Those insecurities can certainly affect romantic relationships.
2. Narcissists have an inflated opinion of their partners.
“The journey of dating a narcissist has several distinct phases,” says Sal Raichbach, PsyD, of Ambrosia Treatment Center. “At first, they’ll make you feel special. Since they feel they’re special, only other special people can understand them. Over time though, this feeling will carry less weight. You’ll start to feel like they don’t even really know you, mainly because you don’t spend much time talking about yourself.”
Balestrieri agrees, noting that narcissists often fixate on their partners’ best qualities, but in shallow or superficial ways. To find out more about how the narcissist’s inflated opinion of their partner can be a reason for concern, watch the video below.
3. Narcissists require tremendous amounts of attention.
“Narcissists like to talk about themselves, which is another obvious sign,” Raichbach says. “Instead of sharing and listening to you, they’re emotionally evasive and expect you to save your breath for reinforcing their specialness.”
Over time, they’ll demand more attention from their partners. According to Balestrieri, that can manifest in insidious ways.
“Someone with [narcissism] might be pretty antagonistic, actually,” she says. “And negative attention is better than no attention. The thing that would get to the narcissist’s core the quickest is being irrelevant, and when we don’t give a narcissist attention, they feel irrelevant. Often, they can get provocative and antagonistic as a way to at least secure that [attention].”
To a narcissist, the line between “positive” and “negative” attention might be razor thin. Narcissists often behave in less agreeable ways than non-narcissists, particularly when they have low self-esteem.
“Think about the little boy who goes to the refrigerator and says ‘Mom, mom, mom, mom—look at me, look at me!’” Balestrieri says. “She’s on the phone, and he finally turns over a carton of orange juice and smiles—because now, he has mom’s attention, even though he’s doing something naughty.”
“A narcissist can show up like that, too. They can be a hero or they can be a villain. It doesn’t really matter. As long as they’re getting that supply. …It’s not just about violating rules so much as it’s about just doing whatever they can to stay relevant and in the forefront of people’s minds.”
4. Narcissists are fixated on envy.
Envy often plays some sort of role in romantic relationships, but people with narcissistic tendencies might become obsessed.
“[Narcissistic people] definitely can be interpersonally exploitative,” Balestrieri says. “Someone who’s narcissistic can get really fixated on envy, and they often think that people are jealous of them.”
She says that, once again, the narcissist’s fragile ego drives the behavior.
“They can live in a kind of a hot bed of their own envy [towards] other people, because they’re constantly comparing themselves to others to derive a sense of self,” she notes. “They can be really haughty, arrogant, or dismissive while devaluing of other people.”
In a romantic relationship, that creates a predictable series of events. Narcissists gradually turn against their partners, eventually becoming negative or even outright hostile towards them.
“There’s a cycle that we often see play out with narcissists where they idealize a partner or friend,” Balestrieri explains. “Then, the minute there’s some kind of falter in the fantasy of who that person is, they devalue them—almost knocking their knees out from under them—and then discard them.”
To the narcissist, this type of behavior is a defense mechanism.
“That’s a way that narcissists stay safe,” she says. “They’ll say, ‘You’re amazing…but if you stop being amazing for whatever reason, you’re no longer someone that I want to align my star with. So you’re useless to me.’”
5. They push against your personal boundaries.
According to researchers, narcissists tend to have problems with empathy, although they’re not necessarily sociopaths (people largely incapable of expressing empathy). As part of their quest for attention, however, they can push against personal boundaries, which can have dramatic effects.
“Something narcissists will do is often push your boundaries and try to get you to show up more for them than you want to initially,” Balestrieri says.