Narcissistic Relationship: What Is It And Signs

Written by Harini Natarajan , Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner

We have all heard the tale of the Greek hunter Narcissus. For the uninitiated, Narcissus was punished by the Greek Goddess of revenge. She cursed him to fall in love with his reflection. Realizing he will never achieve the love of his reflection, he died, leaving behind nothing but a Narcissus flower.

It is this story that evolved into the modern-day understanding of what is today called as being a narcissist. There has been very little research into narcissism as a subject of psychology, especially since most people who deal with this personality type do not seek psychological help for it.

This can present a problem in one of the most critical aspects of one’s life – their romantic relationships. Are you wondering if your partner is a narcissist? Or are you looking for ways to leave a narcissistic relationship? Either way, this post has the information you need. Keep reading.

Types Of Narcissism

  • Grandiose Narcissism

Grandiose narcissism is the more popular, conventional understanding of narcissism. Such narcissists believe that only other extraordinary people can understand them. Furthermore, they are far too good for something mediocre or regular. They just like to communicate and be affiliated with other individuals, places, and high-status objects.

Grandiose narcissists believe they are different from anyone else and want to be recognized as such, even though they have done little to deserve it.

Since narcissists need daily food for their ego, they surround themselves with others who can tend to their addictive need for validation. They are one-sided partnerships. If the admirer’s attention and appreciation are ever interrupted or diminished, the narcissist views it as betrayal.

  • Vulnerable Narcissism

Vulnerable narcissism is also known as covert narcissism or closet narcissism. People with this subtype do not show superiority or privilege outwardly. Instead of exuding charisma or confidence, they can put themselves down and seem nervous about what people think of them. Others may characterize them as quiet and delicate, particularly when it comes to criticism.

Vulnerable narcissism often entails a more internalized experience. People who exhibit these characteristics in a narcissistic relationship continue to feel unappreciated, need admiration, have disdain for others they deem inferior, and think they should be treated differently.

However, rather than exhibiting overt grandiosity, they can secretly fantasize about making their unique attributes remembered or exacting vengeance on others. This can also lead to narcissistic abuse in relationships.

Narcissists And Dating

Many wonder what a narcissist does at the end of a relationship. The short answer is that they move on. Failure in long-term relationships will seldom mean anything to a narcissist. This is because narcissists are shown to have excellent success in short-term dating, mainly because of their perceived positive qualities like charm, confidence, and humor, among others.

However, the cracks in their personality start to show as these short-term relationships evolve. Confidence becomes arrogance, charm becomes indifference, and their ability to keep a room engaged is now simply their inability to talk about anything but themselves.

A recent psychological study about narcissistic relationships discovered that those closest to the narcissist tend to suffer the most. Narcissists also value intimate relationships less and are more likely to favor self-interest over mutual interests (1).

A narcissist’s interest in other future love partners means that they are hoping for a “great option” or “trade-up” from their current romantic partner. Furthermore, the allure and attraction of contemplating alternate romantic partners could weaken narcissistic individuals’ loyalty to their existing romantic relationships.

This is particularly significant today, considering the recent developments in social media and different modes of online dating. These could provide people in narcissistic relationships more options for other romantic partners than ever before (2).

This kind of approach is not conducive to long-term relations. This is one reason narcissists have trouble maintaining romantic relationships that might divert attention away from their own selves or where they are required to care about another person.

So, how do you identify a narcissist? The following signs can help.

Signs Of Narcissism

Recognizing a narcissist is not difficult at all – mostly because all their traits are extremely loud and can be very “in-your-face.” The following signs may differ minutely between the vulnerable and the grandiose narcissists, but the baseline causes remain the same (and that is what a partner should keep an eye out for).
Many signs are subtle and are easily brushed away by narcissists as part of their personality, but partners should stay vigilant regarding all such signs. Here are some of the most telling signs that one’s partner is a narcissist:

  • The “Me, Me, Me” Syndrome

From the 1980s to the present day, narcissistic traits in personality have increased at the same rate as obesity. This claim is made according to data from 37,000 college students, with the change being more pronounced among women. Narcissism seems to increase, with the rise being more rapid in the 2000s than in the previous decades.

A narcissist always keeps their life at the forefront of any relationship. As a result, they will not focus on their partners’ needs and wants. People in a relationship with a narcissist might feel isolated and sidelined.

  • Cognitive Dissonance And Fantasy Worlds 

Lack of self-insight is understood to be one of the defining characteristics of a narcissistic person. They are so convinced of their positive characteristics that they fail to take note of the negative ones. Narcissists are often described as being arrogant, entitled, and self-centered – and these are traits they do not recognize.
To maintain their delusions of grandeur, they convince themselves of an overly self-positive image (3).

  • A Continuous Demand for Approval

According to psychologists, narcissism is a sense of self-assurance, primarily by external approval (4). Individuals with a high level of narcissism solicit support and praise from others to achieve their central goal of gaining and sustaining a grandiose self-view. This is manifested in confident, charming, amusing, and assertive behaviors.

According to research, the narcissistic self is delicate and in need of positive reinforcement (5). One can hit rocky shores in a romantic relationship as soon as narcissists do not receive this approval consistently. As long as they are admired, all is well with the world. As soon as a partner disagrees or does not validate them as needed, things can go south very fast (6).

  • The Chain Of Exploitation

Relatives of narcissists also tend to be interpersonally exploitative and unable to empathize with others. In romantic relationships, too, narcissists cannot express empathy and emotion and will continue to exploit their partners for money, emotional validation, or other needs they may have at the time. This means those dating narcissists could get emotionally manipulated for their partners to have what they want.

In such a situation, gaslighting can become an extremely common yet unaddressed issue, and partners should be aware of it.

  • The Tongue Lashing Never Stops

Poor group performances can make narcissists block themselves from such groups. They also tend to devalue others by belittling them. Narcissists are highly concerned with their self-image. If those they are with do not live up to their expectations, they will not hesitate to belittle, bully, or demean them.

At the same time, individuals with high levels of narcissism appear to denigrate those who challenge their grandiose self-views, resulting in socially disrespectful, arrogant, violent, and aggressive actions. This can result in one having a lower self-esteem, body image issues, and a feeling of inferiority compared to the narcissistic partner.

  • Insecurities Galore

A secure, healthy relationship with a narcissist is about as likely as it is to find dry grass on a rainy day. It is just not possible. A lot of narcissistic behavior stems from childhood issues. These issues evolve into several traits of insecurity, which are then resolved through superior behavior.

One of the most significant signs of dating a narcissist is that there is no end to the reassurances one might have to give to them. People can spend all their time reassuring a narcissist and giving them the approval they need, but it will never be enough. If one is spending more time reassuring their partner than actually enjoying the relationship, that is a red flag right there.

What Can You Do If Your Partner Is A Narcissist?

Anyone dating a narcissistic partner will benefit significantly from understanding where the behavior comes from. It is the first step towards potential treatment. Two underscoring points overarch all discussion. First, narcissistic relationships exist only to boost the egos of the narcissist. Second, narcissists are incapable of feeling genuine love or emotion.

This is caused by two interconnected forces: a perception that relationships are meant only for self-enhancement, and a fear of abandonment.

Conventional wisdom says that if someone is in a relationship with a narcissistic person, the best thing to do is leave and focus on your life after the narcissist. They will never change, and their partners deserve better than the treatment meted out by narcissists.

However, circumstances may exist where leaving is not an option. In such a case, psychotherapy has been discussed as a potential solution. It is believed that over one-fourth of the patients in psychotherapy deal with a narcissistic personality disorder.

What partners in a narcissistic relationship can do is create an environment in which acts of love and compassion are rewarded with admiration and achievement. In other words, partners can demonstrate to narcissists that they can satisfy their narcissistic desires by behaving like good, loving people – and that they will be rewarded for it through social and emotional validation.

Since social and emotional validation form another part of narcissistic values, the opinions of others and their perceived image also matter to narcissists. In such a scenario, partners can deal with narcissists by asking them what people would think and if people approve of their behavior.

However, it is important to note that narcissists rarely care about people’s opinions, unless those opinions would be about their own ideas. Partners wondering on how to deal with a narcissist can capitalize on this and work their way to making their narcissistic partners more open to ideas and suggestions.

People who suffer from narcissism are not sadists who enjoy causing pain to others. Instead, they lack a consistent sense of self and pursue self-esteem through respect and attention. The majority of people with narcissism do not seek therapy. Even if the narcissist never improves, people in relationships with narcissists will benefit from counseling.

One of the critical goals of treatment may be to make a narcissist’s partner understand that they can live a happier life even though their partners just may never change their actions.

Final Thoughts

Narcissism can be divided into admiration and rivalry. A narcissist admires those who give them praise and reassurances and offer social and emotional validation.

But they tend to become rivals of those who compete with them or deny them approval. Such rivals are treated with hostility and manipulation.

There is no concrete treatment yet for narcissism. All treatments are experimental and there is no one-shot solution. Hence, if your partner is narcissistic, it is important you seek appropriate counseling for leading a happier life with healthier relationships.

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