“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 14 Early Warning Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist
Here are the top 14 early warning signs that you’re dating a narcissist. Don’t let yourself fall in love with the person the narcissist claims to be.
RED FLAG #1: They Throw Out the “L” Word Too Fast
It’s easy to get caught up in 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: They Are a Little 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 #3: They Want Every Second of Your Time
They’re so in love with you, so fast, and they want so much of your time! The narcissist just can’t get enough of you, and they’re 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 #4: They Get Angry When You Can’t See Spend Time With Them
You start to feel worried about how you’re going to avoid upsetting the narcissist when you have other plans, so you might even stop making plans without talking to them 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 a narcissist, and you go ahead and “wait” for them to tell you what you’re doing, you’re doing yourself a big disservice. Why? Because you’re just handing over more control of yourself and your choices. The narcissist uses their anger and your fear of being alone as a way to control your time. This, of course, can lead to him isolating you entirely from others in the future. Be careful.
RED FLAG #5: They Are Extremely or Excessively Critical of Others in Their Life
The narcissist often shocks you with their extreme criticisms of the people in their life – whether it’s their parents or siblings or friends, neighbors or co-workers, they’ve always got strong opinions about people and how “worthy” they are. No one is immune.
If they have kids or are involved with kids, you’ll see the narcissist 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 #6: They Treat Their Mother Like She Doesn’t Matter – Or She Can Do No Wrong
If you happen to meet a narcissist’s mother (or mother-figure), you might notice that they are very rude to her and they treat her with little respect. She might not even bat an eyelash at it, or she might playfully jab them back, depending on their relationship. This can alternate with periods of the narcissist putting their mother on a pedestal, idealizing her and imagining that their relationship’s perfect, and she can do no wrong.
But especially if you’re involved with a male narcissist, 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 #7: They Claim to Have a Crazy Ex
We’ve all met a guy or girl who has a crazy ex. But when you’ve got a narcissist on your hands, you’ll see early in the relationship that they almost always tell you some horror stories about the ex.
They might say their ex cheated or verbally abused them. They might claim that their ex was physically abusive, often hitting them, or that they were emotionally abusive, constantly tormenting them. They might even hit say the ex was very, very stupid. Or any number of things – you’ll end up feeling sorry for them and that’s their goal because when you feel that way, you’ll find yourself doing anything in your power to actually avoid being “like the ex.”
This means that the narcissist is actually conditioning you by subtly telling you what they don’t want – and by attaching emotional pain to the incidents, they set you up to be “just like the ex” when they get past the initial love bombing or idealization phase of the relationship. You’ll spend the rest of the relationship following these unwritten rules without even realizing it.
RED FLAG #8: They Point Out All the Things About You That Are Better Than the Ex
Now that you know how awful the ex was, the narcissist is ready to start idealizing you and putting you on a pedestal. They’re going to spend some time identifying the things about you that they love 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 as I mentioned, the conditioning continues, and the narcissist wins. You’re fully in place and set up to try to start conforming yourself to the narcissist’s desires. This is another way they begin to take control of you.
RED FLAG #9: They’ve Got a Great Sob Story, and They Aren’t Afraid to Tell It!
A narcissist often has a great sob story to tell – or several. Maybe their parents died when they were young, or their awful ex cheated on them. Maybe they’ve lost everything and overcome it, or survived an abusive childhood or some big tragedy. Whatever the story is, you probably heard it on or around your first date. The narcissist would’ve pretended to open up to you, to share their deep, dark feelings. You might have totally fallen for it and quickly developed almost protective feelings about the narcissist. Here’s where it gets weird.
The narcissist does this for a couple of reasons – first because your pity and feeling of protectiveness gives them narcissistic supply, and worse, they want to then to draw you in and make you WANT TO TAKE CARE OF THEM – and you know what that is, right? It’s yet another way the narcissist wants to control you. This brings me to my next point.
RED FLAG #10: The Narcissist Remains Blameless in All Situations
A narcissist is unable to accept blame, ever, for their behaviors and the effect of these behaviors on the people around them. Early in a relationship, they will often tell stories in which they are the innocent victim being used/abused/screwed over by someone. Yes, the narcissist loves the “poor me” game, also known as narcissistic injury.
Since the narcissist is playing a victim, you will find yourself playing the hero again. You’ll want to protect or take care of them by constantly reassuring them of your loyalty/honesty/dedication/devotion. And guess what? The narcissist gets a little more control of your world. Of course, as the relationship moves forward, they’ll start blaming you and you’ll become their favorite scapegoat if you stick around. Be warned.
RED FLAG #11: They Claim to Have a Lot of Special Accomplishments, and They Need You To Praise Them
When a narcissist is not whining about their poor little self and heralding their ability to survive such terrible odds, they’re probably telling you fantastic stories about themselves and their 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? You can expect that they 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. It is exhausting.
RED FLAG #12: They Might Have Substance Abuse or Explicit Video Addiction Issues
Not all narcissists are substance abusers and not all substance abusers are narcissists. Same deal with gaming and explicit video addicts. But if you’re dating a substance abuser or a gaming/video addict, you might want to take a second look and peer a little deeper. Even so, you’re probably not going to see this early in a relationship unless you’re really watching for it. Be careful. A lot of narcissists do deal with drug and alcohol problems, as do many abuse victims – just for different reasons. And a large percentage have issues with explicit video 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 and an indication that the person you’re dating is quite toxic.
RED FLAG #13: They Somehow Always Brings the Subject Back to Themselves
ME, ME, ME, It’s all about ME! The narcissist rarely stops singing their own praises. At first, you thought it was cute, how self-confident they were, but now it’s getting annoying. Maybe you read some dating advice that told you to make it all about them in the beginning, and sometimes, this does work. I mean, after all – who doesn’t like to talk about themselves? But when they don’t try to learn about you, too, or even when they simply interrupt every story you tell with a story of their own, it’s a red flag.
Narcissists are well-known for their inability to listen to anything or anyone they deem “less than” or unworthy of their precious attention – and 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 the conversation because they weren’t actually listening at all. And yet, maybe a bit ironically, if they don’t have the opportunity to say what they want, they may interject or even just get upset and pout. As the relationship goes on, they’ll literally tell you they don’t care what you have to say and nearly require you to listen to them, even sort of quizzing you afterward to check that you were listening.
RED FLAG #14: They are oddly and easily upset by small things.
Even though the narcissist attempts to keep his childish ways under wraps during your courtship, if you look closely, you’ll see little signs of toxic narcissism peeking through – and one of the most obvious is that they are quickly, easily, and excessively upset about things that don’t really matter to most people.
For example, they may be overly rude to waiters or salespeople, or they may treat the lawn guy with contempt. They take things very personally and often enact unreasonably harsh reactions. At first, you figure it’s righteous anger, and you go about trying to support them emotionally and provide the love they’ve been missing. You think you can fix them – and you try really, really hard. Maybe for years or decades. But you can’t fix a narcissist. See, while in theory, it is possible for a narcissist to change, in reality, they do not change – at least not for the better.
Do you see any of these qualities in someone you’re currently dating or in a relationship with? What would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments, below. Let’s discuss it.
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Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor 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 personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, 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.
She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.