Are You Dating a Narcissist?

How to spot a narcissistic partner, and what you can do about it.

Posted Jul 29, 2020

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Broken Heart on a Wire
Source: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is estimated to occur in 1-5% of the population (Torgersen, 2001), and is more common in men (Stinson, 2008). NPD results from the interaction of certain biological and environmental factors. Core features of NPD usually include an inflated sense of self-worth or self-importance, a need for constant admiration and attention, and a lack of empathy (Caligor, 2015).

NPD can look quite different in different people and can present differently in different types and stages of relationships. Here are some signs that you might be in a relationship with someone with NPD. Note that having one or two of these signs does not necessarily mean that someone has NPD, as it requires the presence of multiple symptoms over a long period. Only trained mental health professionals can diagnose NPD, so if you notice these signs, seek professional help.

  • They shower you with affection, gifts, attention, and compliments early in the relationship (sometimes referred to as "love-bombing").
  • They continuously bring the conversation back to themselves.
  • They seem disinterested when you talk about yourself and can't seem to relate to your feelings.
  • They use flattery and guilt to manipulate you when they want something.
  • They criticize and belittle you in front of others. 
  • They exaggerate their accomplishments and even outright lie about them.
  • They seek praise and become pouty or critical when it isn't readily given.
  • They don't admit fault. Disagreements are seen more as an opportunity to enforce their point of view or teach you the "right way." This can often come across as lecturing.
  • They make you believe that you are crazy, dramatic, or at fault when you are upset with them (gaslighting).
  • They are charming at a superficial level, and strangers/acquaintances are often smitten with them.
  • If you try to end the relationship, they initially try very hard to win you back (sometimes referred to as "hoovering").
  • If you do leave the relationship, they become vindictive and seek revenge by spreading rumors, bringing up old debts or perceived transgressions, or other similar tactics.

So what can you do if you are in a relationship with a narcissist? Perhaps the most crucial step is to determine what you can and cannot control. A narcissist can change with a lot of insight, self-reflection, and therapy. But this can be tough, and you cannot control whether or not they change. You can, however, decide what your boundaries are and what behaviors you are willing to accept. When you do set limits, stick with them, reminding yourself that their reaction to your boundaries is ultimately their choice. A therapist can help you determine and communicate these boundaries in an effective way. 

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you may also notice that your self-esteem has declined, and your support system is smaller than it once was. If that is true for you, make it a priority to work on improving your confidence and surround yourself with people who build you up. Realizing your self-worth is crucial to breaking free from any toxic relationship.


Torgersen S, Kringlen E, Cramer V. The prevalence of personality disorders in a community sample. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001;58(6):590–596. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.58.6.590.

Stinson FS, Dawson DA, Goldstein RB, et al. Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV narcissistic personality disorder: results from the wave 2 national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. J Clin Psychiatry. 2008;69(7):1033-1045. doi:10.4088/jcp.v69n0701.

Caligor E, Levy KN, Yeomans FE. Narcissistic personality disorder: Diagnostic and clinical challenges. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 2015;172(5):415-422.