Do you feel alone even though your partner is right next to you? Do you sleep in the same bed but feel light-years apart? Are you afraid of expressing these feelings to your partner because he might become angry or withdraw into isolation even more? If so, you could be in a relationship with a narcissist. It’s easy to fall in love with one. In the beginning of the relationship he was charming, delightful, charismatic, attentive and complimentary. He put you on a pedestal and treated you like a queen. You may have wondered why such a wonderful man would cut in front of the line or treated the waitress so poorly. But you ignored these little embarrassing incidents. However, once you were “hooked”, his behavior turned to constant criticism of you over the most trivial things and constant self-centered demands. You have become tense and emotionally drained from his unpredictable tantrums, personal attacks and indignation at any perceived (often misperceived) slights. You begin to doubt yourself due to the never-ending critical comments, you worry about what he thinks, and you become as preoccupied about him as he is about himself.
Most narcissists are perfectionists and he is no exception; nothing you or anyone else does is right nor is it appreciated. If you try to talk about your hurt or disappointment he somehow always manages to turn it around so that it is your fault. Plus he then uses that as fodder for another put down. As the cliché goes, “They can dish it out, but can’t take it.” They are highly sensitive to any perceived judgment.
Is he capable of love?
The narcissist’s relationship is with himself; he sees you as an extension of himself and you need to simply fit in. Partners of narcissists are often times confused, hurt and feel abandoned. Yet they stay with them because the narcissist will lure the partner back in by occasionally exhibiting once more the charm, excitement and attention they initially gave, leaving the partner with a sense of hope that things will get better.
In public, narcissists display their charismatic feigned self. People are drawn to them and find them charming and entertaining. But at home they show their true colors and revert back to belittling you and perhaps the person they were just entertaining. You might think they love only themselves, but that is a myth. In reality, narcissists have very poor self esteem. Their swagger, self-flattery and arrogance are a cover up for feelings of self-loathing; they do not admit these feelings to others or even to themselves. Instead they project their hostility toward themselves onto you and others as criticism and disdain.
In love relationships, narcissists tend to distort and misperceive the good intentions of others. They need to be in control at all times. If they feel slighted, they usually withdraw or isolate themselves; they do not see how their actions make their significant other feel anxious. This is especially true if their partner has a borderline personality disorder. Narcissists are often times drawn to partners who fear abandonment and/or who experience narcissistic traits themselves. A borderline-narcissistic combo is not unusual as people with borderline personality disorder have a very weak sense of self and difficulty bonding with others. They tend to over-invest in others-exactly what a narcissist needs.
The narcissist who is “in love” becomes enamored of someone who has qualities that he wants to have or no longer possesses such as beauty, power, organization, strong sense of self or so on. The narcissist tries to possess these qualities through his relationship as he sees his significant other as an extension of himself.
Common traits of a narcissist
Narcissism traits are on a continuum from someone who is very self-centered with a few personality traits of narcissism to full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). A person with NPD would show five or more of the following characteristics:
- An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements.
- A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise.
- A belief that he or she is unique or “special” and should only associate with other people of the same status.
- Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power.
- Exploiting other people for personal gain.
- A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment.
- A preoccupation with power or success.
- Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her.
- A lack of empathy for others.
How do I know if I am dating a narcissist? I don’t know him well enough to see the behavior described above.
There are some common traits that they exhibit during the dating phase (and beyond):
- You always feel like you are the one chasing them.
- They never care about your problems.
- He works for applause for a living. (seriously)
- They only make a move on you when they are good and ready.
- You can’t depend on them.
- The only activities you do together are ones they want.
- They constantly give you ‘mixed signals’ (they want you then they don’t want you, they are hot for you and cold for you, creating constant emotional turmoil).
Are narcissists codependent?
People with “codependency” issues lack a strong sense of self and define themselves through others. This is true for all narcissists; their self image is so weak and insecure they need constant validation through praise and admiration. If you have a relationship between two narcissists, they will be miserable needing each other and fighting over whose needs come first. They will also both push each other away. However, for people who are codependent but don’t have a personality disorder (like borderline or narcissism), it can be a perfect, if somewhat painful, fit. A codependent also has low self-esteem but theirs’ is boosted by the narcissist’s extroverted personality and aura of success. Furthermore, their low self-esteem allows them to endure the narcissist’s abuse. They feel guilty asserting their own needs and loving/caring for a narcissist makes them feel valued. It is also a perfect fit because the codependent doesn’t feel worthy of receiving love for the individual that they are, only for what they give or do.
Stereotypically, narcissists don’t seek help as they don’t see or admit to problems or imperfection. Sometimes a major loss will get them into counseling. Narcissism and codependency can be helped with patience, courage, and a commitment to yourself. Therapy would involve improving boundaries (narcissists don’t have boundaries and feel threatened when their partner tries to enforce them) and increasing self-acceptance. Psychotherapy and joining a 12-step program are the recommended starting point.