The topic of narcissists has come up a lot in the news these days, and especially narcissistic men in relationships.
Having a relationship with a narcissist is a frustrating and downright painful experience that you might not recognize at first - especially if your emotions have been manipulated by them.
Does this look familiar...?
The first and most important thing to know is what a real "narcissist" actually IS - especially as it relates to narcissistic relationships.
Narcissistic personality disorder — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.
There are three kinds of narcissists:
- Exhibitionist Narcissist - this is the one that is the classic example you've seen in movies and TV. They're extremely confident, and they are very difficult in relationships...
- Closet Narcissist - this type points to something or someone else as being special - like a person, a religion, a brand label, a philosophy. They're very insecure and passive-aggressive in relationships...
- Toxic Narcissist - this is the type of narcissist that is most dangerous - and thankfully pretty rare. This is the person that enjoys stirring up chaos and hurting others. Like "The Joker" in Batman movies, or the evil queens in fairy tales. You won't likely run into many in your relationships...
There are 9 criteria for narcissism as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) - and you need at least 5 of these symptoms to be a candidate.
(Note: Unless you're a trained professional, it's best to use these criteria for your own knowledge. Declaring someone a narcissist on your own - especially in a romantic relationship - could really stir up some anger.)
Here they are:
9 Symptoms Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- grandiose sense of self-importance
- preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- belief they’re special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- need for excessive admiration
- sense of entitlement (they deserve it 'just because')
- interpersonally exploitative behavior
- lack of empathy
- envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
- demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
The narcissistic disorder itself is actually relatively rare. The estimate is that only about 200,000 US cases of narcissism are formally diagnosed each year - which is .05% of the population.
And as a whole there are less than 2% of the US population with some form of narcissism.
However, it's also easy to mistake someone who posts a few too many duck-face selfies - or mirror shots of their abs - as having narcissism. Narcissistic personality disorder is actually much deeper and complicated than the occasional over-posting on Facebook. (Though this can be a cry for help...)
For a great many people, these desperate bids for attention are really just insecure personality issues...
They act the way they do because they're not getting what they need from their relationships, and they feel deprived.
And while some people can be very selfish, it's actually unlikely that they are a narcissist based on this behavior alone. Sometimes, (to be completely blunt) you might just be dating a real jerk.
The actual disorder of narcissism has come up as being a growing problem in the United States.
- Some people blame Facebook...
- Some blame the "self esteem" movement...
- Some blame Mr. Rogers... (I'm not kidding, they really do!)
- Some people blame the President...
In reality, none of those factors are really to blame. Or maybe it's ALL of them as a whole. It's really a complicated recipe of ingredients that creates the narcissist disorder.
The part that should concern you most in relationships is that 75% of all narcissists are men...
Which means you want to be able to spot this condition if you want to avoid some nasty relationship problems later on.
Personally, I've also encountered some of the 25% of female narcissists back in some of my past relationships. And I'll tell you that it's not very fun, either.
You may be aware that one of the most famous narcissists was the famed killer Ted Bundy. He's a classic example of this personality disorder, taken to an extreme.
Also - you should know that narcissism is not considered a "treatable" illness.
One of the primary reasons is that it is "self-cloaking." Meaning that if a person has narcissistic personality disorder, they don't think they really have a problem! So it's going to be difficult to get them into treatment in the first place.
FIRST - we need to understand the different signs of a narcissist in relationships. These could show up at any time, and in any order. There is a predictable pattern to how a narcissist gets into your life, though.
Narcissistic Men In Relationships - 10 Symptoms Of A Narcissistic Relationship
There are many signs that can tell you if you're in a relationship with someone with a narcissistic tendency, and that's what we're going to look at here today.
is there a pattern of behaviors?
First, you should understand the 3 part narcissistic abuse cycle as described by Dr. Daniel Fox:
- Glorifying Stage - you make each other out to be incredibly wonderful. You can't get enough, and you soak in all the praise and flattery...
- Belittling Stage - You get a lot of demeaning comments, snide comments and sarcasm. Since you remember the glorifying so well and how powerful that felt, you may let a lot of this low-level abuse slide. But these comments get bigger, harsher, and more abusive as the relationship goes on...
- Abandoning Stage - This is when the narcissist pulls the plug on you to give you that really heavy feeling of withdrawal. This usually ends with you remembering the glorifying stage, and since you want to relive the "high" of that attention, the cycle starts again. Only now you don't get the same high power glorifying you got at the start, so it starts to change the energy. But now you're back at the start...
These stages can take weeks or days to go through a complete cycle. Or they can even shorten down to just a few minutes during a relationship argument or other catalyst.
And going through this spiral makes you more and more dizzy each time.
Let's start to walk through some of the symptoms in this cycle that tell you you're in a narcissistic relationship...
Narcissism Symptom 1: You Feel Like He Dropped A Bomb On You...
One of the more powerful indicators of a narcissistic relationship is when your partner started the relationship by being really intense at the start. It's likely that things were really hot & heavy in the beginning, with him proclaiming his love for you very early on. Maybe even in the first few dates.
It doesn't have to just be him telling you he loves you, either. It could be the intensity of his interest. He makes it start out like a fairy tale for you, and you're his princess.
You might be drawn in because he's so charming and charismatic. He says the things you want to hear. And it appeals to your desire to feel desired. You feel swept off your feet.
Even men like to feel this kind of attention!
It's like being really hungry and walking up to the world's tastiest all-you-can-eat buffet. Of course it's going to be appealing to you in relationships.
That's how these narcissists operate, and it's a convincing strategy if you aren't watching for it. After all, who doesn't want to get swept away by love?
They're likely to talk up all the positive things, like:
- How compatible you two are...
- How lucky you were to find each other... (making it sound magical)
- Talking up all the things about you that other people don't recognize - which is a huge mind-$#&@
And generally the narcissists always make their relationships seem too good to be true.
And it is.
Be aware and cautious!
If you feel that:
- Things are moving too fast...
- The relationship is almost too good...
- This person is TOO different than others you've dated - in conveniently all the ways that you want...
Stop for a second and look at what's going on before you jump in with both feet into this narcissistic relationship.
Narcissism Symptom 2: And Then - POOF...
Out of nowhere, the narcissist is probably going to vanish for a time, only to resurface later as if nothing happened.
He's everywhere and nowhere...
And they make you feel you're still the most amazing person in the world.
It will leave you confused and hurt because of the suddenness of the turn-around. You'll wonder what happened. And it might even feel like past relationships of yours where you felt abandoned. And this brings up even more fearful emotions.
The other way you'll feel this attention revoked is that the narcissistic partner could also turn on you for no reason at all.
You could be getting along well, having fun, and then you do something that triggers a pouty, sulky version of the narcissist. And that makes you panic.
But it's not really YOU that's at fault.
It's their dysfunctional psychology that short-circuited, and now you're the one to blame.
The real risk is that you become addicted to the up and down cycles of these relationships.
- On the up-side, the narcissist lifts you to new highs with his praise and loving attention
- On the down-side, he throws you into despair with each time he turns on you when you "disappoint" your narcissist man
- And then you feel the withdrawal of the good feelings hit you and you want to ride his relationship roller coaster back to the top again...
- OR you start justifying the bad times making up for the good times
This cycle of hot and cold, mean and sweet, up and down will make you very anxious and unhappy...
When you go through this alternating cycle of ups and downs enough, it starts to addict you to the process. You know you're unhappy and unfulfilled, but you hold out hope.
Maybe you've experienced a relationship like this before where the drama starts to take a front seat and the love is barely visible.
Narcissism Symptom 3: The Double Whammy...
The first part of the double whammy that you experience is that the narcissist is constantly talking about themselves, and showing all the signs of a grandiose self-image and accomplishments.
Narcissists tend to monopolize the conversation about what's going on with them. They seem only focused on their own world, and how great they are.
This should not be confused with the kind of guy who brags a lot to impress people but you can smell how insecure he actually is.
No, the narcissist really believes they are smarter and better than everyone else. If only everyone would just SEE it and get out of the narcissists way!
This gives the narcissistic person a powerful aura of self-confidence and self-esteem...
That confidence can be very attractive to people who may feel a bit insecure or inadequate in relationships. It's like a glowing light of certainty that is really hard to resist.
The other part of the double whammy is that you will feel lonely and frustrated because the narcissist never really talks about YOU or your life. You carry the aching sensation of never feeling fulfilled by the relationship because it's never there for YOU.
And it can be very difficult to pin down why you have this empty, lonely feeling inside. Until you realize, the narcissist's neglect is what's causing it.
Narcissism Symptom 4: The Reality Bender...
This one is particularly vivid for me, as I experienced this in a relationship with a woman who was very narcissistic. I didn't even realize I was in a narcissistic relationship until years after we broke up, and this symptom stayed in my brain for many years after.
Some call this the "gaslighting" effect. This term means that a person tries to change things around so that they manipulate you into doubting your own sanity.
It also means - as it pertains to narcissistic relationship - undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings.
Does it feel like he's playing games...?
I'll give you a quick example:
- Your favorite narcissist tells you on the phone that they'll meet you at 7:00PM at your favorite restaurant - Chico's
- You text the narcissist at 7:15 from that restaurant asking him "Where the hell are you?"
- He texts you back that he's meeting you at another restaurant down the road at 7:30 PM - "JUST LIKE WE PLANNED!"
Now, you know that he said the other restaurant. And he also originally said 7:00, not 7:30. You're... pretty darn sure.
And when you meet up, you argue over this. But he's so doggedly convincing that he said 7:30 at the other restaurant that you give in.
Maybe you did misunderstand him. Maybe you heard it wrong...
But now you feel off, and you're thrown by this. You don't want to create unnecessary conflict, so you let it go.
Leaving you with a weird, uncertain feeling inside.
THIS, dear friends, is gaslighting. AKA "The Reality Bender." And it's a specialty of the narcissist.
Signs of gaslighting include the following:
- You find yourself apologizing often to your partner
- You feel more anxious and less confident than you used to be - almost a different person
- You often wonder if you’re being "too sensitive" or overreacting
- You feel like everything you do is wrong - and there is no "right" solution
- You always think it’s your fault when there's a problem
- You often question whether your reaction to your partner is appropriate
- You make frequent excuses for your partner’s behavior (BIG ONE!)
It can really mess with your mind, so be on the lookout for this kind of manipulative and very deceptive behavior. It's the worst kind of abuse.
The Narcissist doesn't necessarily intend to make you feel like you're going crazy - he just can't handle the idea that he's wrong. So he bends YOUR reality to match his self image and needs.
It's insidious, and you should NEVER let this kind of dynamic into your relationship.
Narcissism Symptom 5: Punish, Isolate, and Redeem...
Another of the clever strategies of the narcissist is their ability to wield power in your relationship.
Does he break you down...?
One of the ways they do this is to play more of your insecurities against you. So what they'll do is run a routine of:
First, they setup a punishment for something you did. They'll act extra hurt about something and proceed to punish you in words or action.
Then they isolate you. Similar to the Abandon strategy, he simply cuts off contact in a very uncomfortable way. Maybe you're on vacation and he either wanders off, or leaves you stranded.
Then he finally comes back to you and redeems you. Maybe he says he forgives you. Or he sets it up so that he gives you "another chance."
Any way you cut it, this is a narcissistic strategy to get you to ride the emotional roller coaster, and get more stuck in the cycle of seeking his approval.
Narcissism Symptom 6: Got No Feelings...
The trademark symptom of Narcissists is that they don't have any real empathy.
Is he emotionally cold and distant?
Empathy is defined as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another."
Narcissists lack the ability to make you feel seen, validated, understood, or accepted because they don’t grasp the concept of feelings. They just can't understand OTHER people's feelings. They're stuck in their perspective.
This not only makes them look a bit selfish - okay, a LOT selfish - it makes them look like bratty little kids. Right down to the temper tantrums.
Watch for his interest level in your emotional experience. If he appears bored by your feelings, or doesn't seem to understand them - or there's a really big disconnect in how he responds to your problems, you should watch out.
Narcissism Symptom 7: No Long-Time Buddies...
Narcissists don't have the ability to keep long-term friendships alive. They'll have some casual friends, but mostly hardcore enemies. (Or maybe one current person that the narcissist has declared their nemesis.)
If they do know somebody for a long time, there's a really good chance that the relationship is very superficial. It probably suits him this way. He charms these friends, then uses them for his own benefit.
You might even notice that they translate their own lack of durable friendships into attacks on your friendships and social life. One thing a narcissist likes to do in a relationship is to isolate you from your friends and keep you all to himself.
Narcissism Symptom 8: No Win...
If there's one thing you realize when you're in a narcissistic relationship, it's that they cannot stand to be wrong. You can't win an argument with a narcissist, no matter how hard you try.
Up for a game of 4D chess...?
Narcissists are so connected to their self-image of perfection that they won't let you anywhere near the core of their identity. Not even to question their sheer brilliance and perfection.
You may be dating a narcissist if you feel like your partner:
- doesn’t really hear you
- won’t understand you or your point of view
- doesn’t take any responsibility for their part in the issue
- doesn’t ever try to compromise or meet in the middle
And they never ever apologize. When you hear what seems to ALMOST be an apology usually just turns out to be another justification on their part for why they weren't really wrong.
Narcissism Symptom 9: Ambitions Of Perfection...
The narcissist has a big plan for life.
It's a big plan, full of ambition. And in society today, the narcissistic personality stands a really good chance of accomplishing it, since they have no guilt about what they have to do to get it.
They do ANYTHING to get their way...
These narcissists have no problem hurting others in their ambitions. Which is why you need to be able to spot someone who is not just ambitious but without a compassionate conscience.
A lot of the signs of this disorder can mimic the signs of a really masculine man. Which is why it's so essential that you understand men (and masculinity) to avoid a narcissistic relationship.
You do want a man with some desire and ambition in life, as opposed to a weak, lazy guy. But if he's driven so much that he ignores you or doesn't seem to hold much compassion and kindness in him, you should leave that relationship.
Narcissism Symptom 10: Wicked Breakup Cycles...
The end of relationships with a narcissist are a hurricane of drama and manipulation. This is mostly because when you demonstrate independent authority that challenges their self-image, they freak the @#&% out. You're turning a fan on right next to his delicate house of cards, and that's threatening.
Love me, love me not...
The dynamic goes something like this:
- You initiate the distance - or even threaten a breakup
- He comes back to you with excessive glorifying, laying it on thick
- You get caught up in wanting things the way they were, and you come back to the relationship
- The abuse starts again, and builds until you initiate distance again
And so the cycle goes.
But with one very important tweak: If you do manage to break up and stay broken up, he's going to panic and do everything he can to keep you around in his life. If only to justify that he's got that power over you.
He'll try to convince you he's changed, so watch out for that. Eventually he will just go back to the same old habits and behaviors.
The really deadly part is that the narcissistic personality will adjust his future strategy to avoid the situation that pushed your buttons, or he will just move on to a new relationship.
So - what do you now?
The most important thing to do if you suspect you're in a narcissistic (abusive) relationship is to immediately scale back on the time you are spending with him. He will continue to suck you down deeper into his unreality vortex if you let him. And the resulting damage to your self-esteem could take you years to recover from.
The next step is to avoid any kind of arguments or negotiating. A narcissist thrives on conflict to use their special tools of deception and manipulation on people. Especially when they never concede an argument with you anyways.
Don't give them the tools to make you feel crazy.
The next step is to prepare for their retaliation. Be ready for him to fight back to re-assert his reality - and control of - you.
Narcissists read people really well. As a result, he will use all his best methods to sweet talk you back, or just pummel you with guilt, abuse, or any other manipulative method that he's used on you in the past.
And also use this retaliation (that you can predict) to prove your reality is right! Now that you see that the pattern is predictable, you'll also know that you're seeing things straight.
When he lashes back at you - and he will - he'll use all the power plays we've discussed here. Be ready for them. And when you see them, you simply dodge them. Do not engage with him.
The less you fight him the less he can play the head games with you.
And finally, when you're ready - end the relationship.
Do not stay in a relationship with a narcissist.
- It's very unlikely they will EVER seek treatment.
- It's unlikely he will ever "get better" on his own.
Again, true narcissistic personalities are relatively rare. You are more likely to encounter someone with self-esteem issues that has some of these symptoms, but is not really mentally ill.
The best ally you have when you're dating or building a relationship is KNOWLEDGE...
When you understand men, what they want, and what YOU want - you won't be fooled into bad relationships anymore.
You'll find the man you really desire - and you'll be able to create a bond with him that can't be broken...
If you want to learn more about how men think, what men want, and how to open his heart - go watch this quick video right now...