'I Know Narcissists. Here Are Four Signs You're Dating One'

I grew up with narcissists around me, and my struggles dealing with this led me to become a psychotherapist and life coach later in life. Only in recent years, after delving deeper into narcissism, have I discovered the full implications of interacting, on a personal and romantic level, with those who have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Through my work, I am now helping others who are victims of narcissists.

I trained as a psychotherapist, and though I primarily work as a life coach now, I have worked with clients who were looking to heal from their dysfunctional families and some who were in relationships with people who were displaying many signs of NPD. My awareness of NPD started with personal experiences, where I tried to find answers about my situation. When I was training there was no particular course available on how to deal with NPD, and at that time I had never heard the word narcissist.

Through researching information available, I discovered that a way to recovery could be through understanding the damage narcissists can do, building up self-esteem and taking control. I designed a coaching programme to support victims of narcissism, which combines a checklist of traits, shows how these narcissistic traits affect the victim in an emotional, mental and behavioural way and provides techniques on how to deal with narcissists, while keeping yourself safe from their influence.

Not understanding healthy love when I was growing up meant that I accepted emotionally abusive behaviour as the norm. I recognize now that as an adult, I became involved in relationships with narcissists, and I never thought it was strange that I was put down or had to go out of my way to please my partner.

As I grew older, I continued to attract many people into my life that I strongly believe were narcissists. But after a lifetime of "fighting" narcissism and then learning about narcissism from the perspective of a psychotherapist, I can now recognize the signs of those who may have NPD very quickly. I have seen victims of narcissistic abuse who have shown Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD) with symptoms such as fear, mistrust and self-destructive behaviour. And looking back at my different boyfriends, I can immediately identify many of the warning signs of narcissistic behavior.

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The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) describes nine traits that are used to define NPD, and these include lack of empathy, envy, a need for admiration, self-importance and a preoccupation with ideal love or brilliance.

The examples I give below are from a few different relationships and some of the clients I have worked with, and they indicate signs that a partner may show if they are someone with NPD.

1. The relationship is not about you, it's all about them.

In my experience, narcissists are interested in talking about themselves and they will bring the discussion back to them, so it's something you'll likely see within the relationship. This self-importance and grandiose behavior is typical of narcissists. It demonstrates that the world revolves around them and that their interest is not in you but in themselves. If I spoke about my day at work, certain partners would quickly turn the conversation to be about their day. If I described a problem, their problem would immediately overtake mine.

It also played out in how they loved spending money on themselves, but not on me. In one relationship, my partner had a real sense of entitlement. He expected the moon and more, wouldn't think of thanking me for it and never reciprocated. I never received a special birthday or Christmas present, but this partner would get really angry if I hadn't arranged something special for him.

2. They continuously put you down and gaslight you.

Through my relationships and work, I noticed that narcissists always have to be "better" than those they are in relationships with. I remember having had a job interview, coming back home and wanting to talk it through. The job was quite prestigious and I know now that he wasn't too pleased about that. It put him in a slightly "lesser" position in his imagined hierarchy, when narcissists typically believe they are the special ones. Whatever I told him about what I had said, he laughed and said it was the wrong answer and that I had really messed up the interview. I felt horrible at that time and couldn't believe when I actually got the job.

One of my clients, who I believe was dating a narcissist, told me she had gotten to the point where she didn't recognise herself anymore. She told me she had previously been so confident, but that had disappeared. She was madly in love with someone she described as a "beautiful man who had a successful job." She moved in with him after six weeks. But soon after that she started to doubt herself as she "couldn't do anything right for him."

Narcissists often start relationships seeming wonderful and "love-bombing" their partner, but soon they see flaws they want to "fix". He told her she wore the wrong clothes, didn't earn enough, was mediocre and one day when she disagreed he called her a psychopath.

I have experienced partners who simply denied that things happened, when I knew 100 percent that they had taken place. But I would doubt myself, and over time this behaviour reduced my confidence to below zero. Whenever I felt strong, I would challenge these behaviours, but I would get laughed at and told I had, "such a bad memory."

This behaviour in a relationship is symptomatic of gaslighting—a form of psychological abuse in which narcissists use lies and false information to erode their victims' belief in their own judgement and, ultimately, their sanity.

Gaslighting, like myself an my client were experiencing, creates cognitive dissonance— because of the confusion between what they believe about themselves and the information they are receiving from their partner. My client was a bundle of nerves and felt worthless. She initially came to change herself, because she thought it was all her fault, but I helped her to realize that this was likely narcissistic behavior on the part of her partner, and that it was her destroyed sense of self that needed rebuilding.

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3. You feel uneasy in their presence.

If you are feeling really uncomfortable because you never know what mood your partner will be in, you may well be dating a narcissist. Narcissists need to feel superior, admired and in control. Mood swings can give them control, but leaves their partners in a bubble of fear. The hyper-vigilance of the victim is part of what is called narcissistic supply: it is a form of attention that the narcissist needs.

In my experiences, narcissists can seem warm and loving in relationships, but within seconds be in a foul mood. Sometimes I would receive a compliment, but it would quickly be followed by a nasty remark. Once, I was told by a partner that my hair looked great, but that it was a shame it was such a lousy colour.

Narcissists also typically can't handle any form of criticism, and disagreement for them is equal to rejection and destroys their sense of superiority. In turn, this evokes fear. Fear leads to anger and narcissistic rage. This is intense anger, aggression, or passive-aggression where they lash out at their victims. Narcissistic rage is the behaviour that a narcissist shows when they are scared of being exposed as, say, not as "perfect" as they perceive themselves to be.

4. They have no empathy or emotional awareness.

I found, in my relationships with narcissists and people who displayed narcissistic behaviors, that a lack of empathy was a huge problem. This lack is a trait that is commonly associated with narcissists.

An example of this from my relationships was that practical projects were always fine, but the moment I wanted to talk about emotions I would be called "hysterical" and ignored. If those emotions were connected to our relationship, my partners would show even less empathy. Another example of this trait was displayed when one of my girlfriends was in hospital after an accident. I just wanted some comfort, but my partner at the time was simply unable to provide it.

The above signs could indicate you are involved with someone who has NPD, but of course, it could equally mean that they are just an unpleasant person.

Are you someone who accommodates others, puts them first, ignores your own needs, feels you want to make life better for others, feels insecure and takes the blame? You might find yourself in an unhealthy relationship because you are not valuing yourself enough to notice the signs of emotional abuse. If you find you are prepared to put up with someone's unreasonable behaviour, because you don't believe you deserve better, it might be worth seeking some advice or help.

Whether you are dealing with a narcissistic partner or not, I would say that the biggest warning sign and bright red flag is how you feel in the relationship. If you are uncomfortable it means you don't trust, don't feel accepted or are seen for who you are and you are walking on a path that will never lead to a happy, healthy relationship.

Dr. Mariette Jansen is a psychotherapist, life coach and author of best selling self help book "From Victim to Victor – Narcissism Survival Guide", which is available via amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. Jansen has a P.h.D. in interpersonal communication from the University of Utrecht and trained in psychotherapy at London Metropolitan University. You can find more about her work at drdestress.co.uk.

All views expressed in this piece are the writer's own.

'I Know Narcissists. Here Are Four Signs You're Dating One' | My Turn