Can Being with a Narcissist Turn You into One?

Being with a narcissist is no walk in the park. What started out seeming like a fairytale quickly morphs into your worst nightmare. 

If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time, you’ve probably endured name-calling, cold and callous behavior, and a variety of different forms of emotional abuse.

It’s nearly impossible to escape from such a relationship unscathed. You may even worry that after being with a narcissist, you’ll turn into one yourself.

Can this happen? Does dating a narcissist make you narcissistic? A relationship with a narcissist will certainly take its toll on you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll become a narcissist yourself.

Let’s explore this further below. 

The Effects of Being with a Narcissist 

Relationships with narcissists take a toll on your emotional well-being. You’re subjected to control and manipulation, and you quickly begin to lose your sense of independence and self-worth.

The emotional abuse you endure will change you. You’l likely become unsure of yourself, prone to mood swings, and unable to trust others. 

So, does this mean you become a narcissist? Not at all. It simply means you’ve been negatively impacted by narcissistic abuse, and you’re showing symptoms of it. 

Can You Learn From Their Behavior?

Narcissists use a specific set of defense mechanisms. For example, they tend to shift the blame onto others rather than taking accountability for their wrongdoings. They also engage in projection by attributing their negative traits to others.

Additional defense mechanisms can include gaslighting, in which the narcissist convinces you that you are crazy or are remembering things incorrectly. Finally, narcissists are likely to defend themselves through grandiosity. This occurs when they exaggerate their strengths and accomplishments to appear superior to others.

After witnessing this behavior from a narcissist, you may pick up on their key strategies. They can become so familiar to you that you learn to expect them during any argument or conflict.

However, learning the narcissist’s patterns doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll repeat them. What’s more likely is that once you know what to expect, you’ll be prepared to defend yourself against abusive behavior. 

If They Call You a Narcissist, It’s Probably Projection 

What if the narcissist accuses you of being the narcissist? Does this mean you’ve become one yourself?

Chances are, you haven’t become a narcissist. Instead, the true narcissist is probably projecting their flaws onto you. On some level, they know that their behavior causes problems.

Despite this realization, they cannot take accountability for their flaws. Instead of owning up to it, they might accuse you of being a narcissist. This takes the attention off of them and leaves your head spinning as you wonder if you are the problem. 

The Concept of Reactive Abuse 

When you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, you might eventually begin to fight back. Maybe you’ve endured endless fights, constant accusations, and frequent put-downs.

You’ve probably also poured your everything into the relationship, putting your own life on pause to cater to the narcissist. Eventually, this takes a toll on you, and you might be ready to fight back.

Consider this example. You’ve been dating a narcissist for nine months. Everything started perfectly, and they seemed like your perfect soul mate. They told you how wonderful you were and promised you a blissful future together.

Fast forward a few months, and they completely changed. They started lashing at you angrily and blaming you for their behavior. They also stopped showering you with attention, sometimes barely acknowledging you throughout the day. 

Despite all of this, you’ve worked your hardest to keep the narcissist pleased. The cold, callous behavior doesn’t stop no matter how hard you try. They continue to blame you for all their problems, and they call you horrible names during every disagreement.

Finally, you snap. Rather than sitting silently and taking their abuse, you fire an insult back at them. You call them every name in the book, telling them what a miserable, disgusting person they are.

Does this mean you’ve turned into a narcissist? Absolutely not! You’re showing signs of reactive abuse, which occurs when someone who has been subjected to ongoing abuse begins to fight back to defend themselves. 

Sometimes, narcissistic people will purposely push your buttons, tormenting you until you finally break. When you finally snap, they’ll accuse you of being the abuser. It allows them to control your mind, so they can have their way with you. 

Considering the Signs of Narcissism

If you’re still worried that being with a narcissist will turn you into one, it’s important to take a look at the signs of narcissism. If you’re not showing these signs, you haven’t become a narcissist. 

You may have changed in response to the abuse you’ve suffered, but that doesn’t mean you’ve morphed into a narcissist. Look at the signs below to give yourself some reassurance.

Lack of Empathy

Do you struggle to identify with other people’s feelings? Do you have difficulty feeling for those going through a tough time? If so, you may have a lack of empathy, which is characteristic of narcissistic people.

Struggling to have empathy for your narcissistic partner doesn’t count. It’s only natural that after enduring their abuse, you no longer feel sorry for them. If you’ve retained empathy for others, it’s unlikely that you’re becoming a narcissist.

Sense of Entitlement

Do you feel you should have your way in all situations, no matter how it affects others? Are you willing to take advantage of others to get what you want, because you feel entitled to do so?

These are key characteristics of narcissists. If you don’t find yourself using others to get what you want, or believing that you should always have your way, you’re probably not a narcissist. 

Craving Attention and Admiration 

Narcissists want to be recognized as being superior to others. They also believe they are special and deserving of constant attention and admiration.

If you notice yourself needing attention from others, this could be a sign of narcissism, especially if you show other indicators. On the other hand, if you’re lacking this trait, you’re probably not narcissistic. 

The Bottom Line 

It’s not uncommon for people to worry that being with a narcissist might turn them into one. However, it’s truly unlikely that a relationship with a narcissist will cause someone to become narcissistic themselves. 

After all, narcissism is a diagnosable personality disorder. It often develops in response to a combination of factors, including genetics and childhood trauma. People generally don’t pick up personality disorders as if they’re simply catching a cold.

That being said, being with a narcissist is likely to expose you to some unhealthy behavioral patterns. You might become familiar with these patterns, but that doesn’t mean you’ll take on these patterns yourself.

A relationship with a narcissist is sure to change you. Your self-esteem will be hit, and you may begin to doubt yourself. You might also use unhealthy coping skills, because you’re stuck in survival mode. 

This doesn’t mean that you’ve fundamentally changed your personality to the point that you’re now a narcissist. You’re simply reacting to your environmental conditions. 

If you do begin to show hostile behavior, it’s probably a reaction to narcissistic abuse.  After the relationship is over and the dust clears, you’ll be free to heal. You’ll probably notice that you return to your previous way of being once the narcissist is out of your life. 

Alas, you’re not the narcissist! 

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