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“My husband is so dominating. He is always showing me how great he is, and if I don’t praise him, I get shouted at. It’s always a fight!” When my friend said these words to me, I instantly wondered if her husband was just being an ass or if he was perhaps a narcissist. In all honesty, an ass is easier to work with, while a narcissist requires more in-depth handling and treading carefully.
Narcissistic relationship patterns are something we have become familiar with thanks to a slew of online magazines and articles explaining all about narcissism, gaslighting, and any number of other relationship and personality patterns.
It almost seems as if nobody is “normal” anymore. Perhaps you’ve even wondered if you were a narcissist or not? How do you know you are in a relationship with a narcissist? Let’s find out.
What Is a Narcissist?
A narcissist is someone who believes them to be greater than everyone else. Their ability to feel good about themselves is directly proportional to their ability to trip others up. A narcissist is someone who tries to look like the good guy, the savior, and the hero, when they are a little more of the villain in reality.
Being a narcissist is more than just having a good sense of confidence or high self-esteem. Instead, a narcissist is someone who will intentionally make others fail so they can themselves succeed. Sometimes, this need to be seen and be praised is so strong that narcissists will engineer drama so they can look like the heroes.
Manipulation of others to the point of making the other person believe they are nothing and that they can’t do things (or that they are going crazy because they fail so much) is known as gaslighting—one of a narcissist’s most powerful weapons.
Dangers of a Relationship with a Narcissist
Not all narcissists are out to get you. As with most things in life, narcissism is experienced in degrees of severity by those with this mental condition. From having an overdeveloped self-esteem or confidence to having a hidden nasty side that only lets you feel good if you can crush other people’s dreams, narcissism is experienced in different degrees.
Being in a relationship with a narcissist is particularly destructive if the person is allowed to get away with manipulation and degrading of their partner. Let’s be very clear: if the narcissistic personality of your partner is running you down and causing serious self-doubt, then you are in an abusive relationship with a severe narcissist.
While your partner may not shout at you, hit you, or publicly hurt you, they are still busy systematically destroying you in a much more nefarious way. They convince you that you are nothing, that you are weak, and that you will only succeed at anything if they help you if they do it for you—making you further believe you are worthless.
Wondering why someone would do something so twisted to the person they are supposed to love? It’s simple: when you feel bad, they feel good.
The narcissist usually chooses a strong partner, who they can run down, thereby establishing their own dominance and superiority. Instead of working on their own life, they spend it breaking down yours to make themselves feel significant.
Damage Caused by Being in a Relationship with a Narcissist
Being in a relationship with someone who so dominates and breaks you can have long-lasting negative effects. Ask anybody who’s just walked out of a narcissistic relationship… they will tell you that it’s pure hell, yet often they end up going back because they believe they can’t make it on their own.
The worst damage of being in a narcissistic relationship is the brainwashing that happens. You become convinced that you are not able to do anything without your partner (because they know best, right?). Serious narcissists never worry about their partners.
Other effects include:
The narcissist partner will not build you up. They spend their time breaking your confidence by pointing out all your flaws and past failures. Of course, if someone were to do that in your face, you’d probably tell them to leave you alone as you’d identify them as your enemy. But a narcissist is sneaky.
Narcissists will pretend to care. They will tell you how they want you to succeed, how they believe in you, and that they only want the best for you. But at the same time, they tell you that your decisions are stupid, that you can’t make a success, and that you need them to fix things.
Since you become convinced you’re worthless, you’re likely to suffer from depression and anxiety in massive doses. You may even begin to believe you need your narcissistic partner, that they’re “not that bad” and that you were the one who made mistakes.
If you can’t see your partner, you will tell yourself you feel lonely and that you are depressed because you can’t see them. These effects all indicate how dependent you’ve become on the relationship, even if it was fundamentally flawed and abusive.
When you are constantly being run down, told that you are being too sensitive, or lied to about what was said, it takes a mental toll, and before long, you live in fear. This all makes you more vulnerable to manipulations.
If you eventually get the courage to leave a relationship with a severe narcissistic partner, you will likely suffer from PTSD. Loud noises, sudden changes, and anything around you that could upset you or make you feel unsafe will prompt a fear response such as trembling and heart palpitations.
Because of the PTSD, you will struggle with relaxing, and you will struggle to trust new relationships and new partners, and ultimately, you won’t trust yourself.
One of the lasting results of being in a relationship with someone who is narcissistic in nature is that your self-esteem may be permanently damaged. Low self-esteem and loss of confidence is a likely outcome. You may feel like you don’t have the confidence to make decisions on your own, and you will feel unsure of yourself in new situations or around new people.
Most Common Types of Narcissists
Narcissism, despite its bad reputation and its terrible effects, can sometimes be good. Yip, you read that right. There is a good form of narcissism.
In extreme conditions, you may have to use higher levels of self-love, self-esteem, and self-confidence to survive impossible odds that require independence. This is known as an adaptive type of narcissism.
However, most forms of narcissism are not beneficial to others at all, and you only benefit yourself through destroying others. This is known as maladaptive narcissism.
When you have any of the different types of maladaptive narcissism, you will show negative signs like being aggressive, abusive, and having entitlement issues.
Narcissists who make no secret of their self-love by being belligerent, overbearing, entitled, and arrogant are examples of overt narcissists. When you are always focused on how brilliant you are, but feel uncomfortable with admitting you have flaws, you are an overt narcissist.
Perhaps you like to play the victim. When others tell you that you are better than you think and you deserve to be treated well in life, you feel great about yourself.
This form of narcissism is about manipulating people into feeling sorry for you, becoming defensive, and using your insecurities as a weapon.
When you’re arrogant, self-obsessed, and constantly argue with others, you are typical of antagonizing narcissism. When you’re antagonistic, you believe the problems are with others, never with you and you look for conflict.
Narcissists who step up to defend someone who is unfairly persecuted while making a big scene, seeking attention, and acting disingenuous. These people pretend to be good people, but secretly they manipulate their situation to make themselves the hero, often at the cost of others.
When narcissism is experienced in its worst form, there will be abuse, jealousy, aggression, sadism, and paranoia, which all contribute to personality disorders like psychopathy.
In your relationship, your malignantly narcissist partner may be so paranoid that they intentionally cause you harm and inflict severe punishments on you for perceived slights. You simply can’t please them, and they are hyper critical of everything you do.
7 Narcissistic Relationship Patterns and Warning Signs
There are a few signs and patterns that may give you a clear indication you are in a relationship with a narcissist.
Again, keep in mind that the severity of the narcissism may range from being overtly narcissistic (having an overly powerful self-confidence) to being malignant (having no empathy or understanding with others, as well as expecting others to fail and disappointing them intentionally).
1. Feeling Superior
Narcissists tend to think of themselves as God’s gift to the world. They see themselves as being better than everyone else. Their pain is the worst, their success is the best, and they believe they are the smartest person in a room.
Where a healthy relationship is about sharing equally, a narcissistic partner will insist on being in charge. The narcissistic partner will make all the decisions, often snapping at their partner when challenged. Narcissists believe they are entitled to rule and dominate.
2. Shows No Empathy
Narcissists will cry when they feel slighted or hurt. Yet, when others cry, narcissistic partners have no reaction at all. The lack of emotional connection that a narcissist has can make them struggle in identifying with other people’s emotions.
In a relationship, the narcissist partner will not identify they have hurt their partner. Instead, they will come up with multiple reasons why the other person deserved the behavior the narcissist showed them.
3. Self-Obsessed With Their Needs
A narcissistic person isn’t capable of putting their partner’s needs first. With them, it’s a game of all or nothing. There’s no compromise in a relationship with a narcissist.
Their needs take precedence over everything else. You will fulfill a supporting role with a narcissistic partner as their ambitions, hobbies, and pleasures become the most important in the relationship.
4. Crave Approval
Despite narcissists having an inflated self-esteem, they still crave approval. They thrive on being praised, and they crave it. When they aren’t praised, they become nasty toward their audience (or partner), and they perform to get attention in other ways.
A narcissistic partner may wear a new dress, and if you don’t comment on how beautiful she is, she will have a throw-down screaming match to get your attention in a different way.
5. Become Aggressive When Confronted
Making a narcissist face their flaws is a one-way ticket to passive-aggressive behavior and even overtly aggressive behavior such as slamming doors, throwing ornaments, and hitting walls.
Their tone of voice will always be aggressive if you try to discuss a situation where you didn’t agree with their behavior.
6. Manipulate Others Without Feeling Guilty
Narcissistic partners will shamelessly manipulate their partner into doing things for them, even if their partner never wanted to do it and even if that action is against their partner’s wishes. Your narcissistic partner may demand you have sex with them, even if you are not feeling well.
They will use reasoning such as they will make you feel better, and they’ve read that sex helps headaches, etc. Your right to say no is taken away through their clever manipulations.
7. Refuse to Take Feedback Constructively
A healthy partner will listen patiently if you tell them about something they are doing that’s annoying you or that you find to be against the agreements of your relationship. However, a narcissistic partner will twist your feedback and launch a counter-attack (because they feel attacked—how dare you tell them they aren’t perfect?).
If you don’t like the way your narcissistic partner flirts with other men at work functions, then your attempt to make her see how you feel will result in her telling you that you no longer try to make her feel special and that you don’t meet her needs. She will proceed to make you feel like you’re the one driving her to other men’s arms.
Getting Free of a Narcissistic Relationship or Seeking Help
If you are at the point that you want to be free of a narcissistic relationship, it’s imperative that you get therapeutic help. Before you know why you entered into a relationship with someone who is narcissistic, you won’t be able to seek freedom.
That freedom need not necessarily be separation or divorce. Instead, it’s about finding your feet and standing up for yourself. However, this can only happen when you feel worthy and independent instead of codependent.
Something made you seek a partner who brings you down. Perhaps it’s because you don’t believe you deserve more in your relationships that you ended up seeking an abusive relationship.
Freedom starts from within. Once you begin to value yourself, you will start the road to freedom, or you may end up exchanging one narcissist with another.
Final Thoughts on Narcissistic Relationship Patterns
A narcissistic relationship has subtle negative patterns of behavior, and at other times, screaming warning signs flash. When you begin to suspect you are in a relationship with a narcissist and that they are starting to negatively influence your sense of self, it is important to look for signs.
If your partner is abusive, neglects you, pretends like you are crazy, and manipulates you to always get what they want, you are seeing warning signs. Healing starts within. By investing in yourself, you can build the courage to rise above the sabotage that runs to the core of your relationship.
It will take hope and fortitude to let go and move forward. If you want to learn about why people seek attention, just like narcissists do, read our guide on attention seeking behavior.
Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.