You knew you loved them from the moment you met them. Everything seemed perfect and life was finally falling into place. The feelings of a newfound love can be intoxicating. Once life starts to settle, though, you may begin to realize that things are not quite what they seemed at first. This is normal with any relationship, so it is healthy to look at your relationship with a critical eye to make sure it is, in fact, a healthy relationship. But what if you start noticing narcissistic tendencies in your significant other that you hadn’t noticed before? Could you be in a narcissistic relationship?
If you feel like your partner is more in love with themselves than with you, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves in relationships with partners that experience a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or find themselves wondering about how to deal with a narcissist boyfriend. Studies have found that narcissistic personality disorder is prevalent in the US. While it may be common to find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist, it isn’t easy or healthy for your mental health.
Troubled Relationships: How To Spot A Narcissist
Narcissists are in love with an idealized, grandiose image of themselves. In other words, they are in love with the way other people view them. This makes it difficult, or even impossible for them to truly love others or putting others before their own needs. Even though narcissistic people may be good at hiding their personality disorder, there are common narcissistic traits that give them away. If you are trying to spot a narcissist, look for the following narcissistic traits:
Grand Sense Of Self-Importance
Narcissists often believe that they are unique and superior to others, which is why they have such a profound lack of empathy. This makes them too good for ordinary things, wanting only to be associated with the upper class and high-status people. Not only do they believe this, but they often expect others to recognize their own importance and ‘superiority’ as well.
Sense Of Entitlement
In addition to being self-important, narcissists also have a sense of entitlement. They expect to be treated better than others and believe they have a right to get whatever it is that they want. Failure to have this entitlement fulfilled is often met with outrage and aggression.
Needs Constant Admiration
With a narcissist’s inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement, they may need constant admiration and excessive attention. They will go out of their way to surround themselves with people that will fulfill this need for admiration and praise. However, these people are carefully selected based on what they can do for the narcissist.
Demeans, Belittles Or Intimidates Frequently
Narcissists tend to be easily jealous and threatened by individuals who have something they lack, such as money or status, or those who challenge them. Their response to threat is to begin putting the other person down, displaying extreme anger, and employing manipulation tactics often in a dismissive or patronizing way. Sometimes it may even get to the point where they resort to bullying and violent threats. Anything to reduce the threat and get the narcissist’s sense of “superiority” restored.
Guilt-Free Exploitation Of Others
Lack of empathy is one of the main traits of narcissistic personality disorder. Because people with narcissistic tendencies cannot identify with others’ feelings, it’s common for them to treat others as objects rather than human beings. They are quick to take advantage of someone if it means they can achieve their own objectives.
The Narcissistic Relationship Cycle
Most relationships with a narcissist or a person with narcissistic tendencies follow a specific cycle with three main stages: idealization, devaluation, and discard. These stages are defined by how they treat their partner to get what they want out of them.
When you get into a relationship with a true narcissist, the relationship tends to move quickly. It’s common to feel as though you’ve known them your whole life or that they are the most perfect person in the world for you. Intimacy may be great at first, and in a matter of weeks, a narcissist will begin taking the relationship forward. Many narcissists will use phrases like, “You’re my soulmate,” “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before,” or “We’ll be together forever,” in the first few weeks of dating.
Once the relationship has moved forward and you believe that the relationship is meant to be, the true personality of a narcissist will start to show. While still showing you affection, they’ll begin putting you down and criticizing you more frequently in an attempt to chip away at your confidence. They may use phrases like, “You’re so insecure,” or “You’re crazy.” They’ll also start to come between you and others you are close with by questioning whether they are more important than your friends or telling you that your friends aren’t good enough for you. The devaluation stage is also where they will often develop a story that shows them as a victim of circumstances if their behavior is questioned, blaming it on an ex or their parents.
Many times, once a narcissist can no longer get the emotional ‘high’ from their partner, the abuse intensifies. Insults become worse as the narcissist works to make sure they come out the “winner” of the relationship. The relationship is over, but they continue to hurt their partner with insults such as, “You’re a bad person,” “Nobody else will ever love you,” or “Have fun being alone the rest of your life.”
Narcissistic Love Patterns
With most narcissists following a specific relationship cycle, there are common love patterns used by true narcissists. These narcissistic love patterns can be seen in both the idealization and devaluation stages of narcissistic relationships. Being able to identify these love patterns can help you recognize the behavior so that you can take the necessary measures to protect yourself. If you suspect that your partner is a narcissist, here are some of the common narcissistic love patterns to watch out for.
1. Love Bombing
Love bombing is essentially a form of romantic manipulation. It is when you first get into a relationship and your new partner is constantly giving you extravagant displays of affection. The narcissist will essentially bombard you with affection in an attempt to gain love and trust while also making you vulnerable. This behavior often triggers an attempt to match the intensity of commitment in the relationship, even though the relationship is still relatively new. Common signs of love bombing include:
2. Laser Focus on You
They’re in constant communication with you. They text you and call you all the time. They want to know everything about you including all the bad things you’ve gone through in your life. At first, you may think that it’s nice that someone wants to get to know you. However, a true narcissist will keep getting you to talk about the bad times in your life. They’ll do this for several reasons. If they can provide solutions for you, then they’ll look like a hero. However, it also gives them things to bring up later in the relationship to help tear you down. If these topics continue to be brought up, this could be a red flag that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist.
3. Subtle Warnings
Narcissists know who they are and what they are doing. Many times, they’ll give you subtle warnings. However, because they are intertwined with other compliments and acts of affection, it’s easy to say comments like, “You’re too good for me,” or “You deserve better,” and they are simply your partner being cute. But the reality is that these simple phrases are often subtle warnings. If these comments are made often, it’s important to take these warnings seriously.
4. Seeking Sympathy Through Vulnerability
Once they know you’re committed to the relationship, a true narcissist will start to slowly chip away at your self-esteem and your confidence. If they are called out on their behavior, they’ll often share a story about why they are acting the way that they are, be it because of a parent, an ex, etc. They’ll always be the victim of these stories which are often painful and traumatic. Showing themselves in a vulnerable position helps them strengthen your trust in them. If you are empathetic, you’ll likely want to help them ‘fix’ the hurt they are feeling. This can pull you deeper into the relationship and set you up with a difficult task.
5. Deflecting Responsibility
It’s almost never a narcissist’s fault. Whether it is their behavior or something that happened to them, a narcissist will likely never admit that they are responsible. Many times, responsibility is deflected back onto you. They’ll use this technique to convince you that your reaction is the problem and not their behavior.
6. They Pull Away and Come Back Again Repeatedly
With all the love-bombing at the beginning of the relationship, your partner has put you up on a pedestal. Then suddenly they become distant, disappearing for long stretches at a time. This results in you trying to figure out what you did wrong and make things right so that the relationship can go back to the way it was. The whole process is heartbreaking. Then things go back to the way they were, until the next time. A true narcissist may do this repeatedly to keep you “addicted” to them. This can make it difficult to take the necessary steps to move on and leave the relationship.
What To Do If You’re In A Relationship With A Narcissist
Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be extremely challenging. However, there is hope. There are steps that you can take to strengthen your mental resilience and well being in their psychological games.
See Them For Who They Truly Are
The first step in protecting yourself is to see who your partner truly is, not who you want them to be. It’s important to not make excuses for their narcissism and the hurt they are causing you.
Focus On Your Own Dreams
Focusing on what you want for yourself can help give direction to your life. Knowing what you want from life can help you let go of unhelpful or unrealistic fantasies.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Your relationship should be established on mutual respect and care for one another, which is not possible with a narcissist. Set boundaries that will help protect you and fulfill your needs.
Be Prepared For Changes In The Relationship
A narcissistic partner will feel threatened by you taking back your control and will likely intensify their demands in other areas of the relationship or may distance themselves from you. Firmly sticking to your boundaries and standing strong is the key to breaking the narcissistic relationship cycle and prioritizing your well being and mental health.
Spend Time With Friends and Family
Taking the time to strengthen your relationship with your friends and family can help you maintain perspective. Talk through your thoughts and your feelings with those who know the real you.
Find A Hobby Or Volunteer
Pursuing a new hobby or getting involved in volunteer work can give you a sense of purpose and well being. It can also help you feel good about yourself, improve your mental health, and reduce your need for approval and validation from your narcissistic partner.
Join A Support Group
Sharing your experience with others who have found themselves in similar situations can help you sort your thoughts and find the strength to take the necessary steps to a healthier relationship.
Getting your narcissistic partner to admit that there is a problem or that the relationship could be benefited by getting professional help in couples therapy is likely a difficult task. This is largely due to their lack of empathy and their inherent reaction to deflect responsibility. However, you don’t have to struggle with the complex emotions that come with being in a relationship with a narcissist. Talking with someone who won’t judge your decision to be with your partner, such as a licensed therapist, can help you process your emotions and build your mental resilience. If you’ve never gone to counseling before, have a chaotic schedule, don’t have access to child care, or are worried about what others will think, online counseling can be an effective alternative.
Studies have shown that online therapy can help people dealing with difficult emotions that are arising out of an at-risk relationship. In a study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, researchers found that online therapy was a successful technique for counseling both couples in distress and the individuals in those relationships. The report laid out several issues with being in an unhealthy relationship, including personal mental health problems, and also addressed the fact that those in distressed relationships often do not seek treatment. Researchers state that online therapy is a useful method of getting around the barriers that keep couples from seeking therapy, including cost, geographical, and time limitations.
As mentioned above, online therapy is there for you when you are working through complex feelings related to narcissism, your mental health, and your relationship. The licensed and certified counselors at BetterHelp are ready to help you work through your emotions so that you can develop healthy coping techniques. The online nature of BetterHelp means you can get help whenever and wherever it is most convenient via messaging, chat, phone, and video. You can also customize the frequency of your sessions throughout the week. The counselors and therapists at BetterHelp have helped thousands of people work through their relationship issues, helping them successfully move forward. Read below for reviews of counselors, from those who have experienced similar issues.
“Jeffrey Owen has a wealth of knowledge and experience. He is clearly skilled in his guidance, enabling me to understand the complexities of narcissism and the impact of such lifelong abuse; that I had not fully understood. Reading on the subject matter is useful, but having counseling to explore in a different way is empowering for a survivor like myself. So thank you Jeff.”
“Cameron has helped me navigate some incredibly challenging things within my relationship. With his help I’ve developed confidence to be a more assertive person. Therapy had helped me understand myself and my partner much better, in addition to implementing practices and taking action to improve a situation whereas I otherwise may feel stuck or hopeless. I really loved that he took the time to get to know me and my history before trying to “tell me what to do.” I feel like he really understands how my mind operates and therefore can give great, valuable advice, in addition to being a comforting sounding board.”
Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. You can quickly feel alienated from friends and family, making it that much more difficult. Talk to a licensed counselor to start working through how you are feeling, and to help you learn healthy coping techniques and boundaries for your relationships.