Your ideal relationship is one where you’re cherished and loved for exactly who you are. You want a partner who will laugh with you, not at you. You want to fall deeply in love with someone who celebrates your success and will care for you in hard times. You’re looking for real love, but I’m very sorry to say, you won’t find any of this in your relationship with a narcissist. So, how do you date a narcissist? The simple answer is, you don’t.

Narcissism is characterized by a heightened sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a desire for admiration and control. At first glance, these traits may come across as confidence, assertiveness, and high self-esteem, all traits that make a narcissistic person very appealing as a romantic partner, at least initially. However, as the relationship progresses, the true nature of a narcissist becomes increasingly apparent, bringing harm to your self-esteem and well-being.

For those who have never encountered this person in their dating life, recognizing the signs of narcissism is essential to avoiding this type of toxic relationship. And for those who unfortunately have, understanding narcissistic abuse and its effects on your self-esteem can help you recognize and address the negative beliefs that you have internalized.

How to Spot a Narcissist

There are some common traits that narcissists share. It’s important to remember that not everyone who displays one or even a few of these traits is necessarily a narcissist. However, if you are experiencing these behaviors in your relationship, it may be an early warning sign that you’re dating a narcissist.

The American Psychiatric Association describes a narcissist as someone with a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. This pattern must have begun by early adulthood and must be present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by 5 (or more) of the following:

    1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. – exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
    2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
    3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
    4. Requires excessive admiration
    5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e. – unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)
    6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e. – takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
    7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
    8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
    9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Narcissists are often charming and charismatic, which can be appealing in the early stages of a relationship. Initially, a narcissistic partner may shower you with compliments, gifts, and attention. They may seem confident, charming, and charismatic, making it easy for you to fall in love with them.

However, as the relationship progresses, the true nature of the narcissistic partner may become increasingly apparent. Their confidence can quickly turn into arrogance and entitlement. They may feel that they are deserving of special treatment, to be admired and praised at all times, and to always be the center of attention in social situations.

How to Date a Narcissist

Dating a narcissist can be dizzying. In the beginning, they may pepper you with questions, and the number of interests and opinions you share will make you think you have met your soulmate. A narcissist is a perfect mirror, so if you are their target for becoming narcissistic supply they will suddenly have an amazing amount of things in common with you. This is how the cycle begins.

The cycle of discarding is a pattern of behavior that occurs when one partner in a relationship repeatedly engages in the process of idealization, devaluation, and eventual discard of their romantic partner.

The cycle of discarding begins with idealization, where the narcissistic partner may “lovebomb” you, showering you with affection, attention, and gifts. They may appear to be very compassionate, telling you often about their love for you, the social causes you believe in, and the other people in their life.

In the beginning, it’s not obvious that a narcissist lacks empathy because they will often go to great lengths to hide this from you. For a time, the narcissist may appear to be the perfect partner, often going out of their way to make you feel special and loved. This behavior is designed to create an emotional bond and dependence in you, the target.

However, this idealization phase is short-lived, and once you become emotionally attached, a narcissistic partner may become more interested in talking about themselves than in getting to know you. Narcissists have a limited capacity for empathy, so they may not be able to understand or care about your feelings.

The narcissist will do or say things to devalue you, your opinions, and your contributions to your relationship. They may also be insensitive to your needs and show little interest in your life and opinions. They may belittle or demean you, hoping to cause you to feel inadequate, unworthy, and powerless.

If they do show interest, a narcissistic partner may be quick to criticize or judge you, even when you have done nothing wrong. They may make you feel like you are never good enough, no matter how hard you try. They may also blame you for things that are not your fault.

What is gaslighting? It’s a form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question themselves – giving the abusive partner even more power.

This can easily turn into gaslighting or manipulating the truth to make you question your own memory, perception, or sanity. They may deny saying or doing something that you know they did and make you believe that you are the one who is mistaken.

A narcissistic partner may try to control your decisions and behavior or may become upset if they don’t get their way or if they do not receive the attention they believe they deserve. They may also demand that you prioritize their needs over your own, isolating you from your loved ones.

Look for boundary-pushing in the beginning. A narcissistic partner won’t respect boundaries, and in the early stages of your relationship, they are testing to see if they can push and break your boundaries without real consequences.

For instance, they may disregard your boundary about not talking on your phone at work by constantly calling or texting until you respond. If you try to reassert the boundary that has been crossed, your narcissistic partner may overreact, maybe even explosively so.

This does not mean that a narcissist will be okay with their own boundaries being crossed, however. You will be expected to follow the rules your narcissist creates, no matter how unreasonable. Anything they perceive as a failure to meet their standards is out of the question in a relationship with a narcissist.

Regardless of whether you’re dealing with a narcissist, it is important to establish clear boundaries within your relationship and communicate them clearly. This may involve setting limits on certain behaviors or insisting on a certain level of respect in the relationship. If the hurtful behavior continues or if you feel that your mental and emotional health is at risk, consider ending the relationship. This can be a difficult and painful decision, but it is important to prioritize your own well-being.

How to Recover from a Narcissist

The first step in rebuilding self-worth is to acknowledge the emotional toll that the relationship has taken. It’s important to allow yourself to process these emotions in a healthy way. This may mean facing the painful reality of the situation and recognizing that the narcissistic partner was not the person they appeared to be.

It may take some time before you feel ready to date again. This is totally normal, and you should be patient with yourself as you work on rebuilding confidence and your ability to trust. When you are ready again, be wary of red flags, but also try to look out for green flags in the people you date. Take a look at your dating checklist, and consider revising it, or ditching it altogether. Lead with your heart and your values.

It is essential to recognize that healing from a narcissistic relationship is a process that takes time. Be gentle with yourself and focus on your progress, rather than your setbacks.

Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend. Forgive yourself for any mistakes or shortcomings, and focus on your strengths. Remember that you are deserving of love and worthy of respect. Look ahead to the amazing things coming your way.