Am I dating a narcissist? How to spot the warning signs

Narcissism or just personality flaws? Our experts reveal the "am I dating a narcissist?" red flags you shouldn’t ignore

Portrait of a self-involved man fixing his hair - am I dating a narcissist?
(Image credit: Tim Robberts/Getty)

We’ve all had our fair share of bad dating experiences but if you have a feeling that something is deeply wrong  in your relationship—maybe your partner always blames you when you argue or maybe they consistently flirt with others in front of you and deny it—you might be asking yourself, ‘Am I dating a narcissist?’ 

But what does that actually mean and how can you spot the signs? Our experts reveal all. 

What is a narcissist? 

“Narcissistic personality disorder” is a psychopathology, indicated by showing five or more of the following symptoms: 

  • Exaggeration of one’s own importance
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, and intelligence of the self
  • Belief in his or her own “specialness” 
  • Requiring constant attention and admiration from others
  • Unreasonable expectations and demands for favorable treatment—“grandiosity”
  • Taking advantage of others to attain his or her own goals—without concern 
  • Lacking empathy, disregarding the feelings of others
  • Is envious of those he or she perceives to have more, but also believes others are envious of how “amazing” he or she is.
  • Pomposity and/or arrogance in behavior and attitude

So what does this look like in a relationship? “A narcissist will feed off of another in a relationship and it’s always a one-way street once the hook is in place,” says Michael Padraig Acton, a psychological therapist and author of Learning How To Leave (A Practical Guide to Stepping Away from Toxic & Narcissistic Relationships. 

“To reel in a food source, they will put the target on a pedestal and make it seem like they are experiencing the best relationship ever, that they have found somebody who really values and appreciates them. This is what is sometimes called the love-bombing stage.”

Five signs you’re dating a narcissist

Our experts reveal the five most common traits you'll notice while dating a narcissist:

1. “Love-bombing”

Love-bombing is often used at the beginning of the relationship, and it’s easy to see why narcissists are such huge fans of this technique. After all, who doesn’t enjoy feeling special? 

During this phase, “everything is all about you; you may be given gifts, undivided time, and you are told everything you want to hear about how 'wonderful' you are,” says Dr. Audrey Tang, a psychologist and mental health and wellness expert. 

 “When used manipulatively, this is a very powerful technique because it is quite difficult to leave a relationship when it was once 'so good,' and because of their behavior at the start, you may be more inclined to ignore the red flags.”

2. They won’t define the relationship

Let’s be honest, none of us enjoy having the "defining the relationship" talk but for narcissists, it’s almost unbearable. Why? “They want to avoid commitment,” explains Dr. Tang. 

“It is not that narcissists are uncomfortable with intimacy, but rather they do not want commitment as this means they need to put more into the relationship. By avoiding the question, they are able to enjoy all the benefits of the relationship without having to offer you anything more themselves,” says the doc. 

3. You will experience gaslighting

Ever called your partner out on something for them to respond with: ‘That never happened?’ You might be experiencing gaslighting, a.k.a. ‘crazy-making.’ This is the narcissist's deliberate attempt to undermine your perception of reality.

4. They will never truly apologize or show remorse

“They may apologize if, for some reason, they believe they’ve gone too far and they fear you’re going to remove their food source by leaving them,” says Michael Padraig Acton. “They may apologize to you once but they’ll do it in a way where they won’t own it.”  

But don’t even think about challenging them. “The narcissist may change the subject, try to blame you for the argument, or say something which 'sort of sounds good,' but makes no sense at all,” says Dr Tang. Jon Ronson, the author of The Psychopath Test, calls this a “word salad.”

5. It’s the end of their world if you try to leave

“Whether they resort to emotional blackmail, or make every promise you need to hear, and revert for a while to love-bombing (behaviors similar to when the relationship started), they will eventually revert back to their old behaviors because the change is not something that they intend to be long term…just long enough so that you change your mind,” says Dr. Tang. 

And if you do manage to leave them, they will resort to lashing out emotionally.  “This can be bad-mouthing you or spreading unpleasant rumors about you. All of this is to protect their ego,” says Dr. Tang. 

It won't be easy, but getting yourself out of a toxic relationship with a narcissistic partner will be well worth your efforts.