Dating a narcissist is difficult, confusing and tiring. But it also makes you a better person.
I know that’s a bold claim, but it’s true.
If you’ve dated a narcissist then you might well regret it.
But if you take a look you’ll also see that your experiences with them made you someone who’s stronger in themselves, more self-aware and better able to enter a lasting relationship.
Why does dating a narcissist change you for the better?
I’ll go through the reasons here.
1) It makes you more self-aware
One of the top reasons dating a narcissist changes you for the better is that it makes you more self-aware.
You become aware of your own triggers, reactions and emotional vulnerabilities, because the narcissist constantly pushes your buttons.
For example, if you have a tendency to be a people pleaser and avoid conflict the narcissist is likely to take advantage of this and exploit it.
As you see yourself being twisted around like a pretzel, you become more self-aware that while treating others with respect and avoiding conflict has its good side, it can also lead to very toxic relationships if taken too far.
Dating a narcissist shows you yourself in new ways and reveals what happens when you are met with a person who’s a challenge and full of manipulative behaviors.
You become ultra-aware of what makes you tick and what pushes you over the edge.
You also become aware of your own various personality faults, weaknesses and blind spots, because you’re in a close relationship with someone who brings them out in you.
This process is difficult, and that’s why:
2) It helps you notice unacceptable behavior
What divides annoying or aggravating behavior from unacceptable, toxic behavior, and who decides?
This is an important question in relationships and in all areas of our life.
Dating a narcissist makes you more discerning. You can easily tell the difference between someone complaining to vent off a little steam, for example, and someone venting to gaslight you and blame you for their problems.
You learn to note how different it is for a partner to have a bad day or two and focus on looking after themselves…
As opposed to somebody who’s only focused on themselves 24/7 even when others are going through a major crisis or emergency.
The over-the-top behavior of the narcissist throws all the shadows into sharp contrast.
You see what behavior is just annoying and tiring and what behavior is seriously beyond the pale.
You also learn about how you yourself have the right to define what’s too much for you in a relationship.
There doesn’t need to be a textbook on it: if your partner never helps you in any way and then constantly threatens to break up if you don’t loan them money for their career as a model…
…And then accuses you of calling them ugly and lazy if you don’t let them sit around and pay for their headshots…
Congratulations: you are dating an out-of-touch narcissist who won’t take responsibility for their own life.
3) It increases your pattern recognition
A big part of growing into a wiser and better person from dating a narcissist is learning to recognize patterns.
We can all act narcissistic at times, but a true narcissist will have repeat patterns.
When they are frustrated in one area of your life they may blame you or use it to extract more money, sex, time or sympathy from you…
When they are set on a certain image of themselves as highly successful, they may become obsessed with getting recognition for it and become paranoid and resentful that others (including you) don’t appreciate them enough…
When they experience a setback they may regularly launch into a pity party and explain why they are so uniquely persecuted and mistreated in life…
When you have a simple disagreement they may refuse to ever hear your point of view and treat you emotions and experiences as irrelevant.
And so on…
As you observe these patterns of behavior from the narcissist, you’ll become much savvier to the ways in which narcissists and other poorly-adjusted people hijack and try to run relationships and take advantage of people.
Part of noticing the patterns requires you to also have a strong nerve and patience.
This brings me to my next point about dating a narcissist:
4) It increases your patience
Another of the reasons dating a narcissist changes you for the better is that it increases your patience.
Common behaviors of narcissists include the following:
- Constantly demanding attention and appreciation
- Belittling the accomplishments of others
- Expecting that everyone serve them
- Recklessly selfish behavior
- Using their emotions for leverage
- Playing the victim
Even the best of us is going to find repeated instances of this kind of behavior highly aggravating. Not only are they unthoughtful and destructive, they show a real lack of maturity or concern for how we affect others.
When you’re dating someone like that your instinct is to confront them and lash out. But you also learn to be patient and have a strong backbone.
There’s not always an option to change or influence a narcissist for the better, and you have to learn patience to deal with their constant antics and childish behavior.
This patience makes you a more enduring and mature person.
5) It clarifies what you don’t want
If you have dated a narcissist then you know that they almost seem like a walking advertisement of what you don’t want in your love life.
You may be very attracted to them physically or aspects of their personality and interests.
But the presence of their narcissistic behaviors really helps clarify what you don’t want.
You become much clearer, by default, on what you’re looking for in a relationship.
It also makes you more appreciative if and when you meet someone who’s not a narcissist and start dating them.
Now, one note here:
We all have the potential to act narcissistic at times or display narcissistic tendencies. It’s the human condition.
But the difference is that a narcissist takes it to extremes, constantly expecting the world to revolve around them and having no consideration or respect for others.
Once you’ve had a taste of that, you know exactly what you don’t want!
6) It strengthens you
Dating a narcissist makes you stronger. It teaches you that you can get through more than you think you can.
Having feelings for someone who’s basically a pretty damaged person is not easy. It’s sad and it’s anxiety-producing.
When you see that you can survive this kind of relationship and even find some things in your partner that you do like, it increases your self-confidence.
It strengthens you in your own eyes and the eyes of others.
This is also because dating a narcissist gives you various opportunities to put your foot down and establish boundaries.
When you are forced to find that stronger, more authoritative part of yourself in order to stand up to a manipulative and irresponsible partner, you become stronger.
7) It boosts your self-respect
Dating a narcissist boosts your self-respect. As you become more aware of what they’re doing that’s not good, you notice your own faults and what you don’t want in a relationship.
But you also notice the parts of yourself that are better than you realized.
You have a chance to work on your patience as I talked about…
You also have a chance to become stronger in your own eyes and the eyes of others. You have a chance to grow a stronger backbone and learn to look somebody in the eye and say “no.”
You have the opportunity to boost your own self-respect and find out exactly what you will tolerate and what you will not.
This is especially true since standing up to somebody you love is one of the hardest things anybody can do.
This is part of why narcissist’s worst traits often show up in romantic relationships:
They know they can get away with more with somebody who cares about them.
But when you make it clear you won’t be pushed around, they start to have more respect for you.
Even more important: your respect for yourself grows.
8) It emphasizes your limits of control
At the same time as you learn more respect for yourself and how you can be stronger than you realized, dating a narcissist also makes you more of a realist.
Because it emphasizes the limits of your control.
You can stand up to the narcissist, exercise patience, find your inner calm and resolve and leave the relationship if it becomes too much.
But you also come to see that no matter how much you love this person or see their potential, there’s only so much you can do to change them.
Realizing the limits of our control is one of the hardest things any of us have to do in life, especially in relationships.
Many people still can’t accept that they aren’t in charge of someone else even as adults.
But dating a narcissist makes this truth impossible to ignore.
No matter your good intentions…
No matter your knowledge of the roots of their narcissism or how serious it might be…
No matter how you’d prefer them to learn and grow…
You can’t force them or do it for them. And that’s a really clarifying wake-up call that makes you wiser and stronger.
9) It shows you what to avoid in your own behavior
I’ve mentioned here some of the reasons dating a narcissist changes you for the better.
Earlier I touched on how it helps you notice your own less favorable qualities, and that’s true.
When you see somebody else acting in ways that are reckless, manipulative and toxic, you become more aware of those behaviors and how they function.
This then leads to taking a more critical look at yourself and realizing the ways in which you may also engage in certain behaviors…
Perhaps even some narcissistic behaviors.
As I’ve said, we all do to some extent.
But when you see somebody going to extremes in narcissistic behavior, you begin to notice the areas where you can improve as well in your behavior.
Seeing a person go so overboard in their own toxicity and selfishness can actually be humbling.
Because as stable and mature as you may be, this is a chance to realize that there’s always more work to do.
10) It makes you a mental health advocate
Not all narcissists are the same, and engaging in some narcissistic behavior from time to time does not make you a narcissist.
Suffering from NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is not the same as acting in a narcissistic way or having psychological issues that include narcissistic behavior.
But as you date a narcissist you come to see how real and important mental health is.
You come to see that telling someone to “seek help” shouldn’t be seen as an insult, but sometimes as an empathetic suggestion or the only real recourse that’s left.
Now I do believe that therapy is overdone these days and that some counselors have turned pain and struggle in life into a mental disorder to make money and have an endless client list.
Nonetheless, if you date someone with narcissism you come to see how strongly mental health and mental stability impacts a relationship.
You could be the best looking guy or girl in the world…
You could have an IQ that’s not even measurable…
You could have a wicked sense of humor…
But if you eventually revert back to highly toxic narcissistic behavior, you’re going to push people away and leave a trail of social destruction in your wake.
Seeing this up close and personal by dating a narcissist tends to turn you into a mental health advocate.
A note on ‘narcissism’ and what it is (and isn’t)
Narcissism comes from the Narcissus, which is the name of a man from a Greek myth.
Narcissus fell in love with himself after seeing his reflection in a pool of water and ended up never falling in love with anybody else.
Narcissism describes a broad range of personality types ranging from somebody who’s self-absorbed and egotistical all the way to somebody who truly suffers from a personality disorder.
Not all narcissists are mentally ill, some are just overly into themselves.
Experts identify five main types of narcissism, namely overt, covert, antagonistic, communal and malignant.
The overt is typical narcissism with trying to outdo and put down others…
The covert plays the victim to manipulate and get sympathy and attention…
The antagonistic narcissist tries to defeat others and always get the praise…
The communal narcissist uses hot button issues to hide their narcissism under activism…
And the malignant narcissist is somebody who suffers from NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and may end up being so unwell that they’re a danger to themselves or others.
Not everyone who’s a narcissist is equally narcissistic.
And not all narcissists have all the same symptoms.
As Megan Wallace notes for Cosmopolitan:
“Many individuals may label others as ‘narcissistic’ but while the word is being used to describe someone who is self-involved, generally individuals aren’t saying that someone else has NPD.
Narcissistic personality disorder, on the other hand, is a complex and serious mental illness.”
What are the downsides of dating a narcissist?
I’ve written a lot here about some of the ways tha dating a narcissist changes you for the better.
But I’m not advocating that anyone stay in a toxic or abusive relationship. Far from it.
In fact, dating a narcissist makes you stronger, wiser and more sure of yourself, but it also has many downsides.
Most disturbingly, dating someone who’s narcissistic can end up causing the following issues if you let it go too far or allow them to twist your mind:
- Low self-image and believing the narcissist that you should come last and are just here to serve them and make them feel good
- Anxiety about your own faults and inadequacy and believing you can never do “better” than this current person
- Losing your sense of self in the pressure to conform to the role and type of person they want you to be in the relationship
- Doubting yourself and isolating as a result of feeling so misunderstood and caught between your love for them and your hate of how they treat you and other people.
If you’re dating a narcissist currently then it may well be time to walk away.
As I emphasized earlier, you don’t have control over somebody else and it’s up to them to seek help and become a more stable and thoughtful person.
Taking a balanced look
Dating a narcissist is not easy and it may feel like a headache and heartbreaking experience that was never worth the time.
We’d all prefer to date someone who treats us well and encourages and loves us through thick and thin.
But dating a narcissist is like a trial by fire: it’s not what we want, but sometimes in retrospect it may turn out to have been for the best and turned us into a more capable person ready to be more selective about the love we’ll accept.
I hope that this article has shown you some of the ways in which dating a narcissist makes you a stronger, wiser and more compassionate person.
Can a relationship coach help you too?
If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to a relationship coach.
I know this from personal experience…
A few months ago, I reached out to Relationship Hero when I was going through a tough patch in my relationship. After being lost in my thoughts for so long, they gave me a unique insight into the dynamics of my relationship and how to get it back on track.
If you haven’t heard of Relationship Hero before, it’s a site where highly trained relationship coaches help people through complicated and difficult love situations.
In just a few minutes you can connect with a certified relationship coach and get tailor-made advice for your situation.
I was blown away by how kind, empathetic, and genuinely helpful my coach was.
Take the free quiz here to be matched with the perfect coach for you.
Click the above link to get $50 off your first session – an exclusive offer for Hack Spirit readers.