Being in a narcissistic relationship can be difficult, unhealthy, and hardly ideal.
If you’re not sure whether you are in one, here are some signs to watch out for, according to 9 experts.
Table of Contents
- They lack basic empathy for you when you are sick, in pain, or sad
- You are never allowed to give constructive feedback or say “ouch”
- They triangulate
- Their communication is incongruent
- They are hypercritical of you and everyone around them
- They make rules and decisions based on their own comfort level, without taking your needs into consideration
- Narcissists are extremely jealous and envious people
- Narcissists are highly competitive
- Narcissists are exploitive of others for personal gain
- They are extremely entitled
- Narcissists are extremely controlling
- Narcissists complain endlessly
- The most pressing sign that you may be in a narcissistic relationship is if you find your partner uses “I” in most of his or her conversations
- You may feel like you are dependent on the narcissist to elevate your self-worth that he or she, however, minimizes
- You might find yourself feeling that the relationship feels transactional or as though you are often engaged in quid pro quo negotiations
- They ignore boundaries
- They lack empathy
- They have a huge sense of entitlement
- At first, the relationship felt like a high or a rush, but soon after there is a crash
- Your partner is incapable of accepting blame
- The relationship is full of self-love on the surface, but rooted in self-hate
- Your partner’s manipulation is very evident
- Your partner lacks empathy for you
- Your partner feels they are always right
- Your partner is dominating
- Your partner needs constant attention
- You feel alone
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a narcissistic relationship?
- How can I recover from a narcissistic relationship?
- Can a person be both a narcissist and a victim?
- Can a narcissistic relationship cause long-term damage?
- How can I build my self-esteem after being in a narcissistic relationship?
- Can therapy help in healing from a narcissistic relationship?
Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT ATR
Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio
They lack basic empathy for you when you are sick, in pain, or sad
They expect everyone to cater to their needs if they are sick, in pain, or sad, or just want attention. Their needs come first and you will be punished for not meeting them, even if you are not well and have needs of your own.
Practice naming your needs, setting boundaries with them, and clearly communicate your needs and your limits.
You are never allowed to give constructive feedback or say “ouch”
If you express hurt, it will be turned around, back on to you, and you will walk away feeling like the bad guy. If you genuinely are trying to express that something legitimately hurt your feelings, and they immediately invalidate your feelings and become mad at you, this is an unhealthy sign.
They do not apologize unless they are trying to get back in your favor. They don’t experience genuine remorse. They blame others, not themselves.
Practice making a request, instead of a complaint. Say “Can you help me with the dishes right now?”, rather than entering into a conversation about how they don’t do their share of the housework.
Related: How to Talk to a Narcissist
They try to pit people against each other. They drive wedges between family members or friends. Notice if the narcissist is constantly speaking negatively about others after you spend time together.
If the narcissist continually puts down your family and friends, they may have a secondary gain of becoming your sole focus. If they try to make you jealous, that is an unhealthy sign.
Healthy people do not wish for their loved ones to suffer. Pay attention to the people in your life whom the narcissist criticizes, they are likely the people who see through the narcissist.
Their communication is incongruent
What they say and what they do do not match up. Pay more attention to what they do, not what they say.
They are hypercritical of you and everyone around them
Yet, they cannot take criticism, even well-meaning, constructive feedback, of any kind. If the narcissist is mean and critical, practice the art of extinction and give them little to no attention. Don’t act hurt or upset, as this is fuel to the narcissist.
Instead of scrambling to gain their approval, remove yourself from them (neutrally) after any rude comment, and give them less attention the rest of the day. They will learn that criticizing gives them less attention, not more.
They make rules and decisions based on their own comfort level, without taking your needs into consideration
Their desires and needs will always take precedence over anyone else’s. You are responsible for making your needs and wishes known. Do not expect the narcissist to consider them.
Narcissists are extremely jealous and envious people
Any success or achievement by others will feel like a personal affront to the narcissist. They believe they deserve every good thing that happens to someone else, and they resent others for having the success and good things they want.
Consider sharing your great news with friends and family who are supportive and excited to hear it, rather than with the narcissist. They can’t give you validation and approval in their jealous state. Don’t go to the hardware store for milk.
Narcissists are highly competitive
They experience a pathological level of envy. They play competitive games with unsuspecting friends and often covertly or overtly bully them. If the narcissist attacks you, practice the skill of extinction, which is less attention from you every time they attack, without fail. You must do this neutrally to be effective.
Don’t huff off, as that pleases the jealous narcissist. They feel they matter if they can upset you. Rather, just neutrally give them less time and attention if they mistreat you.
Narcissists are exploitive of others for personal gain
Whether they use others for money, status, a place to live, entry into certain social circles, career boosts, fame, success, pity, information, sympathy, etc. They treat people as things and they use other people the way some use alcohol or drugs. They are always scanning for what they can obtain more of with the people around them.
It will be up to you to set limits with a narcissist. Do not continue to pay for them or let them use you. Demand reciprocity. Know your worth.
They are extremely entitled
They feel entitled to your time, attention, and resources while slowly giving less and less in return. They feel like they are always in the right. They feel smarter than you. They feel superior to you.
You must remember that you are smart, wonderful, and capable, too. They are not more deserving than you.
Narcissists are extremely controlling
They feel they are more competent than everyone else around them. They expect you to follow their rules and do everything their way. They try to control things that you should have autonomy over, such as what you eat and wear, what you watch on tv, and who you choose to spend your time with.
Practice making your own choices. Practice allowing yourself to do what is best for you. You are allowed to make decisions for yourself. Practice making small decisions for yourself every single day, even when the narcissist tries to control them. Don’t let them control you.
Related: How to Deal with Controlling People?
Narcissists complain endlessly
Narcissists place high expectations on themselves and others to be perfect. Obviously, perfection is an unrealistic standard to have, since it is impossible to achieve, which results in the narcissist feeling unhappy, and even miserable, most of the time.
Narcissists expect perfection, and because they never get it, they remain dissatisfied and disappointed most of the time. You will feel like nothing you do is ever good enough to meet their standards, no matter how much you give. You must unhook from needing their validation or approval, as you will very rarely get it.
If you suspect that you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it is imperative that you obtain mental health support. Find a licensed psychotherapist to help you get out of this unhealthy dynamic, so you don’t ever enter another one like it in the future.
You must learn to get to the root of the issue so that you can get free from its stranglehold. You are worth more than this. Don’t let the narcissist rob you of another precious day.
The most pressing sign that you may be in a narcissistic relationship is if you find your partner uses “I” in most of his or her conversations
This person will fail to empathize with you, be clearly self-centered, exaggerate accomplishments that are talked about endlessly repeating the same stories, want to be the center of attention and seek an audience.
You may feel like you are often invisible and only there to build the other person up. Ironically, the narcissist has both traits of inferiority and grandiosity which can be confusing but helps you understand their need to focus on themselves and use you to empower them.
The narcissist may exploit others for their own needs, manipulate others, demean and diminish others they envy, and prove themselves to be deceitful, disloyal, and yet charming.
You may feel like you are dependent on the narcissist to elevate your self-worth that he or she, however, minimizes
The narcissist may think you hold him or her back because you want to be recognized, too. Narcissists act rather than introspect. They will be blind to their traits, selfish, self-involved, and arrogant. At worst, the narcissist may have an uncalled for temper with overreactions of rage to anything perceived as a slight.
While ironically they may describe themselves as amazing people, they may also feel very lonely, unable to sustain reciprocal intimacy and distrust others. Despite their allure, narcissists are unhappy people who have experienced a lack of love early on or emotional neglect.
In contrast, they may also have been raised too indulgently, dominating others mercilessly. Should you see partnership psychotherapy, they will want to control the therapist or quit early on. These relationships if they are for decades, are unlikely to change.
Young narcissists, on the other hand, may recognize their social deficits, feel anxious and depressed, and seek treatment that can be sustained with a talented empathic therapist who shows deep understanding.
Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist | Couples Counselor | Owner, Baltimore Therapy Group
When dating someone with narcissistic tendencies or a full-blown diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), you might get the feeling that something is off before you can put your finger on what’s troubling you. This is because you might find yourself cast as a lead in a play before you even knew you had auditioned for the part.
Those with narcissism were raised in environments where they were treated as objects or appreciated for what they could do for their caregivers rather than appreciated for their own uniqueness. This sets a template for how they will engage others throughout their lives. Others will get drawn into a recounting of this interpersonal dynamic. This shows up most clearly in their romantic relationships.
You might find yourself feeling that the relationship feels transactional or as though you are often engaged in quid pro quo negotiations
You’ll get the sense that they’re thinking, “What can you do for me?” because this is how they learned to “do” relationships in childhood. However, they won’t only assess you for what you bring to the relationship (your looks, financial stability, social network) but they’ll also assume that you’re also assessing them for their “assets”.
They learned early on that it’s important to show their value in relationships so they might work to keep you by showing off their wealth, ensuring their attractiveness, talking up work accomplishments, etc. Also, because they were not appreciated as animated human beings with feelings separate from their caregivers, they might have a difficult time identifying and expressing their feelings.
At the heart of things, they’ll often have the core belief that they are being used by others or feel underappreciated because they replay the dynamics experienced in childhood in their adult relationships.
It’s also important to ask yourself how were identified as a cast member for this play. If you’ve only dated one person with NPD, perhaps this is a coincidence. However, if you’ve dated more than one person with narcissistic tendencies it might make sense to also reflect on your childhood to see if there is a play that you are also trying to rewrite.
Certified Health and Wellness Coach | Behavior Change Specialist
Founder and Managing Editor, Zivadream
The topic of narcissism has gained great attention in the media in the media in the past couple of years, while psychologists have been studying this subject for decades.
Experts are citing the rise of narcissism due to social media, politics and the age of instant gratification. However, what the average person does not realize is that there is not only a range of behaviors on the narcissistic spectrum, but clinical psychologists have a diagnosis on Narcissistic Personality Disorder for those who fit the criteria.
What this means to the unsuspecting person who is trying to work hard to keep their relationship together, is that they wind up spinning their wheels, constantly frustrated and wind up exhausted, confused and often ill.
Here are just 3 ways you can determine if you are involved with a narcissist:
They ignore boundaries
You try to set boundaries or say no and the person in your life not only gets angry, but they also push past and ignore any boundary you attempt to set. According to Dr. Judith Orloff, in her book, The Empath’s Survival Guide- Life Strategies for Sensitive People, “Narcissists act as if the world revolves around them. They have an inflated sense of importance and entitlement.” Dr. Orloff suggests you set kind but firm limits.
Related: Best Books for Emotional Healing
One way you can test to see if you are indeed in a relationship with one is to just say no politely and watch them turn on you.
Either that, or they will push and push until they get their way, or they will blow past your boundary and do what they want anyway. Experts agree that a narcissist will exploit you to get what they want.
They lack empathy
At first, during your relationship, your partner is kind, generous, even over the top, showering you with gifts, dinners out, and attention. Then at some point, you notice a change. They no longer seem to listen to you or care about your feelings. You begin to get confused, thinking “How can they say one thing, yet act this way?”
Melanie Tonia Evans, author of You Can Thrive After Narcissistic Abuse, believes that we are not properly educated about being in a narcissistic relationship. She writes, “Most of us tend to think that narcissists are merely self-absorbed people with an over-inflated ego who are in love with themselves, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
Melanie has helped thousands of people recover from Narcissistic Abuse with her Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program.
Evans explains, “It often isn’t until we have suffered significant narcissistic abuse and have needed to find help and solutions to save ourselves…that we realize there are people out there who are wired very differently than us.”
Many of us might never have imagined we’d come across individuals who don’t feel remorse or guilt for their actions, who will do whatever it takes to gratify the demands of their egos by securing money, attention, contacts, sex, attention, and possesions-all without giving any thought for how their actions might affect others.
They have a huge sense of entitlement
A narcissist often walk past people to the front of the line, bully clerks or servers to get their way, and believe their needs are more important than anyone else. What often happens in relationships is that a giving, selfless person winds up with a narcissist.
A people pleaser is a prime target for a narcissist because he or she knows that person will do anything for them. The giver keeps giving, and the taker loves it. The problem is that the narcissist always needs something, everything is about them, and the giver winds up exhausted trying to please them, do for them and continues on giving no matter how badly they are being treated.
According to Dr. Les Carter who wrote the book, When Pleasing You is Killing Me: Setting Boundaries with Controllers in Your Life, “Unhealthy people-pleasing can be defined as the tendency to cater to others’ preferences to the detriment of personal well-being.”
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor has written two books explaining the types of narcissism and how it affects those in a relationship with a narcissist. Dr. Ramani says, “It’s time to take our lives back from a world of narcissism, entitlement and toxic relationships.” Many people are silently suffering in the workplace and in their personal relationships.
The best way to protect people is to help educate them on mental health and what it means to set healthy boundaries.
Author | Psychotherapist
When you know the signs, narcissists are easy to spot. One of my clients calls what she’s acquired from having been raised by a narcissistic father, “nardar.” From how she feels when she’s with someone, her intuition tells her if they’re narcissistic.
A narcissistic relationship is when your partner does these things:
- Your partner loves talking about themselves and has little genuine interest in you or others.
- Your partner is competitive and often measure their success against others.
- Your partner has little empathy and frequently can’t understand why you’re upset or belittle you for being so.
- Your partner feels he or she is special and will go on and on about their accomplishments
- Your partner needs to make all or most of the decisions in the relationship, leaving you feeling invisible.
- Your partner has difficulty seeing their faults, being wrong, not being the best.
Relationship Coach | Founder, The Big Fling
People often get confused about the term ‘narcissistic,’ especially when it comes to romantic partners. It’s not necessarily synonymous with over-confident or attention-seeking, although those are components.
Unfortunately, in my experience as a relationship expert and coach, it has become pretty clear to me that narcissistic people are actually incapable of having healthy, loving relationships. This is because a narcissist is unable to access empathy within themselves.
So, no matter how many times a partner expresses themselves to a narcissist, he/she can’t access the desire to change for the sake of the partner.
Here are the signs to watch for when you think you are involved in a relationship with a narcissist:
At first, the relationship felt like a high or a rush, but soon after there is a crash
Narcissist people are experts when it comes to turning on the charm at the beginning of a relationship, which is why some people describe the feeling like a rush.
Every relationship has a ‘honeymoon phase,’ but with a narcissist, it’s more like a nirvana phase. And suddenly, just as quick as it started, it completely crashes and falls apart. This cycle of behavior is due to the fact that a narcissist identifies feelings of love with conditions they are seeking in life. They also live for fantasy and romanticizing their feelings.
This is why love from a narcissist is always conditional. Perhaps they ‘fell’ for you because you provided them with sex, status, money, or the social normalcy of having a relationship.
They turn on the charm to get you to meet their conditions, but the show doesn’t last long enough to sustain a happy relationship and eventually, the act is up and the resentment from both ends settles in.
Your partner is incapable of accepting blame
Narcissists are fond of the phrase, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” This is because they will never truly accept blame for their actions. It’s always because of something going on around them or it’s your fault, but it never has anything to do with them.
A narcissist may accept blame for a moment for your approval, only to retract their acceptance later because they don’t believe they could possibly be wrong.
The relationship is full of self-love on the surface, but rooted in self-hate
On the surface, narcissists are people who are overly confident and proud of themselves. They may express admiration for their own physical traits or make arrogant jokes about how they are the smartest, best, highest-achieving, etc.
It will come across as a sense of entitlement to those around them. This is all to overcompensate for the fact that a narcissist is rooted in self-hatred. They are constantly comparing themselves to people around them and therefore become drunk on envy and self-pity.
And, while they dislike their position in comparison to others, they feel they deserve to have the best because they think that they are special, yet the world fails to recognize it.
Lisa Zeiderman, Esq., CFL
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst | Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney, Miller Zeiderman & Wiederkehr, LLP
As a practical matter, I frequently collaborate with therapists on child custody and high-conflict divorce cases and I have dealt with many cases involving a narcissist on one side of the table.
Your partner’s manipulation is very evident
Through this work, I have recognized that one fundamental challenge of dealing with a narcissist is that many appear engaging and charming to the “outside world” because they are master manipulators. And because the narcissist is a master manipulator who has little to no capacity for empathy, he/she believes that he/she can manipulate the divorce process to his/her advantage.
The narcissist also believes he/she can manipulate and charm your attorney, the Judges, the children’s attorney and anyone else involved in the process.
Further, if there are children involved in a relationship, there is a good chance the narcissist views the children as his/her belongings–and certainly as extensions of himself or herself. The narcissist will also often fight to the bitter end in a divorce, finding it difficult if not impossible to place the children’s best interest ahead of the narcissist’s desire to “win.”
Professional Matchmaker | Dating Coach, LUMA Luxury Matchmaking
Your partner lacks empathy for you
When you are in a relationship with someone, you two become a unit and you want that unit to strive. Therefore, when something negative occurs in your partner’s life, you would usually find it extremely easy to place yourself in their shoes and feel for them. This will lead to you trying to help out in any way to make the situation better in whichever way you can.
This is the way the average person would react to their partner being in turmoil. If you notice your partner seems to not be phased what so ever by your struggles or even goes as far as prioritizing their small, insignificant trouble over your valid issue, then you might be dating a narcissist.
Your partner feels they are always right
Narcissists feel like the world revolves around them and everyone should feel the way they do. Consequently, they feel like they are always right and anyone that might dare to have a different viewpoint or opinion from them is delirious and wrong.
If you try to get into an argument with a narcissist you might find yourself in an uphill battle to nowhere. So being in a relationship with a narcissist might prove to be extremely tasking seeing how it will be next to impossible to come to reasonable resolutions if you ever end up in a disagreement.
Your partner is dominating
It’s no news that narcissists like to be in control of everything and if you are in a relationship with them, that includes you. Narcissists love everything to be perfect – themselves, you, and life in general. The only way they see that could be is if they take control of everything in their vicinity because, in their mind, everything that is ‘perfect’ is because of them.
With that kind of rationalization, if you find that your partner is manipulative, demanding, controlling and overall dominating, you are probably with a narcissist.
Your partner needs constant attention
Everyone loves a bit of attention, it is human nature. But if you find your partner constantly needs round the clock attention and will do whatever he/she needs to do to get the attention even if it is negative, then you are probably with a narcissist.
A narcissist craves validation from everyone around them and enough is never enough. Despite their self-absorbed nature, narcissists are usually insecure and feel like they might not live up to the perfection they crave so much.
They result in feeding off other’s validation and constant attention and compliments. They might even go as far as seeking it outside of the relationship, which could lead to bigger problems like cheating.
So being in a relationship with someone like this could be exhausting and very one-sided with you always giving and them taking while offering nothing back.
You feel alone
Even if you are in a relationship, you might find yourself feeling alone a lot. This is because, although, narcissists require a lot of attention and care from their partners, they do not offer the same luxuries back. So their partners could easily end up feeling lonely and drained.
You might start to feel like an object of satisfaction for your partner both physically and mentally rather than a person because that is what they are treating you as.
Since narcissists are self-centered, they will not take notice of how you are feeling or even care for that matter. It will be up to you to validate your feelings and decide what your next moves will be keeping what will be best for you in mind.
Certified Mental Health Consultant, Enlightened Reality | Relationship Expert, Maple Holistics
If you’re wondering if you’re in a narcissistic relationship, consider the following:
- Does your partner love to talk about themselves so much that your interactions are more of a monologue than a dialogue?
- Do they interrupt you on the rare occasion where you’re actually trying to speak?
- Do they often try to build themselves up in front of others, doing so while exaggerating?
- Do they feel entitled and don’t consider others’ needs?
If you’re nodding your head yes, chances are that you are in a narcissistic relationship.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a narcissistic relationship?
A narcissistic relationship is a type of relationship in which one partner has an excessive need for admiration, a lack of empathy, and a sense of entitlement. They may also be preoccupied with their own needs and desires while disregarding their partner’s needs. A narcissistic relationship can be emotionally distressing, leading to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
How can I recover from a narcissistic relationship?
Recovering from a narcissistic relationship can be a long and difficult process, but it’s important to prioritize your healing and well-being. Here are some tips for recovery:
Practice self-care and self-compassion. Take time to do things that make you happy and bring you joy, and be gentle with yourself as you heal.
Surround yourself with people who support you, acknowledge your experiences, and offer encouragement and understanding.
Seek therapy or counseling to help you process your feelings and heal any trauma or wounds caused by the relationship.
Set new boundaries and prioritize your own needs and desires in future relationships. Remember that you deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, and don’t settle for less.
Can a person be both a narcissist and a victim?
Yes, it’s possible for a person to exhibit narcissistic traits and play the victim at the same time. Some narcissists may use a victim mentality to manipulate others or avoid responsibility for their actions. This can make it difficult for their partners or loved ones to see the relationship clearly and may lead to confusion and feelings of guilt or shame.
It’s important to remember that while a person may be both a narcissist and a victim, it’s not an excuse for their behavior, and you still deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.
Can a narcissistic relationship cause long-term damage?
Yes, a narcissistic relationship can have long-term effects on a person’s mental and emotional health. Some of the possible consequences of a narcissistic relationship are:
• Low self-esteem and self-worth
• Anxiety and depression
• Difficulty trusting others and forming healthy relationships
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions
• Issues with boundaries and assertiveness
How can I build my self-esteem after being in a narcissistic relationship?
Building your self-esteem after a narcissistic relationship can take time, but it’s an important step in your healing process. Here are some strategies that may help you:
Focus on your strengths and accomplishments. Make a list of things you’re proud of and have accomplished, and take time to reflect on your positive qualities.
Surround yourself with supportive people who encourage and cheer you up. Spend time with friends and family members who validate your experiences and make you feel good about yourself.
Practice self-compassion. Be kind and gentle to yourself and treat yourself as you would treat a good friend.
Challenge negative self-talk. Notice when you criticize or judge yourself, and try to reframe those thoughts in a more positive light.
Engage in activities that make you feel good about yourself. Whether it’s exercise, art, music, or something else, find activities that help you feel confident and empowered.
Remember that building self-esteem is a process, and it may take time and effort to see yourself more positively. Be patient and persistent, and don’t give up on yourself.
Can therapy help in healing from a narcissistic relationship?
Yes, therapy can be a helpful tool in overcoming a narcissistic relationship. A therapist can provide a safe and supportive space for you to process your feelings, work through trauma or wounds, and develop healthy coping strategies.
However, it’s important to find a therapist who is trained in working with trauma and abuse survivors and who has experience working with narcissistic abuse. Some forms of therapy that may be helpful include:
• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
• Trauma-Focused Therapy
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