9 signs your partner is a narcissist, according to psychology

These days, whenever someone shows the slightest hint of an ego or self-absorption, it’s all too easy to slap the label ‘narcissist’ on them. 

You may even have a partner that makes you wonder if they’re a narcissist. Maybe they’re overly preoccupied with themselves or constantly seek admiration.  

But let’s be real: everyone has moments where they’re a bit more focused on themselves. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a full-blown narcissist. 

In fact, did you know that only 0.5-1% of the population have narcissistic personality disorder? 

That’s why it’s crucial to separate the myths from the facts, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today. 

In this article, I’ll share 9 clear, fact-based signs that your partner is a narcissist. Hopefully, it will help to inform and guide you so you can have a better grasp of what narcissism really looks like in a relationship. 

Let’s dive in! 

1) They feel (or at least act) superior to others

Does your partner act like they’re better than you and other people? Like whatever they say, it comes from a bible – unassailably, undeniably right. 

Well, it does come from a bible – the Bible of Them. 

It’s self-created scripture where they’re always the protagonist, the fount of wisdom, the unchallenged hero. They know every single thing, and whatever you say, it doesn’t matter because “you’re wrong!” 

I’m willing to bet it’s hard to resolve issues, right? How can you make yourself heard if they dismiss your opinions or react strongly to criticism? 

You might find yourself constantly trying to knock them down a peg, just to feel like you’re on an even playing field. 

Or worse, you might start believing that they really are superior, which can chip away at your self-esteem. 

A healthy relationship is about lifting each other up. There’s no hierarchy of who’s better than whom. With a narcissist, you likely won’t get that kind of support. 

2) They think you can’t understand them because only “special” people can

Strangely, no matter how supportive a partner you are, a narcissistic partner won’t see it that way. 

Why? Because in their mind, you’re an ordinary person. They’re not. How can the ordinary understand the exceptional? 

No, only the special can understand the special. 

That’s why, according to HelpGuide.org, “they only want to associate with high-status people, places, and things.”  

This brings me to my next point…

3) They’re preoccupied with fantasies of grandiosity

Instead of support, what you’ll likely get instead is a preoccupation with fantasies of power, success, fairytale romances, or beauty. 

Basically, anything grandiose. 

In fact, according to psychologists, this is one way they capture your attention and lure you into their web. It’s a tactic called “future faking”. 

It’s hard to resist someone with big dreams, who knows how to weave fantastic pictures of the future you’ll share. Who showers you with so much love and affection that you can’t see straight.

If you’re the optimistic type, you’ll see this in a positive light, only to find out too late that it was all nothing but hot air. 

But that’s what narcissists tend to do – they run on hope. 

4) They always need to be the center of attention

Another narcissistic trait is the need to be in the spotlight

In Psychology Today, Dr. Kristy Lee Parkin talks about this obsession with attention: 

“Relationships often serve the purpose of boosting the narcissist’s status. For example, they may not necessarily want to become a parent, but may change their mind when they realize that with it comes a rise in status and recognition—and the new title of ‘mom’ or ‘dad.’”

It’s kind of a twisted way of thinking, to be honest, but that’s the reality – in a narcissist’s life, the main star is…you guessed it, themselves. 

Anyone else in their orbit is merely there to enhance their presence. Supporting characters, in other words. 

5) They have very low empathy

Ironically, they can’t give you that same level of support you give them. Because here’s the curious thing about people with NPD, according to research

“People affected by NPD show specific issues in empathy, but those difficulties are limited to its affective part. In fact, the cognitive portion seems preserved and essential for manipulative skill and exploitation of others.”

Which means, they know intellectually how to use empathy to gain advantage over you. But they struggle with using empathy to provide real, honest-to-goodness support. 

6) They have a tendency to exploit you and others

If this sounds like your partner, then you’ve probably felt manipulated in one way or another. 

You see, narcissists often employ a variety of manipulative tactics to keep you under control, such as: 

  • Blaming and shaming
  • Gaslighting
  • Love bombing
  • Emotional blackmail
  • Ignoring your boundaries

It’s quite a longer list than this, but the point is, narcissists exploit others simply because they’re always after the next “narcissistic fix”, and don’t really think about how their actions impact others. 

That sounds nefarious, I know, but I don’t mean to paint an evil picture of them. This is merely to help you recognize the signs so you can be on guard. 

In fact, while we’re on this topic, I’d like to dispel the common myth that “all narcissists are evil”. Dr. Elinor Greenberg of Psychology Today explains this so well: 

“Narcissists are neither superheroes nor villains. They are troubled, very self-centered people with low emotional empathy, a host of other narcissistic issues, and are preoccupied with supporting their shaky self-esteem.”

I repeat, narcissists may behave in hurtful ways, but they aren’t inherently evil. They simply have a distorted picture of themselves. Which may also be why…

7) They have a sense of entitlement

That distorted picture gives narcissists a sense of entitlement. They believe that because they’re special, they should have whatever they wish. 

Psychologists say that this is a key trait of narcissism. It goes beyond the usual entitlement that we feel on birthdays and important milestones of our lives. 

With narcissists, this sense of entitlement is ever present, whether or not they’ve done something to deserve special treatment. 

In fact, when that sense of entitlement is threatened (like when they don’t get what they want), they can be antagonistic. They may resort to behaviors like: 

  • Getting into a dark mood
  • Wanting to “get back” what’s been “taken from them”
  • Wanting to take revenge at the offending individual

The bottom line is, it’s just unacceptable (the favorite word of the world’s Karens and Kens) that they don’t get what’s “owed” to them. 

8) They always need to be validated

The funny thing is, you would think that a narcissist, with his inflated sense of self, wouldn’t need validation from others

But the truth is, they absolutely do! 

Research now shows that it’s insecurity that drives narcissistic behavior, not an inflated sense of self. 

According to Mary Kowalchyk, the lead author of the study, “More specifically, the results suggest that narcissism is better understood as a compensatory adaptation to overcome and cover up low self-worth.” 

This explains why…

9) They behave arrogantly or haughtily

Knowing now that narcissists are insecure at the core explains why they behave like arrogant jerks. 

Going back to the study I mentioned above, what the research shows is that their arrogance is simply a way of coping with these insecurities. 

So, they might flex by boasting or acting in a snooty way. Which then makes others like them less. Which then fuels their insecurities even more. Which then makes them flex even more. 

It’s a never-ending cycle of arrogant behavior, all because they actually have a low sense of self-worth. 

How to protect yourself

Now, a word of caution: if your partner shows one or two of these behaviors, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a full-blown narcissist

The truth is, we all have narcissistic traits from time to time. 

According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), at least five of these criteria must be present for one to receive a definitive diagnosis of NPD. 

That said, even a few narcissistic traits can do a lot of damage to the other partner in the relationship. 

So, how do you cope? Here are some ways: 

  • Understand the behavior. Educate yourself about narcissism so that you can guard against internalizing their negative behavior as your fault. (It’s definitely NOT your fault.)
  • Set boundaries. Be clear about what you will and won’t tolerate. And be clear about the consequences of crossing them, too. This is vital for you to stay in control of your life.  
  • Keep up with your hobbies, interests, and social life. A narcissistic partner could try to isolate you from all of that to maintain control. Don’t lose your sense of self!
  • Seek support from friends, family, or a professional therapist. 
  • Practice self-care. Dealing with a narcissistic partner can be mentally and emotionally draining.
  • Choose your battles. Arguing with a narcissist can really eat up your energy, so be picky about what’s worth spending your energy on. 
  • Focus on reality. Remember, narcissists tend to distort the truth. Trust your judgment and ground yourself in reality. 

Sometimes, the healthiest option is to leave the relationship. There’s no shame in that. 

Final thoughts

Narcissists are people who have their own share of struggles as we do. Behind their challenging behaviors and attitudes often lies a complex web of insecurities and self-esteem issues. 

However, understanding this doesn’t mean you have to endure unhealthy behavior. Compassion is essential, but so are your well-being and happiness.

The key is to find a balance between empathy and self-care. 

Above all, I’d like to remind you that you’re not responsible for fixing or changing your partner. 

What you’re responsible for is yourself. For setting firm boundaries, getting support, doing anything that will help you take care of yourself. 

And if that involves walking away, then so be it. Your long-term happiness depends on it. 

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