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. It’s derived from “the drive to feel special, exceptional or unique.” However, narcissism exists on a spectrum, Malkin notes, and individuals with severe cases that compromise interpersonal relationships likely have a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
People with NPD typically believe that they’re better and more important than others around them. They often have low empathy, feel entitled, and are prone to manipulating others. They may also have an inflated sense of self-importance, but it can mask low self esteem. However, they can also be charming, making it easy for someone to miss red flags during the early stages of a romantic relationship.
Keep reading to learn more about the signs of narcissism, especially if you suspect you may be in a romantic relationship with someone who has NPD.
9 Signs You’re Dating Someone with NPD
It’s common for people with NPD to have troubled or toxic relationships. Learning more about narcissistic traits can help you make sense of your partner’s behavior. The following warning signs may indicate they’re struggling with a narcissistic personality disorder.
1. They dominate conversations
Relationships are a two-way street, but a partner with a narcissistic personality disorder will find any possible way to redirect a conversation back to themselves. Rather than listening attentively, they’re prone to cut you (and anyone else around them) off and focus only on their own perspectives. They might often change the subject altogether in order to shift the focus back on them.
During conversations, narcissists want to discuss their achievements and their accomplishments. It’s common for them to exaggerate their past successes or to describe themselves as more talented or successful than they really are. For someone with NPD, the conversation can be a tool to get the adoration they crave.
2. They’re obsessed with appearances
Narcissists are focused on appearances in all senses 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?
A desire for constant admiration is a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder. Stylish clothes, a great physique, and expensive possessions can all be ways for someone with NPD to get the compliments they crave. This obsession with appearances can also cause someone with NPD to criticize the appearance of their partner.
3. They can’t take criticism
Constructive criticism is a healthy part of personal growth, whether through a performance review or an honest discussion about your relationship. Individuals with a 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.
While people with NPD tend to be arrogant, they often have a fragile sense of self-esteem. Even mild criticism can be seen as a threat to their sense of self-worth. NPD can cause people to become quick to criticize others while they struggle to handle criticism when it’s directed towards them.
4. They’re empathy impaired
One of the keys to spotting narcissistic personality disorder is observing the “three Es” — exploitation, entitlement, and empathy impairment. However, this is different from lacking empathy altogether. Dr. Malkin notes that instead, the level of empathy may fluctuate over time, which can be especially challenging in relationships.
People with NPD often appear unmotivated or seem so preoccupied with their own needs that they fail to display any sort of empathy.
While someone with NPD can recognize other people’s feelings, they might not have an emotional response to those feelings. It’s very rare for people with NPD to apologize for bad behavior, unless that apology can somehow benefit them in one way or another.
5. They’re controlling
Narcissism makes people want to be in control to the point that they demand it. They have a sense of entitlement that, in their own mind, justifies why they should be in control of any and every situation.
It’s common for people with NPD to act out when they feel like they’ve lost control of their partner. If you try to set boundaries with a narcissist or refuse to go along with what your partner says, they might try to make you feel guilty or attack you. They also might use compliments and affection as a way to manipulate you into going along with their demands.
6. They act entitled and constantly seek validation
A person with narcissistic personality disorder believes they’re owed and deserving of everything, regardless of whether they’ve truly earned it. As a result, they can go out of their way to seek praise but will rarely reciprocate it.
People with NPD might demand continuous attention from their partners. If your partner has NPD, they may lash out or try to distract you when they’re not the center of your universe. They may become jealous of any other relationships in your life, even relationships with friends or family members.
7. They’re addicted to social media
In today’s social media-obsessed world, it can be hard for any of us to determine what constitutes a “normal” amount of Instagram usage. However, someone with narcissism may post significantly more than the average user, while fixating on the number of “likes” they get and talking incessantly about their apparent popularity as part of their need for validation.
Studies show that people with NPD are significantly more likely to develop a social media addiction. For those with narcissism, social media is an easy and instant way to receive compliments and admiration. Someone with NPD may easily become obsessed over how they’re perceived on social media.
8. They exhibit signs of substance abuse or other mood disorders
Someone with narcissism might be more prone to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs and show symptoms of addiction. Research has linked a higher risk of substance abuse to NPD. For some people, drugs and alcohol can be a coping mechanism. When they don’t get enough admiration, substance abuse may be a way to act out.
Further, despite demonstrating an extreme ego, a narcissistic partner will, in some cases, exhibit symptoms of other mood disorders, like depression and anxiety.
9. They don’t have many long-term relationships
Despite people with a narcissistic personality disorder often having large circles of acquaintances, it can be difficult for them to maintain close relationships. When a friend doesn’t meet someone with NPD’s expectations, they may drop that person in an instant.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder, you might notice they don’t have close friends, and they become resentful when you want to spend time with your friends. Instead of cultivating friends, people with NPD can cultivate enemies and spend a lot of time talking about the people that they dislike.
“Common traits of people with NPD include lack of empathy, excessive charm, a sense of entitlement, and hypersensitivity to criticism. If the person you’re dating possesses most of these qualities, you might be dating someone with NPD. If that’s the case, you should try to maintain rigid boundaries, guard your own self-esteem, and don’t let them make you feel small or bad about yourself. Couples counseling can help address some of the issues that come up when you’re dating a narcissistic person.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
What to Expect When Dating a Narcissist
If you’ve noticed signs you’re dating someone with NPD, you should be prepared for your narcissistic partner to be hot and cold. Narcissism can cause someone to shower their partner with compliments and affection when they want something, but lash out or ignore them when they’re not getting what they want.
Dating someone with narcissistic personality disorder can make you feel lonely, even if you and your partner spend a lot of time together. While they may demand a lot from you, they typically won’t be willing to put the same effort into meeting your emotional needs. Someone with NPD may also try to isolate you from other sources of support in your life.
5 Tips for Dating a Narcissist
1. Set and maintain boundaries
Boundaries are essential when you’re dating someone with NPD. Even though they may react poorly to the lines you draw, setting boundaries can be a way for you to stand up for yourself and your needs.
Not only is it important for you to set boundaries, but it’s also essential that you reinforce them. If your partner tries to push back, make it clear that you will not tolerate being disrespected.
2. Maintain a strong support system
Being in a relationship with someone with NPD can take a toll on your self-esteem. You can protect yourself and your self-confidence by maintaining friendships outside your relationship.
Set aside time for yourself and for friends. Don’t allow your partner to isolate you from sources of support.
3. Don’t blame yourself
It’s easy to feel like it’s your fault when a partner with NPD lashes out at you. Keep in mind that these behaviors are symptoms of NPD and aren’t something that you’re responsible for.
It can take time for people with NPD to change their behavior, and you’ll have to be patient if you want to maintain the relationship. However, you should never take the blame for your partner’s actions. Don’t let yourself feel responsible for what they say, and try not to take their bad behavior personality.
4. Learn to recognize gaslighting
Narcissistic people often manipulate partners by making them question their perception of reality. This form of manipulation is known as gaslighting and can be a way for someone with NPD to justify bad behavior.
Signs of narcissistic gaslighting include minimizing your feelings, dismissing your view of a situation, or completely denying events you know are true. Watch out for these warning signs and push back.
5. Know when to leave
If you’ve noticed signs you’re dating someone with NPD, you should take the time to consider if remaining in this relationship is the right choice for you. While you and your partner can work on your relationship together, you don’t have to stay in a toxic relationship that hurts you or makes you unhappy.
“Protect yourself from the negativity that someone with narcissism can cause in the relationship. Remind yourself that you’re not the one who has the personality disorder and that you can only do so much to support them. Engage in individual and couples counseling to help address the issues in the relationship.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
How You Can Help
What can you do if you notice your partner is showing several of these signs? First, 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 identify ways to reduce narcissism and ultimately help someone improve their interpersonal relationships.
People with narcissistic personality disorder usually won’t acknowledge that there’s anything wrong with them, making it difficult for them to receive a NPD diagnosis and seek treatment. If you’ve noticed signs you’re dating someone with NPD, talk with your partner in a non-confrontational way. While ultimately, they’ll have to decide if they’re willing to get help, you can be supportive and encouraging.
If they are ready to treat narcissistic personality disorder, consider Talkspace, an online therapy platform that makes getting help convenient and affordable. Our experienced therapists are trained and understand how to treat NPD. Whether it’s your partner, you, or the both of you together who are seeking help in navigating a complex condition like NPD, Talkspace is there for you.
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