A relationship with a narcissist involves a toxic cycle of emotional abuse and destruction.  It is not uncommon for a victim to be entirely unaware of the negative toll a narcissist takes on their mental health and self-esteem until the damage is already done.  Below are five signs you may be or were in a dysfunctional relationship with an individual who exhibits the traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD):

  1. Hypersensitivity to Criticism: While a narcissist is quick to point out flaws in their partner, they are incapable of self-reflection on their own inappropriate behaviors.  This characteristic goes beyond an inflated ego; rather, a narcissist won’t engage in self-betterment because they truly believe there is nothing they need to change about themselves.  Beware of finding yourself trapped in this vicious cycle of blame and deflection.  With a narcissist, you will always be the problem.
  2. Lack of Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and process how others are feeling.  Most individuals experience empathy naturally and intuitively.  Narcissists, on the other hand, generally lack the ability to offer understanding and relate to the emotions of others. This often manifests itself in the likelihood that a narcissist will not feel guilt or show remorse for their own upsetting actions.
  3. Manipulation and Charm: Narcissists are experts at doing and saying things for the sole purpose of furthering their own selfish agendas.  The onset of a relationship with a narcissist may feel “too good to be true” as the narcissist will display all the qualities of a perfect and attentive mate.  Typically, once a narcissist has achieved their goal, they quickly become bored and disinterested in their partner’s life.  A person with NPD may display personality changes without warning and even go to lengths such as emotional blackmail to pursue their self-serving interests.
  4. Inflated Sense of Importance: Narcissists often work under a grandiose feeling of self-importance.  This characteristic might manifest itself in a variety of ways, including a sense of self-entitlement (“the laws don’t apply to me”), a belief that others are envious of their “successes,” and a preoccupation with fantasies such as genius, idyllic beauty, or unlimited success.  This characteristic is markedly distinguishable from an individual who is self-confident or vain.  In reality, the narcissist has deep-seeded insecurities necessitating the need for excessive praise and compliments.
  5. Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a hallmark trait of NDP and a very common tool used by narcissists to distort another’s sense of self.  Gaslighting causes a partner to second-guess themselves, absorb blame where none exists, and lose their identity altogether.  This method of gaining superiority may come in the form of truth spinning, brainwashing, and false accusations.  The gaslighting tactic, if successful, results in the victim questioning their own sanity and reality.

Narcissists can be covert and often present as well-adjusted individuals.  If you believe you are in a relationship with a narcissist, get out – and don’t look back.  A person who has been in an intimate relationship with a narcissist may experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness, and/or post-traumatic stress syndrome.  If you believe your ex-partner is a narcissist, it is important to invest in personal healing with a behavioral health professional to process the abuse and understand the warning signs of NPD.

About the Author:

Natalie Mathews is an Associate in Dickinson Wright’s Phoenix office and focuses her practice exclusively in family law.  Her experience includes all areas of dissolution, custody, establishment, and post-decree matters with an emphasis on complex business valuations, high-conflict divorce, and custody evaluations. She can be reached at 602-285-5190 or NMathews@dickinsonwright.com.