There are quite some warning signs you could experience when dating or in a relationship with a narcissist. Mostly, these red flags become clear in hindsight but I hope this article might provide some insight into recognizing narcissists in an earlier stage. It’s good to have knowledge of these red flags in order to recognize them as soon as possible.
The fact you are reading this article means you probably realize or feel (intuitively) something is not right. You might experience some manipulative or unpredictable behaviour that you don’t really understand or seems off. It’s important to think about whether you want to be in a relationship in which you need to deal with all kinds of unhealthy and manipulative behaviour.
To be clear, this article doesn’t aim to diagnose someone as having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) but rather tries to inform you about narcissistic behaviour and corresponding signs. In a way, the label is not relevant as you are dealing with the behaviour of this person. In this article, I will share some good questions to ask yourself in order to recognize and analyze what’s going on.
Knowledge is power
A narcissist can be very charming and attentive which feels great in the beginning. Sadly, it will result in an exhausting and draining experience in a later stage of the relationship. When in a relationship with a narcissist you are likely to feel anxious, doubtful, confused and less like yourself.
It can be hard to think straight and clearly see what’s going on. It could come across strange that we need to learn to recognize unhealthy behaviour but those that have experienced mentally abusive narcissists know the truth can become blurry when under the influence of a narcissist.
A narcissist can make it very hard to see that certain behaviour is unhealthy, as they tend to mirror their victims, manipulate and blame it all on their victim. My article about cognitive dissonance explains how truth can become blurry in the mind of a victim.
You could be manipulated by a narcissist into seeking the problem within yourself all the time. It will feel like walking on eggshells and you might feel less worthy. I hope this article helps in recognizing unhealthy behaviour and acknowledging this behaviour is not yours nor your fault. Knowledge is power and acknowledging the situation you’re in is an important first step.
Narcissistic behaviour versus narcissism
A narcissist is characterized by a lack of (emotional) empathy, a need for admiration/validation and an increased ego. These characteristics result in abusive and self-centered behaviour that can have a large impact on you and others. There can be quite a variety in types of narcissists and their behaviour can play out in many different ways.
It’s important to mention that recognizing some narcissistic behaviour doesn’t necessarily mean a person is a narcissist. It depends on the frequency and intensity of the shown narcissistic/manipulative behaviour. In this article, I focus on recognizing this unhealthy behaviour and the possible effect it has on you.
12 warnings signs of being in a relationship with a narcissist
It’s a very draining and brutal experience when being a victim of a narcissist. I’m sorry if you’re experiencing this or have experienced it. A narcissist will not hesitate to lie, cheat, manipulate, control or gaslight you. There are many signs that could indicate your partner might be a narcissist.
Below, I will go into 11 warnings signs you might be in a relationship with a narcissist and I have added some questions to ask yourself about these signs.
1. Making all kinds of threats
If this person doesn’t hesitate to threaten you in some way you might be dealing with a narcissist. Clearly, it’s unhealthy manipulative behaviour to use threats in order to gain some sense of control. In a long relationship or marriage, a narcissist could even use the suicide threat or physical threats.
Examples of using threats vary a lot and could be for example: ‘I will tell your friends/family what kind of person you really are’ or ‘If I’m so bad why don’t you just leave me? I don’t need you.’ In general, threats will be part of mentally abusing you and trying to gain control over you.
Recognize that making threats is their behaviour and not your responsibility. Try to see your behaviour and their behaviour as separate things. Making threats is abusive, manipulative and very unhealthy behaviour. Think about what this behaviour tells you about them and don’t seek it in yourself.
2. Acting entitled
Another sign of narcissism could be feeling entitled and expecting preferential treatment. You’re supposed to do what they ask of you and they act as if you owe them. A narcissist doesn’t care about the needs or feelings of others. They only care if it affects themselves in some way.
They thus often behave like it’s normal their needs should be fulfilled without considering the needs of others. In their twisted mindset, you should be thankful for them allowing you to fulfil their needs. It’s caused by a feeling of superiority.
A narcissist is so convinced of their truth that it can be hard to realize it’s not normal. You could think about whether your needs and feelings seem to be equally as important as their needs and feelings. Is there a balance in this or not?
3. Trying to make you feel guilty
A narcissist likes to (ab)use the good characteristics of you. This could be done both consciously and unconsciously. They will possibly trigger your feelings of empathy and responsibility. If you have a tendency to avoid conflict or question yourself this will be happily used to make you feel guilty as well.
They could say they have given you so much and claim you’re ungrateful. A narcissist also loves to play the victim and using that to force you to help them. As you are a good person, you would need to help someone asking for help, right? This would be a narcissist (ab)using your need or wish to help others.
Think about whether it seems to always be your fault in the relationship and if your partner says things to make you doubt yourself a lot. Are they blaming or accusing you of not being perfect?
Empaths are more vulnerable to cognitive dissonance and a narcissist (ab)using feelings of empathy and the wish to help others. If you’re an empath, I would recommend reading my in-depth article about the toxic empath narcissist relationship explaining the unhealthy dynamics of this relationship.
4. You have been love-bombed into the relationship
A clear red flag is being won over at the start of the relationship at quite a fast pace. You might not even remember clearly falling in love and possibly you remember having some early doubts about whether you feel the same amount of love.
Narcissists can be very charming and convincing in their attempt to win you over. You could be fooled by the fake persona the narcissist appears to be. Sadly, winning over in their mind is trying to eventually control you.
In the love-bombing phase, you will get endless compliments, care, attention, admiration, gifts and everything will seem perfect. You will possibly go to fancy restaurants, have intense sex, long talks and take lovely trips.
The problem is that all this love is conditional as you can’t fulfil their unending needs in the long term. Love bombing is part of the narcissistic abuse cycle which I explain in this article. The first stage of idealization is the ‘perfect’ stage where the narcissist does their love-bombing and shows (conditional) love, attention and interest. It will not last however and the ‘love’ will transform into control and devaluation.
Good questions to ask yourself are if you feel the amount of love they describe/show and if you feel you are actually choosing for this relationship or being overwhelmed into it. Take a step back to think about these questions. Your intuition will try to tell you what you feel within.
5. Never taking any responsibility or apologizing
A narcissist will never take any responsibility or apologize for their actions. They can’t handle being criticized or being questioned. They will try to push away all responsibility for negative things and blame others for their mistakes or failures. A narcissist has an enormous blind spot about themselves, their connection to others and their limitations.
Attempting to give honest feedback, have an honest conversation or anything close to criticism will result in the narcissist feeling under attack. It puts them off and they can become very defensive. For example, they could respond indignantly, angry, frustrated, cynical, by brushing it aside, mirroring you or by not responding at all.
They see it as a form of betrayal when you ask them about something. A narcissist has a thirst for approval and validation and you’re attacking their ego. In their mind, they are always right and they will insist on their truth.
Try to think about if your partner is capable of honestly taking responsibility and apologizing. Can you have a normal honest conversation or does this seem impossible? If this has never happened, it’s a clear red flag.
6. Taking credits from you and pulling attention
The above sign of not taking any responsibility works the other way around as well. A narcissist might take credits for things you personally achieve or pull the attention towards them at these moments (when you should be the center of attention).
If you achieve something you have worked hard for, they could claim to have helped you a lot and you would need to be thankful for their support and/or coaching. They need to hear this appreciation for their part, whether they played a role or not, and claim the attention on this aspect. It leaves the achievement itself or your own role in the shadows. Another possible reaction could be that they do not give any attention to your accomplishment.
If you don’t realize this dynamic is going on it can have an impact on your self-worth. It’s dangerous if you start believing you need them or couldn’t do it without them. They tend to (slowly) pull all attention towards them. In the end, the relationship will be only about their needs which is a very unhealthy dynamic.
Therefore, it’s important to assess whether this is going on. Think about some positive things you could be proud of and what happened at these moments and when you shared them. Did this person allow you to be in the spotlight?
Is everything about them in the relationship? If they can’t allow you or others to be the center of attention it’s a clear red flag.
– I’m a great partner for making sure you achieved this promotion.
– You thrived because of my amazing advice and ideas.
– You’re doing great because of me being here.
– You did nothing special and were just lucky.
7. Needing admiration and affirmation
A narcissist needs an unhealthy amount of validation and admiration. They like to talk about themselves and their achievements, qualities and accomplishments. In groups, they will try to be remembered and impress others. To you, they might sometimes seem like a child seeking for attention.
Does your partner need a lot of validation and what sort of things are they talking about in general? My mother often said it was like she had another child as my narcissistic father needed the most validation and attention compared to us children.
8. Being obsessed with appearance and external things
A narcissist lives in the world of ego. It’s all about their created identity and how they appear to the outside world. Their focus is on their status, being attractive, having material possessions, a social life, career and thus simply appearing great.
They love to show off their wealth and dominance. They want to show they’re doing great. Narcissists tend to be organized and neat. It shows that they think about their appearance and they pay a lot of attention to it.
Does your partner care a lot about appearance and is he or she disturbed when something goes wrong in this sense? This could be not going to some party or restaurant and making it a very big deal as if the world was ending.
9. They love control, lying and to use manipulation strategies
A narcissist loves being in control and being in a position dominating others. They have a toolbox full of different kinds of manipulative behaviour. You can read more about this in my article explaining 9 manipulation tactics of narcissists. Narcissists have no boundaries in achieving what they want and will always try to push your boundaries. They could blame you, mirror you, smear you, gaslight you and for certain everything will be a lie or half-truth.
When a narcissist shows some form of empathy it’s because they have some ulterior motive to do so. Sadly, they can switch their empathy off in a second as they don’t really care about the feelings of others. They will use anyone and do anything to fulfil their self-serving needs.
When dealing with an abusive narcissist the most painful challenge is simply considering this person could be capable of all these abusive things. They (ab)use the belief someone couldn’t do these manipulative things to you, which is a very brutal thing. The stronger this belief, the more unhealthy the situation can become when in a relationship with a narcissist.
Some narcissists use a manipulative method called gaslighting in which they try to continuously manipulate and brainwash their victims to have increasing self-doubts and eventually lose their own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. It’s done very slowly and it’s very abusive behaviour. You can read more about this manipulative behaviour in my in-depth article about gaslighting.
10. Being envious
In general, there can be quite some envy towards others with wealth or power. It seems like an ongoing comparison involving a lot of frustration, believing others are envious of them, and a lot of negativity concerning others. It shows they are very attached to this competition and this can feel very intense.
A narcissist can be very envious of your close relationships with others. At first, they will say how lovely your relationship is with your family and/or friends. Later on, they will emphasize any doubts or negative feelings you have about them and start criticizing them. A stealthy narcissist will even try to manipulate you into criticizing them yourself by simply emphasizing negative thoughts and asking manipulative questions. They need control and you having close relationships with others is a lack of control for them.
Think about whether this person seems to be very involved in comparing to others or saying others are involved in this game. If they simply can’t let this go it’s a clear sign of narcissism.
11. All-in or all-out
There is no balance when it comes to a narcissist. They are fully devoted to you and the next moment they fully ignore you. This hot and cold behaviour is typical. As long as you do as they please and their needs are met it will be great but when they expect different things they can turn on you.
It’s thus a transactional dynamic and very black and white. Their reactions can be quite unpredictable and disproportionate. A narcissist doesn’t consider the feelings or needs of others but rather sees others as an extension of themselves.
12. You become isolated and dependent on them
In a relationship, a narcissist often will try to isolate you from your friends and family in some way. They try to create a web of control, which consists of people they can manipulate and control. It can be very hard to see if you have become stuck inside the web.
You can read more about how this work in my in-depth article about the web of control, flying monkeys, smear campaigns and manipulation strategies. It describes how a narcissist slowly tries to isolate you and make you more dependent on them. It also has some questions to ask yourself and explains how to deal with the narcissist’s web.
Questions to ask yourself
Clearly, as we can see from the above warning signs, having a relationship with a narcissist is very unhealthy. Your energy will be drained and you need to constantly cross your own boundaries and become less like yourself. If you recognize some or many of these warning signs you might be dealing with a narcissist or at least an unhealthy relationship.
It’s very challenging to think about whether someone you love might be a narcissist. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It simply tells you this person probably shows unhealthy or manipulative behaviour and you feel something is off. You should take this seriously and try to trust your intuition. I wrote an article with 11 reasons why it’s so hard to end a relationship with a narcissist that might be interesting to you.
This website is full of hopefully helpful content to learn more about narcissism. I have written an article containing questions to ask yourself when having doubts about your observations and feelings. Answering these questions will tell you whether you’re stuck in an unhealthy situation. If so, you need to find a way to free yourself from it.
In the end, the best advice when dealing with a narcissist is to get out as soon as possible and go no contact. I advice reading my article about using the grey rock method when going no contact isn’t an option right away and possibly my article about what to expect when breaking up with a narcissist.
I hope this article and my website is helpful to you. It’s written with kindness and compassion. I wish you strength and more kindness in the future.
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