NPD is characterized by excessive self-concern and self-interest, to the point that others' feelings, needs, and desires are completely eclipsed and ignored. Narcissists display many of the qualities people tend to find attractive, like confidence and a polished appearance, but the emotional and psychological impact of dating a narcissist can be devastating.
Here are 10 signs you may be dating a narcissist, and what you can do to get out of it.
1. They feel superior to others
Narcissists tend to think they're superior to everybody else in some way. They might consider themselves smarter than those around them, that their talents or achievements are greater than those of others, or that they are simply a more important and special person.
A narcissistic person usually feels entitled to special treatment, especially in situations where they're made to wait "just like everybody else" (at the DMV, for example, or the doctor's office). If they're the kind of person to throw a fit because they're not getting special treatment or attention, that's a red flag.
2. They expect you to recognize their superiority.
A narcissistic partner will expect you to recognize their superiority and reinforce it, even if their achievements are, in actuality, commonplace. They won't suffer anybody being put before them, even if it's your own family or closest friends.
This might manifest itself as signs of petty jealousy or as them being dismissive of the other people in your life, as if they don't matter as much. Betraying that illusion will lead to anger, frustration, and fighting on the part of the narcissist, although it may not come out at the time. Narcissists will hold onto past grievances and weaponize them later to win an argument, making it seem like you were being unsupportive.
3. They're obsessed with their appearance and reputation
As mentioned, narcissists often have a well-cared-for, polished appearance. Part of this may be due to the fact that they believe themselves to be better than others and so go to lengths to ensure they look the part. But it's also because narcissists tend to be obsessed with their reputation and the way other people see them. They can't stand the thought of others judging them or seeing them as less than perfect.
Most people want to look nice, but most of us are willing to accept, even love, our little imperfections. Narcissists are unaccepting of imperfections, both their own and those of their entourage. If their appearance gets ruffled in public, either physically or because they've been embarrassed, you can bet they'll be unusually and excessively upset about it. (And it will never be their own fault.)
4. They used to be romantic and attentive
Individuals high in narcissistic traits know, at some level, that they crave the attention and love of others. But it takes investments in time and attention for people to fall in love with you.
Narcissists won't hesitate to pull out all the stops at the beginning of a relationship, engaging in what's been called love bombing—but once you're committed, this will drop off dramatically. This can be a painful experience, and we naturally want things to go back to the way they were. The narcissist knows this and uses it as a controlling device. They may even start putting you down and engaging in emotional abuse to ensure you remain vulnerable and attached.
Of course, all relationships start with a little more romance, which naturally tends to level off throughout the relationship. With a narcissist, though, the transition will be far more dramatic. When pressed for an explanation, a narcissist will either engage in gaslighting, making you question the reality of the situation, or else turn the tables and make it your fault.
5. They lie easily and frequently
Narcissists may not feel beholden to even the most basic rules of a relationship, including honesty. They'll show extraordinary anger and cruelty when lied to but will lie to others easily and frequently. Because they are "special and unique," they feel no moral imperative to be honest with others, and lying is often the best way to get what they want.
Narcissists may also use lies to distort reality in an effort to keep you off-balance. They can be such able liars, in fact, that you might find yourself starting to question your judgment or making excuses for your partner, constantly giving them the benefit of the doubt despite evidence of betrayal. A narcissist will jump on this opportunity, reinforcing your doubt, suggesting or explicitly calling you crazy, and minimizing the situation or your feelings.
6. They are always the hero or victim of their own story
Narcissists take center stage. They are not a character in somebody else's story, and they need everybody to know that. In public, narcissists tend to tell stories that make them out to be the hero or else a victim, egregiously wronged despite their perfect innocence in the situation.
There will also be little time for anybody else's stories. A narcissistic partner will pay perfunctory attention to anything you have to say about your day, but you'll only be allowed a short amount of time to talk. If you find that you're constantly listening to your partner, but you never get the chance to talk about yourself, that's cause for concern.
7. They lack empathy and concern for others
Empathy is defined as the willingness and ability to identify with the feelings and needs of others. It's why you feel bad when you see somebody get hurt or happy when you care about their success. Empathy is a necessary quality to experience guilt, which narcissists rarely show.
Lacking empathy, narcissists may seem unconcerned with others' misfortune, even if it's serious. If you were walking down the street and saw a big car crash, you might feel a sudden, emotional tug. You would hope nobody's been injured too badly. Someone with little capacity for empathy, however, would probably have just about as much concern for the people as the cars. Maybe less.
8. They always have to be the center of attention
Narcissists are not wallflowers. They will go to lengths to attract the focus and attention of others, so long as it's positive. If the spotlight is on somebody else, they usually won't allow it to remain so for long, saying something charming or shocking to bring the attention back where it belongs.
If they're ignored in a situation for too long and are unable to take back control without attracting criticism, they're likely to leave and try to find a readier source of admiration.
9. They're superficially charming but have few long-lasting relationships
Like psychopaths, narcissists can be extraordinarily charming. They have learned that humor, apparent interest and sweetness, and being generally likable will get them the attention and adoration they crave. For a narcissist, however, these are tools and not genuine personality traits; they are picked up and used when necessary and thrown out when the job is done.
As a result, narcissistic individuals tend to have very few long-lasting relationships, both romantic and platonic. They make friends quickly but struggle to keep them and are generally unconcerned with losing friends, who can be easily replaced.
One common exception is what's known as a narcissistic supply. Narcissists like to keep a supply of individuals waiting in the wings, usually after having disappeared, as a form of punishment. When the narcissist returns, the other person is more accomodating, less demanding, more enamored than ever. The narcissist slakes their thirst for attention without any real commitment or reciprocity, then disappears, leaving the other person confused and hurt but often eager to "win them back."
10. They display these behaviors consistently and frequently
To be considered a narcissist according to most definitions, including the DSM (a diagnostic manual used by psychologists), these personality traits have to be "relatively stable across time and consistent across situations." What this means is that a narcissist will display the behaviors listed above consistently and frequently.
Everybody displays some narcissistic traits, and we're all guilty of doing something on this list from time to time. A true narcissist, however, will demonstrate most of them, most of the time. If that's the case, it's a sure sign it's time to get out of the relationship.
How to stop dating a narcissist
If you're dating somebody who fits the description above, and it's causing you emotional or psychological distress, it's time to get out. Narcissists are skilled manipulators and may make you doubt your assessment of the situation. They may have also left you before or threatened to leave you, which can be painful and make it harder to leave them.
It's important to remember that a narcissist probably doesn't see you or the relationship the same way you do. Their exploitative nature means that, even if they do have feelings for you, they may not be as strong as your own. Even if they are, though, that's not a good enough reason to stay.
Narcissists react very poorly to being left. They will panic when you start to withdraw your love and attention and will probably make promises to change and do better. This might even be sincere, and you can reinforce that desire to improve by suggesting they speak to a therapist. However, it is not your job to bear the brunt of their abuse during that time. You also need to understand that, realistically, change may never happen.
When they finally accept you're leaving, they may get nasty, so prepare yourself. You can get help from an online relationship therapy service to navigate this or lean on friends and family. With a narcissist, it's important to make a clean break. Cut off communication after ending the relationship—no social media, no texting, no phone calls. The goal isn't to be cruel but to deny them the opportunity to cause you further harm.
After you've ended the relationship, take some time to heal and reevaluate your needs and expectations for a relationship.
Dating a narcissist can be a traumatic and frustrating experience. If your partner consistently displays the above traits, it may be time to end the relationship. An online therapy service can help you navigate this transition and provide stability and advice throughout.