of the game and he’s an expert at what Dr. Malkin calls “emotional hot potato” or ascribing his feelings to you. Current thinking is that the narcissist is highly motivated to look away and cover up the emotional wounds of his own childhood and pushing off from emotions and denying them at every turn are his go-to and tried-and-true strategies. That’s why in an argument, when you see his jaw muscles working, his gaze steely and his arms folded tight across his chest—all familiar signs of exactly how frosted he is in the moment—he’ll turn to you and ask, “Why are you always so angry?”

2.He won’t take responsibility

The narcissist is the ultimate Teflon king—nothing is ever his fault. Under fire, he convinces himself that he’s the one who’s been wronged, no matter what the circumstances. As Dr. Burgo notes, he is utterly convinced of this truth so, from his vantage point, there’s no reason for him to take responsibility because it’s your fault to begin with. He also believes he has an exclusive view of what constitutes “truth.”

3. He won’t stop playing games

Or better put, he can’t. The narcissist loves the rush he gets from feeling powerful in a relationship and manipulating you and playing games are the best ways he knows to feel great. He needs you but not in the way you think and he “cares” about you but his feelings have little to do with you. See number 4.

4. He doesn’t connect emotionally

Connection for the narcissist is self-referential and never dyadic. Even though he may be sexually accomplished, for example, and capable of gestures that seem nice or caring, it’s all about him, and maintaining his own sense of himself. It’s not about you.

5. He won’t concede a fight

Winning means everything to the narcissist, along with upholding his “truth.” It’s in conflict that the narcissist is truly revealed, especially in a divorce as I learned firsthand. Because he is so responsive to slights of any kind and totally focused on defending and maintaining his sense of himself, any conflict which threatens him will bring out his true colors. There are no holds barred when you’re divorcing a narcissist—he has to win at any cost—and he’ll lie and do whatever he can to make sure he comes out whole. Forget negotiating or reaching a middle ground; it’s never going happen.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, the best way to protect yourself is to inculcate some realism into your thinking. Recognize what motivates the person you’re with and decide what you want for yourself based on what you see.

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Photograph by Trent Yarnell. Copyright free. Unsplash.com

Burgo, Joseph. The Narcissist You Know. New York: Touchstone, 2015.

Malkin, Craig. Rethinking Narcissism. New York: Harper Wave, 2015.

Campbell, W. Keith, Craig A. Fogler, and Eli J. Finkel. “Does Self-Love Lead to Love for Others?  A Story of Narcissistic Game Playing,“ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2002), vol. 83, no. 2, 340-354.