Recognising that your partner is a narcissist can take years, by which time you’re probably already entangled in a web of control, gaslighting and abuse. And when the penny does finally drop, the most important thing to tell yourself is that the situation is most definitely not your fault. Narcissists are good at playing their game, and the fact that you have been taken in only shows that you are capable of love and deep feelings…unlike them!
I’ve always been fortunate to have had a fairly reliable gut instinct and, only a few months into a former relationship, I could sense something wasn’t right. At the time, it was like there was a dense brain fog that was impossible to shift. Later, it was explained to me that I had been dating a narcissist and so I powered up the laptop to do some research. Frankly, I didn’t have to look very hard to confirm what had already been suggested to me: my former partner ticked every narcissist box.
So, if you suspect that you’re dating a narcissist, here’s my checklist of narcissistic characteristics.
Superiority and entitlement: a narcissist will insist on doing everything their way, will have to be “the best” – owning and controlling everything and everyone.
The overwhelming need for attention: watch out for someone who has an overwhelming urge to be the centre of attention, jumping into the spotlight at every chance and often being extra loud to get noticed.
Perfectionism: Many narcissists can’t handle imperfections in the home, in themselves, or in others. Check out Sleeping with the Enemy with Julia Roberts.
Overpowering need for control: Narcissists find it difficult and unsettling to accept that life is not perfect so they will always try to always be in control.
Blaming, deflecting and failing to take responsibility: as much as the narcissist relishes being in control, they really don’t like taking the blame or owing up to the responsibility if something goes wrong. Usually, they will aim to shift the blame on to someone loyal or close to them emotionally and you are the safest person to blame because you are least likely to leave or reject them.
Lack of empathy: this was probably the hardest one for me to accept. Narcissists just don’t feel like we do; they have very little emotion and the emotion they do show is little more than a pretence to make you believe they are feeling it. This looks the same as having feelings…but it isn’t.
Fear of rejection: it is they that have to break up with you and never the other way around. Ironically, the closer your relationship becomes, the less they will trust you. This is because narcissists fear any true intimacy or vulnerability because they’re afraid you’ll see their imperfections and then reject them.
Gaslighting: from the 1944 film Gaslight, where Paula (Ingrid Bergman) is made to feel she is going mad by strange goings on in her home, including gas lamps randomly dimming.
There are, of course, no strange forces at work other than a campaign by her husband to drive her out of her mind. In the same way, a narcissist will twist language so that you believe everything is your fault and, like Paula, you start to question your own sanity. For example, you know you didn’t go to the supermarket yesterday but they can convince you otherwise. Financial gaslighting is not uncommon where a narcissist will make you believe they pay for meals out when really you know that it’s you who picks up the tab.
I hope that this will help you see that you are not crazy or paranoid; all you did was allow someone into your heart and start to build a life with this person, and it was them – not you – that played mind games, knocking you down bit by bit until you break and, yes, this is what happened to me.
In my former relationship, I was questioning everything from my friendships to my sanity. I was so anxious and paranoid about him cheating (a certain black and yellow app on his phone sending notifications in the middle of the night would do this to anyone) but he would come up with excuses and I would fall for it…why? Because I was in a love trap! I have spoken to many other people about this, so it comes as no surprise to hear that this is a very common situation when in a relationship with a narcissist where the web of deceit and lies is tangled around your heart so tightly that they could say a flame is cold and you would believe it so much you’d put your hand into the fire!
So…what should you do? My advice is to follow your gut and remove yourself before you lose yourself!
On no account blame yourself for falling for a narcissist as they have made you fall in love with a movie role not the actor playing the role! But the sooner you understand what they are, the better it will be for you as this behaviour continues to escalate to the point that it can result in violence. This is what happened to me and, as I have since discovered, to my predecessor.
Narcissists will keep doing the same thing to everyone because it is programmed into them that this behaviour is the right way to get through life. No matter how much you tell narcissists you love them, admire them, or approve of them, they never feel it’s enough – because deep down they don’t believe anyone can love them; a lot of the time this is usually an outcome of a bad childhood.
Is their help out there for a narcissist? Probably, yes. Can you get a narcissist to seek help? Probably not: remember, they will never believe or admit that they are in the wrong so your priority has to be to look after yourself.
I am not an expert on this subject. I am just someone who’s been through it and I am not ashamed to admit that I am still having counselling to help me process the abuse I went through in my former relationship. And please remember, if you believe that you may be in genuine danger, call the police or contact one of the organisations listed below.
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline: The 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, is for women experiencing domestic abuse, their family, friends and others calling on their behalf.
Phone: 0808 2000 247
Men’s Advice Line: This is a confidential service for male victims of domestic abuse offering support to help men keep themselves (and their children) safe.
Phone: 0808 801 0327
Galop: LGBT – National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Domestic Violence helpline run by Galop, provides support to LGBT people suffering domestic abuse.
Phone: 0800 999 5428
Respect Phoneline: This is a confidential service for domestic abuse perpetrators, supporting men and women who are using abuse in same-sex or heterosexual relationships.
Phone: 0808 802 4040