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Am I Dating a Narcissist?

Kaitlin Broderick LCPC 

The word narcissist is thrown around quite frequently nowadays. Many of us have had experience with a narcissist, whether it be a boss, family member, friend, or significant other. Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration, a big ego, and a lack of empathy for others. Someone can have traits of the disorder without meeting the full criteria of the personality disorder. Narcissists can be very charming and aren’t always easy to spot at first. Signs of a narcissist include a need for recognition, power and special attention; a feeling of superiority to others, and associating mainly with other people who they consider high status or worthy of their attention. Narcissists are often good at work and frequently get promotions. A key thing to remember is that their bravado often actually comes from a place of deep insecurity. This disorder may be a result of trauma, parents who put their child up on a pedestal and believed the child could do no wrong, or it can even develop from parents who were cold and withholding of their affection.

In intimate relationships, narcissists are often drawn to people-pleasers, as narcissists put themselves first, and people pleasers put themselves last, making for a toxic combination. The narcissist knows how to manipulate a people pleaser to meet their needs. People who are in a romantic relationship (or even a friendship) may often feel like they are in a love/hate relationship. This occurs because when a narcissist feels like their needs aren’t being met by the other person, this can quickly turn into hate. They view the other person only in terms of what the other person can do for them.

In a relationship with a narcissist, the other person may begin to feel exhausted and beaten down. If they voice any complaints, the narcissist will turn everything around and make the other person in the relationship feel like they are the problem, they are too dramatic, etc. This inevitably wears a person down and takes a toll on their self-esteem, making them wonder if maybe they really are the problem. The other person in the relationship begins to feel more anxious and they begin to question their own reactions. The narcissist may try to isolate the other person in the relationship from friends and family since they like complete control.

Oftentimes the narcissist will not leave the relationship if they are getting their needs met. If you are dating a narcissist and want out of the relationship, sometimes anger can actually be a catalyst for starting the process of getting out. Learning more about the disorder and realizing that you aren’t the problem and it isn’t your fault can also be helpful. You aren’t defective for getting into a relationship with this person and they are masters at their craft of manipulation.  When the other person attempts to leave the relationship the narcissist may shower them with gifts and turn on the charm. Knowing more about the disorder can help one to see that this is actually a carefully calculated gesture. They have a fear of abandonment and rejection and therefore will often lash out and go to extremes when the other person tries to leave the relationship. It is also key to be aware that they feed off of reactions and control, so the less of this you give them the better. 

If you are in a relationship with one, it is important to have the support of other people, especially since your self-esteem will likely have taken a beating. It may be helpful and necessary to see a therapist while in the process of getting out of the relationship or even after the relationship has ended. Get in touch with Symmetry Counseling to talk to a skilled therapist. We provide couples counseling, individual counseling, marriage counseling, and online counseling in Chicago to support you.

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