Have you ever met someone who couldn’t stop talking about themselves? Chances are all of their conversations revolved around how superior they were compared to everyone at their work, in their family, or in their group of friends. And no matter what the subject matter was, the conversation always seemed to go back to them.
If this interaction is something you recognize, (and almost everyone has probably met a handful of these people in their lifetime) you may have been talking to a narcissist. But not all narcissists are easy to identify. According to psychologist Paul Wink, there are actually two opposing sides of narcissism. One is the grandiosity-exhibitionism side that’s most commonly portrayed, and the other is a vulnerability-sensitivity side.
The vulnerability-sensitivity type of narcissist is often seen as an introvert. They’re hypersensitive to criticism, highly defensive, and full of anxiety about how others see them. They use anger and hostility to cover up a deep vulnerability, which is also at the root of the grandiosity-exhibitionism extrovert type of narcissistic behavior.
Regardless of the type of narcissist, living with these individuals is emotionally draining. Sometimes they’re called emotional vampires, literally sucking all of your energy and attention and leaving you as hollow, empty husk. They’re all about taking as much as they can and not returning anything. They also tend to see everything you do as a reflection of themselves, and are hypercritical and emotionally abusive when you can’t live up to their standards.
In my new book “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking your Obsession,” I explain the reality of living with a narcissist and how love addiction often includes both a codependent and a narcissist. I call it the Narcissistic Dance, and it’s something you should know about so you know how to avoid it.
If you’re worried you may be dating a narcissist, there are some telltale issues to look for. Remember, anyone may engage in these behaviors occasionally, but when it’s a pattern or an ongoing behavior, they’re major red flags.
Six things narcissists do and say in relationships that give them away:
1. I’m everything you’ve always wanted.
One of the ways a narcissist finds a relationship is by being extremely charming and persuasive while they’re selectively testing the waters and looking for a partner who will accommodate their needs to be the center of attention. They usually choose someone else they see as needing attention or recognition and provide that attention for them. This makes the narcissist look like the perfect, attentive partner. You should pay close attention if the charm and affection is extreme, because a narcissist will go out of his or her way to seem like they’re everything you’ve ever wanted.
2. Let’s talk about me.
A narcissist can’t allow a conversation to drift too far from their areas of expertise, their experiences, or their achievements. (And, of course, they often misrepresent and give a grandiose version of what they actually know or have done.)
3. I don’t follow the rules.
A sure sign of a narcissist is someone who doesn’t just bend the rules, but honestly doesn’t believe they apply to him or her. This can seem dangerous and rebellious and provide the bad boy or girl image they project.
4. We don’t need boundaries.
Very quickly in a relationship with a narcissist, normal boundaries are not just violated, they’re torn down. The narcissist must be in control, and the other person must be willing to become fully submissive to the narcissist’s desires.
5. Don’t steal my glory.
A narcissist can’t see anyone’s contribution to an achievement as important or equal to their own. Look out for someone who says only he or she can fix a problem or develop a solution. There is no team; there’s only the narcissist who takes all the credit. If, however, there is a problem or a failure, it’s solely the responsibility of the team, and the narcissist will quickly disavow any responsibility.
6. That’s not my problem.
Finally, the narcissist is unable to show any true empathy or sympathy. He or she may be able to fake sympathy in public, but in private they see themselves as superior and everyone else simply inferior and failing, with no mitigating factors considered or even acknowledged.
Learning to recognize the early signs of a narcissist in a relationship is important. These people have learned to cover up the most obvious behaviors, but they’re still there if you know what to look for.