11 Signs Your Partner Is a Straight-Up Narcissist
Plus, how to deal with one.
Have you ever been in a relationship that made you constantly wonder if something was wrong with you? While we all undoubtedly have things we can improve on, being in a relationship in which your partner points all the blame your way might actually be less about you and more about whether or not that person is a narcissist. But narcissism is more than a frustrating personality trait—it's a disorder known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and needs to be diagnosed by a professional. The good news is there are signs you can recognize in your significant other.
With this in mind, we chatted with a couple of relationship experts to find out the top signs that your significant other is a narcissist. Of course, these signs can apply to anyone else in your life, too, so be sure to keep that in mind when reading.
How to know if you’re dating a narcissist:
1. You are the one who always apologizes.
If you find yourself constantly apologizing in your relationship—even for the tiniest things—relationship expert Lauren Peacock, author of Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories About Divorce, Dating, and Saying “I Do,” says that your partner could very well be a narcissist. “If your partner never apologizes for hurting your feelings, missing your birthday, or making a mistake in the relationship, then you are probably dating a narcissist,” she adds.
2. They continuously gaslight you.
If you’re always the one to blame, it’s important to understand that your partner might be trying to gaslight you into believing that you are the problem in the relationship. This can be something as little as being told that you did something annoying around the house that you know that you didn’t do or being told that you’re the reason that your partner acts the way they do. According to psychotherapist Jennifer Tomko, owner of Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Florida, when your partner tries to shift the responsibility onto you—accusing you of being crazy or causing problems, especially when you know that you haven’t done anything wrong—gaslighting is at play.
“The narcissist is very convincing and will leave their victim questioning themselves,” she says. “The victim will wonder if they are the problem and often will accept the responsibility for the negative behavior of the narcissist.”
When this happens, Tomko says that it’s common to feel like you’re going crazy as a result of the manipulation. “This is often a pattern with a narcissist,” she adds. “They are intolerant of feeling weak, embarrassed, or not having control.”
3. They constantly talk about themselves and not much else.
By definition, narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance. As such, if your partner solely talks about themself and their needs and wants, Peacock says you’re probably dating a narcissist.
4. They make you feel like you’re in a game of cat and mouse.
Have you ever felt like your partner gives you the tiniest ounce of hope, only to replay the same pattern of backing away and blaming you for everything over and over again? Welcome to the narcissist’s favorite game: cat and mouse. “They will give you a morsel of hope to draw you in but then push you away when you begin to be available to them,” Tomko says. And if you eventually catch onto the game and decide to call it quits when they draw away again, know that once they realize they aren’t getting your attention, they’ll likely reappear in an attempt to get it. This, of course, lays the groundwork for an unhealthy on-and-off relationship.
5. They put you down.
Remember: Narcissists can’t stand feeling less than, weak, or out of control. For this reason, if you have an attractive job, social life, or physique, they will likely try to sabotage it so that they can regain the feeling of control. “If they frequently insult you, make digs, complain, or patronize you about your physical appearance, personality traits, the choices you make, or your goals in life, then you are probably dating a narcissist,” Peacock says.
6. They restrict your time with friends and family.
Part of being in control is attempting to isolate you from your family and friends. With this in mind, Tomko says that if your partner is trying to limit your time with friends and family—or dominate your time with them by incessantly checking up on you—you’re likely dating a narcissist. “The narcissist wants to be the center of your world; they aren't going to spend time with people who will want to protect you,” she adds. “They are more likely to bring you into their social circle so they maintain control.”
7. They make nothing but excuses for their behavior.
“If they always have a reason for why they are doing what they are doing or why they said what they said instead of owning up to a mistake or being wrong, and nothing is ever their fault, then you are probably dating a narcissist,” Peacock says.
8. They make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells.
When a partner refuses to take the blame and instead reverses said blame onto the other person, it’s difficult to not feel scared of the consequences of disappointing your partner. The narcissist may continue to make everything feel like your fault, which may force you to triple-check every action you take or everything you say, according to Tomko.
9. They are manipulative.
For instance, if your partner tries to tell you what you’re allowed to wear, who you’re allowed to hang out with, and where you’re allowed to go, or if they try to steer a conversation in a certain direction in order to have a specific outcome—run. After all, according to Peacock, this means that you’re dating a narcissist.
10. Their image comes first.
“If out in public they act differently than they do at home and are more arrogant/boastful or put you in uncomfortable positions in order to make themselves look better, then you are probably dating a narcissist,” Peacock says.
11. They need to be the center of attention.
One reason narcissists have a personality shift when they’re in public and surrounded by friends versus how they act with you in private has to do with their need to be the center of attention at all times. “They crave situations where they believe to be the best and know it all,” Tomko says. “They cannot tolerate being challenged or upstaged.”
With this in mind, Tomko points out that, thanks to the pandemic, narcissists are more dangerous than ever before, since they haven’t been able to partake in the group and interpersonal settings as much as their ego wishes.
“The narcissist (cat) will torment those in the home (mouse) by gaslighting, manipulating, blaming, verbally/physically abusing, or neglecting others,” she explains. “Once the affected person (mouse) gets intolerant of these behaviors, they often choose to leave. This is perceived as abandonment and losing control to the narcissistic person, and they will respond by telling the person affectionate, kind, and engaging things to win them back. To the victim, this is confusing and painful, but to the narcissist, it is just part of their entertainment. They may be genuine in the things they are saying to win you back, but it isn't coming from a place of love; it is coming from a place of fear of being alone or fear of losing the game.”
How to deal with a narcissist
If all of these signs feel all too relevant to your life, know that they are red flags and, more than anything, a sign to get out of the relationship. “The first thing you must realize is that you will not change a narcissist,” Peacock says. “No matter how much you try with therapy, talking to them, or reading any self-help books, narcissists will not be able to recognize their behavior."
According to Peacock, the best thing you can do is get out of the relationship as safely as possible. However, if you can't for whatever reason, you can diffuse the situation by being as neutral as possible with your emotions when engaging in conversations. "You will protect yourself in the long run if you don’t give in to their mind games. Narcissists get off on the idea of control. The sooner you realize you are dating a narcissist, the better off you will be leaving the relationship and moving onto healthier opportunities," she adds.