Last Updated on December 16, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester
How dating a narcissist changes you? Dating a narcissist primarily changes in you two ways.
The first change is negative. You might be emotionally exhausted, confused, and insecure. You may feel entirely traumatized and afraid to trust anyone ever again. Some people stay stuck in this phase for several months or years. In severe cases, the aftermath can last a lifetime.
The second change, however, is more positive. After dating a narcissist (and healing from the inevitable narcissistic abuse), you may feel more empowered. You might be better at recognizing red flags and identifying key signs of abuse. You may learn how to prioritize your values, say no, and stand your ground in relationships.
Your relationship with a narcissist will change the course of your life. It doesn’t matter if you only date for a few months or you’re seriously committed for several years.
But no matter the individual circumstances, you’re not entirely doomed! Even if you’ve had a narcissistic partner, cultivating insight, establishing boundaries, and honoring your inherent need for self-respect can make you a stronger person.
Are You Dating a Narcissist?
Is my boyfriend a narcissist? Do I need to be concerned about this new relationship? Things seem good, but there are also some red flags. So what do I need to know?
Signs you are dating a Narcissist
- They move fast
- They promise the world
- They Gaslight
- They can’t tolerate feedback
- They are jealous
- They lack empathy
Being in a relationship with a narcissist often feels different than any other relationship. At first, this difference may feel entirely euphoric. You might feel like you’ve stumbled upon the best person in the world.
They seem to listen to you so attentively! They lavish you with praise every chance they get! They buy you sweet fits and tell you how special you are!
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It can feel overwhelming, especially if you have had a history of tumultuous relationships in the past. You might have fleeting concerns about things becoming too intense, but you also want to suppress that negativity. After all, it feels good to feel desired.
Here are some key signs that you’re dating a narcissistic man or woman:
#1 They Move Fast
Narcissists latch onto people who make them feel special and validated. At the same time, they are used to feeling abandoned. As a result, they tend to be distrustful of others, and they often become paranoid that people will hurt them.
Moving fast is their attempt to “avoid” the possibility of abandonment or rejection. They want to lock down what they like. Once they set their sights on something, they do what it takes to make sure it’s theirs.
#2 They Promise You The World
Narcissists have grandiose ideas about their futures. They feel inherently entitled to receive whatever they want. Subsequently, they often project those visions onto their partners at first.
And so, they might make extraordinary claims about wanting to buy you a fancy car or house- even if they don’t have any cash. They might talk on and on about a promotion they’re just about to receive- even if they just started in a new position.
Finally, they will often use your own desires against you. For example, if they know you desperately want a baby, they will promise they’re ready to start trying just after you threaten to end the relationship.
#3 They Gaslight You
You could have sworn they mentioned they would do the laundry that morning. You come home, and it isn’t done. You ask them about it. Their response? I never said that. You know I had meetings all morning. Why didn’t you just take care of it?
Sometimes, you might feel certain that they’re lying. But other times? You may feel unsure or confused. Were you imagining things? Did you misunderstand?
Narcissists rely on consistent gaslighting to confuse their loved ones and maintain a sense of power. This gaslighting often starts slowly, but it can accumulate over time.
As a result, you’re left feeling insecure. You never know what mood your partner will be in, and you often feel like you’re playing this massive guessing game to satisfy their needs.
#4 They Can’t Tolerate Feedback
Narcissists love questioning and criticizing everyone else. But when it comes to integrating feedback themselves? Forget about it. Any slight negative gesture often results in serious narcissistic rage.
Although they present as overly confident, their egos are incredibly fragile. As a result, they feel paralyzed by their own sense of inferiority. If other people catch onto their incompetence, it results in dramatic responses, like gaslighting or smearing.
#5 They Get Incredibly Jealous
Narcissism can be a confusing paradox. After all, why would such a confident person be so jealous of everyone else?
Because narcissists aren’t happy with themselves, they can’t experience genuine happiness for other people. Instead, they value other people for what they can offer them. And so, other people also become a source of competition (even if the narcissist isn’t consciously aware of it).
As a result, narcissists will often be most jealous of the people they claim to love the most. This explains why they downplay other successes and even sabotage people’s efforts.
#6 They Lack Authentic Empathy
Narcissists struggle immensely with empathy. Because they value their needs above anything else, it’s hard for them to relate to other people.
They may seem to show some empathy at times, but it’s often calculated and cognitive. For instance, it may seem like they’re reading from a script and just telling you what you want to hear.
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Most of the time, however, empathy is sorely lacking. They don’t necessarily feel compassionate for other people, especially if someone else’s situation interferes with their own.
How Does Dating a Narcissist Change You?
What do narcissists do to their partners? How does their emotional abuse impact people? Can the romantic relationship survive- or is it doomed from the start?
Being in a relationship with a narcissist can put your emotions into overdrive. What may have once felt like a seemingly normal or stable relationship quickly becomes chaotic. You may notice serious changes in your self-esteem and confidence.
A personality disorder affects every part of an individual’s life. Narcissistic personality disorder, in particular, can have long-term, damaging effects on loved ones.
Their self-importance feels like the top priority, and their manipulation tactics can wear even the most self-assured partner down.
How Dating a Narcissist Changes You in a Bad Way
Narcissists can present as so friendly, innocent, and charming. Many people only recognize their malicious ways in hindsight.
When you’re in the initial stages of dating, it’s easy to dismiss strange behavior as cute or protective quirks. But a narcissistic relationship pattern can profoundly impact your well-being. Here’s how.
#1 You May Feel Like You Have No Identity
Narcissists want to control their partners to meet their needs and values. Over time, it often isn’t worth the inevitable fight. You may just give in to their insane demands to avoid conflict.
As a result, you might feel somewhat empty after the relationship ends. You might be so used to second-guessing yourself or setting aside your own needs that you don’t even know what you really want.
When you struggle with your identity, you might have issues with:
- Making decisions.
- Setting healthy boundaries.
- Setting goals.
- Your self-esteem.
#2 You Defend or Enable Abuse
It’s a painful reality, but staying with a narcissist means you’re inherently tolerating some abuse. You’re also likely enabling the narcissist to abuse other people or situations.
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Of course, it isn’t fair to blame yourself entirely. You aren’t responsible for someone else’s actions. But partners often find themselves defending, praising, or rationalizing narcissistic behavior.
They don’t want to admit that their loved one is in the wrong. Likewise, they don’t want to see the truth for what it actually is.
#3 You Fear All Conflict
Because narcissists handle conflict so poorly, their partners often learn to withhold, lie, or intellectualize their feelings to keep the household peace. Even if they are unhelpful, these strategies usually seem easier than dealing with the fallout of their rage.
And so, all forms of conflict may terrify you. You might be incredibly passive or passive-aggressive in other relationships. Or, you may become incredibly hostile and demanding as a way to reestablish control in your life.
Either way, conflict feels unsafe. And if you’re faced with someone who does know how to manage conflict appropriately, you might unknowingly sabotage the dynamic.
#4 You Date Other Narcissists
Unfortunately, it’s easy to repeat history regarding relationship patterns. We often date what we feel familiar with. If you’ve been with a narcissistic partner in the past, you may be more inclined to date another narcissist.
Usually, this pattern is entirely unconscious. However, it’s common in cycles of domestic abuse. Research shows that such abuse can pass through generations.
Therefore, if one of your parents was a narcissist, you might still find yourself in a similar narcissistic relationship with an adult partner.
#5 You Have Trust Issues
Narcissists tend to be highly inconsistent and unreliable. You never know if you’re catching them in a good or bad mood. You have to assess every situation carefully and proceed with caution before you make a controversial move.
Therefore, many people experience trust issues after dating a narcissist. You might be skeptical of the belief that any relationship can be happy or healthy.
You might dismiss all men or women as terrible. Furthermore, you may assume that, no matter what, you’re going to get hurt again.
#6 You Feel Paranoid About Them Coming Back
Many narcissists don’t let go of their partners easily. Even after a breakup, they may use different hoovering techniques to lure you back into their chaos.
These strategies, of course, can thwart your sense of safety. They may, for example, threaten to ruin your reputation. They might speak poorly about you to friends or family.
In some cases, they will come back- as if they’re a totally changed person- to convince you that they have changed for the better. If this happens, you may find yourself wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt, which often results in more agony.
#6 You Loathe Yourself
It’s one of the most damaging effects of dating a narcissist. Narcissists tend to break their partners down emotionally. They criticize, blame, and attack others to feel good about themselves.
Therefore, you may feel incredibly insecure and self-conscious. You might take what the narcissist says at face value and assume all those awful things are true.
Even after the relationship ends, you could struggle with negative thoughts about yourself.
#7 You Question Yourself Constantly
Should I have ended the relationship? Was I in the wrong? Am I just being insensitive or mean? He experienced so much trauma- should I have been more compassionate or understanding? Maybe I just made everything worse.
Narcissistic gaslighting can make loved ones question their motives for several months or years after the abuse ends. Effective gaslighting works- it makes you doubt yourself and your decisions. It causes you to second-guess nearly everything you say or do.
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And so, whether you’re still in the relationship or it’s been over for a long time, you might still struggle with this impact. You may feel like you can’t trust yourself to make the right decisions or that the narcissist was right all along.
How Dating a Narcissist Changes You in a Good Way
Narcissistic relationships are confusing and emotionally exhaustive. You may not even realize how drained you felt until you two are no longer together. But even if the bad parts stick out, dating a narcissist can also change you in positive ways. Here’s how.
#1 You Learn Self-Respect
Ending a relationship with a narcissist is far from easy. It often requires intense dedication and navigating tremendous fear about what will happen next. Narcissists can be entirely unpredictable, and partners must manage their uncertainty during this process.
As a result, you gain a sense of self-respect. You have recognized that you deserve better. You have also made the conscious decision to pursue a healthier way of living. That takes courage and confidence. Even if you felt you lacked those traits before, you have more of them now.
#2 You Recognize How Much Boundaries Matter
Upholding boundaries is everything when it comes to managing narcissism. But boundaries are also important in all relationships. You need to know your limits and express them to others. If you don’t, the constant crossed lines can leave you feeling resentful, misunderstood, or disrespected.
Ideally, dating a narcissist teaches you the significance of boundaries. You can take this lesson with you in all subsequent relationships. Your needs matter, and honoring those needs is imperative for your emotional well-being.
#3 You Learn How to Cope With Grief
Many people experience profound grief as a result of narcissistic relationships. The grief may occur while you’re still together. At some point, you realize your partner isn’t changing- subsequently, you must come to terms with their toxic behavior and broken promises.
Afterward, you’re often left with a complex pile of grief stages. You may find yourself denying the reality of what happened, bargaining different outcomes, or experiencing immense anger over the situation. Often, you will fluctuate through these states until reaching a point of acceptance.
#4 You Find New Support
Healing from narcissistic abuse isn’t easy. It can sometimes “take a village” to help you feel better.
But as you grow and evolve from your relationship, you learn how to ask people for help. You recognize the benefits of seeking support. Furthermore, you allow yourself to open up to people in different ways. Practicing that kind of vulnerability is important for keeping your integrity intact.
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#5 You Will Be More Careful in Future Relationships
Trust issues can sometimes result in positive effects. For example, if you’ve always let people in without thinking about it, you probably won’t have this mindset after dating a narcissist. Instead, you will be more cautious and disciplined.
This stoic attitude has its benefits. You will likely read people better and have a stronger intuition for relationship red flags. Even if it takes a while to move on, you may be more likely to have a healthier relationship afterward.
How Does a Narcissist Make You Feel in a Relationship?
Narcissists usually make partners feel a fluctuating combination of sadness, anger, shame, guilt, and confusion. Depending on your circumstances, you may also feel afraid or trapped.
You might feel sad about:
- The circumstances that likely contributed to their narcissism.
- Losing your sense of self in the relationship.
- Letting go of the idea of who you want your partner to be.
You might feel angry about:
- How they treat you or others.
- Their denial about their behavior.
- Their inability to grow or work on themselves.
You might feel ashamed about:
- How others might perceive your relationship.
- Staying in the relationship despite knowing that it’s abusive and unhealthy.
- Believing that you don’t deserve better.
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You might feel guilty about:
- Thinking about ending the relationship.
- The possibility that nobody else loves or cares about your partner like you do.
- Enabling your partner to harm others.
You might feel confused about:
- Whether you’re overreacting to your partner’s behavior.
- If your partner is genuinely capable of changing.
- Whether you want to stay in the relationship or not.
You might feel afraid of:
- Retaliation or revenge should the relationship end.
- Your partner physically hurting you or others.
- How your reputation might be affected if the relationship ends.
You might feel trapped because:
- Your partner has isolated you from others.
- Your partner has financial control over all your money.
- Your partner has made threats about fighting for custody over the children.
What Do Narcissists Do to Their Partners?
Narcissists can alternate between love-bombing and discarding their partners, and these changes often fluctuate depending on their mood and needs. Partners often feel confused and angry by these behavioral differences.
Yet, at the same time, they typically feel enamored by the narcissist’s intelligence or charm.
Narcissists are skilled in manipulation. They rely on distorting reality to meet their needs, even if that distortion results in hurting or exploiting others.
Isolate and Insulate
Many narcissists want to keep their partners on a tight leash. They attempt to avoid outside influence. Anything that might make you think differently is usually perceived as a threat.
The efforts to isolate and insulate may be direct. For example, they might actively try to sabotage your relationships with friends or family. Or, they may demand that you quit your job because they earn enough money.
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However, many times, their efforts are more covert. For instance, instead of directly sabotaging your relationships, they might complain about how your mother doesn’t respect your independence or boundaries, causing you to second-guess your relationship with her.
Or, they may insist that you deserve better compensation, thus leading you to consider quitting the job that you really love.
At the beginning of a narcissistic relationship, you may feel enchanted by your partner. They might lavish you with praise, spoil you with fancy gifts, and make you feel like the most special person in the world.
That’s because, from their perspective, you’re perfect. You’re the projected fantasy of everything they need. It’s euphoric- both for them and for you. Until it ends.
But narcissists will still rely on love-bombing in times of conflict or stress. They already know how to make you feel loved. And so, they will rely on those same tactics to lure you back into their trap- especially when they sense you’re onto them.
Most people feel somewhat spellbound during the initial stages of attraction. We experience all those tantalizing love hormones– research shows that the body releases large amounts of dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and oxytocin during this phase.
Eventually, life returns to a sense of normal. We realize our partners aren’t perfect, and we learn to accept them for who they are. Even if the relationship isn’t completely exciting, there’s a sense of mutual comfort and safety that emerges.
But narcissists handle this process much differently. They, too, realize their idyllic partners aren’t perfect. But instead of accepting that as a standard part of growing together, they often feel cheated or confused. They can’t understand why things have changed on them. They feel angry, upset, and disturbed.
At this point, narcissists enter the devaluing or discarding phase. It explains why it may seem like your partner began “hating you” out of nowhere. They literally can’t regulate their emotions about the relationship. They want to feel exhilarated about you again, and they can’t accept that you cannot meet their every single need.
Use Them for Their Narcissistic Supply
Narcissists use their partners to satisfy their current narcissistic supply. They rely on loved ones for validation, control, and power. Because their egos are so fragile, they need other people to make them feel whole.
Unfortunately, you can never give enough. You are, after all, only human. And so, narcissists must grapple with knowing that other people are imperfect while also expecting them to be perfect (this same dilemma applies to themselves). That’s why they get so enraged and volatile- they are literally projecting their insecurities onto you!
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At the same time, narcissists have immense fears of abandonment, rejection, and loneliness. It’s why the prospect of you leaving triggers such an intense reaction. It’s also why they will often promise everything from marriage to couples therapy to satisfy their partners- at least until they know a sense of homeostasis has been restored.
Even if they end the relationship, many narcissists stick around and hoover their victims for several months or years. They just can’t seem to let things go.
They will try to test your boundaries or enlist in other people to “get the scoop” on what you’re doing in life. They may also attempt to interfere with your other relationships and activities.
Finally, they might even pretend like the relationship never ended. For instance, a narcissist could very well show up at your house with flowers and a simple apology, as if that’s enough to pick up where you two left off.
Can You Ever Be in A Healthy Relationship With A Narcissist?
Generally speaking, no. Most people with narcissistic personality disorder are not aware of their condition. Even those who have insight don’t necessarily have an incentive to change how they react or think. Their personality, in a sense, helps them survive.
To them, an ideal relationship exists on their terms. You do what they want. You conform to their needs and expectations. And, in most cases, you accurately read their mind and attune to their feelings without having to even ask!
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Of course, it’s presumption to assume that a healthy relationship is completely impossible. People can and do change. If your partner is dedicated to growth, healing is possible if they show a vested interest in professional therapy, support groups, and self-reflection.
That said, it’s most vital that you maintain realistic expectations. You don’t have to tolerate abuse. You also don’t have to wait for things to get better. Healthy relationships are built on safety, trust, and respect- if your partner cannot meet those basic needs, it’s time to reevaluate your motive for staying together.