In a relationship with a narcissist? The advice you need to hear

Your friends have warned you, your relatives have advised against it, and your instincts have always felt slightly off, but through thick and thin, you’ve stuck with your partner.

But finally, after seeing the signs and reviewing your past, you are now asking yourself: am I in a relationship with a narcissist?

Coming to terms with realizing that you are in a relationship with a narcissist can be difficult.

Not only does it mean you have to start carefully observing every interaction you have with your partner, but you also have to make the tough decision of leaving or moving forward with them.

In this article, we discuss the three steps needed to handle your relationship with a narcissist: understanding the relationship, figuring out what you want to do, and making your choice and doing it right.

Step 1: Understanding the Relationship

How to Be Sure Your Partner is a Narcissist: Traits and Clear Signs

The worst thing you can do is falsely accuse your partner of being a narcissist. It’s important to establish the facts before making any big changes to your relationship.

There are many relationships where one or both partners show signs of narcissism, but showing a few signs every so often doesn’t indicate that you or your partner might be a narcissist.

What anyone who suspects that their partner might be a narcissist should understand is that narcissism is defined by a pattern or series of behaviors, not an isolated incident here and there.

Narcissism isn’t one or two events; it’s a personality set that a person either consciously or subconsciously performs.

So what makes a narcissist?

At the core of any narcissist, there is a void of self-worth. They have a lack of self-confidence that causes them deep pain and do whatever it takes to ignore and drown out that insecurity.

Their self-loving behavior is ultimately a result of the need for confidence and to be loved by those around them, because at the root of their personas, they do not believe they deserve to be loved – by themselves or anyone else.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental and personality disorder that has been described in psychological and mental health literature.

At its core, NPD can be observed as a combination of the following personality traits:

1) Low emotional empathy: Narcissists have great difficulty reading the emotions of other people. They simply do not know how to feel bad for other people in ways most of us do on a daily basis

2) Single-mindedness: Narcissists believe that their ideas, thoughts, and opinions are the only right options and mindsets. They find those who disagree with them to be insane, and when their views are attacked, they take personal offense.

3) Entitlement: Narcissists believe their wants and needs are just as important to other people as they are important to themselves. They do not understand why other people would not prioritize them and their needs.

4) No proportions: As narcissists have difficulty registering emotions of other people, they also have difficulty registering different levels of emotions in themselves.

Small issues and big issues are the same to narcissists – if something ticks them off, they will respond just as aggressively and violently as if it were the greatest tragedy or offense.

If you suspect that your partner might be clinically suffering from NPD, here are some major signs most narcissists will show over a long-term relationship:

They speak in threats: When they are losing an argument or want you to change your mind, they often threaten to leave the relationship, hurt you in some way, or conspire with other people against you.

– They believe they are destined for great things: They believe that they are not comparable to other people because they were born for greater things. Even if they’ve never achieved anything remarkable in life, they have an overwhelming sense that something amazing is going to happen to them.

– They are wildly emotional: Narcissists can go from the sweetest lovers to the most bitter and hateful enemies in the blink of an eye. Emotions don’t seem to make sense around them – they play by their own rules.

– They manipulate constantly: It can be nearly impossible to recognize it when you’re in the middle of a relationship with a master manipulator, but narcissists are masterfully skilled at manipulation. They can make people do what they want, when they want.

– They guilt-trip you: Narcissists like using your conscience against you. If there is anything in your past with them they can use to manipulate you, they will dig it up and shove it down your throat.

How Could You Fall in Love with a Narcissist?

So you’re starting to suspect that you’ve been with a narcissist all this time, and you’re starting to wonder: how could I not have known?

We understand that you might be having feelings of shame and even embarrassment; it’s like opening your eyes for the first time in a long time and seeing something everything around you already knew.

But there’s no reason to beat yourself up over it – as we will discuss later on in the article, narcissists are not necessarily bad people.

In most cases, narcissists are not aware of what they are doing, because it feels like normal life to them. Falling in love with a narcissist is just like falling in love with anyone with a few bad qualities.

Here are some of the most common reasons why people fall in love with narcissists:

1) Narcissists can sometimes be very wonderful people.

Narcissists are master manipulators, meaning they have to develop very positive traits to make people do what they want.

Many narcissists have high levels of intelligence, are in strong positions in their career and community, live fun and full lives, have a great sense of humor, and know-how to take care of their bodies and their looks.

With these traits put together, a narcissist can come off as the perfect partner.

2) Narcissists have an intoxicating charm.

A narcissist might have difficulty reading other people’s emotions, but they definitely understand how to manipulate their emotions when they want to.

When a narcissist picks a person to be their partner, they know what it takes to make that person feel chosen, wanted, and extremely special.

You can feel intoxicated by their charm, and this can last for as long as the narcissist wants.

3) Narcissists feed on those who have a history of trauma.

Your exposure to narcissists isn’t necessarily limited to your romantic partners. Sometimes, the first narcissists in our lives are our parents.

When children are raised by narcissistic parents, they ultimately grow into adults who seek out romantic companionships that offer the same levels of subtle emotional and psychological abuse.

This is why there are many cases where the person can’t see that their partner is a narcissist, but all their friends and family can.

Step 2: Figuring Out What You Want to Do

What Your Relationship Says About You

When you’ve clarified that your partner is an undeniable narcissist, it’s now important to ask yourself: what do you want to do?

This typically depends on how you realized that your partner is a narcissist.

– Are you trapped in a cycle of abuse and you are finally waking up to the reality of your partner?

– Did your friends or family mention that your partner shows narcissistic tendencies and you decided to think more about their behavior?

– Have you discussed with an ex of your partner and did they tell you that the person is a narcissist?

If you believe that you are losing confidence, that you are being psychologically and emotionally abused, and that your partner is taking complete advantage of you, then the best option we can recommend to you is to leave the relationship.

But there are many of us who are in relationships with narcissists that aren’t as bad as some people might think.

After all, narcissists are still just people, too. With some patience, any relationship can ultimately work.

According to Judith Orloff, psychologist, and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, the people who are most commonly attracted to narcissists are empaths.

These are people who are best described as “emotional sponges” – they prioritize the feelings of other people and care little about their own emotional satisfaction.

This makes empaths perfect for narcissists, as narcissists seek out partners who are willing to supply them with the emotional overload they desire.

But according to Orloff, a relationship between an empath and a narcissist is doomed because the attraction is ultimately toxic.

“What narcissists see in empaths is a giving, loving person who is going to try and be devoted to you and love you and listen to you. But unfortunately, empaths are attracted to narcissists because at first, this is about a false self. Narcissists present a false self, where they can seem charming and intelligent and even giving until you don’t do things their way, and then they get cold, withholding and punishing.”

This is why relationships between empaths and narcissists seem to be like an endless rollercoaster ride – drama, chaos, hot and cold.

There is a constant shifting of power and attention; the empath tries to fulfill the narcissist’s needs, but the narcissist’s needs are constantly shifting.

Because what a narcissist is actually looking for is not what their partner can provide for them, but the struggle by the partner to provide for them.

Can a Narcissist Really Love You?

A troubling question you might be asking yourself is whether your narcissist partner ever loved you at all.

The longer you’ve been with them, the more frightening that answer can be.

You don’t want to come to the conclusion that the last several years of your life have all been just a game to your partner, while it felt like a struggle for true love for you.

So can a narcissist truly love another person? It helps to understand the way a narcissist feels about love.

While they might begin the relationship with passion and excitement, the final goals of any narcissist come from a sense of pragmatism.

They need to accomplish their emotional, physical, and mental satisfaction and the relationship must play a key role in satisfying those needs.

When they feel that the relationship is failing to satisfy those needs, that’s when they become cold, angry, and critical.

Love is defined not by romance, not by codependency, but by the feeling of taking pleasure in making our partners happy, encouraged, and fulfilled.

Narcissists have to overcome several hurdles before they can love a person in the way most people love others. These hurdles are the following:

1) Narcissists don’t see people clearly. Narcissists only see the self; they don’t see other people as having their own selves that are equal to them.

They see other people as extensions of themselves; as tools to serve the narcissist. This makes it difficult to love someone who is just a tool in their eyes.

2) They overestimate their empathy. Narcissists don’t agree with their main trait – lacking empathy.

They tend to believe that they do understand empathy, but they wildly overestimate it. So they don’t understand their lack, meaning they can never understand why other people might not be emotionally satisfied with them.

3) Their defenses make it difficult to form close bonds.

Narcissists naturally have several layers of defenses to shun away from any negative feedback.

They use blame, aggression, entitlement, denial, contempt, and more to avoid feeling any kind of shame or embarrassment.

This makes it difficult to understand another person’s love for them, as they can’t truly read when criticism comes from a good place or a critical place.

With all these hurdles that a narcissist must overcome, it can be rare for a narcissist to truly find long-term, meaningful love.

But that doesn’t mean it never happens. If both parties are willing to work through it and make it happen, true love can develop between a narcissist and their partner.

Should You Leave or Try to Make It Work?

Discovering that your partner is a narcissist can feel like a knife to the heart, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your relationship.

Whether you should leave your narcissist or stay and try to make it work is a question only you can answer, as it depends entirely on your situation.

Some relationships with narcissists can be incredibly damaging to the lives of their partners; others are subtler and affect their partners in little ways over time.

This depends on the level of narcissism your partner may have.

In the worst-case scenarios, a relationship with a narcissist can be described as an energy-vampire-relationship.

These are relationships that slowly suck the life out of you, turning you from a young, fit, active, happy, passionate individual, to someone who is riddled with anxiety, psychological twitches, and even physical illnesses.

Energy Vampires and Accidental Narcissists: Which Kind Is Your Partner?

According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, psychologist and author of Dodging Energy Vampires, “If you are in a relationship with an energy vampire, you may be able to withstand the energy drain for a while, but eventually the relationship takes its toll.

And, I’m not just talking about feeling a little emotional or drained. There can be serious health consequences when you are in an unbalanced relationship with an energy vampire.”

According to Dr. Northrup, she found that people who have spent years or decades with an energy vampire have unexplained cases of weight gain, diabetes, breast cancer, adrenal fatigue, and more, all because of the narcissist heavily involved in their life.

But not all narcissists can be described as energy vampires. As stated by psychologist Dr. Jeremy Sherman, some narcissists are simply accidental narcissists.

These are people who don’t exhibit all the traits of a narcissist all the time but do it enough that they end up creating relationships similar to those who are involved with true narcissists.

Leave or Stay: Question Checklist

Deciding to leave or stay depends on a number of things:

  • How much you value your relationship with your partner
  • How much they have (or have not) abused you
  • How much they are willing to change their behavior

We understand that the last thing you want to do is leave the person you love, whether or not they’re a narcissist.

But prioritizing your mental health and your future should always be your top concern.

Is this truly a person you want to build your family with, grow old with, and love for the rest of your life?

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when making this difficult decision:

  • Has your narcissist ever tried to change their behavior?
  • Have they gotten better or worse over the years?
  • Are they willing to see that they have some problems with their personality, or do they feel completely faultless and blameless?
  • Do they ever attempt to understand why you might be feeling bad?
  • Have they ever shown you examples of unconditional love, or does their love only come as a reward?
  • Can you think of any areas in their behavior where they have truly improved?
  • Are they willing to seek professional help?
  • Are you the main victim of their behavior, or do they lash out in other areas of their life (family, friends, career)?

Step 3: Making Your Choice and Doing it Right

How to Leave

Choosing to leave your narcissist partner is an easier and safer decision, but it can be difficult at the very start.

Breaking up with a narcissist is technically similar to breaking up with any other person – just tell them you are done with the relationship and you want to move on.

But a narcissist will employ certain tactics and techniques to manipulate you into staying, and these are what you must look out for. Here are our top tips to successfully navigating the break up with a narcissist:

1) Break the Trauma Bond

In any long-term relationship with a narcissist, it’s likely that there will a trauma bond between the narcissist and their partner.

This is a connection created from the shared, intense emotional experiences between the narcissist and their partner.

Even if you have a ton of negative memories with your partner, these memories will keep you feeling connected with them.

Whether your narcissist is aware of it or not, they will use these memories to make you feel guilty for leaving.

They will say things like, “We’ve been through so much together” and “After all this, you want to leave?” Breaking that trauma bond once and for all is essential for your escape.

2) Use the Gray Rock Method

The Gray Rock Method is a technique recommended by psychiatrists and relationship counselors to patients who are struggling to escape their relationship with a narcissist.

To understand the way this method works, it first helps to understand how narcissists feed on their victims.

Narcissists enjoy the intense, emotional reaction that they draw from their victims. The Gray Rock Method means shutting off, thus making yourself a boring and old target for your narcissist.

No matter what they say or do, just don’t react and don’t let them feed off your energy. Eventually they will get tired of trying to draw your emotions out and find a new target.

3) End the Relationship Completely

You might have tried staying friends with previous exes, but when your ex is a narcissist, staying connected at all just keeps enabling them and keeps you trapped in a toxic relationship.

Breaking up with a narcissist requires enforcing a zero-contact rule in all aspects of your life – friends, family, social media, even work.

The truth you have to realize is you’ve become a victim, and you can easily fall back into that victim role with just the slightest contact with your ex narcissist.

All progress you might have made after the relationship can fall apart, because your brain can easily shift back into the same old mindsets.

How to Make it Work

When you decide that you want to do everything in your power to make your relationship with your narcissist partner work, the first thing you have to accept is that your choice is going to be an uphill battle from the very start.

The main struggle of making a relationship with work a narcissist is trying to fix someone who has convinced themselves that they are flawless.

This means helping them developing their empathy. The more they understand other people, the more willing they will be to let their own defenses down and see past their own insecurities.

While psychopaths generally have no level of empathy, narcissists have undeveloped levels of empathy, and like a muscle in the body, empathy can be exercised and practiced.

Here are some top tips on how to make your relationship work:

1) Always Use “We”, Never “You” or “I”

The way our brains understand the world can be manipulated by the words we use. Your main task when teaching a narcissist how to be a better partner is to refocus their view of the universe – there are other people to care about, not just yourself. And that means eliminating the barriers between you and them.

When communicating with your narcissist, minimize the “you”, “me”, “I”, and other words that indicate two separate individuals. Say things like “we” and “us” – help their brain reprogram their understanding of their self, you, and the relationship.

2) Indicate the Differences Between Good and Bad Behavior

Remember that you are dealing with a person who doesn’t have the same general sense of morality that normal people have.

They need help seeing the differences between various levels of good behavior, bad behavior, and the general lines that stand between good and bad.

When your narcissist demonstrates slightly better behavior than usual, acknowledge it and praise them. Tell them what they did and how it made you feel.

When they demonstrate negative behavior, point it out. Don’t accuse them – just contrast their behavior with previous, better behavior, and show them what they did differently.

3) Share Your Feelings More Than Normal

No matter how negative of a personality your narcissist partner might have, it always helps to remember that they are coming from a place that is totally unlike what you consider normal.

It will be impossible for you to get where they are, and impossible for them to reach you; this means a compromise is in order.

To reach that compromise, you must reach out more than what you would consider normal. Share your feelings with them in a way you wouldn’t normally do with a partner.

It might seem excessive, but it’s necessary – your partner needs to understand what you are feeling, why what you are feeling is important, what actions or events caused you to feel this way, and finally, what can be done differently to avoid those feelings in the future.

Fitting a Narcissist into Your Life

Whether you choose to leave your narcissist or stay with them and work on their issues, remember: it’s your life.

No matter how much they convince you otherwise, your life is yours to do with as you wish.

Prioritize yourself and your own happiness – whatever choice you make, the reason for your decision should be because it’s the best decision for you and you alone.

Can you fit a narcissist into your life, or are you better off discovering a new life without them in it?

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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