I have a tattoo on my forehead that says, “Date me if you’re a narcissist.”
It also says, “If you lack empathy, are controlling, entitled, arrogant, talk endlessly about yourself, don’t listen when other people speak, take an innocent comment as an attack, and get mad when you don’t get your way – for the love of God, DATE ME!”
Yes, I have a large forehead. I also have a knack for attracting narcissists, then falling for them hard. Who can blame me when narcissists are generally good-looking, charismatic, and brilliant at winning a girl’s heart? But once they do, oh boy, look out!
What is a Narcissist?
How often have the words, “My ex is a narcissist,” fallen from your mouth over a glass of wine with the girls? Lately, “narcissist” has become a buzzword of sorts – the go-to descriptor for anyone who is self-centered. In truth, we tend to overuse the term “narcissist” because, while someone might have narcissistic traits, chances are they don’t warrant the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
NPD is a legit mental health condition found in about 5% of people, and only a mental health professional can diagnose it. According to the Mayo Clinic, the official definition of a narcissist is “…a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” In short, they truly believe they are better than everyone. These personality traits are constant, and their way of thinking is set in stone.
Signs of Narcissism
Have you ever met a man who at first is soooo charming, amazing beyond your wildest dreams? He pursues you relentlessly and showers you with love and attention – and, let’s face it, if you haven’t bathed in a while, that shower feels amazing. Don’t be fooled. This “love bombing” is really just a manipulation tactic narcissists use to get what they want. Narcissistic relationships tend to start at lightning speed, but once the honeymoon phase is over and you’re over-the-moon in love, they flip a switch, and that charm quickly shifts to insults, condescension, and drama.
Narcissists are masters of gaslighting, wherein they try to make you feel “crazy” – so much so that you may begin questioning your own sanity. It could start with the occasional put-down; other times, it’s criticisms or jokes at your expense. He blames you or accuses you of things that didn’t happen. When you call him out on his behavior, he denies, justifies, or turns things around on you. It’s always your fault, and there must be something wrong with you. And when someone constantly tells us we are wrong or deficient, it’s human nature to start believing that we are to blame for their unhappiness and anger.
Your self-esteem gradually erodes as you begin to feel invisible. You slowly withdraw from your friends, second guess decisions, tiptoe around his moods. You feel guilty when you’re not with him; he’s the center of the universe when you are, and you want to devote all your time and energy to him in between. You defend or rationalize his behavior, even his abuse. “He’s going through a bad
time.” “He’s just not himself.” “Things will get better…” And you wait and wait and wait for this to happen.
Because narcissists generally don’t change. And they won’t get help because they don’t believe they need it.
This is Not About You!
When someone constantly convinces us we are wrong, crazy, or unlovable, our natural instinct is to blame ourselves for their anger and unhappiness. Don’t! His symptoms of NPD are more about deep and extreme insecurity, and it’s about what’s going on in his head as opposed to something going on with you (!!!)
When to Leave
If you are truly decomposing – emotionally or physically; have thoughts of suicide or self-harm; if your partner is emotionally, sexually, or physically abusive, then please reach out for help. And if you need to, LEAVE! And once you’ve committed to leaving, do it fast. Because chances are, as with the cycle of narcissism, the narcissist will once again love bomb you. If you are vulnerable to this, you run the risk of getting into an even deeper, more dysfunctional, and codependent pattern.
Since you’ve most likely become isolated and fragile, now is the time to reach out to friends and family. Take time to heal. Take a “man-cation,” and if you can, get into a support group or therapy to deconstruct and understand your part in the relationship – how and why you landed in it in the first place.
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When to Stay
While it’s uncommon for a person with NPD to change, it is possible, but the narcissist has to want it, and you should plan on slow going. Just like any other mental or behavioral condition, change doesn’t happen overnight – as in, it’s going to take more than a couple of therapy sessions. Consult with your brain trust, whatever that means to you – a therapist, a support group, family, and friends – and if, upon reflection, you genuinely believe you will benefit from staying in the relationship, know that a trying-to-evolve narcissist can be part of a healthy, happy partnership. But please, proceed with caution:
1. Be clear with your boundaries. Let him know you aren’t going to put up with toxic behavior. “If you continue to speak to me this way, I will leave the room.” (Then, for the love of God, leave the room if he does!)
2. Calmly, distinctly, and without threats or accusations, tell your partner what you expect and what you will do if the trust is broken. The idea here is to head off the toxic behavior before your boundaries need to be asserted.
3. Finally, take breaks to focus on YOU. A relationship with someone who has NPD is not only more challenging but exceptionally draining since they focus more on their needs than yours. Plus, it’s easy to get sucked into the drama of a narcissist’s dysfunction, making it a challenge to have your own life. Self-care can go out the window when self-care and autonomy are what you need the most. Friends, work, new hobbies, and interests that don’t revolve around your partner are key. Join a book club, plan a trip, take up salsa dancing, or if you’re like me, start surfing at 50.
The Good News Is…
YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAY IN A NARCISSISTIC RELATIONSHIP!
Because you deserve a relationship based on mutual respect and a partner who works with you, not against you. That guy is out there… Hell, even if he isn’t, think of all the fun you’ll have trying to find him! And no matter what, ALWAYS remember how you want to be treated, how you deserve to be treated, and how fabulous and special you truly are.