Having a narcissist steal your heart can quickly turn your whole world upside down.
The abuse is real but hard to distinguish because it isn’t as blatant as sexual or physical abuse.
However, I think the word narcissism is thrown around too loosely among single people who are quick to label the disappointing object of their affection a narcissist, as a way to lessen the sting when he’s simply not that into you. Someone can be selfish, emotionally unavailable, or change his mind about his feelings for you, without being a narcissist.
Editor’s note: Although this article uses male pronouns, the advice applies to all sexual orientations and gender identities.
So, let’s start with the actual definition of what exactly a narcissist is…
According to Merriam-Webster, a narcissist is an extremely self-centered person who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
I’ve found in my personal experience of dating many narcissists and non-narcissists, that with actual narcissists, everything is about them. Their schedules. Their jobs. Their families and friends. Their appearance. Their needs—both emotional and physical. Their status. And, their desperate desire to have everyone think most highly of them.
However, they have a super-savvy way of first giving the impression that you and your needs matter, which is how you become blinded to the self-absorption that slowly but surely reveals itself as your relationship with him unfolds.
There are different levels of narcissism, but the following list covers the main characteristics to pay attention to if you’re finding yourself lost in this mindf%$& of an experience when dating a bona fide narcissist.
1) He’s super charming: If you’re wondering if his suave one-liners are too good to be true, there’s a strong chance they are. He finishes your sentences. Sheepishly admits you make him nervous. Miraculously compliments the one area on your body you’re most insecure about. Again, people who aren’t narcissists can lay the compliments on thick, but take note of how effortless his smooth words roll off the tongue, and the quick timing of them. Compliments are lovely to receive, but I’d rather someone ask questions about myself and get to know me first, before showering me with flowery words based on first impressions and what someone thinks I want to hear.
2) Hot and cold behavior: After a hot, sexy, month, he flips on a dime and suddenly you’re wondering, “What happened to the Danny Zuko I met at the beach?!” Only to find relief that after he discarded you for a couple of weeks, he’s decided he “can’t live without you,” and then sucks you back in. This vicious cycle plays on repeat, and his excuses and justifications for the push/pull behavior get more and more ridiculous as it continues.
3) He does a lot of good for others: Fulfilling their need for others to adore them, narcissists actually do a lot of good in the world, making it hard to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing he really is, when it comes to you. If I had a dime for every time one of my rock bottom ex’s close friends would say, “I love him and he’s like a brother to me but the way he treats women isn’t OK,” I’d have raised enough money to cure the narcissism epidemic that’s happening right now!
4) It’s never his fault. You catch him in shady situations with other women, or he ends up not being where he said he’d be and it’s always because of someone or something else.
5) He lies. You don’t want to admit it but it’s true. You’ve caught him in multiple lies about his whereabouts or who he’s with, and you force yourself to believe number four because if he isn’t the person you’d hoped he’d be when you initially fell for him, you’ll be devastated.
6) He triangulates you with exes or other women he’s engaging with. Enter with caution when a man talks about how “crazy” his exes are. Sure, it’s possible for a regular human to have a crazy ex, but I’d ask, “How so?” if that’s the case. Listen to your gut as you note the lack of responsibility your narcissistic partner takes in the replay of his past. And don’t pretend it’s nothing when she suddenly resurfaces and he comes up with a BS excuse that makes him feel bad for her so he’s “helping her out but feels nothing for her.” Chances are, he’s saying the same thing to her about you.
7) Your relationship is all about him. After all of his praising and schmoozing, it’s so easy to say yes and cater to his every need and desire, but take note when you start to notice that he’s rarely available for your events and spending time with your loved ones…
8) He gaslights you. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation, leaving the person on the receiving end, confused about what’s real and what isn’t. Narcissists are geniuses when it comes to gaslighting their puppets in order to keep getting what they want. The amount of times I found myself trying to unravel his layers of lies and contradictory stories, because of his ability to make me believe I was crazy or I didn’t hear him correctly the first time he explained himself, left me exhausted, lost, and barely able to put one foot in front of the other in the rest of my life.
The tricky part about dating a narcissist is you may not realize it until you’re in too deep, making leaving him that much more excruciatingly painful.
I encourage you to get quiet. Find stillness. Breathe. Pay attention to your body. Tally up all the situations that give you pause, and get help from a trusted professional.
The combination of doing a committed, solid self-inquiry, as well as guidance from someone who’s experienced with this subject matter will not only give you clarity on how to consciously proceed, but will offer you insight on how you ended up letting yourself get sucked in by this master manipulator, so you’ll never end up in a situation like this again.