Have you ever encountered a dating partner who swept you off your feet, courted you persistently and made over-the-top declarations about the way they felt about you – only to discover they had a girlfriend or boyfriend all along? How about the ex who kept “checking in” with you over text while in bed with their spouse? Or the shady significant other who always seemed to disappear for days, only to return with excuses about their whereabouts?
You may have come across a narcissistic or sociopathic personality type. Narcissists and sociopaths are notorious for engaging in both emotional and physical infidelity. Not only are narcissists players and pick-up artists in the dating world, they are also serial cheaters in relationships.
In fact, a wealth of research suggests that narcissism is positively correlated with having extramarital affairs and more sexually permissive attitudes towards infidelity, even when there is satisfaction in the present relationship (Foster, Shrira, & Campbell, 2006; Hunyady, Josephs, & Jost, 2008; Mcnulty & Widman, 2014).
The difference between your garden-variety cheater and the narcissist is that the narcissist isn’t searching for just cheap thrills; they are searching for power and control beyond what is fathomable to normal empathic beings. Due to their stunning lack of empathy, penchant for exploitation and thirst for validation and narcissistic supply (sources of admiration, praise, sex, and any other resources they desire), narcissists create “harems” or fan clubs of admirers, ex-lovers and potential mates which they can feed off of – all while maintaining a long-term relationship with a primary partner. They have an insatiable need for validation and attention. When combined with their sense of sexual entitlement, this makes them dangerous predators who place their partners at high risk for emotional and physical repercussions.
Their ability to gaslight their victims into believing in them, their capacity to dupe multiple victims, to manipulate and manufacture fabrications long-term is what makes them such stellar performers. Frankly, the numerous ways they convincingly present a false mask and warp reality are astounding and can create massive cognitive dissonance in their victims. This duplicity allows them to dupe not only their partners but also society as a whole into believing that they are the charming, upright, moral and honest people they pretend to be.
Here are five signs you may be dating or involved in a relationship with a cheating narcissist.
1. They grandstand early on how they would never lie or cheat or even tell a tragic tale of how they themselves were cheated on.
Beware of the grandstanding narcissist who deals in contradictions and hypocrisy. Grandstanding is a habit of the covert narcissist – someone who boldly declares how honest and trustworthy they are repeatedly, yet fails to follow through with their words time and time again.
When someone constantly talks about how much they believe in integrity and honesty, that can be a red flag in itself. Ask yourself: why would someone who is truly decent and honest have to reaffirm these qualities to those around him or her? Those with authentic integrity do not have to always talk about the fact that they possess this quality – they live their integrity through their actions more than their words.
If someone appears too good to be true, chances are, they probably are. Narcissists are often wolves in sheep’s clothing. They project a different image of themselves to the world which contradicts who they really are within. They often speak in absolutes, claiming that they would “never lie” to you or cheat on you. They overemphasize their trustworthiness because they know their character is hollow.
While people who are not narcissists can do this as well, narcissists who are serial cheaters will often volunteer information early on about how they were cheated on. This is to depict themselves as the victims of infidelity when they were frequently the perpetrator of it in their past relationships.
Watch out for anyone who appears to display the red flags of cheating all while claiming they themselves were the victims of cheating. This is projection and gaslighting to keep you off-balance and keep you doubting your own instincts about their character.
2. They frequently cancel plans with you, disappear for days and you don’t hear from them until they return.
If you’re in the early stages of “exclusively” dating a narcissist, you might notice that he or she tends to disappear often without a word or cancels plans last minute (or makes plans with you last minute). You might mistake this for mere flakiness, when in reality, it could be a sign that they are knee-deep in other dates or in hot pursuit of new victims.
It’s common for narcissists to continue dating others even if you’ve both agreed to be exclusive. Narcissists have a high degree of entitlement, so they feel entitled to the rush that new supply grants them as well as sex or any other resources offered by their other harem members.
“Another common trait of the chronic narcissist is his or her pattern of not following through on agreements and obligations. This can range from the relatively mild, such as flaking out on appointments and tasks, to the highly serious, such as abandoning major responsibilities and relationships (commitments). Being self-centered and conceited, the narcissist will generally meet his or her obligations only when they suit his self-interest. Chronic narcissists do not relate, they use. They talk a good talk, but often fail to back it up.” – Preston Ni, 8 Common Narcissist Lies
Be wary of someone who constantly cancels on you or rarely responds with consistency. There is no such thing as reliability, punctuality or honesty with a narcissist – they will place their multiple romantic prospects on rotation to suit their needs at whim and they will be indifferent to the pain or inconvenience they cause their partners when they suddenly pull out of plans on the day of or when they stand you up.
In long-term abusive relationships where stonewalling is common, cheating narcissists often use periods where they’re giving you the silent treatment to pursue their other targets. That’s why you’ll find that the narcissist asks you for a “break” or might even manufacture arguments out of thin air – it’s simply an excuse to leave the relationship temporarily at bay while they explore their other options.
3. Their social media is shady and they love creating love triangles.
Narcissists and sociopaths use social media as a way to create love triangles among their targets. It gives them a sense of validation and power knowing that they have so many admirers who are willing to bend over backwards and give them the praise and attention they constantly need.
This suspicious behavior on social media can manifest in a variety of ways. Narcissists are known to be on dating apps even while committed and can also engage in obvious flirting both online and offline. Their shady behavior can range from their nefarious possession of dating apps to more innocuous online activity. You might notice that the narcissist posts strangely provocative or flirtatious comments on the photos of other attractive men or women.
Perhaps they refuse to put up a relationship status with you – or they do, but they continue to openly hit on others or add suspicious new friends who seem to be far more than just friends. They may also follow a large volume of sexually explicit accounts. If someone you’re dating exclusively (or even just flirting with) appears to already be in numerous relationships on social media all while claiming you’re the only one, it’s time to reevaluate.
If they already have a relationship status listed with someone even while claiming they are no longer with them, it’s wise to not to take the narcissist at his or her word. Either verify with the other person that the relationship really is over like the narcissist claims or detach from the narcissist completely.
You might even be in a situation with a narcissist who has no social media accounts. This could be a way for them to protect themselves – after all, if none of their other partners know that the narcissist is in a relationship, it’s far harder to be caught in this digital age.
4. You discover their other victims or their other victims warn you.
This is quite an obvious sign, but it’s one that isn’t often spoken about. If you see strange occurrences of victims that the narcissist has dated in the past calling them out publicly or going out of their way to warn you about them, take a step back. It’s common that if a narcissist has a wide pool of victims, at least a couple of them will attempt to speak the truth about what they experienced.
The narcissist will claim these people who are speaking out about them are “crazy” liars or stalkers. In their smear campaigns, they’ll bemoan how their past victims were “obsessed” with them or that they “just couldn’t let go.” It’s easy to depict past victims of narcissists as unhinged – and the narcissist knows this. They will preemptively strike by telling lies about victims so that by the time these people reach out to warn you or tell their side of the story, you’ll already be more inclined to believe the narcissist.
The truth is that the person in question is warning you for a good reason – they probably have experienced the infidelity themselves and want to prevent heartache for present and future victims. Don’t be so quick to assume that every past lover who comes out of the woodwork simply has a vendetta. Survivors of narcissists are not “obsessed” – they are often traumatized and looking for answers.
5. You catch them chronically lying – often for no good reason.
Narcissists and sociopaths are masters of pathological lying. They gain a sense of “duping delight” from being able to pull the wool over the eyes of their many romantic prospects. Sometimes, they lie to protect themselves and to prevent themselves from being caught cheating. They may lie about where they were the night before or tell elaborate tales about who the “friend” they were seen with really was.
However, other times, they may lie even when they have no reason to do so at all. For them, it’s about power – and being able to control a person’s perception gives them a thrill and sadistic sense of superiority and pleasure.
When it comes to infidelity, a narcissist or sociopath has no qualms lying to your face all while emphasizing how much they value honesty and transparency. They may have a primary girlfriend or boyfriend, even a spouse who they have (at least on the surface) committed to. Perhaps they even post romantic pictures with their significant partner and praise them on social media. However, they will not think twice about cheating on and gaslighting those same partners.
They also have no moral code that would prevent them from doing the unthinkable – no time limits or boundaries on when, where or how they’ll cheat or even who they’ll cheat with. They could be on a romantic vacation in Italy with you, all while swiping on Tinder and sending explicit videos to strangers. Or, if you’re not their primary partner, they could be spending the weekends with their girlfriend all while taking you out on weeknights. You would never know, unless you began investigating.
As they do this, the risk of getting caught only adds to the thrill. They enjoy manipulating. They enjoy the sex, the resources, the endless supply of admiration coming their way. But most of all? They enjoy being able to get away with it.
What To Do When You Realize The Truth
If you notice these red flags, know that this person is unlikely to change. The way they have mistreated you was not personal – they do this to all their victims and are loyal to no one, not even their primary partner.
It was not your fault that you were targeted by this predatory personality. However, what you do next with the knowledge you have is important. The earlier you detach from this toxic personality, the better chance you have of healing and of moving forward onto the loyal relationship you truly deserve.
Foster, J. D., Shrira, I., & Campbell, W. K. (2006). Theoretical models of narcissism, sexuality, and relationship commitment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23(3), 367-386. doi:10.1177/0265407506064204
Hunyady, O., Josephs, L., & Jost, J. T. (2008). Priming the Primal Scene: Betrayal Trauma, Narcissism, and Attitudes Toward Sexual Infidelity. Self and Identity, 7(3), 278-294. doi:10.1080/15298860701620227
Mcnulty, J. K., & Widman, L. (2014). Sexual Narcissism and Infidelity in Early Marriage. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43(7), 1315-1325. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0282-6
Ni, P. (2014, August 14). 8 Common Narcissist Lies. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201608/8-common-narcissist-lies
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Learn more about: Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.