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How to Quickly Spot Narcissistic Traits in a Relationship

Only loving a narcissist is harder than leaving one. It’s best to identify the signs and avoid loving someone who isn’t capable of loving you, too.

how to spot narcissistic traits

It is good to love yourself, right? After all, if I had a dime for every time someone said, “For someone to love you, you have to love yourself,” I would be a very wealthy woman. The problem is that, in the reverse, if you want to love someone, you can’t be too full of love for yourself. Narcissists are people so infatuated with themselves, they can’t see anything past their point of view or self-interest.

The word “narcissist” comes from the Greek mythological character Narcissus, who ended up falling in love with his reflection. A narcissist, according to Merriam-Webster, is someone who is “overly self-involved, and often vain and selfish.” Nothing mythological about it—there is an entire mental disorder based on the characteristics of a person who can’t seem to focus on anything but them.

The problem with loving a narcissist is that they aren’t capable of loving you. It isn’t that they don’t want to, but that they are literally too selfish to. That makes for a very troublesome and one-sided relationship. [Read: 10 signs you’re dating a self-obsessed narcissist]

Narcissistic traits: how to spot them

Narcissists are easy to identify if you know what characterizes them. They are often rigid and harsh with other people. Calling names and belittling others around them, the only way for them to feel important is to make others look small. The following are other common narcissistic traits.

#1 Lacking empathy. People who are narcissistic are missing the essential social skill of empathy. Empathy is when you can view the world from another’s perspective. That old saying “walk a day in someone else’s shoes” is completely lost on a narcissist. No amount of explanation or outpouring of feelings is going to change the fact that they are incapable of seeing the world through the eyes of someone else.

#2 They bully. Narcissists frequently exhibit bully-type behavior. Anyone who doesn’t treat them as special angers them quickly, making them react in a self-preserving way. Cruelty is common for the narcissist. They aren’t able to think in the same way that other people do. Since they lack the understanding of empathy, they often can’t “feel” things rationally. [Check out: 16 abusive relationship signs of a devious lover]

Therefore, when you say something, they misunderstand the meaning and only hear individual words. They react to those words instead of comprehending the entirety of what you say. Not being able to feel for others, they also don’t refrain from saying things that are hurtful and abusive.

#3 They contradict themselves. People who have narcissistic traits will often contradict themselves. Because they always have to be right and admired, they will say whatever it takes to win. Often denying what they say mere minutes after they have spoken, they have no problem switching sides to make themselves look right, moral, or smarter than other people.

#4 They lack a sense of right and wrong. Lacking a sense of right and wrong, the narcissist isn’t guided by conscience or acceptance. The only thing that a narcissist responds to is the fear of physical punishment or physical consequences. They aren’t concerned about whether you like them or what you think of them, as long as they feel power over you. Because they do not fear not being accepted, they have no conscience for hurting others or mistreating people in their life. [Try: How to stop selfish people from hurting you]

#5 Envious and competitive. The narcissist is often envious and competitive. They want to have what everyone else has. Once they have it, they aren’t interested in it anymore. Not only are they envious of others, but they are also only happy when other people are jealous of what they have. The competitive nature of the narcissistic person drives them to compete for just about everything. Needing to have it all, they are overly ambitious in their personal and professional relationships.

#6 Not engaging. They don’t sting unless stung. The narcissist will not start a fight or engage in an exchange with someone else. They aren’t concerned with anyone but themselves, so they won’t reach out to other people, but are quick to sting back when you say something that shatters their belief that they are perfect.

#7 They have a sense of entitlement. The narcissist has a sense of entitlement, as if they deserve things even when they have done nothing to earn them. They also live with grandiose ideas of what life should be. Believing that they deserve everything that life has to offer, they are often involved in “get rich quick” schemes and things that don’t require initiative. [Read: 9 real ways to get rid of that sense of entitlement]

#8 They are gloomy and sullen. A narcissist is often sullen and gloomy, because nothing is ever good enough. They also rarely possess a sense of humor—though they can be charming and charismatic when they want something from you. They have a tendency to be harsh and authoritative, because they believe that they are the only ones who know what is right.

The perils of loving a narcissist

I have read countless features about narcissistic personalities, and many who describe them make it sound as if a narcissist is out to hurt people or that they actively choose to damage those around them. The science shows that most of them are a product of their childhood and the way their parents cared for them. Sometimes an innocent bystander themselves, they aren’t out to hurt people. They lack the essential social skill of empathy, and without it, it is very hard to play on an emotionally-level playing field.

When in a relationship with a narcissist, even the most self-assured individual is subject to feelings of hopelessness and depression. Constantly trying to reach out to someone and make them reach back, it creates a situation where one person usually gives of themselves all the time. It leaves the narcissist’s partner feeling as if they aren’t good enough, or that they lack in some way. If you don’t understand that loving someone back is an impossibility for someone who has narcissistic tendencies, you may begin to believe that you are doing something wrong or that it is your fault. [Check out: 12 subtle signs you’re being manipulated by your lover]

Why don’t they seem to love me?

The biggest problem with a narcissist is that they will be charming at first. When you start a relationship with them, they can’t do enough to win you over and to charm you. Once they have you, however, they become distant and want very little to do with you. Finding you irritating, the more you reach for them and try to make a connection, the more they push you away. That leads to a flee-and-chase cycle. That leaves the person in love with a narcissist feeling lonely and humiliated.

Loving a narcissist is a tough thing. Depending on your type of personality, it can be very hard on your self-esteem. They love you one minute, and then seemingly couldn’t care less about you the next, making it very hard to form a bond with them. That leaves most feeling disconnected from the one they love.

The hardest part about loving a narcissist is that you are likely to internalize their behavior. Their type of personality is always seeking the adoration of those around them, so watching them treat everyone else with charm and charisma can leave you feeling unattractive and unwanted. It takes a very confident and self-assured person to be with a narcissist, and even they can lose themselves trying to make the relationship into something it isn’t capable of being. [Read: 16 clear signs you’re in a narcissistic relationship]

A narcissist is hard to walk away from for a reason…

The worst part about a relationship with a narcissist is that they are very hard to let go of or get over. The minute you have had enough, they turn on the charm and promise you that they will change—and they do. Sadly, it usually doesn’t last. The minute they have you back and trying your hardest to please them, they will be back to their old behaviors.

Masters of manipulating people to get them to do what they want, the end always justifies the means. Most narcissists exhibit a set of behaviors, which they are likely not conscious of: they do things that work for them only, without conscience.

The best thing to do when you sense that you are with a narcissist is to proceed with caution. At the beginning of the relationship, there will be subtle signs as they charm you to get close to you. There will likely be things that will send up an emotional red flag that you may want to ignore. Don’t. Those little things that hurt you upfront become worse with time.

Most people in relationships with narcissists believe they can change them. If there is one thing we all need to know about relationships, it is that we can’t change the people we love. We have to either learn to accept them or spend a lifetime trying to achieve a goal that isn’t attainable.

[Next, read: 12 signs of a narcissist and 5 ways to break up with them]

Loving someone isn’t worth losing yourself over, and the fact is, a narcissist isn’t ever going to lose themselves for you. The best thing to do is not to get involved to begin with, because quitting on a relationship with a narcissist is similar to giving up smoking. You have to try several times—and even after you have, there will always be a part of you that will miss them.

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Julie Keating
A writer isn’t born, but created out of experiences. No lack of subject matter, my life reads more like fiction than anything that could have been imagined in...
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