In this article we will talk about the main signs of a narcissist you should never ignore. We will also cover how a narcissistic relationship looks like and how you can take care of yourself.
Narcissism is a prevalent buzz word right now.
Particularly in dating and relationships, references to narcissists abound.
Either there are more in existence than ever before, we’re simply more aware of them, or perhaps we’re attributing attitudes and behaviors to narcissism that have another explanation.
What is a Narcissist?
Technically, a narcissist is a person who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
However, in popular use, this term doesn’t always describe a person who meets the diagnostic criteria for NPD.
Typically, when we use the term “narcissist”, we’re referring to someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance.
We use it to describe someone who is manipulative and uses other people, and who appears to have no empathy for others.
This term is also used in pop culture to describe someone who is egotistical, selfish, and even abusive.
While many of these behaviors are typical of people with narcissistic personality disorder, there’s a lot more to diagnosing someone than observing that they flex in every single reflective surface you pass, noticing that they seem to disregard our feelings, and noting that they think their needs should always come first.
It’s easy to say that our exes are all narcissists, but it’s doubtful they really meet the diagnostic criteria.
How Many People Actually Qualify for NPD?
Actually, it’s estimated that 1 person in 200 of the population actually qualifies for NPD, and it’s unlikely any of us have encountered the entirety of the 0.05% on Tinder dates.
That number is about 75% men, a fact I’m not making up. Of that number, 20% report military careers and 17% are doctors.
While the number of people with narcissistic personality disorder is likely underreported, it’s still unlikely that most people we meet qualify for an actual personality disorder.
Sometimes, people just suck — at least, their behaviors do.
The common saying adage is that hurting people hurt people, which is true.
Who Can Diagnose NPD?
Even if they do meet every single qualification, the only person who can diagnose them is a licensed mental health professional.
As a former therapist myself, I can safely say that it’s highly unethical for mental health professionals to diagnose friends, family members, dates, or anyone else they encounter outside of a therapeutic context.
Sometimes, as a society, we have just enough information about mental health to fling around terms we don’t entirely respect or understand.
The reality is that many people we encounter who hurt us are simply hurting themselves and haven’t yet healed.
They have childhood trauma, relationship trauma, and maladaptive coping mechanisms that they may not even be aware of.
To simply call them narcissists and write them off allows us to bypass empathy and compassion in favor of a narrative that makes them wrong and us right.
Yet, narcissistic relationships — actual ones — do exist.
What Does a Narcissistic Relationship Look Like?
Narcissistic relationships occur when one or both parties have narcissistic personality disorder. It’s unsurprising to learn that this personality and its related behaviors can be detrimental to others.
While we may automatically think about romantic relationships, even parent/child relationships can suffer when narcissism is there.
Parent-Child Narcissistic Relationships
People with narcissistic parents often have low self-esteem and can become codependent. In this parent/child paradigm, the parent lives vicariously through the child, holds unreasonably high standards, is highly critical of mistakes, exercise rigid control, and feel entitled to certain treatment from the child. They may even expect their child to meet their own emotional needs rather than the other way around.
In romantic relationships, the narcissist begins by showering their partner with love, attention, and affection, which is then removed over time.
Rather than being a natural change in long-term relationships, narcissists are capable of quickly withdrawing their love, attention, and affection and leaving their partners feeling abandoned.
These relationships are often codependent for the partner as the narcissist continues to undermine their personal power, self-esteem, and independence.
Narcissists violate boundaries, ignore needs, and use gaslighting to keep their partner off-balance.
If it seems like an abusive relationship, that’s because it is.
Narcissistic relationships are toxic and abusive, and people often stay in them because they are waiting for a return of the charming, wonderful person they first fell in love with.
In parent/child relationships, the child may desire a relationship with the parent and stay engaged in the toxic scenario in order to catch whatever breadcrumbs of love, approval, or attention they can get.
In narcissistic relationships, one person is clearly more important than the other — at least, it seems that way.
They tend to monopolize conversations and attention, and they crave constant compliments while being stingy with their own.
They also tend to lack empathy for others and don’t really have long-term friendships.
Narcissists are unable to take responsibility for their behavior and are unlikely to apologize unless the apology itself is a manipulation.
Their sense of humor is often used against their partners (or children), making them the butt of every joke.
This bullying behavior chips away at the self-esteem of the very person they claim — or once claimed — to love.
Recommended article: How to Deal With a Narcissist When You’re in a Relationship With Them
What These Relationships Lack
We now understand what these relationships look like. Here’s what they lack.
They don’t include mutual respect, admiration, and affection.
There is no true compromise with a narcissist, and boundaries are often impossible to maintain when they think rules don’t apply to them.
These relationships lack balance.
One person has all the power, and the other has none.
One person is constantly being praised and catered to, and the other person tends to feel neglected, abandoned, and treated with increasing disrespect and unkindness.
Balance is impossible when one person is controlling and manipulating the relationship to maintain that control.
Most of all, these relationships lack basic kindness and love. Instead, there’s fear, disappointment, and even signs of abuse.
They don’t feel like love because the empathy-deficient narcissists truly only love themselves.
Of course, these aren’t the only signs of narcissism.
The Signs of a Narcissist You Should Never Ignore
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) requires a person to have at least 5 of the following characteristics to qualify for diagnosis.
While few people may meet the criteria for diagnosis for NPD, it’s possible to see narcissistic qualities in many people, which could lead to narcissistic relationships.
1. Narcissists Possess a Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance
This is one of the main signs of a narcissist.
The narcissist has an inflated sense of self.
They think they can do no wrong — and are unlikely to ever admit to mistakes or hurtful behavior. And they tend to brag excessively about their achievements in life.
2. Narcissists Are Preoccupied with Unlimited Fantasies
Interestingly enough, narcissists fantasize about success, control, power, brilliance beauty, and an ideal version of love.
They feel entitled to these fantasies as their ultimate destiny.
Sounds pretty inflated, right? This is part of the personality disorder.
They don’t just have unrealistic expectations for others, they also expect way too much of themselves.
3. Narcissists Believe They Are Extraordinary, Unique, and Better Than Others
It’s unsurprising that narcissists believe they’re special.
They also believe that only other “special” people can understand them.
Because they think they’re better than other people, they also prefer only to associate with people they feel are on their level.
4. They Need Excessive Admiration
Everyone loves to be complimented, but narcissists require it to stroke their egos.
They crave admiration. And this is one of the most important signs of a narcissist.
In fact, narcissists feel entitled to this treatment, and yet, they rarely extend that same kind of admiration to partners beyond the initial stage of the relationship.
5. They Pair Excessive Entitlement with Unrealistic Expectations
Narcissists feel entitled to special treatment.
They have an idea that people should treat them with favor.
In fact, they believe they should be the exception to any rule. Rules are for lesser mortals, right?
Observe a narcissist for any length of time, and we’ll see that they are all about power and control.
Narcissists follow the rules they alone make and disregard others as being less important or simply for other people to follow.
They want to be at the front of the line, in the limelight, and treated with a deference due to their excessive sense of self.
6. Narcissists Tend to Exploit Other People
Narcissists exploit and manipulate other people to meet their own needs.
Because they come across as charming and attentive in the beginning, it can be difficult at first to see the underlying narcissistic traits.
It may even be difficult to admit later that we were manipulated and that any affection we experienced may have been a way of meeting their needs while disregarding our own.
7. They Lack Empathy
Narcissists don’t have empathy.
They might understand how to use and manipulate emotions, but they don’t actually have the ability to connect with how people feel.
The center of the universe is what they think and how they feel.
This is the world according to a narcissist.
8. They Envy Others and Believe Others Envy Them
They’re just jealous. That’s the attitude of narcissists.
They truly believe that other people want to be them.
Additionally, they envy anyone who possess anything they don’t have.
Their core belief is that they deserve it all — and everyone else should want to be just like them.
9. They Display Arrogant Behavior
This is one of the most common signs of narcissism we see outside of mental health circles. Arrogance is not an attractive trait. It is a narcissistic one.
Egotistical behavior is par for the course when dealing with a narcissist.
To qualify for narcissistic personality disorder, one must have at least 5 of these traits.
To qualify for pop culture narcissism, one must only have a single narcissistic trait or simply reject someone who felt entitled to the relationship. At least, it feels that way sometimes.
Other Criteria for the Diagnosis of NPD
People with narcissistic personality disorder must have 5 of these traits in addition to significant impairment in both their personality and interpersonal relationships.
These traits must be stable across time — meaning they are consistently narcissistic with little to no change in that behavior.
They must also be vastly different from what is socially acceptable and/or age appropriate.
For diagnosis, these traits cannot be linked to substance use or a medical condition.
While it’s easy to be angry at narcissists due to their toxic personality and behavior, it’s important to remember that this is a mental health disorder.
They may have developed this trait due to excessively critical or excessively adoring parents, according to the Mayo Clinic.
They also may have inherited these traits or developed them as a result of a neurobiological issue.
The Victims of Narcissistic Relationships
Regardless of how they came to be narcissists, it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with one.
It’s also true that most of us possess some narcissistic tendencies, and yet, we’re capable of developing healthy relationships with other people.
Because we don’t actually have a personality disorder that precludes us from developing greater empathy for others or accountability for ourselves.
Narcissists and narcissistic relationships exist, and they present danger for the child or partner dealing with them. People who find themselves dealing with a narcissist may want to seek therapy for support.
There are also support groups for people who are dealing with people who have NPD or meet the diagnostic criteria.
Here are just a few of the support groups available.
Support Groups for Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
- SPAN (Support for People Affected by Narcissistic Abuse in Toxic Relationships)
- SPANily Support for Coparenting with a Narcissist
- Support for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents
- Divorce Support for Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
- Shine.Buzz Daily for victims recovering from narcissistic abuse
- Boldly Evolving Empaths for survivors in recovery
- SPAN Book Club for survivors of narcissistic abuse to establish community and support
- New Group Coaching Program
- Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support via Discord
- Circles app on iOS or Android devices for narcissistic relationship support
Pop culture may be all abuzz about narcissism, but it’s likely that some of the former partners or failed dates we’ve called narcissists might just have had some related traits that they could stand to work on.
Sometimes, we just feel rejected, and it’s easier to be angry and call names than to deal with our disappointment and pain.
It’s important to understand what narcissism is, what it isn’t, and how it may manifest in our relationships rather than just relying on the latest popular article to inform our thinking.
Labeling other people can help us make sense of the world. Yet, we may not enjoy when other people label us.
Part of removing the stigma from mental health requires that we stop using psychological terminology flippantly to describe the egotistical, arrogant, and manipulative people we encounter in our lives.
Signs of a Narcissist – Final Thoughts
We all have some narcissistic tendencies.
It doesn’t make us all narcissists.
For those suffering from actual narcissistic abuse, there is help in the form of therapy, support groups, and the acknowledgment that what you’re experiencing is real.