The beginning signs were subtle. You may have noticed they had a hard time taking criticism... well anything you said that they perceived as criticism. They craved only adoration and praise but could never compliment you unless it was in the context of ‘how special we are together.’
As the relationship progressed they required more and more energy around their needs, wants, and feelings. Your experiences and emotions became increasingly belittled, minimized, or not acknowledged at all. When you tried to confront them about how you felt it never ended well. You were probably convinced to distrust your own feelings, gaslighted. It may have even escalated to emotional, verbal, or physical abuse.
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash
If these experiences feel scarily familiar, you have most likely engaged in a relationship with a Narcissist or someone with characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). A mental health condition where the person who has it 1) doesn’t see anything wrong with how they think, feel, or behave, and 2) will never be convinced, especially by you, that there is anything wrong with them or how they interact with others. It’s like having a relationship with someone where the parts of their brain that are in charge of empathy, responsibility, awareness of others - are locked in a steel vault.. with no key... no cell service...or WiFi signal.
How to Spot a Narcissist
While not everyone who experiences a toxic or abusive relationship was with a partner with NPD, there are more often than not elements of narcissism in the perpetrating partner - which is why we think it’s so important to take the time to break down the signs and symptoms. You may have snuggled with a Narcissist if you noticed...
If the spotlight isn't on them - there's no point going to the show. Narcissists become impatient and angry when they don't receive special treatment/attention. Whether it's being offered the nicest table at a restaurant or being recognized when walking in to the room - they believe they deserve all the things - and when it doesn't happen, they often start to pick apart or devalue the event, establishment, person, etc.
At a loss for words? These partners aren't! Narcissists are often hurtful communicators. They are usually skilled at cutting you with verbal quips and backhanded compliments, sometimes using your own words against you - yet have difficulty dealing with primary raw emotion ("I hurt when I think about..., I feel scared to be vulnerable...") And the minute you try and serve up some raw communication, they feel easily slighted and go into defense mode. SO FUN!
They make you feel small, when they feel small. Narcissists may get loud, reactive, and use language aimed at regaining control of the situation or YOU by using nasty words and engaging in disrespectful actions. Think criticizing you in front of friends at a party or making a backhanded compliment about your outfit as you walk out the door for an event you are super stoked for. The smaller they can make you feel, the better for them.
You find yourself on an emotional roller coaster that you never knew you signed up to ride. Narcissists have difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors when THEY feel unregulated - meaning it's super fun to spend time with one when they are feeling nervous, worried, intimidated, etc. They literally lack the skills to navigate those sticky emotional situations, and as a result - it can look like a total shit show. Mostly because they are shitting on you, engaging in behavior that has NOTHING to do with the discomfort, or perseverating on something completely different to create space between themselves and the triggering emotion. Buckle up buttercup.
They don't do well with problems, stressors, or change they aren't in control of or couldn't predict. It's like watching an F5 tornado deal with not getting a promotion, losing money, being "betrayed" by a friend, etc. Especially if the change has a clear direction - and they were not privy to the details ahead of time. That's extra salt on the boo-boo for Narcissists. Take cover.
They've got a confusing, illogical, strong tie to the idea of perfection. Perfectionism is important to our Narcissist friends. They can become moody or even depressed when they feel they or you aren't meeting impossible standards. Oh, and those standards change all the time. No one actually knows what they look like but them. It's great!
(Adapted with wittiness from the Mayo Clinic)
Remember, we are also big proponents of one size does not fit all. Some of these signs and symptoms you may recognize, while others you do not. Narcissism does not always look the same.
2 Types of Narcissists
This is the most common portrayal of Narcissism and what we typically think of when we think of a Narcissist. The charismatic, good-looking man in a position of power. Like Donald Trump, except charismatic and good-looking. Many of the characteristics outlined above are in line with a Grandiose Narcissist. Vulnerable Narcissist A different, but also very real, presentation of Narcissism is the Vulnerable Narcissist. This is more difficult to identify because they may present as needy or helpless. Vulnerable Narcissists tend to be more introverted, thrive in shame spirals, and often take in large amounts but rarely return the favor. Oftentimes partners will feel emotionally drained from "helping" this type of Narcissist. In fact, people who find meaning and purpose in caretaking others are at higher risk of finding themselves in a relationship with a Vulnerable Narcissist.
Check out our other posts to keep learning more! Want to know what’s really going on underneath the toxic behavior? click here. Interested in learning strategies for coping with ongoing interactions with the Narcissist in your life (co-parenting with a Narcissist sucks!)? click here