What are narcissistic relationships and how to tell if you’re in one

What are narcissistic relationships and how to tell if you’re in one

Narcissists. We all know one, right? Maybe it’s that guy at work who refuses to ever accept he’s in the wrong at team meetings. Or perhaps it’s that former classmate on Facebook who you haven’t spoken to in years, but who’s considered the queen of your news feed, with her hourly selfies and conceited hashtags. But despite society’s conception of a narcissist as someone who loves themselves, a true narcissist is something far more sinister and disagreeable than that. So it follows that being in a narcissistic relationship means much more than fighting over the bathroom mirror.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined by the The Mayo Clinic as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

From the outside, narcissists often appear to be the majestic swan of the office, classroom or social group. But the reality is that narcissists are more like ugly ducklings, desperately struggling to appear dignified. They typically target a person they believe to be the cream of the crop - whether they be attractive, rich or popular - and dial up the charm and charisma up to 11 in order to win their affection.

Partners in narcissistic relationships often feel low self-esteem Credit: StockSnap

There’s a pattern of behaviour and typically, a narcissist will first idolise their new partner, making them feel truly adored. But as time goes on, they will begin to reveal their true colours. They will slowly begin to question their partner’s self-worth, and become moody and agitated at the drop of a hat. They exaggerate their achievements and are often the “hero” who no one asked for. They’re completely self-absorbed and tend to consider certain people “beneath" them, while feeling deeply envious of people they see as being "above" them.

But enough about them. Although it may come as a shock, we’re actually here to talk about you today. Being in a relationship with someone afflicted by NPD can be an utterly draining experience and many people won’t even realise that they are in one. With that in mind, it’s always best to be able to recognise the signs.

Firstly, let me ask you a question. How is your self confidence these days?

A quintessential trait of being in a narcissistic relationship is having your self esteem lowered. You may have been an opinionated and confident person before, but now you find it difficult to express your opinions out loud. Your partner is extremely sensitive to criticism - despite always criticising you - and the two options are either getting into a fight, or just keeping your mouth shut. If you did happen to express an opinion, chances are you’re probably wrong. Nothing is ever a narcissist’s fault because they can’t do anything wrong.

This typically emerges via gaslighting, a technique used by people with NPD to convince their boyfriend or girlfriend that they are wide off the mark in every argument or debate. You’re often told you’re overreacting or actively provoking them, even if you weren’t doing that at all. Are you the stupid one in the relationship? It certainly feels like it.

People in narcissistic relationships often feel lonely Credit: StockSnap

Being in a narcissistic relationship can often feel like being on a rollercoaster. They’re the very definition of blowing hot and cold and you’ve got motion sickness. You go from being the centre of their universe one moment to not doing anything right the next.

You’re often left confused as to their true personality. They’re massive crowdpleasers and will present whatever side of their personality they think will get them what they want at that particular moment. When you no longer have what they want, they’ll suddenly become a different person, leaving you spinning.

It will come as little surprise that narcissists are completely self-absorbed and, as a result, tend to have an enormous sense of entitlement. There’s one rule for them and another for you. In a narcissistic relationship, you’ll feel emotionally manipulated on a daily basis. But as your partner typically lacks empathy, as long as their needs are met, who really cares?

If it’s suddenly hit you that you’re in a narcissistic relationship at the moment, there’s honestly one question staring you in the face: what are you still doing with them?

Relationships are about maintaining a healthy balance of give and take and always being on the giving side is deeply damaging to an individual. However, it must be said that the principal feeling someone in this sort of relationship has is one of being torn. At the end of the day, you’re split between the love you feel for them and the feeling of being ignored, uncared for and unimportant.

But you’re hooked. You’re practically living for the rare moments where the person you initially fell in love with returns and makes you feel like a worthwhile person to have around.

However, now you know you’re in a narcissistic relationship, perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath, steal back that mirror from your partner, look yourself in the eye and think, is it worth it?