Confidence is key to any strong relationship, but there’s a significant difference between your partner posting the occasional selfie with the caption #FeelingMyself and dating a full-blown narcissist.
According to Dr. Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist and Harvard Medical School professor, narcissism is a personality trait found in all humans to some extent and is derived from “the drive to feel special, exceptional or unique.” However, narcissism exists on a spectrum, Malkin said, and individuals with severe cases that compromise interpersonal relationships likely have narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Defined
The Mayo Clinic defines narcissistic personality disorder “as a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Narcissism can manifest in a variety of ways, many of which can be detrimental to both your significant other — and yourself — and is often used to veil insecurity and poor self-esteem.
While narcissistic behavior can be a cry for help, it can also be incredibly damaging to both your relationship and your own well-being. Before you seek out ways to help your partner or decide to call it quits on your romance, it’s helpful to know if they are actually exhibiting the signs of narcissistic personality disorder.
Signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Here are signs your partner may be struggling with narcissistic personality disorder:
1. They dominate conversations
Relationships are a two-way street, but a narcissistic partner will find any possible way to redirect a conversation back to themselves. Rather than listening attentively, they’re prone to cut you off to share their own perspectives or change the subject altogether in order to shift the focus back on them.
2. They are obsessed with appearances
Narcissists are focused on appearances in all sense of the word, from physical looks to perceived success. Is your partner constantly staring at themselves in the mirror or distracted by their reflection while strolling past store windows? Are they obsessively focused on obtaining flashy work titles and expensive sports cars regardless of if they really want them? You may have a narcissist on your hands.
3. They can’t take criticism
Constructive criticism is a healthy part of personal growth, be it through a performance review or an honest discussion about your relationship. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder will bristle in the face of criticism, either rejecting and ignoring it altogether, or becoming outwardly angry and hostile. Their elevated sense of self makes it difficult for them to absorb suggestions for improvement, and thus they’re significantly less receptive to critical feedback.
4. They are empathy impaired
Malkin says the key to spotting narcissistic personality disorder is observing the “three Es” — exploitation, entitlement, and empathy impairment. However, this is different than lacking empathy altogether. Dr. Malkin noted that instead the level of empathy may fluctuate over time, which can be especially challenging in relationships.
“It’ll appear that they’re not motivated, or that they are too preoccupied with their own needs to display empathy,” says Malkin. “But they have a capacity [for empathy] and this can make it very confusing if you’re in a relationship with them.”
5. They’re controlling
Narcissists “want and demand to be in control, and their sense of entitlement makes it seem logical to them that they should be in control — of everything,” wrote Dr. Margalis Fjelstad in an article for Mind Body Green. Theymay monitor where you’re going, who you’re talking to, what you’re wearing, etc. Everything you do fits into their personal narrative to achieve a perceived sense of perfection.
6. They act entitled and constantly seek validation
A person with narcissistic personality disorder believes they are owed and deserving of everything, regardless of whether they’ve truly earned it. As a result, they will often go out of their way to seek praise, but will rarely reciprocate it.
“A narcissist’s need for validation is like a funnel,” Fjelstad wrote. “You pour in positive, supportive words, and they just flow out the other end and are gone. No matter how much you tell narcissists you love them, admire them, or approve of them, they never feel it’s enough — because deep down they don’t believe anyone can love them.”
7. They’re addicted to social media
In today’s social media obsessed world, it can be hard to determine what constitutes a “normal” amount of, say, Instagram usage. However, a narcissist may post significantly more than the average user, while fixating on the number of “likes,” talking about it incessantly in conversation as part of their need for validation.
8. They exhibit signs of substance abuse or other mood disorders
Some narcissists may self medicate with alcohol or drugs and show symptoms of addiction, which may tell a larger story of the demons they’re battling. Despite demonstrating outsized ego, a narcissistic partner will in some cases exhibit symptoms of other mood disorders, like depression and anxiety.
How You Can Help
So what do you do if you notice your partner is showing several of these signs? Encourage them to talk to a therapist, who can help them get to the root cause of the narcissistic behavior. A trained mental health professional can also identity ways to reduce narcissism and ultimately help the patient improve their interpersonal relationships.