You’ve probably heard of the term “narcissistic” in relation to friends, family members, and partners. For some, the word simply refers to a person who has a high opinion of themselves or who is especially egocentric. But to mental health professionals, the term suggests narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and has diagnostic criteria.
“The narcissistic personality is made up of the following core traits: lack of empathy, selfishness, deception, manipulation, exploitation, entitlement, and a grandiose sense of self-importance,” explains Laura BonkMA, PLPC, therapist at Heartland Therapy Login. Additionally, narcissism exists on a spectrum, which means a person can be highly narcissistic without being diagnosed with NPD. Read on to hear therapists talk about the red flags that mean your partner may be a narcissist. Catch it early and connect with a professional before things get out of hand.
They seem too good to be true at first glance.
One of the main signs that your partner or future partner could be narcissistic is if they are too charming and charismatic at the start of your relationship. “The person seems too good to be true, you feel attracted to them, and they seem to be ‘perfect’ in many ways,” says Lindsey FerrisMS, LMFTA, A licensed marriage and family therapist in Washington. “That’s not to say it sometimes happens with people who aren’t narcissists, but be aware when you get to know this person that narcissists pull you into their web by mirroring your needs and desires.”
Narcissists do this because they need to mask their true selves to seduce you. This causes you to trust them before they begin to engage in the clearest signs of narcissism. “You will have more difficulty seeing [those] once they’ve won you over,” adds Ferris.
They think they are superior to others.
Some of the biggest signs that your partner is a narcissist have to do with how they interact with others. For instance, “[narcissists] often think they are superior to others because of their accomplishments, wealth, status or appearance,” explains Colleen WenerLMHC, MCAP, LP, Founder and Clinical Director of New Heights Counseling&Consulting. “They believe everyone is the envy of them and jealous of their success.”
This belief leads them to act righteously and think they deserve special treatment. Their grandiose air is frustrating to those around them and makes it difficult for the narcissist to accept criticism.
They never accept blame or apologize.
On a similar note, a narcissist will rarely apologize. “Blaming others and not taking responsibility are characteristics of narcissism that create a catch-22 that thwarts healthy emotional growth and learning,” says Nikki EisenhauerMEd, LPC, LCDC, psychotherapist and the host of the Badass Emotional Podcast. “Narcissism creates a self-satisfaction loop. Basically, if I’m always right and I’m always the person in the room with the best ideas, why should I have to humble myself, look in the mirror, to swallow my pride, to offer forgiveness to myself or others, to learn something new?”
This way of thinking means that the narcissist never learns or looks for ways to improve. “A narcissist’s justice comes and goes, disinterested in evolving emotionally as people with healthier empathy do,” Eisenhauer adds.
They fish for compliments.
We all love to get positive feedback from time to time, but narcissists absolutely crave it. “Narcissist people often go out of their way to get a compliment, sometimes even asking for one directly,” explains Adam HolmanLCSW, of Psychotherapy Main Quest. “At their core, narcissists need to feel better than others to feel useful. Receiving praise helps nurture the idea that the person is superior to others.”
If your partner is constantly looking for compliments on how they look before a big night out or how successful they are in general conversation, there may be a bigger issue to discuss.
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They light you with gas.
Because narcissists cannot feel empathy, they put the people around them through the emotional wringer. This could include things like gaslighting or telling yourself that your feelings or experiences are wrong. “Questioning a person’s experience creates doubt – a doubt in you about yourself,” says Sarah E.F. O’BrienLCSW, LCSW-C, CCATP, CTMH, A licensed clinical social worker. “This leaves room for the narcissist to take control. Control of people and circumstances is a narcissist’s goal.”
If you think that’s the dynamic at play between you and your partner, you’ll want to connect with a professional.