How Dating a Narcissist Changes You

Narcissists can be very charming and tempting. They know how to make you feel special with their talks because it works for them too.

However, in the long run, you’ll soon realize that not only will they often be emotionally unavailable, but they may also be abusive. Not all people recognize just how much damage it does over time.

According to experts, here’s how dating a narcissist changes you:

Dr. Hong Yin

Hong Yin

Board Certified Psychiatrist | Founder, New Frontiers Psychiatric

You are making this person the top priority in your life, at all costs, including your own wellbeing

Ahh, yes, the personality disorders. Even if you are not a trained professional in mental health, most of us can sense that something is amiss or that certain characteristics are at play.

Narcissistic personality disorder belongs to what we call the cluster B family, which is characterized by difficulty regulating emotions and behavior. Others may experience their behavior as emotional, chaotic, dramatic, etc.

Understanding how having someone in your life with these traits can affect you helps to have introductory knowledge.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5, aka the encyclopedia of psychology and psychiatry), personality disorders or their traits are present in a variety of contexts, starting in early adulthood.

A narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by:

  • An over-inflated sense of importance
  • Preoccupations with grandiosity (e.g. power, brilliance, ideal love)
  • Feeling overwhelmingly special (and need to associate with other forms of high status)
  • Excessive need for admiration
  • Entitlement
  • Exploitation of others
  • Lack of empathy
  • Preoccupation with envy (either being envious of others or feeling others or envious of them)
  • Arrogant/haughty tendencies

Now, narcissistic personality disorder in the casual setting can also be easily confused with a borderline personality disorder. Considering both are cluster b personality disorders, they share similarities.

Borderline personality disorder is characterized by:

  • Frantically avoiding real or perceived abandonment
  • Chaotic relationships
  • Unstable sense of self or self-image
  • Impulsivity
  • Recurrent suicidal or self injurious gestures or behaviors
  • Labile emotions
  • Chronically feeling empty
  • Intense anger
  • Sometimes transient dissociative experiences or stress-related thoughts bordering on paranoia

People can simultaneously have features of both these personality traits. For both personality disorders, the individual’s subjective experience of what is happening can be quite different from what is actually occurring and what most people experience. This can affect how they react.

Typically, those with cluster b features can have a very vulnerable sense of self, so if they feel slighted or invalidated, it can generate a level of intense anger and potentially behavior, creating distress amongst loved ones.

Loved ones also may feel that the person often is in need of frequent validation or attention.

Some dynamics people can experience include but aren’t limited to:

  • Gaslighting like dynamics (e.g. always questioning your memory/experience of things)
  • Not taking ownership (e.g. changing the subject, shifting blame, “you’re always….”)
  • Stonewalling (e.g. acting confused, minimizing their responses)
  • Minimizing matters you bring up (e.g. “you’re too sensitive,” “let it go already”).

As a result, you can experience a variety of things. They include more lability in your own emotions, feeling confused, questioning yourself, even somehow feeling the need to accommodate the individual more because the dynamics can create a lot of confusion.

However, typically reliable and healthy friends and family may notice some of this from the outside looking in. Or a well-trained professional you may be working with to help you navigate this.

On the other hand, people can find themselves far deeper than they bargained for without a balanced approach. In more depth, here are some scenarios that can happen:

  • The hot and cold effect. One stint, this person is lovely, endearing, it feels like the best thing that’s happened in your life, and the next, there are intense gut-wrenching disputes. But somehow, it may leave you eagerly running back to this person despite being in this cycle multiple times.
  • “What’s wrong with me?” – Sometimes, this dynamic can be so confusing, and the partner can be so convincing that you are at fault/to blame. Maybe you’re being told you’re too sensitive, “made” them do something, aren’t attentive enough to their needs, etc. This can really affect one’s self-esteem. Although none of us are perfect, we shouldn’t be made to feel like we’re terrible people either.
  • You are making this person the top priority in your life, at all costs, including that of your own life and wellbeing to a maladaptive extent. It’s one thing to love someone, care for them, and do things for them. But it’s another if it feels too unilateral, especially if the quality of your own life seems to be taking a steady decline. You may feel like you need to take these lengths to “help” that person, but chances are, you may be unknowingly entrenching unhealthy relationship dynamics, which in the long term would not be a favor to you or this loved one. Healthy changes are not always the most comfortable.
  • You are walking on eggshells. Prior to executing many actions or even speaking, you find yourself overthinking how this person would react, and this starts to dictate much of how you live day-to-day life.

Related: 35+ Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist

Relationships need to be balanced, with contributions of both parties. This loved one who may have some of these features may be fully unaware of what is occurring or have partial or complete awareness.

The hope is that an open, productive, and civil communication can be initiated as likely; both parties do not find these dynamics pleasant. Although you cannot control the other party, you can control your own actions to make the most effective decisions.

Bear in mind; some people may be willing to meet in the middle and work together while some may not. A lot can be said in this dynamic, but observing the actions can be quite telling.

So can being involved with a narcissist change you? Only if you let it.

Christina Bradley, Ms. Ed., DBT, REBT

Christina Bradley

Associate Therapist, Gateway to Solutions

You may begin to feel emotionally neglected, abandoned, abused, and betrayed

Dating a narcissist can tread the line between stable and toxic, especially when a partner constantly prioritizes their needs over you.

Common symptoms of narcissism may include:

  • Feeling more important than the average person
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Lack of guilt
  • Manipulating others
  • Even delusions

One of the biggest problems may be a pattern of these unhealthy symptoms consistently presenting throughout the relationship. When these qualities affect your mental state and the quality of your relationship, you may begin to feel emotionally neglected, abandoned, abused, and betrayed.

Narcissists may create a push/pull dynamic, project frustration, and manipulate situations in their favor. Unhealthy tendencies may result in you feeling gaslighted in the relationship, leading to emotional, verbal, and even physical abuse.

If you are in a toxic cycle with a narcissistic partner, you may change some of your behaviors to help improve the relationship and protect yourself.

Set firm boundaries

Narcissists are accustomed to life events working in their favor, as they’ve designed it. When there is a situation involving harm, mistrust, or manipulation, address it immediately. You will need to be vocal in this process and set a new, firm boundary.

This boundary might include, “I felt uncomfortable you mentioned a disagreement with my sister to your friends. It would make me feel better if we kept my private info between us.” Being as direct as possible leaves little room for misinterpretation or confusion. Boundaries will reinforce respect in the relationship.

Create a plan for change

Setting firm boundaries is a part of creating an action plan. Going beyond boundary-setting may include creating a visual plan for positive behaviors.

For example, instead of overspending, refer to our budget plan for the week. Encourage your partner to communicate if there’s something they’d like to change or add to the budget plan – this results in staying on track with bills and savings.

Visual action plans are tangible resources for both you and your partner to create and implement together.

Set realistic expectations

Being realistic is a large part of ensuring change is not short-lived and is sustainable long-term. Suppose your narcissistic partner has a habit of interrupting when in a disagreement, and you expect them to no longer interrupt.

In that case, it’s essential to correct this behavior as soon as it presents.

Change is rarely immediate and, your partner may revert to their old habit of interrupting due to frustrations and when experiencing heightened emotions. Set realistic expectations to maintain and frequently rehearse in neutral situations.

Related: How to Talk to a Narcissist

Seek external support

If you find conflict increasing in the relationship or your narcissistic partner is resistant to your suggestions, it might be time to seek external help. Help may be in the form of support groups, therapists, couples therapy, mediation, etc.

Having a third-party involved and additional resources will allow you and your partner to feel supported through the process.

Dating a narcissist may change the ways you understand and approach dating. You will learn to be more empathetic, patient and stand firm in who you are to ensure you’re being treated well, validated, and respected in the relationship.

This experience will allow you to improve your self-advocacy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence skills. You will have an increased sense of self-esteem and value your worth independently and within the relationship. Using the above strategies will encourage you to protect yourself while curating a healthier relationship when dating a narcissist.

Amy Launder

Amy Launder

Intersubjective Psychotherapist, The Awareness Centre

Your success become too much for them to handle and they start to knock you down

Dating a Narcissist can feel great in the beginning. They will shower you with love and attention, compliments and praise, as you are a source of “narcissistic supply” for them. They will see it as an achievement that they have landed such a successful/popular/attractive partner, as it reflects well on them.

However, a narcissist is a pathologically jealous person. Soon, your successes become too much for them to handle, and they start to knock you down. Sometimes this can be subtle; a snide remark, sarcastic comment, or even a roll of the eyes.

If you question it, you will likely be told that you are being sensitive and that they were “only joking.” Other times, their jealousy is more overt; when you tell them of your achievement, they will top it with achievement of their own or simply tell you that you’re being big-headed for boasting about it.

Essentially, everything they put you on a pedestal for at the beginning of the relationship – every strength they thought of as attractive early on – is now seen as a threat, and they will turn it into a negative trait.

Where you were “intelligent” and “confident” at the beginning of the relationship, they will now say you’re “nerdy” and “arrogant.”

You begin to self-sabotage even long after the relationship is over

A Narcissist wants all of your attention and wants to be the center of your world. This means that if they think you are able to get joy or attention or praise, and so on, elsewhere, they will sabotage it.

This might mean they will start an argument the night before a big interview or claim that you don’t spend enough time with them when you should be studying for a test. They might “be in a bad mood” during a big family event so that you spend all of your time and energy focused on them rather than enjoying time with your loved ones.

This sabotage from your partner and the aforementioned jealousy and put-downs can become an internalized message that “you shouldn’t try” or “you’re just going to fail” or that you “don’t deserve it,” and you can begin to self-sabotage, even long after the relationship is over.

Lara Slimmer, MA, LPC, NCC

Lara Slimmer

Licensed Therapist, Choosing Therapy

You no longer expect emotional safety

An essential component of being in a stable relationship is ensuring that you have emotional safety. When dating a narcissist, this is a lofty goal to attain as a narcissistic partner can be emotionally unpredictable.

Dating a narcissist can effortlessly be resolved the sooner one recognizes who they are dating. It is a more challenging reality for those who are blinded by their partners’ charisma, attractiveness, and intelligence.

A narcissist metamorphosizes a person from the beautiful butterfly they once were into the unpleasant moth they will become. Thus, the emotional safety known in previous interpersonal relationships will be absent and replaced only with the volatility of a narcissistic relationship.

My personal experience (How dating a narcissistic once changed me):

As a result of dating a narcissist, I became insecure, suicidal, worthless, devalued, subservient, anxious, and depressed. The happy, carefree adult I once was became a moody, self-conscious, clingy individual who felt like they could no longer make decisions without asking for permission.

Once a beautiful butterfly, I became a wretched moth when trapped in a narcissist’s web. Unfamiliar with romantic interpersonal relationships, naivety permitted me to believe I loved someone who was handsome, charming, intelligent, athletic, in a word, perfect.

As time progressed, perfectionism turned into jealousy, rage, suspiciousness, entitlement, attention-seeking, grandiosity, arrogance, and diminished empathy capability. All personality traits of a narcissist changed who I once was.

Getting out and regaining yourself

Despite the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, I tended to all his wants and needs because that is what you did when you loved someone. Realizing I was wrong, I eventually freed myself from the narcissist’s web.

Upon seeing that I had regained control over my life and was the beautiful butterfly again, he was infuriated.

My happiness incapacitated the narcissist’s image of his own uniqueness, sense of self-importance, and his superiority, crushing his ego. Today, no longer do I hide as an unsightly moth but soar like a breathtaking butterfly.

Sabrina Victoria

Sabrina Victoria

Certified Mentor | CEO and Owner, Human Better 365

I changed the way I looked at my life and my strengths

It is strange to say that I can no longer imagine what my life would have been like without the 15-year run-in I had with a narcissist. I used to cry for hours through arguments that belittled me, bullied me, and degraded me.

I would spend days trying to ‘fix’ myself and how imperfect I always seemed to be. I used to daydream about my life without him; I would imagine my happiness, my joy, and the calmness that would be around me.

I spent 4 years secretly saving money so I could escape the financial, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse. Towards the end, I was sleeping 3-4 hours a night trying to be perfect, be a mom, and also run secret streams of income into a secret bank account.

Many people in situations could spout off a long list of ways that they were changed—enduring things like PTSD for months or years after, dealing with trust issues, and bouts of anxiety. And although I can relate to each of those, I chose not to focus on those.

Instead, I find I have more gratitude. Not gratitude that I went through it, not gratitude that he exists or that he gave me anything, but gratitude that I do not hold any resentment or anger.

  • Gratitude that I decided to push myself and teach myself ways to make money and save money.
  • Gratitude that I was able to use the power within me to stand strong and speak up.
  • Gratitude that he chose me because I had the tenacity to endure his abuse; it might have been someone else.

I changed the way I looked at my life and my strengths. I now know that I can endure so much more than he ever could. While he was crumbling in the corner anytime anything went wrong, I was the one that was standing tall, putting out fires, speaking up, and fixing everything that happened in our lives while he was a coward in the background yelling at me.

That took strength, that took power, that took determination and willpower. I did that, and I now continue to use that power to run my own businesses.

Cynthia Halow

Cynthia Halow

Founder, Personality Max

You find a need to continuously please your partner

Dating a narcissist can be quite difficult, and it may have a long-lasting effect on you during and after the relationship. Some of the ways that being with a narcissist can affect you include:

  • You begin to question yourself. A narcissist can’t see past themselves, and being with someone who has no empathy for you or take you seriously can have an effect on you. You will question your thoughts, your ideas, your emotions, and even your sanity because they will make you feel like you are a lesser human than they are.
  • You will lose your confidence. A person with narcissistic personality disorder typically feels like they are above everyone else and do their best to make whoever they are in a relationship with feel less of themselves. They will make you feel like you have a problem and need help when really, it is the other way around.
  • You blame yourself for everything. Especially when they are completely at fault, they make you believe that the reason something has happened is that you messed up. This will make you blame yourself when anything goes wrong in and out of your relationship. To them, you can do nothing right.
  • c. You may even go out of your way just to make them see you and appreciate you. You keep doing things that you typically wouldn’t do simply because you want their validation.

Hüdanur Akkuzu, M.A

Hüdanur Akkuzu

Psychology Consultant, Oh So Spotless

You will probably have low self-esteem, be socially isolated and unhappy

When you meet a narcissist, they can sweep you off your feet. You can get the impression of a charming prince or a princess from a fairy tale. In short, love-bombing is a method that narcissists use at the beginning of a romantic relationship to bind the other person to themselves.

That’s why this fairy tale doesn’t have a happy ending.

  • Narcissists may make big promises to you or tell you that they love you very much, without knowing much about you or when a little time has passed. If you feel like it’s too early for this kind of affection, it probably is. It is probably another part of love-bombing.
  • You may find yourself constantly talking about how great your partner is or their achievements. When you try to talk about yourself, they somehow interfere with it or belittles what you’re going through. After a while, you may find yourself devaluing your own experiences or achievements.
  • They blame you for meeting with friends or family. They make you feel wrong for not spending enough time with them and being selfish. As a result, you may find yourself isolated.
  • They try to undermine your self-confidence by humiliating, calling you a nickname, or making fun of you. Because ‘You have to be inferior to him.
  • When a partner you love, value, and attach to, insults you every chance they get, it causes you to doubt yourself. It can lead to low self-esteem, dissatisfaction with your body or personality. You probably would feel depressed, defective, and unhappy.
  • They gaslight you. It is one of the distinctive features of narcissistic abuse. Narcissist partners can make you doubt your own reality. You may start thinking like:
    • ‘Am I being too sensitive?’
    • ‘It is again my fault. I have to apologize.’
    • ‘He/she did it because….. So I can understand.’
    • ‘It probably is my fate. I cannot get rid of it.’
    • ‘I probably deserved it.’
    • ‘I’m really the problemed partner here.’
  • They don’t apologize for their mistakes because they think there is no mistake and ‘You just exaggerate it.’
  • When you want to break up with them, they may do their best to keep you in the relationship, but if you fall for it, that vicious cycle will happen again.

Related: Things Narcissists Say to Get You Back

In conclusion, unless you end your romantic relationship with a narcissist:

  • You will probably have low self-esteem, be socially isolated and unhappy.
  • They will be a partner who does not empathize with your feelings and is constantly waiting to be praised about himself, and it will become your primary duty to meet his wishes/needs.
  • You will doubt your own reality. You start to think that you are exaggerating or that you have a sensitive personality.
  • You will feel like you’re trapped.

Jacqueline Servantess

Jacqueline Servantess

Women’s Coach | Author

What to do after the relationship with the narcissist is over

Narcissists are manipulative creatures. Some are more sinister than others, but regardless of just how malicious they might be, dating one of these troubled individuals will definitely change a person’s perspective on dating thereafter.

And the truth is that, as painful as the experience might have been, on the bright side, it may also be important to take notice of the fact that in the long run, there is that silver lining that can thankfully still be available.

As many understand, there is much opportunity after hardship to see it be used for good. If you have “accidentally” gotten involved with a narcissist and have finally broken free from such a toxic relationship, first of all, congratulations!

Secondly, here are my top 3 pertinent tips to help see this “mistake” be turned around and used for good in your life.

Inner-healing

One of the most important pursuits someone can have after a toxic relationship is being willing to take the time to find inner healing. The good news is that this is not an impossible task by any means.

There are some very simple (and free) things that can be done to help support achieving that complete inner healing even despite whatever traumas may have been caused by the narc.

One of the tip-top methods to finding inner-healing involves releasing the pain that was caused through crying. Crying has been so underrated, but actually, it is one of the most powerful tools known to mankind.

It’s not a hopeless crying that goes too far into self-pity but a crying that actually does know that there always is hope and that afterward provides a deep sense of relief.

Growth

Another way to see this mistake be used for good is to carefully examine what can be done to help ensure it will never happen again. The truth is that while there are some truly amazing people out there in this world, at the same time, there are many people out there who simply are not the best people, so to speak.

There are so many manipulators and people with their own personal agendas. People who just want to use others or exploit them. And they can be such great liars and deceivers, as well.

So understanding this and being on guard, remaining well aware of the signs and what to look out for, can really help in ensuring that no narcissist will ever get close to one’s heart ever, ever again.

Support

One of the biggest protections against getting “stuck” in a toxic relationship with a narcissist is having a good solid support system.

From family members and friends to coaches or other professionals, a good and stable support system can truly be one of the most life-impacting gifts for a person to have in their life, as they choose to love themselves. Also, to have people in their life who treat them the way they deserve to be treated.

This will also help them to know that they are never alone, and there are people who care about them greatly, as they deserve.

Alexander Burgemeester

Alexander Burgemeester

Neuro-Psychologist and Owner, The Narcissistic Life

Dating a narcissist changes you into someone you never thought you could turn into

A narcissist, simply put, will always put themselves and their needs first before anyone else. They want you to feel miserable in order to make themselves feel better. Therefore dating a narcissist is very exhausting and mentally draining.

Dating a narcissist changes you into someone you never thought you could turn into. Those who have this behavior will seek to gaslight you and make you feel as though you are the problem.

You can turn into a shell of a person from all the emotional games that your partner has put you through.

Narcissists are also very jealous people and can prevent you from seeing your friends and family, making you feel isolated and that they are the only person in your life. They say hurtful things to make you feel as though you couldn’t live without them.

Overall, dating a narcissist is very difficult and will, unfortunately, change you in negative ways. Their behavior is toxic and, at the end of the day, only looks out for what is in their best interest and no one else, which makes for a terrible partner.

You start to doubt every decision you make

Dating a narcissist changes you over time. You start to doubt every decision you make. You feel like you are always being watched, and must check in with the narcissist about their opinion on every little thing.

The world begins to revolve around the narcissist.

You aren’t allowed to make what you want for dinner with the recipes you like. All recipes, restaurants, and groceries must be approved by the narcissist. You aren’t sure what you like anymore; you begin to like what the narcissist likes as a survival mechanism.

You don’t hang around your friends anymore and become more and more isolated. You give up your own interests to make your partner happy. You don’t trust your own instincts anymore. You forget who you were. You’ve been effectively brainwashed.

Chris Pleines

Chris Pleines

Dating Expert, Datingscout

Your self-worth will decrease

Dating a narcissist means that you’d have to deal with their big egos, listen to their complaints (they are always right), and feed them with compliments all the time.

Narcissists have an excessive admiration for themselves, and so, they expect people that they date to be obsessed with them as well. This can affect your self-worth as you’ll be giving excessive love, interest, and admiration to your partner, and nothing will be left for you.

You will be a victim of gaslighting

Since narcissists believe that they are always right, you will be subjected to many gaslighting situations. Even if something is not your fault, or even if you have a different opinion, they will make sure that what you think and feel is invalidated, especially if you have contrasting opinions.

You’ll be a victim of emotional abuse

Imagine having to validate someone else’s feelings, but yours is diminished to the ground. You can’t feel what you want to feel; you can’t think what you want to think; you always have to agree on whatever your narcissistic partner says.

In time, it will take a toll on your emotional state until it becomes emotional abuse.

You will be trapped in a toxic relationship

Dating a narcissist could be quite stellar at first, but these relationships often end up in toxic messes. Having a partner with narcissistic traits won’t let go easily without drama and emotional bombs. Save yourself from emotional torture by avoiding narcissistic red flags.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a narcissist change, or should I try to help them?

It’s rare for a narcissist to change, and it’s not your responsibility to fix them. Narcissism is a personality disorder that requires professional help and a willingness to change. If your partner is unwilling to get help or take responsibility for their behavior, it’s unlikely that they will change.

In fact, trying to change them can often make things worse, as they may feel threatened or attacked. Your priority should be your own well-being and safety.

Can a narcissist have a healthy relationship?

It’s possible for a narcissist to have a healthy relationship, but it’s rare. This is because narcissism affects a person’s ability to empathize with others, take responsibility for their actions, and form meaningful connections. 

For a narcissistic person to have a healthy relationship, they must be willing to seek professional help, take responsibility for their behavior, and commit to change. If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist and they aren’t willing to be helped, you should prioritize your own well-being and safety.

What are some common mistakes people make when dating a narcissist?

When dating a narcissist, it’s easy to fall into certain patterns or make certain mistakes. Here are a few of them:

Believing you can change them: As mentioned earlier, you can’t change a narcissist. If you think you can, you’ll only be disappointed and frustrated.

Ignoring red flags: It’s important to watch for warning signs and trust your gut. Ignoring red flags can lead to a longer and more damaging relationship.

Making excuses for their behavior: In relationships with narcissists, it’s common for people to make excuses for their behavior or blame themselves. Remember that their behavior isn’t your fault and that you deserve to be treated with respect.

You’re trying to compete with them: Narcissists thrive on competition and attention. If you try to compete with them or outshine them, it only feeds their ego and makes the relationship more toxic.

How can I support a friend or family member who has been in a relationship with a narcissist?

If someone you care about has been in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s important that you offer him or her your support and understanding. Here are some things you can do:

Listen without judgment: Offer a listening ear and let them know you’re there for them.

Validate their feelings: Let them know that their feelings are valid and that you understand how difficult the situation is.

Offer practical support: Offer to help them with things like childcare, cooking, or running errands to lighten their load.

Encourage them to seek professional help: Suggest that they talk to a therapist or join a support group for people who have been in a relationship with a narcissist.

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