The word “narcissism” is used a lot these days. It’s used colloquially to describe everyone from selfie-loving gym rats to designer brand snobs. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that narcissism is a real medical term, used to describe a personality disorder. One that affects 1 out of every 200 Americans.
Narcissism is about much more than expensive taste and obsession with physical fitness. Dating one is often isolating, confusing, heart-crushing, and even downright terrifying. Today, we’re going to explore the reality of dating a narcissist, and we’ll wrap up with tips on moving on and moving forward.
Though all of us possess some narcissistic traits, only 0.5-percent of the American public have a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Demographically, 75-percent of all narcissists are men, many of whom seek out careers in the medical field or in the military.
Screening a person for NPD involves measuring their individual traits against the official list of 9 criteria. The 9 official criteria include a grandiose sense of self-importance, a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited power, a belief that they’re special, a need for excessive admiration, interpersonally exploitative behavior, a lack of empathy, envy, and frequent demonstrations of arrogant behavior or attitudes. An NPD diagnosis requires only 5 of the 9 above traits to be apparent.
Now that we have the official diagnosis sorted, it’s time we look at some of the subtle warning signs that may indicate your significant other has NPD.
Were They Charming at First?
Dating a narcissist rarely starts with manipulation, insults, and unreliability. It’s usually great at the beginning. They may shower you with attention, texts, and gifts. They may compliment you excessively, use the “love” word incredibly early, or talk endlessly about your compatibility. A lot of people call it love bombing, and it could be an early warning sign of NPD.
This whole love bombing energy often flies in the face of other, more unsavory traits. A narcissist may turn on you, in a matter of minutes, and with little explanation as to what went wrong. If the person that you’re dating comes on incredibly strong and tends to “flip a switch” from affection to admonishment, proceed with caution.
Do They Dominate Conversations?
A common trait of NPD is a grandiose sense of self-importance. That “sense of self-importance” frequently manifests itself socially. In one-on-one and group settings, narcissists tend to dominate conversations by talking over people, interrupting, and changing the subject. They prefer to talk about themselves too, often embellishing their accomplishments and exaggerating their experiences to seem more interesting.
Dating a narcissist leaves little time for you. Narcissists are usually poor listeners. If you suspect that the one you’re dating is a narcissist, start talking about yourself and see what happens. If they don’t ask follow-up questions or express interest in your dialogue, then you may be dating a narcissist.
Do They Need Lots of Praise?
Narcissists love talking about themselves, but they also love it when others talk about them in a complimentary way too. Despite how it may look on the outside, NPD is synonymous with a lack of self-esteem and an unquenchable thirst for compliments.
They rely on others to feel good about themselves, which can be a drain on those around them. If you’re hoping to screen potential partners for NPD, be keenly aware of the way that they react when receiving compliments.
Do They Follow Through?
Judge what they do, not what they say. It’s good advice generally but can be particularly helpful when dealing with narcissistic behavior. Narcissists will say anything to get in your good books. They may make promises, plan outings or agree to terms, only to go back on their word, cancel, or ignore the existence of the original conversation outright.
Flakiness, or unreliability, is a common trait though, so it’s important to put this behavior in perspective. A habitual canceler isn’t necessarily a narcissist. It could be scheduling conflicts or anxiety.
Will They Take No for an Answer?
Rejection and disappointment are a narcist’s no-fly zone. They can’t handle it and often lash out when faced with barriers to their perceived happiness. Concerned that the person that you’re dating is a narcissist? Say no to them next time and watch what happens.
They may throw an anger-filled tantrum, they may give you the cold shoulder, or they may roll out the guilt trip. What they won’t do is take no for an answer.
Do They Expect Special Treatment?
If you want to watch NPD in action, go to a busy restaurant and observe your date’s behavior. Are they testy with wait staff? Do they demand preferential treatment from the hostess? A narcissist feels that they deserve to be treated better than everyone else. To some degree, they believe they’re above everyone that surrounds them.
In the wild, those characteristics generally invite friction with service staff. With you, it may mean that they instinctively take the best seat whilst eating the last slice.
Do They Constantly Put Others Down?
Another sign of narcissistic entitlement at work is abusive language. As we’ve said before, narcissists lack self-esteem and require attention, compliments, and preferential treatment to supplement their feelings of inadequacy.
Another way that they boost their ego is by picking on others and putting them down. This is more than just teasing. Name-calling, hurtful one-liners, and general nastiness are all used to lower the status of others and elevate that of the narcissist.
Do They Gaslight You?
Narcissists don’t discuss difficult subjects like the rest of us. When confronted about their behavior, they often rely on gaslighting to protect their ego and win an argument. Gaslighting, which is a form of psychological abuse, relies on the subtle uses of denial, diversion, trivialization, withholding, and countering to cause an unsuspecting partner to question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories.
A narcissist may question your memories, disengage from an argument, belittle your feelings, or even pretend to forget. All these things are toxic and incredibly damaging to the victim. But thankfully, protecting yourself from the influence of gaslighting starts by understanding it.
Do They Ever Apologize?
They may hurt you, time after time. You may really deserve an apology. But getting one from someone with NPD is a rarity. Narcissists lack empathy, blindly trust their decisions, and rarely see the fault in their actions.
If you’re unsure about whether the person you’re dating has NPD, try and recall the last time they apologized to you, listened to your feelings, or took accountability for all of the ways in which they’ve wronged you. If you struggle to pinpoint an occasion, you either haven’t been dating long enough, or your significant other may be a narcissist.
Are They Unwilling to Commit?
Another common thread, shared among narcissists, is an inability to formally commit to a romantic partner. Narcissists often take a cold, transactional approach to affection, emotional attachment, and commitment. This stands in the face of anyone looking to grow a stronger bond.
Instead of progressing and growing a relationship, narcissists will often side-step labels and other common relationship milestones to maintain the status quo and keep their options open. Just because someone isn’t willing to commit to more relationship-related responsibility, doesn’t make them a narcissist. There are plenty of personal reasons to be wary of committing. All the more reason to stand up for your needs and know when to walk away when they aren’t being met.
What to Do If You Are Dating a Narcissist
No, you can’t change them. Loving them more, changing yourself to meet their needs, or just falling in to step with their various whims will not improve or strengthen a relationship with a genuine narcissist. If you’ve determined that the person that you’re dating is in fact a narcissist, sadly the only thing to do is leave.
Lean on your support system, seek professional help, and encourage your ex to seek help too. Narcissists will never be satisfied with what you are able to provide for them. The truth is that they’ll never truly know satisfaction at all. You deserve better and attaining that starts by moving on.