5 Red Flags That Your Partner Is a Narcissist, According to Therapists
Professionals say there is a range of narcissism. Here's how to spot if your partner fits into it.
You've likely heard the term "narcissist" thrown around in relation to friends, family members, and partners. To some, the word simply refers to a person who thinks highly of themselves or is notably self-centered. But to mental health professionals, the term suggests narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and has criteria for diagnosis.
"The narcissistic personality is comprised of the following core traits: lack of empathy, selfishness, deceit, manipulation, exploitation, entitlement, and a grandiose sense of self-importance," explains Laura Bonk, MA, PLPC, a therapist at Heartland Therapy Connection. Further, narcissism exists on a spectrum, meaning someone can be highly narcissistic without being diagnosable with NPD. Read on to hear from therapists about the red flags that mean your partner may be a narcissist. Catch it early and connect with a professional before things spiral.
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They seem too good to be true at first.
One of the primary signs your partner or future partner could be a narcissist is if they're overly charming and charismatic at the beginning of your relationship. "The person seems too good to be true, you find yourself drawn to them, and they appear to be 'perfect' in so many ways," says Lindsey Ferris, MS, LMFTA, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate in Washington. "This is not to say that sometimes this happens with people that are not narcissistic, but be mindful as you get to know this person that narcissists draw you into their web by mirroring your needs and wants."
Narcissists do this because they need to mask their true selves to win you over. This gets you to trust them before they begin to engage in the more clear signs of narcissism. "You will have a more challenging time seeing [those] once they've won you over," Ferris adds.
They think they're superior to others.
Some of the biggest signs your partner is a narcissist have to do with how they relate to others. For example, "[narcissists] often think that they're superior to others because of their accomplishments, wealth, status, or looks," says Colleen Wenner, LMHC, MCAP, LP, founder and clinical director of New Heights Counseling & Consulting. "They believe that everyone else is envious of them and jealous of their success."
This belief causes them to act entitled and think they deserve special treatment. Their air of grandiosity is frustrating to those around them and makes it difficult for the narcissist to accept criticism.
They never accept blame or apologize.
On a similar note, a narcissist will rarely apologize. "Blaming others and not taking responsibility are hallmarks of narcissism that create a catch-22 that thwarts healthy emotional growth and learning," says Nikki Eisenhauer, MEd, LPC, LCDC, psychotherapist and the host of the Emotional Badass Podcast. "Narcissism creates a loop of self-righteousness. Basically, if I am always right and I am always the person in the room with the best ideas, why would I ever be compelled to humble myself, look in the mirror, swallow pride, offer forgiveness to myself or others, to learn something new?"
This way of thinking means the narcissist never learns or seeks out ways to better themselves. "Round and round a narcissist's righteousness goes, disinterested in ever emotionally evolving as people with healthier empathy do," Eisenhauer adds.
They fish for compliments.
We all love to receive positive feedback now and then, but narcissists absolutely crave it. "People who are narcissistic will often go out of their way to elicit a compliment, sometimes even asking for one directly," says Adam Holman, LCSW, of Main Quest Psychotherapy. "At the root, people who are narcissistic need to feel better than other people in order to feel valuable. Receiving praise helps feed the idea that the person is superior to others."
If your partner constantly fishes for compliments about their appearance before a big night out or about their career success in general conversation, there may be a bigger issue to discuss.
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They gaslight you.
Because narcissists cannot feel empathy, they put the people around them through the emotional wringer. One way this could show up is through gaslighting, or telling you that your feelings or experiences are wrong. "Questioning a person's experience creates doubt—doubt within yourself about yourself," says Sarah E. F. O'Brien, LCSW, LCSW-C, CCATP, CTMH, a licensed clinical social worker. "That leaves room for the narcissist to take control. Control over people and circumstances is the objective of a narcissist."
If you suspect this is the dynamic at play between you and your partner, you'll want to connect with a professional.