“Since narcissism is fueled by a greater need to be admired than to be liked, psychologists might use that fact as a therapeutic lever – stressing to patients that being known as a narcissist will actually cause them to lose the respect and social status they crave.” ~Jeffrey Kluger
So, you’ve found a new love, and something just doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe you’re beginning to wonder: is he/she a narcissist?
Top 17 Early Warning Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist
Here are the top 17 early warning signs that you’re dating a narcissist. Don’t let yourself fall in love with the person the narcissist claims to be.
Note: I will refer to the narcissist as male for the remainder of this article, but please note that the narc could just as easily be female (though, to be fair, the largest percentage are reportedly male).
RED FLAG #1: He Throws Out the “L” Word Too Fast
It’s easy to get caught up into the manipulative web of a narcissist, especially when they’re on their best behavior, putting you on a pedestal and idealizing you. That’s almost certainly where they’re going to be early in the relationship.
They’ll say “I love you” very soon, or they’ll tell you it was love at first sight. This is often also the time they’ll employ the “love bombing” technique, in which you start to get that soulmate vibe. He’ll start to seem like the person you’ve been searching for your whole life. It’ll seem too good to be true (because, sadly, it is, in this case).
RED FLAG #2: He’s Too Concerned for Your Well-Being
Many narcissists are prone to making their romantic partners dependent on them. They accomplish this by doing things for you (such as cooking, cleaning or other little chores), or through controlling your daily activities and monitoring your activities.
Early in a relationship, this could seem like genuine concern, but if you stick around, it’ll turn into something very sinister.
See, they want to put you in this place where they become so important in your life that you can’t let go of them, even if you want to. Then, they control you with threats of abandonment and fear.
RED FLAG #4: He Wants Every Second of Your Time
He’s so in love with you, so fast, and he wants so much of your time! He just can’t get enough of you, and he’s not afraid to say it.
It starts with constant texts or phone calls, and pretty soon, he can’t stand to be away from you. He starts to expect to spend time with you when he wants it, and he gets moody or distant if you can’t be with him when he demands it.
This leads to another red flag to watch for.
RED FLAG #5: He Gets Mad When You Can’t See Him
You start to feel worried about how you’re going to avoid upsetting him when you have other plans, so you might even stop making plans without talking to him first. This is another way he starts to weave that web of control very early in the relationship; what first appears to be the loving desire to be together is really just his need to control every aspect of your life.
It’s healthy to have friends and connections outside of your relationship with your significant other. If you give in to the need to please him and you go ahead and “wait” for him to tell you what you’re doing, you’re handing him more control. He uses his anger and your fear of being alone as a way to control your time.
This can lead to him isolating you entirely from others in the future. Be careful.
RED FLAG #6: He is Extremely or Excessively Critical of Others in His Life
He shocks you sometimes with his extreme criticisms of the people in his life – whether it’s his parents or his siblings or friends, neighbors or co-workers, he’s got strong opinions about people and how “worthy” they are.
If he has kids or is involved with kids, you’ll see him become very controlling and critical of them, alternating with seeing them as perfect reflections of themselves. He might also be critical of others’ parenting choices, whether or not he’s actually a parent.
This can also lend a glimpse into the future. Do you want to have kids with this guy? If you already have kids, do you want him to be parenting them? How would you feel if he criticized your mother or your best friend this way? Things to consider – they will happen if you stick around with a narcissist.
RED FLAG #7: He Treats His Mom Like Shit – Or She Can Do No Wrong
If you happen to meet a narcissist’s mom (or mom-figure), you might notice that he treats her rudely or with little respect. She might not even bat an eyelash at it, or she might playfully jab him back.
This can alternate with periods of his putting his mother on a pedestal, idealizing her and imagining that their relationship’s perfect, and she can do no wrong.
But while you initially dismiss this as “just how their relationship is” and start to consider it almost endearing, if you look a little closer (or in hindsight), you might just catch a glimpse of how your future could sound, if you stick around. Speaking of which, on to the next point.
RED FLAG #8: He Says His ‘Ex’ Was a Certified Nutjob/a Horrible Bitch/Otherwise Insane
We’ve all met a guy or girl who has a crazy ex. But when you’ve got a narc on your hands, you’ll see early in the relationship that he almost always tells you some horror stories about his ex.
He might say she cheated or that she verbally abused him. He might say she hit him or she emotionally tormented him. Or that she was very, very stupid. Or any number of things – you’ll end up feeling sorry for him, and that’s his goal.
RED FLAG #9: He Points Out All the Things About You That Are Better Than His Ex
Now that you know how awful his ex was, he’s ready to start idealizing you and putting you on a pedestal. So he’s going to spend some time identifying the things about you that he loves because they’re so different than the ex.
And, you’ll go out of your way to prove that you’re NOTHING like that crazy, horrible person. So he wins – he sets you up to try to start conforming yourself to his desires. This is another way he begins to take control of you.
RED FLAG #10: He’s Got a Great Sob Story, and He Ain’t Afraid to Tell It!
A narcissist often has a great sob story to tell, or several. Maybe his parents died when he was young, or his ex cheated on him. Maybe he’s lost everything and overcome it, or maybe he survived an abusive childhood, or some big tragedy.
Whatever the story is, you probably heard it on or around your first date. He pretended to open up to you, to share his deep, dark feelings, and then to draw you in and make you WANT TO TAKE CARE OF HIM – and you know what that is, right?
Yet another way he wants to control you. This brings me to my next point.
RED FLAG #11: He Remains Blameless in All Situations
A narcissist is unable to accept blame, ever, for his behaviors and the effect of these behaviors. Early in a relationship, they will often tell stories in which they are the innocent victim being used/abused/screwed over by someone.
He likes the “poor me” game.
Since he is a victim, you want to protect or take care of him by assuring him of you loyalty/honesty/dedication/devotion. And he gets a little more control of your world.
As the relationship moves forward, he’ll start blaming you, if you stick around. Be warned.
RED FLAG #13: He Seems to Have a Lot of Special Accomplishments, and He Wants Praise
When he’s not whining about his poor little self and heralding his ability to survive such terrible odds, he’s probably telling you stories about himself and his friends.
At first, you enjoy the stories, not realizing that they’re so well-rehearsed and probably only half true. Over time, you’ll hear the same stories, again and again, and potentially in various iterations. And if you don’t listen, act super interested and praise appropriately? He might just throw a little narcissistic rage and/or narcissistic injury your way.
This never ends. So if you’re going to stick it out, be prepared to heap the praise on him, unconditionally.
RED FLAG #15: He Might Have Substance Abuse or Porn Addiction Issues
Not all narcissists are substance abusers and not all substance abusers are narcissists. Same deal with porn addicts. But if you’re dating a substance abuser or a porn addict, you might want to take a second look and peer a little deeper.
A lot of narcissists do carry around drug and alcohol problems. And a large percentage have issues with porn addiction. Maybe it’s due to their need for attention or excess, or maybe it’s just because most narcissists secretly hate themselves and need to numb out on the regular.
Either way, it’s a red flag.
RED FLAG #16: He Somehow Always Brings the Subject Back to Him
ME, ME, ME, It’s all about ME! This guy won’t shut up about himself. At first you thought it was cute, but now it’s getting annoying.
You might’ve read some dating advice that told you to make it all about him in the beginning, and sometimes, this does work. Who doesn’t like to talk about him or her self?
But when he doesn’t try to learn about you, too, or when he simply interrupts every story you tell with a story of his own, it’s a red flag.
Narcissists are well-known for their listening problems. They tend to wait while you speak, rather than listen. They’re waiting for their turn to say what they want to say – and often, it won’t follow in the conversation.
If they don’t have the opportunity to say what they want, they may interject or even just get upset and pout.
RED FLAG #17: He seems oddly and easily upset by small things.
Even though he tries to keep his childish ways under wraps during your courtship, if you look closely, you’ll see little signs that he’s a narcissist – and one of the most obvious is that he is quickly, easily and overly upset about things that don’t really matter to most people.
For example, he may be overly rude to waiters or salespeople, or he may treat the lawn guy with contempt. He takes things very personally and often enacts unreasonably harsh reactions.
At first, you figure it’s righteous anger, and you go about trying to support him emotionally and provide him the love he’s been missing. You think you can fix him. But you can’t. He’s a narcissist.
Do you see any of yourself or the person you’re currently dating? What would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments, below. Let’s discuss it.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.