Lots of people looked at their partner during lockdown and, in a heated moment, thought ‘What the hell did I choose you for?’.
If you’re living with a narcissist, they look at you and think that every single day.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration and a tell tale lack of empathy for others.
Why would anyone be attracted to someone with such appalling characteristics in the first place?
Because, like other abusers, they’re good at disguising their true selves at the start.
Narcissists often are special or outstanding in some way – better looking than most, more talented, intelligent or charismatic. Just not quite as extraordinary as they think they are.
Their charm drags you in, and their constant chipping away at your self-esteem keeps you there.
Tracey Cox has revealed the eight signs your partner could be a narcissist, including never apologising or accepting when they’re wrong (stock image)
It’s not known what causes NPD. Parents who were excessively adorating or critical, genes and neurobiology are suggested theories.
But while the causes are hazy, there are characteristics that make them relatively easy to spot.
Is your relationship troubled, toxic and deeply unsatisfying? Here’s how to tell if it’s because you’ve hooked up with a narcissist.
They talk only about themselves and aren’t interested in you
‘At first, I thought he was trying to impress me by telling me about all the things he’d done. But over time it became obvious he not only had a very high opinion of himself, he wasn’t interested in my life at all. If I dared to turn the conversation to me, he’d hi-jack it back to him within a sentence.’
HOW TO SPOT A NARCISSIST
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) falls on a spectrum: you can score high, low or anywhere in between on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.
Unlike being pregnant, you can be just a little bit narcissistic.
There are nine official criteria – but you only need to meet five to clinically qualify as a narcissist. These are:
An exaggerated sense of self-importance. People with NPD often wildly exaggerate their achievements and talents.
A sense of entitlement. They insist on having the best of everything, expect special favours and are indignant if anyone dares to question why.
A need for constant, excessive admiration. Narcissists expect to be recognised as superior, often without any achievements of qualifications to warrant it. They can’t handle criticism and become angry when they don’t get the attention they think they deserve.
Preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance and the perfect mate. They’re often depressed or moody because they fall short of perfection. This can lead to problems with drugs or alcohol.
A belief that they are superior, special and unique and should only associate with equally special people. They belittle people they consider inferior.
Interpersonal exploitative behaviour. They take advantage of others to get what they want.
A lack of empathy. They are incapable and unwilling to recognise the needs and feelings of others.
Envious of others or believe others are envious of them. They’re constantly measuring themselves against others to see if they come out on top.
Arrogant and haughty behaviour. Narcissists come across as conceited, boastful and pretentious.
The hidden truth. Secretly, narcissists feel insecure, shameful, vulnerable and often humiliated. This can mean suicidal thoughts or behaviour. It most certainly means they have relationship difficulties with everyone.
This is the obvious trademark of narcissism. If it’s simply someone showing off, they’ll be embarrassed if you call them on it and stop immediately. A narcissist will be incensed. You’re supposed to find them endlessly fascinating!
Questioning their accomplishments – which you might well want to do, since they are usually exaggerated and embellished – will also make them angry.
They ‘love bomb’
‘The term ‘swept off my feet’ wasn’t even close to what happened. Even on the first date, he loaded on the compliments. He’d never met anyone like me. I had the best hair. The best nose. As the weeks went on, he said he’d never felt like this before. He told me he loved me within 10 days. That we were the most perfect couple in history.’
Relationships with narcissists can seem (and are) too good to be true at first: they lavish you with attention, presents and compliments. If someone comes on too strong, too soon, it’s never a good sign but be especially cautious if it’s teamed with self-absorption.
They overreact when you disappoint them
‘We’d only been going out for six weeks before her birthday, so I bought her flowers, her favourite perfume and took her out for dinner. Her face was like thunder. The restaurant wasn’t special enough. I hadn’t spent enough on the present. The words I wrote on the card were pathetic. It was awful. She changed into someone I didn’t recognise.’
This is usually the first real alarm bell: when the great new person you’ve found suddenly reveals a dark side. The entertaining ‘life of the party’ becomes irrationally furious over something trivial. Or transforms into a cold, ruthless person who is eerily unemotional.
They never apologise
‘There’s no negotiation. They are never wrong. There is only one world – theirs. There’s only one person who matters in it – them.’
People with NPD constantly break promises, are notoriously unreliable, and frequently break the rules. Lockdown? What lockdown? That applies to other people, not them.
Another key characteristic: belittling.
Nothing you do or say will ever be good enough. The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the friends you have, the things you watch – they’ll pick on everything. Narcissists put others down to make themselves feel superior.
They lie about everything
‘A close friend had been watching it all play out with alarm. I’m usually confident but was suddenly doubting myself. I felt like everything was my fault. I was justifying his latest criticism of me when she blurted out, ‘That’s utter bull****! He’s trying to turn you mad!’. It was like the wool fell away from my eyes. He’d been gaslighting me! I finally woke up to what a dreadful person he was.’
People with NPD massage the truth to convince you of how truly brilliant they are. If you catch them at it, they twist your words and distort your reality in order to confuse you.
They don’t care about your feelings
CAN A NARCISSIST FALL IN LOVE?
The short answer is no. Certainly not in the way the rest of us mean it.
People with high scoring NPD don’t have the skills to experience and show love because they can’t appreciate other people’s feelings. They only care about you in relation to how it affects them – the only happiness that matters is their own.
They’ll use the words ‘I love you’ but what they really mean is ‘I love how you make me feel special’, ‘I love seeing how much you love me’ or ‘I need something from you and saying this is how I’ll get it’.
Your attractiveness to them relies on if you can help them achieve their dream of being universally admired. If you’re good-looking, it makes them look good being able to pull you. If you’re wealthy and generous, they stand to gain by hooking up with you. Though sometimes they’ll form a romantic bond simply because they’re lonely, bored and want regular sex.
Narcissists often appear idealistic about love because they believe there’s a perfect person out there that they could love. Someone who can mirror their magnificence. This is why they’re so appealing at the start, if they think you could be this elusive love ‘unicorn’. They smother with attention and promises, only to discard the second the inevitable flaw emerges.
‘OK, my job isn’t that exciting, but neither is hers. I’d have to listen to endless complaints about people who’d offended her or didn’t appreciate her but she’d walk away if I even mentioned work. My Mum got really ill and she’d tell me to shut up going on about her. She eroded my confidence by making me feel nothing I said or did or experienced was worthy of her attention. Then you finally realise it’s nothing to do with how interesting your life is, they don’t care about you at all. I swear if I’d died in front of her, she’d have found it a hassle. That’s all.’
Narcissists don’t do feelings, unless it’s their own. They can’t sympathise, even if you explain in great detail why you’re upset.
‘I cried so much one day, my eyes swelled shut,’ one woman told me. ‘I literally couldn’t open them. It made no difference. Nothing moved him.’
True narcissists have few or no long-term friends. They have short-term crushes on people they perceive to be useful or special but quickly dismiss them when they turn out to have flaws – or (God forbid) dare to see any in them.
They’ll fight to stop you leaving them
If they don’t care, they won’t even notice if you leave, right?
No-one likes being dumped but narcissists take rejection even more personally. YOU’RE leaving THEM? That can’t be right!
This is why they will pull out all the stops to prevent you. The person who initially charmed, remerges. They say all the right things, convince you they really do value you. And it works…for a little while. Until the toxic cycle starts again. (If your relationship is on-again, off-again, this might be one reason why.)
If they twig that you’re serious and the relationship really is over, it’s gloves off. You thought they were bad before? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
They bad-mouth you to friends. Troll you on social media. Spread nasty rumours. Try to date your best friend. Anything to make you look bad and to restore their ‘reputation’ of being someone everyone wants to be with.
They often cheat and won’t commit
And wait, there’s more. Not only do they ridicule you, criticise you and insist you live on scraps of attention and affection, while you’re expected to remain doggedly faithful, they are not.
Narcissists don’t like to commit because they’re constantly on the lookout for someone who might be a better ‘catch’. If they need to step outside the relationship to test out a prospective better bet, they will. With no remorse and guilt free.
Your partner’s ticking every box but you’re still not convinced you should walk?
Could be you’re a smidge narcissistic yourself: others might not have been able to fix them, but you’re different.
Research released this month by the University of Warsaw in Poland found narcissists prefer to date other narcissists.
Another reason is that you are a die-hard romantic who believes if you love someone enough, you can change anyone.
Here’s your wake up call.
Can you ‘cure’ a narcissist?
No. Because it’s a rare narcissist who will admit they have a problem. They’re perfect, after all, it’s YOU who has the problem not realising that! If they do end up seeking help, it’s usually for the fall out: depression, drug or alcohol use.
Talking therapies (counselling) are the usual treatment for narcissism but there’s a low success rate because any suggestions for change are usually seen as an insult.
The only way to fix your relationship with a high scoring narcissist is to get out – fast.
Don’t argue with them over why you’re leaving, it’s pointless.
Don’t give them another chance. Block them from your socials and phone and ignore any attempts they make to win you back.
Then surround yourself with people who are capable of love and empathy and affection, to remind yourself of what you were missing…and be eternally grateful you dodged the bullet.
If you need help leaving a toxic relationship, you’ll find a therapist at cosrt.org.uk, bacp.co.uk and relate.org.uk. You’ll also find relationship advice at traceycox.com and in Tracey’s books.