Narcissists are appealing for good reason: they’re charming, compelling and don’t hold back on the compliments. By the time you realize just how toxic a narcissist can be, you’ve likely already been duped into developing feelings for him or her.
Of course, not everyone you date who’s vaguely self-absorbed has full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It’s important to note that narcissism exists on a spectrum, said Dr. Craig Malkin, an instructor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — and Surprising Good — About Feeling Special.
“Not all narcissists have NPD,” Malkin told The Huffington Post. “‘Narcissist’ is just a label that indicates someone scores well above average on narcissism measures. They’re high in traits, but may or may not have the disorder.”
Below, Malkin and three other experts shed light on the telltale signs you’re in a relationship with a narcissist.
1. In The Beginning, They Love Bomb You.
Narcissists are very, very good at turning on the charm when they first meet you. As far as they’re concerned, you’ve got the looks of a young Elizabeth Taylor and the wit of a thousand Tina Feys. But don’t get used to those compliments or the pricey dinners they treat you to — it’s not likely to last, said licensed marriage and family therapist Virginia Gilbert.
“That behavior is called love bombing but with a narcissist, the smothering, razzle-dazzle display has nothing to do with you,” she said. “You merely supply whatever the narcissist wants at the time (sex, money, status, youth),” she said. “Once he or she has you, the ‘love’ you feel will morph into control and denigration.”
2. Grand, Sweeping Gestures Are Their Strong Suit.
Narcissists want to be remembered. If there’s a chance to one-up someone’s good story and impress others in the group, they’ll take it. If there’s a group dinner tab, they’re more than happy to pick it up. They live for those moments that bolster their own grandiose self image, said Tina Swithin, the author of Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle. But you need to stay wary of their motives.
“As a narcissist is paying the tab, she is scanning the group and taking notes on how she can use the experience or group members to maintain her inflated self-image or elevate her status,” Swithin said.” There is always an ulterior motive when it comes to a narcissist.”
3. They Can’t Admit When They’re Wrong.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things: Naturally, the right way is always the narcissist’s way and the wrong way — just by default — is yours, Gilbert said. And if you try to follow through on orders the narcissist barks, you’ll still be doing it wrong.
“The narcissist will publicly lambaste you or anyone who dares do something not precisely to his or her liking,” Gilbert said. “The way they see it, you didn’t just make a mistake: you committed an atrocity and are accused of being stupid or incompetent.”
If they put you in the position of defending yourself, don’t even attempt to explain. “You will never get a narcissist to see your point-of-view or admit he was wrong,” Gilbert said.
4. They’re Envious Of Your Relationship With Others.
Initially, narcissists may tell you they admire the close knit-relationships you have with family and friends. But criticism of those same people soon follows, said clinical psychologist Margaret Rutherford.
“Again, it’s all about control,” Rutherford said, adding that the motivation is usually twofold: “He or she may be envious of your relationships with others or want you more to themselves. And just by their very nature, the narcissist is demanding. They want to feel in control of you. This is just another way of doing that.”
5. The Narcissist Lives For The “Likes.”
New research suggests that people who constantly update their Facebook status are more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits. If you’re currently coupled up with a narcissist, be prepared to have your Facebook newsfeed flooded with humble-brag statuses and photo posts.
“The most outgoing narcissists adore the spotlight,” Dr. Craig Malkin explained. “Image churning on Facebook draws attention to people. The flood of likes and comments gives everyone a rush of affirmation but narcissists tend to become hooked. That’s probably why people who frequently update tend to be more narcissistic than those of us content to choose one selfie and stick with it.”
6. Their Brand Of Empathy Is Self-Motivated.
Contrary to popular belief, most people on the narcissistic spectrum don’t have a complete lack of empathy for others. It’s just that they’re far too concerned with their own preoccupations, needs and fears to show it, Malkin said. When they do express it, there’s usually some ulterior motivate for doing so.
“If they’re motivated, say by the need to get you into bed with them, they can be amazing listeners and their caring is genuine,” the psychologist explained. “But it may only come to them when there’s a payoff. If their empathy seems to come and go depending on what’s in it for them, beware.”
7. Conversations Are One-Sided.
Good luck getting a word in edgewise while having a conversation with a narcissist. Dominating the conversation — even when the topic relates entirely to you — is a hallmark trait of the narcissist. They may feign interest in your college basketball picks, but deep down, they can’t wait to to hijack the conversation and offer up their superior opinion.
“Their interest is always short-lived,” said Swithin. “ Over time, you will notice that every topic is skillfully turned into an opportunity for the narcissist to brag or boast about their favorite topic: the narcissist! A simple conversation about your new car will likely turn into an opportunity for him to talk about the rare sports car that he is importing from Germany.”
8. They’re Really, Really Ridiculously Good Looking.
Face it: the narcissist’s style and good looks may have been one of the first things that drew you in. But the need to look good is not a healthy vanity with the narcissist; it’s just another way to gain the adoration that they run on, Malkin said.
“Sorry to say, but if your partner wears sexy outfits or always dresses to nines, odds are they’re more narcissistic than most of us — or worse,” he said. “Manipulative, coldly calculating narcissists aren’t better looking from birth, but they’re really good at looking sharp — something called ‘effective adornment.’”
9. Your Needs And Requests Don’t Matter.
If you’re in love with someone who’s narcissistic, your needs will always come second. They’re too busy assessing what they need from you to see you as a whole, separate person with your own needs and desires, Gilbert said.
“Everything is an extension of the narcissist,” said explained. “Expressing those needs feels like a threat to the narcissist, who will likely make you feel that your requests are outlandish, while she demands to have everything her way. If you feel like you’re starving or gasping for air just to be heard, chances are you’re involved with a narcissist.”
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Credit: Brittany Wong, Huffington Post