— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.
Dating a narcissist can seriously harm your mental health and self-worth. They can remain undetected until too late.
Narcissists have a delusional sense of superiority, high-functional lifestyles, and manipulative nature. But they are so charming and loving during those courtship days.
By the time their bad behavior becomes unignorable, you have stopped giving them the ego boost, and instead, you have started mentioning their faults and flaws.
Then they hurt you more often. Still, it’s often hard to decide to leave them forever, as they have already trauma-bonded you into the relationship.
So, before they use your vulnerabilities against you, and leave you mentally hurt long-term, you must spot them.
12 Signs You Might Be Dating A Narcissist
You may be dating a narcissist who has targeted you without you knowing. If you notice some of these signs of narcissism, tread carefully.
1. They Are Charming For The Show
“The narcissist’s charm and wit can be very hypnotizing, encouraging you to be forgiving when he is out of line.”— Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist
- At first, the narcissist will come off as charming. Their charisma can be hard to turn away from, and you could be easily drawn in.
- You see that your date has a strong presence and unshakable confidence. Their self-assured approach to life inspires you to wish that you had it too.
- They “prove” they are more knowledgeable, accomplished, and attractive than others. Their stories of success and wisdom impress you.
- Then you start to notice that they never miss a chance to point out how great they are. Their self-focus will mostly overshadow your achievements or interests.
Researchers have found that narcissistic men and women think they are so hot – but they are actually not.
Once you get over that initial attraction, you find that their charm isn’t always-on. You realize it was a fake facade, a show designed to breadcrumb you into their trap of narcissistic abuse.
2. They Are Attention-Seekers
Narcissists crave attention and often dominate conversations.
- They may seem like excellent listeners at first, but it is an act to gather information so they can control the conversation later.
- They steer most discussions toward themselves, their achievements, and their experiences.
- You keep feeling unheard and unimportant with them. The narcissist’s need for control makes it hard for you to express your ideas and feelings freely.
- Words are bridges to genuine emotional connections. But with them, beware of their poetic, often over-the-top, compliments. Their kind words are just a way to control you and make you like them.
Once they know you have fallen for them, that flattery starts to turn into criticism. They begin to erode your self-esteem to gain more power over you.
Thrive On Compliments
Narcissists thrive on compliments and adoration from others.
They can genuinely tell their mirror, “They all love me so much!”
The narcissist will constantly seek praise and admiration, even when it doesn’t seem appropriate. They often find a way to hijack the spotlight at another person’s celebratory occasion.
They will fish for compliments by making self-deprecating comments or by “humblebragging.”
A humblebrag is someone who makes seemingly spurious self-deprecating statements to gain the moral high ground.
Be cautious if you feel like you’re constantly expected to bolster their ego, as this can be emotionally draining over time.
Crave Being The Center of Attention
A key trait of narcissistic individuals is their craving for attention.
- They enjoy being the center of attention and may even take it as an opportunity to show off their skills or knowledge.
- They are quite reluctant to share the spotlight with you, or anyone else. They often become jealous and envious when someone else receives attention.
- They can respond to another person’s success with rivalry or bitterness, seeing it as less than their own.
- Another sign that you may be dating a narcissist is if they always seem to be surrounded by drama. They often create conflicts or play the victim to maintain the spotlight. Yet, despite all the chaos they generate, they still manage to keep themselves at the center of attention.
They can never truly be happy in your happiness.
Recognize these signs of attention-seeking in a potential partner. It can be a red flag of narcissism when combined with other signals.
Stay aware and trust your instincts before diving head-on into the relationship.
3. They Lack Emotional Empathy
One key sign that you might be dating a narcissist is their lack of empathy.
Clinically, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has three hallmark traits: a “lack of empathy,” a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, and a need for admiration (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
This study found narcissists had low levels of emotional empathy, but did not lack cognitive empathy.
What does this mean for you?
- They may be able to read your thoughts and predict your actions. But they may not respond to your feelings and emotions in a kind and compassionate way.
- They may dismiss your concerns, ignore your distress, or make light of your achievements.
- Their frequent reaction is one of invalidating the other person’s stand, ideas, opinions, feelings, and choices.
- A narcissist’s lack of empathy can result in one-sided conversations, where they seldom ask about your thoughts or emotions.
- A narcissist’s empathy is often conditional, meaning that they may only show support in circumstances that are advantageous to them.
- When considering whether to help you, their first thought is: “What’s in it for me?” This makes them come off as sympathetic in public but cold and distant in private, often leaving you utterly confused.
- They don’t feel the need to make you feel supported and understood. You may feel invisible and devalued.
- Also, they have a disdainful attitude toward others’ feelings. They may criticize or belittle anyone who is socially weaker than them.
You just don’t feel emotionally safe with them.
4. History of Broken Relationships
Very Few Long-Term Friends
If you’re dating a narcissist, you might notice that they have very few long-term friends.
You might rather see a pattern of broken friendships in their lives.
- Narcissists often struggle to maintain meaningful relationships due to their self-centered tendencies and lack of empathy.
- They might have a history of using people and discarding them once their needs are met.
- When you meet their friends or acquaintances, you find these relationships are shallow and superficial. The narcissist cannot form deep connections with others.
Difficulties With Commitment
Another sign of dating a narcissist is their inability to commit to a long-term relationship.
- Narcissists struggle to commit. Their relationships are mostly short-term, as they keep seeking new sources of validation and admiration to feed their ego.
- If your partner is constantly searching for something better or seems emotionally distant, it might be a sign that they are unwilling to invest in your relationship.
- A narcissist may avoid discussing future plans, showing a clear or unsaid reluctance to fully engage in the love and commitment required for a healthy partnership.
Being aware of these tendencies can help you deal with the challenges that come with dating a narcissist.
5. Known For Manipulative Behaviors
One key red flag that you might be dating a narcissist is their constant barrage of criticism toward you.
They tend to highlight your imperfections, mistakes, and failures, making you feel “bad for being you.”
This manipulative behavior is designed to make you doubt your own worth, and feel guilty about your opinions and decisions. It makes sure that you become dependent on them to decide for you, as they remain the dominant partner.
You may find yourself on the receiving end of their opinions, with no space left for your own thoughts or judgments.
They are so constantly critical that you forget your positive attributes.
Personal anecdote: I came across someone whose husband was a narcissist. She had completely lost the ability to express her opinion on even basic things like what flavor of ice cream she wanted.
Gaslighting Without Guilt
Another sign of dating a narcissist is experiencing gaslighting without any guilt on their part.
Gaslighting is a psychological ploy the narcissist uses to undermine your perception of reality.
- They manipulate your feelings, memories, or experiences to make you question your sanity, and thereby, maintain control in the relationship.
- Narcissists expertly shift responsibility onto you, making you believe you are at fault.
- They deny being part of any problem, refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing. This can leave you feeling confused and doubting your own judgments.
- Narcissistic gaslighting can erode your sense of independence, free will, and self-worth.
6. Have An Entitled Attitude
A narcissist often displays a sense of entitlement and a superiority complex.
- They have a strong belief that they deserve special treatment and recognition.
- They expect and demand exclusive treatment wherever they go, even without any achievements to justify it.
- One reason psychologists find narcissism so interesting is that it is linked with the use of self-control strategies to protect feelings of superiority and esteem (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001).
- Your dating partner will most likely have a high sense of self-worth and will constantly seek validation for their successes.
They may belittle others, even you, while comparing their accomplishments to those of less fortunate ones in a condescending way.
Thinking They’re Always Right
Another hallmark of an entitled attitude in a narcissist is the belief that they are always right.
This conviction can manifest in various ways, such as stubbornness, contempt for differing opinions, and a refusal to entertain alternative viewpoints.
Soon into the relationship, you realize that this has become a bone of frequent contention.
Studies strongly suggest that narcissists:
- overestimate their general intelligence (Gabriel & Critelli, 1994),
- think they are more attractive than their peers (Rhodewalt & Eddings, 2002), and
- overvalue their achievements compared to those of others (John & Robins, 1994).
They regularly dismiss your concerns, feelings, and opinions.
They interrupt you mid-sentence and even make fun of you to quiet you down in a group conversation. You may develop a hesitation or fear while speaking out in their presence.
You may realize that your relationship has more silences and fights than productive discussions.
Unwilling to Accept Criticism
A strong indicator of an entitled attitude in a narcissist is their reluctance or inability to accept criticism.
Narcissists often use aggression or distortion to deflect criticism.
- Aggression: When given negative feedback, they may act out aggressively, either verbally or physically (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998). They may also try to discredit the person’s judgment or make them feel inferior.
- Distortion: Rhodewalt and Eddings (2002) found that narcissists were more likely to self-aggrandize after receiving negative feedback from a potential dating partner. This suggests they use self-aggrandizement as a way to protect their self-esteem when they are feeling threatened.
When faced with criticism or feedback, those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) may become defensive, angry, or even retaliatory.
They cannot acknowledge the criticism and learn from it.
This creates an unhealthy dynamic in your relationship. You start to walk on eggshells around them.
You hesitate to offer them any advice that may be beneficial to them, out of fear that they may blame you for the flaws you want them to correct.
7. Quick Aggressive Reactions
React Aggressively When You Try To Leave Them
Narcissists cannot handle rejection well.
- They can find it hard to accept and let go when you decide to end the relationship.
- They may view your breakup announcement as a threat to their ego and self-worth, provoking them to respond with aggression.
- Their strong sense of entitlement can make them believe you don’t have any right to leave them, since they invested so much in you and “own” your life.
- This study found narcissists were more angry and aggressive after experiencing social rejection than non-narcissists.
- When anger doesn’t work, they might use manipulative tactics, like love-bombing, guilt-tripping, or threatening, to coerce you into staying.
If you agree to stay on, they may restart the cycle of narcissistic abuse.
React Badly When Do Not Get Their Way
One of the telltale signs that you’re dating a narcissist is their inability to handle disagreements and things not getting their way.
- They often react angrily and aggressively when others don’t cater to their needs and demands, whether big or small.
- While it’s normal to feel some disappointment when things go wrong, someone’s overblown reactions to other people’s mistakes may be an indication of deeper narcissistic tendencies.
- When a narcissist doesn’t get the attention or praise they crave, they may lash out at you and accuse you of being unsupportive or uninterested.
- Facing someone with strong narcissistic tendencies could be intimidating, since they can get violent and destructive in a fit of narcissistic rage.
This study found that people high in narcissism are more likely to feel anger and then engage in counterproductive work behavior (CWB).
This means, narcissism leads to anger, which in turn leads to CWB (like workplace harassment, poor quality work, fraud, disobedience, or insubordination).
Move away if you feel threatened, reminding yourself that your own well-being and health are more important than your relationship.
You deserve to be in a better relationship where your feelings and needs will have a voice and will be heard.
8. Power and Success Fantasies
One major sign to watch for in a narcissistic date is their fantasies of power and success.
- Narcissists often have a grandiose sense of self-importance and may frequently talk about or daydream about achieving greatness.
- You might notice that your partner spends a significant amount of time fantasizing about fame, wealth, or public admiration for their talents and achievements.
- This fascination with power and success isn’t just casual dreaming; it often serves as a coping mechanism.
- When faced with adversity or self-doubt, they may use these fantasies to escape reality and maintain their inflated self-image.
- As a partner, you may find yourself caught up in their tales of success or even enlisted to help make their dreams a reality, regardless of their feasibility or impact on your life.
This study found that the “narcissistic” fantasy style involves these six types of daydreams: achievement, heroic, sexual, hostile, self-revelation, and future-oriented daydreams (Raskin & Novacek, 1991).
In some cases, they may be indicative of malignant narcissism, a more severe form of the disorder. This type of narcissism makes the person strive for absolute power and control over others, often stopping at nothing to achieve their obsessive goals.
So, listen carefully to their conversations and stories for fantasies of power, success, or fame. If you notice these, it may be time to take a closer look at your relationship.
However, not everyone who dreams big or has lofty goals is a narcissist. Don’t be too quick to label your partner as a narcissist, but stay vigilant in recognizing these red flags.
9. Envy and Jealousy
Believing Others Envy Them
Narcissists tend to believe that others envy them (Envy Divides the Two Faces of Narcissism, Krizan & Johar, 2012).
- They often see themselves as superior, more successful, or more inviting than the people around them. This mistaken belief can fuel their arrogance and self-absorption.
- In their minds, their achievements and qualities overshadow those of other people.
- You might notice they often project envy onto others, even when it isn’t there. Spotting this can be essential in understanding their distorted worldview.
Focusing Too Much on Appearances
In dating a narcissist, you’re likely to witness their preoccupation with appearance and the envy of others.
- Narcissists place significant importance on appearance (Putting the “self” in selfies, Taylor, 2019).
- This isn’t limited to physical looks alone but can include showing off material possessions, accomplishments, and connections to elevate their perceived status.
- Their obsession with presenting a perfect image often goes hand-in-hand with jealousy.
- They may feel threatened when someone else appears to have something they lack. Consequently, they might try to undermine or belittle others to maintain the illusion of superiority.
10. Manipulating Sex and Communication
Using Sex as a Weapon
When dating a narcissist, you may notice that they often use sex as a means of control or manipulation.
- They might use intimate acts as a reward for certain behaviors or withhold it as punishment.
- This tactic can leave you feeling insecure and vulnerable in the relationship.
- Narcissistic individuals may also engage in using sex to affirm their self-competence, further solidifying their need to have power over you.
Giving Silent Treatment
Another sign you’re dating a narcissist is the pervasive use of the silent treatment as a means of manipulating communication.
- Narcissists know that withdrawing their attention, affection, or conversation can cause emotional distress in their partners.
- The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive form of control, and it can be particularly harmful if you’re someone who values open and honest communication.
- This issue is quite difficult to resolve, as they can become defensive or even derail the conversation to place blame on you.
- If you find yourself subject to silent treatment, hold your ground and encourage assertive communication.
Allow them the personal space they need, but don’t become too emotionally invested so that it becomes hard to end the relationship.
11. Bad Habits
When dating a narcissist, you might notice an addiction to substances such as alcohol, smoking illicit substances, or the use of prohibited drugs.
- Substance abuse among narcissists may be rooted in their need to boost their false sense of self or as a way to cope with their unresolved emotional insecurities.
- Worse, the narcissist may influence you into these harmful and dangerous habits and make you co-dependent on them for drugs or alcohol.
- This way, they gain more control over you, playing with your cravings and sanity.
- Of course, the substances damage your mental health, physical health, financial health, and other relationships.
How do you handle this?
The easiest fix would be to demand that they quit their addiction, with the warning that you will end the relationship if they don’t give up their substance use.
Next, tell them what you will and will not tolerate.
You could allow them to smoke tobacco, but with the condition that they never do it when you are around, or inside the house.
Setting up healthy boundaries is the key to any relationship, not just those with narcissists.
Make your limits known right at the beginning. Give them a warning about what you will do if they don’t respect your boundaries.
You could suggest they seek help for their addiction, but never try to fix them yourself.
Social Media Addiction
One more unhealthy habit you may notice while dating a narcissist is their social media addiction.
- They are often obsessed with curating the perfect online image, posting their pictures rather than enjoying the moment, and seeking validation through likes and comments.
- They can use you as a tool to feed their vanity and inflate their ego.
- They may flaunt their higher social status by advertising their relationship with you. They may try to draw your followers and friends into their circle of influence.
While you try to nurture a genuine connection with them, they leave you feeling neglected and used.
12. Constantly On Alert & At Unease
Irritation Over Small Things
When dating a narcissist, you might notice that they are easily irritated by minor issues.
Their irritation may stem from feelings of entitlement and a need to control their environment. The symptom of being on constant alert for irritants can be a sign of hypervigilance.
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you might find yourself walking on eggshells to avoid their sudden anger or mood swings.
For instance, a delayed response to their text messages might provoke annoyance or even rage.
Stress, Anxiety, and Mood Issues
Due to their hypersensitivity to criticism and perceived slights, narcissists may feel overwhelming stress and anxiety over even the most minor of issues.
- You may notice them nervously fidgeting or displaying defensive body language even during casual conversations. This unease is because high narcissists are hypervigilant for ego-threats.
- They are on guard against any perceived threat to their ego, continually looking for ways to assert control and maintain their inflated self-image.
- Being with someone who seems always on edge can be emotionally draining. You may start to feel more anxious and stressed.
- They may wake you up at 3 in the morning to ask you a pointless query, and then follow up with a second one at 3:30 a.m.
- Their constant state of alertness and unease creates an unpleasant atmosphere. It makes it difficult to see if you will ever have a supportive and loving relationship with them. Seek support if necessary.
What are the 10 top signs of a narcissist?
1. Grandiose sense of self-importance. Narcissists believe they are important, special, and better than everyone else. They talk a lot about themselves and brag about their unrivaled qualities. They are unkind to those they feel they are not as good as they claim.
2. Need for admiration. They constantly crave attention and praise from others. They seek out compliments and validation and become easily offended or upset if they don’t receive it.
3. Sense of entitlement. They believe they deserve special treatment and expect to be treated like royalty. They are demanding, feel that their needs always come first, and have difficulty accepting ‘No’ for an answer. They feel disrespected when not given preferential treatment, and often react with narcissistic rage.
4. Lack of empathy. Narcissists are unable to understand or care about the feelings of others. They are insensitive and callous, and may even get cruel.
5. Envy of others. Narcissists are often envious of others who they perceive to be more successful or attractive than themselves. They may try to sabotage others’ success or make them feel bad about themselves.
6. Arrogance & Superiority. Narcissists believe that they are better than others in every way. They may look down on others, treat them with contempt, or even bully them. They are often arrogant and conceited, believing they are always right and that only their opinions matter. They devalue and show contempt for other people’s positive qualities to feel superior.
7. Manipulative. They use manipulation to get people to stroke their own egos. They use their relationships to benefit themselves. They employ charming mannerisms, charismatic personas, narcissistic gaslighting, or direct threats to get what they want.
8. Poor emotional control. Narcissists often struggle to regulate their emotions and actions and frequently get upset and unhappy.
9. Lack of accountability. Narcissists are often unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. They may blame others for their mistakes or deny that they did anything wrong.
10. Insecure. Narcissists feel insecure, ashamed, and vulnerable. They harbor bitter memories of being humiliated in the past. They get excessively irritated and frustrated when they fail, as it exposes their weaknesses.
How do narcissists act when dating?
1. They are charming and charismatic. Narcissists are good at making themselves look impeccable, and so, are often charming, witty, and confident. They know how to make people feel special and important.
2. They are grandiose and entitled. Narcissists truly believe they are superior to others. They expect to be treated with special attention and respect. They may demand that their partner’s needs always come after their own.
3. They are manipulative and controlling. Narcissists are very good at getting what they want, by hook or crook. They may use emotional manipulation, gaslighting, or threats to control their partner. They may also try to isolate their partner from friends and family.
4. They are lacking in empathy. Narcissists are unable to understand or care about the feelings of others. They may be cold, indifferent, or even cruel to their partner.
5. They are prone to rage and jealousy. Narcissists often have difficulty controlling their emotions. They may fly into rages if they feel threatened or insecure. They may also be very jealous of their partner’s attention and time.
How to get out of a narcissistic relationship?
Getting out of a narcissistic relationship can be very difficult, but it is possible. Here are some tips:
1. Gather support. Gather your team — friends, family, colleagues who empathize with you, and even a therapist. They can help you to understand what you are going through and to cope with the emotional fallout of the relationship.
2. Make a plan. Once you have decided to leave the relationship, draw a detailed plan. Include decisions about how/when you are going to leave, where you are going to go, and what you are going to do to support your expenses.
3. Be prepared for the narcissist’s reaction. Narcissists often react awfully when their partners break the news of leaving them. They may try to hoover you back, or they may become vindictive and try to hurt you. Stay prepared for their possible reactions and have a plan for how you will handle it.
4. Take care of yourself. Leaving a narcissistic relationship can be very traumatic. You have to prioritize your self-care during this time. Sleep well, eat healthy, exercise, and consult your doctor. Make time to spend time with people who support you and who make you feel good about yourself.
Find out how to leave a narcissistic relationship, even if you have no money, and be free.
What are the long-lasting impacts of being in a relationship with a narcissist?
Some of the most common long-term effects of a narcissistic relationship include:
1. Low self-esteem: Narcissists are very good at tearing down their partners’ self-esteem. This can lead to long-term feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, and insecurity.
2. Trust issues: Narcissists are often manipulative and controlling. This can make it difficult to trust others in the future.
3. Anxiety and depression: The emotional abuse of a narcissist can lead to anxiety and depression. These conditions make it difficult to function in everyday life.
4. PTSD: The emotional abuse of a narcissist can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a serious mental health condition that can cause flashbacks, nightmares, and intense anxiety.
5. Isolation: Narcissists often isolate their partners from friends and family. This can make it difficult to rebuild your life after the relationship ends.
6. Difficulty forming healthy relationships: The long-term effects of narcissistic abuse can make it difficult to form healthy relationships in the future. You may find yourself constantly second-guessing your partner’s intentions or being afraid to be vulnerable.
How to protect your self-worth while dealing with a narcissistic partner?
Here are some tips on protecting your self-worth in a narcissistic relationship:
1. Acknowledge your worth. Keep reminding yourself that you are worthy of self-love and self-respect, regardless of what your narcissistic partner says or does. Recall your positive qualities and accomplishments.
2. Set boundaries. Narcissists often disallow their partners to have their personal time, space, or privacy. Stand up for yourself and set strict boundaries with them; also enforce them consistently. Say No to requests and walk away from situations that make you feel uncomfortable.
3. Don’t take their words personally. Narcissists often say hurtful things to their partners. However, their words are mostly narcissistic projections (reflections of who they are), not an indication of your value as a person. They are simply trying to break your emotional strength so they can control you more.
4. Focus on your own needs. Your narcissistic partner can influence you into thinking that your main duty is to serve and please them. You should instead focus on your own needs and take care of yourself. Make time for activities you enjoy and spend time with people who make you feel good.
5. Seek support. Talking to a therapist or counselor can help deal with the emotional abuse of a narcissistic partner. They can help you to understand what you are going through and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Ultimately, dating a narcissist can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. You will have a hard time finding emotional support and getting your emotional needs met.
If you see a lack of these in your relationship — a sense of autonomy and a respectful, consensual dynamic — it may be time to break up for a better person.
• • •
√ Also Read:
- How To Deal With Friends Who Don’t Respect You?
- 30 Signs of A Narcissistic Man: Know What to Look For
- How Narcissists Apologize & How Should You Respond?
- How To Break Up Without Hurting Your Partner (Too Much)
- Places Where To Break Up With Someone (And Where Not To)
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