What does narcissism look like in a relationship – a must read

4 min read

There is a lot of talk around narcissism in modern day life, especially when speaking with private clients and their past experiences. Do we really have a much higher level of narcissism in our society now or is it that because of advancements in knowledge and education, we are just more aware of an individual’s dark traits, and not prepared to tolerate as much as perhaps we once were?

What narcissistic abuse looks and feels like, and it has a repetitive pattern

The simplest way to know if you’re dating a narcissist is to lean into how they make you feel. I don’t just mean day-to-day nuances or niggles in your relationship that can sometimes be annoying, for example disagreeing over which restaurant to eat at, and going to bed feeling unappreciated. It’s much more insidious than that. I’m talking about feeling on edge all the time, starting to doubt yourself over the simplest things. A narcissist will seem to have some undeniable control over you, but you likely don’t know yourself what that is. You just know that something is off but you struggle to see that it is your partner and usually in these circumstances, you tend to put the blame on yourself.

Narcissism, like most personality disorders sits on a spectrum

Most of us have some level of narcissistic traits. There is research to suggest that from an evolutionary perspective, these traits are linked to survival and can be beneficial. In other research based on the work of Heinz Kohut, it has been suggested that a normal degree of narcissistic entitlement in a child could lead to the development of mature and positive self-esteem if the individual’s narcissistic needs were met during childhood. However, when an individual’s traits lean towards rigid issues in their day-to-day, then they may fall under a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.

Know the main identifiers of narcissism

  • A grandiose sense of self
  • A need for admiration
  • Overly sensitive to criticism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Repressed insecurities
  • Very few boundaries
  • More concerned about appearance than substance
  • A tendency to exploit others

There are then subsets of overt, malignant, and covert narcissism (DSMV, 2013)

With a diagnosis of NPD (narcissistic personality disorder), all of these traits are very evident yet how they are perceived by others can vary greatly – mainly to do with their partner’s own personality traits and of course because of the feelings of love, commitment and obligation.

To give you some examples of what this might look like in a relationship, narcissists make promises that they don’t intend to keep. This is the dangling of the proverbial carrot in front of their targets. They will promise something that either gaslights you, and then say they never promised it, or they’ll keep putting it off until you forget about the promise. Or, if you don’t ‘behave’ the way they demand, they’ll take away their promise as a punishment. This type of behaviour can either be very subtle and insidious, or it can be blatant.

Emotion for a narcissist equates to fuel. They want to hear you getting irritated. They want to get you annoyed. They want your voice to rise and see the tears of frustration welling in your eyes. When they see this, it makes them feel very powerful.

Ways you can protect yourself from the negative effects of some narcissistic traits

  • Create your own guard. Creating a wall of protection for yourself is key. Setting firm boundaries and not letting anyone cross them, no matter how much they try to guilt trip you
  • Listen to your gut and don’t override your instincts out of an eagerness to please or to have your last chance of love
  • Do not dismiss or minimise red flags such as lying, cheating or abusive behaviour
  • Do not take responsibility for someone else’s actions, even if that person is doing their best to blame you
  • And most importantly, realise you can’t change anyone, and that your mental, physical, and emotional health are more important than keeping a relationship together no matter what.

Healing after a relationship with a narcissist

Give yourself the time to heal and allow yourself some rest. The energy it takes to endure withdrawal from an addictive or toxic relationship is equivalent to work in a full-time job. Truthfully, this may be the hardest work you’ve ever done. In addition to support from people who know and understand you, try to keep the rest of your life simple. You need rest and solitude as you heal, and then when you are ready to move on, this is the time to consider working with us.

Our team of experts, many of whom have a psychology or coaching background, are not only here to help you find new love. They can also help you on your pathway to a more positive, equal and successful long-term future with your new partner, through listening to you, supporting you and guiding you towards the relationship that you truly deserve, whilst also helping you to avoid negative traits in a partner that you may have unfortunately experienced before.


Maclynn is a boutique, multi-award-winning introductions agency with offices in London, New York, New Jersey, and California. We’re world-renowned for bringing together highly compatible singles within our vast network of phenomenal professionals. If you would like to know how we can work together to find your ideal match, then please Get in touch today!

Sarah Helen

About the Author

Sarah Helen King

Sarah Helen is a Senior Matchmaker in Maclynn’s London office. She holds a First-Class Honours in Psychology, and a Master’s in Health Psychology. Following a fruitful career in stockbroking, fashion retail and luxury goods, working with high-profile clients and customers from around the globe, Sarah Helen started her own wellness business. She has extensive experience coaching people to better understand themselves and teaching them how to own their psychological health. Using a cognitive behavioural approach she has helped guide and support our Maclynn clients with the psychological tools to date successfully. Sarah Helen has two years’ doctoral experience and is a member of the British Psychological Society. She also sits on the committee for the Richmond & Twickenham Diabetes UK support group. Sarah Helen’s positive outlook, friendly approach and deep knowledge of psychology, means she is well positioned to give our clients the best possible guidance as they search for their ultimate partners.

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