Everyone can be a little bit selfish, but an ongoing trend can point to a larger concern. Here are a few pointers on how to identify narcissistic behaviors in your partner.
“I’ve been out of the relationship for 10 years, and I’m so much happier now.”
Mary Magnetico, a chef at Chestnut Creek Baked Goods in Grahamsville, New York, says that she was married to a narcissist. At the beginning of the relationship, he was an entirely different person.
“You’re made to feel special,” she tells HealthyWay. “That usually happens rather quickly. They proclaim their love for you—and very fast, too.”
Gradually, the relationship turned serious. That’s when Magnetico began noticing some of the signs.
“[Narcissists] try to isolate you from friends and family,” she says. “I learned, years later, that my ex would go behind my back and trash talk me—all while making himself look good. …Then came the insults. They’re master manipulators, and they feel a deep sense of entitlement. Rules don’t apply to them, because they’re just so superior to the rest of us.”
Magnetico left the relationship, but her story’s not too unusual. Clinically, narcissism is a rare diagnosis, but it’s often considered as part of a spectrum (some theorize that itmight even be on the autistic spectrum).
Obviously, narcissistic tendencies make relationships difficult. While researching this piece, we received dozens of responses from people who claimed to have been in relationships with narcissists. Interestingly, every one of those responses came from women. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising; according to one scientific review, men are more likely to be narcissists than women.
But what is narcissism, exactly? How can we recognize narcissistic disorders in our partners—or in ourselves?
To be clear, only a licensed physician can make an actual diagnosis. However, many narcissistic behaviors can serve as red flags.
1. Narcissists have fragile egos.
“I think, a lot of times, people consider narcissism to include a lot of grandiosity, and a lack of shame or remorse or empathy, and all of those are certain key components of narcissism,” says Kate Balestrieri, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and co-founder ofTriune Therapy Group in Los Angeles. Balestrieri designed a workshop to help people heal from the trauma of being in relationships with narcissists.
“But clinically, we look at things like: ‘Does someone have a very fragile sense of self?’”
In other words, while we might think of narcissists as self-centered jerks, they’re operating as a result of deep-seated insecurities. Those insecurities often show up in the narcissist’s social behaviors.
“They’re very quick to align themselves with organizations [or] people that would be high in status—the best of the best,” Balestrieri says. “They have a need for admiration. …If my ego is fragile, I need a lot of other opinions to bolster my sense of self, so underneath all of that grandiosity is a pretty low and fractured sense of self-worth. And a lot of shame, usually.”
People with narcissistic disorders often overcompensate for that shame by bragging about the ways that they’re superior to others. Those beliefs are real—but fragile.
“They might go on and on about how great they are,” Balestrieri says, “or how much this person likes them, or that person likes them, or they got accepted into a certain organization. They’re really aligning themselves with anything that further capitulates their fantasies around fame, or importance, or superiority, or just being great.”