Dating a narcissist is, sadly, a fairly common occurrence for men and women, and knowing how to identify one is necessary for your sanity and self-esteem. Before we get to the signs to watch out for, understand that no one is a fool for dating a narcissist. In fact, these individuals often have a lot going for them: attractiveness, an outgoing personality, and well-cultivated social skills. The narcissist is usually well put-together, charming, intelligent, and focused on emerging in every social arena as superior. If you date a narcissist, he will work hard early in the relationship to let you know that he is an amazing catch and that he is highly desired by others. The narcissist is careful to set this dynamic up early in dating so that you know your place in the relationship: You belong in an inferior position to him, and that will not change. The narcissist can start to relax once he senses that you understand how lucky you are to be with him. (Cue the goose bumps — the toxic, scary kind).
Some traits or disorders are found more among men or women, but narcissism strikes men and women equally. A small percentage of men and women — under 5 percent — meet the criteria for full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but a much higher number of people have narcissistic traits. If you find yourself dating someone who is narcissistic, the summary version involves you feeling frustrated, angry and hurt. Check out the telltale signs below.
He loves to talk about himself.
Narcissists love talking about themselves and their accomplishments. They brag without even realizing it, and their conversations must focus far more on them than on you. A narcissist will talk at length about his day, but does not seem so interested when you talk about yours; a narcissist loves going out when she makes the plans, but she seems bored or pouty when you set the plans; the narcissist looks for comfort from you when he’s upset, but the way he comforts you when you are upset feels too quick and shallow to truly comfort you. In essence, the narcissist is simply not good at feeling empathy for you or anyone.
She loves attention and will do whatever is necessary to get it.
Narcissists are often extremely flirtatious, and relationships with narcissists usually involve frequent arguments about fidelity, jealousy and flirtation. Narcissists need something called “narcissistic supply,” which is a psychological term that refers to the attention that fuels them. Sexual attention is one of the most basic types of attention, and narcissists try to get as much sexual attention as possible. If you date a narcissist, she may flirt with someone else right in front of you, or may show a little too much physical affection to a random person (e.g., putting an arm around the shoulder, getting “handsy”). Narcissists are famous for keeping the metaphorical door open with exes and others who show interest, as they need constant attention and reassurance that they’re desired and wanted. Sadly, narcissists are also motivated to flirt or elicit sexual attention from others as a means of solidifying their own power over the other person in the relationship. It goes like this: "See how much everyone wants me? Don’t forget it." The underlying message: Don’t forget I have more power than you in the relationship.
He can’t handle even the tiniest criticism.
Narcissists can’t tolerate the simplest whiff of criticism. Though they present an act to the world that suggests that they are completely in love with themselves, the truth is that they feel deeply insecure underneath the polished, self-loving exterior. In a relationship, two partners are bound to have the occasional problem with the other person; in a relationship with a narcissist, you simply aren’t allowed to have any problems with them at all. Narcissists desperately hang on to the belief that they are perfect, so hearing anything to the contrary must be totally blocked out and denied. If you criticize a narcissist too much, he or she will simply leave the relationship and dispose of you like an object.
She won’t take accountability when she’s wrong.
If a 24-hour hotline existed for the victims of narcissists, most calls would involve the lack of accountability. Simply put, narcissists won’t take accountability for what they’ve done that is wrong or hurtful. In an argument, for example, a narcissist will say or do something but completely deny it a moment later. What’s more, narcissists often flip the negative behavior onto the other person and suggest that the other person is the one who said or did the terrible thing. To most people, this dance is confusing and crazy-making, creating the insidious doubt, Am I going crazy? Trying to get a narcissist to say they were wrong or to apologize in a heartfelt way is a losing game — it’s simply not going to happen. If you get an apology, odds are that it is issued as a means to keep the peace and get you off their back — not because they really mean it. With narcissists, the same bad behavior will keep popping up again because the narcissist’s personality is extremely resistant to change.
I pray for each of you that you don’t ever find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist. Making a relationship work with someone who is so emotionally injured and defensive is next to impossible, so why waste your time trying? There is simply no way to have a consistent or harmonious relationship with a narcissist. Because narcissists are calculating, it is often difficult to spot a narcissist at the outset. Within the first few dates, however, the narcissist will start dropping hints about his superiority. At this point, it’s your choice to decide whether you want to respond to the smoke that’s billowing around him, or passively hope for the best and sweep your instinct under the rug. My hope is that you run — and don’t walk — for the closest escape route. Your self-esteem and anxiety level will thank you later.
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders, specializing in relationships, parenting and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of "Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve."