How to Tell If You’re in a Relationship with a Narcissist

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How to Tell If You're in a Relationship with a NarcissistIf you’re feeling frustrated or stuck in a relationship with someone who seems selfish, critical, emotionally distant, or abusive, you may well be dealing a narcissist … or at least someone who has narcissistic traits.

Unfortunately, the term narcissism has been bandied about so much lately as to have lost a lot of its meaning.

So before you decide that you need help dealing with a narcissistic relationship, let’s first look at what narcissism is and isn’t …

What is Narcissism?

Narcissists can be difficult to spot. They’re often charming, charismatic, and successful. This is especially true if a narcissist is romantically interested in you, in which case he or she will likely shower you with attention, affection and praise … at least initially. While this “love bombing” can make you feel like the most important, most loved person in the world, it’s not done out of love but out of the narcissist’s desire to gain control. As soon as the narcissist feels they’ve achieved that control and have gotten what they want out of the relationship, that’s when you’ll start to feel betrayed.

However, just because someone seeks attention, or is highly critical, or behaves in emotionally distant or selfish ways doesn’t mean he or she is a narcissist.

To be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and meet the clinical definition of a narcissist, a person must exhibit at least 5 of the following traits:

  • Lack empathy for the needs and feelings of others
  • Routinely exhibit an “attitude of arrogance”
  • Require excessive attention and admiration
  • Exaggerate talents and achievements and have a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Believe he or she is uniquely special and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other “special,” high-status people (or institutions)
  • Envy others or believe others are envious of him or her
  • Expect compliance or unreasonably favorable treatment
  • Take advantage of, and exploit, others to achieve personal ends
  • Dream of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

It’s important to remember that just because someone has one, two, or even three of the narcissistic traits listed above, this doesn’t mean he or she is actually a narcissist. For example, someone may be needy, or envious, or selfish, or arrogant without actually being a narcissist.

Why is this distinction so important?

Because people who simply have one or two narcissistic traits may be more likely to seek and/or accept help and be able to work on and resolve those issues, whereas a “full-blown” narcissist will see any and every problem as someone else’s rather than their own.

Of course, you’re unlikely to be in a position to give a suspected narcissist a diagnostic test …

However, the following are some more specific warning signs you can and should keep an eye out for:

  • Lack of Empathy – While someone who lacks empathy may not be a narcissist, this is definitely one of narcissists’ defining traits. Pay attention to a suspected narcissist’s reaction to sad stories, the hardships of others, and your own needs in particular. For example, does he or she take calls when you’re talking to him or her, not listen to you, walk in front of you, ignore your boundaries, and generally act insensitively or rude. Of course, each of these behaviors may not be significant in and of themselves, but together they paint a picture of someone who doesn’t care about other people or you.
  • Attitude of Arrogance – Narcissists act superior to make up for how inferior they feel deep down inside. Pay attention to how a suspected narcissist treats other people … Does he or she put down doormen, waiters, and other types of service professionals, while sucking up to people of influence? Does he or she put down people of different classes or ethnic groups? Is he or she disdainful, rude, or downright hostile towards other people? How does he or she talk about previous relationships? Does he or she act like the victim and seethe with resentment? If these sound familiar, you’re likely getting a glimpse of how you’ll be treated once the narcissist knows you better and feels your under their power and control.
  • Seeking Admiration – Narcissists are self-involved to the nth degree. Your job is solely to support and praise them. A narcissist is unlikely to ask you about yourself, and even if you talk about yourself you’ll often find the conversation quickly returns to him or her. Pay attention to your feelings. Do you feel ignored, invisible, bored, annoyed, or drained? On the flip side, a narcissist who excels at seduction may act as if he or she is only interested in you. But this is the flip-side of the same “all-or-nothing” thinking that narcissists exhibit, and you can be sure his or her interest in you will wane over time. Healthy relationships involve both people being interested in each other in equal measure.
  • Exaggeration and Grandiosity – Because narcissists seek attention, validation, and admiration, they’re also likely to exaggerate their talents and accomplishments. While you may not know what, or how much, a narcissist is exaggerating when you first meet, this is definitely something to keep an eye out for. Even if narcissists have yet to achieve certain goals, they will often brag about how they will, or how they’re more deserving than others. Similarly, narcissists will often name-drop public figures or celebrities they know, boast about the schools they’ve attended, drive expensive cars, wear expensive clothes, want to go to only the best restaurants, and do anything and everything else to associate themselves with what they see as being only the best.
  • Envy – Narcissists need to be the first and best. Accordingly, they’re typically envious of others’ success and anyone they perceive as a competitor, often declaiming how unworthy other people are of whatever successes they’ve achieved. Narcissistic parents even do this with their own partners and children! To make matters even worse, narcissists then turn around and project this same behavior on others, believing other people envious of everything they have achieved. If anyone ever criticizes a narcissist, it’s a good bet the narcissist will turn around and say that person is doing so out of jealousy or envy.
  • Entitled and Deserving of Special Treatment – Since narcissists see the world as revolving around themselves, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that they feel deserving of special treatment. In fact, they often act as if the rules that apply to others don’t apply to themselves. This makes relationships with narcissists painfully one-sided, as it becomes your job to do everything for his or her convenience.
  • Exploitation of Others – While this trait can be difficult to identify when you first meet a narcissist, if you start to feel manipulated or used, it may well be because you’re being exploited. Many narcissists are master manipulators, take credit for others’ work, use people for status or sex, and may go so far as to lie, cheat, and steal. Remember, the same rules that apply to others don’t apply to narcissists. These types of exploitation can be difficult to see coming, but keep a watchful eye out for anyone who brags about taking advantage of, or “pulling one over” on someone else.

When all is said and done, narcissists put themselves above everyone else. They tend to believe they’re infallible, frequently blame others for misunderstandings or when things go wrong, rarely apologize, never take responsibility for anything other than success, and over time will likely leave you feeling unimportant, ignored, uncared for, and unloved.

Getting the Help You Need and Deserve

Relationships with narcissists are frustrating, painful, and can even be emotionally and physically abusive. And since we all have a tendency to repeat our relationships with our parents in the relationships we create later in life, if you’re the adult child of a narcissistic parent you’re more likely to end up in relationships with narcissists, addicts, and others who are emotionally distant, unavailable, or abusive.

Unfortunately, most narcissists will never seek professional help.

But, even if the narcissist in your life refuses to get help or change, your relationship can markedly improve by changing your own perspective and behavior.

Learning as much as you can about narcissism, how to set and maintain healthy boundaries and communicate effectively, and seeking professional counseling and psychotherapy to work on overcoming your own codependent tendencies, toxic shame, and improve your self-esteem, are just a few of the many things you can do to significantly improve your relationship with a narcissist and, even more importantly, your relationship with yourself!

If you have any questions regarding this article, or if I may be of any other assistance, please don’t hesitate to connect with me at or call me anytime at (714) 974-1621, to ask any questions, have a free phone consultation, or set up an initial office consultation. I look forward to hearing from you.

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