Have you ever had a situation that goes something like this?: You meet someone and it feels like the stars align. This person is so into you and lavishes you with attention, romance and gifts. The relationship moves very quickly and it feels like you have met “the one.” Months down the road when things have settled in comfortably, things start to change. The person who used to adore and worship you now fluctuates between needing you desperately and devaluing you. Perhaps as time goes on, the person who you thought cared so much becomes more emotionally unavailable, distant and cruel. The “Jekyll” part of the personality starts to overtake the “Hyde.” How did this person who used to be so wonderful and made such an effort to be with you all of the sudden turn out to be so opposite than what you thought? This can leave someone confused, hurt, angry and depressed. If this situation sounds similar to something you have experienced, you may be or may have dated someone with narcissistic tendencies. Here are some of the warning signs:
2. They fluctuate between adoring you and devaluing you: People with narcissistic tendencies are very hot and cold. They can be mean and critical one second and then sweet and loving the next. This becomes very confusing because you are still seeing glimpses of the wonderful person you first fell in love with but you are also getting to see another side that makes you feel bad about yourself.
3. They have little ability to empathize and everything is on their terms: Someone with narcissistic tendencies doesn’t really see things from your world or from your point of view. Everything is about them and what they want. They ignore your needs in the relationship and only focus on getting what they want or what works best for them. They will always be their number one priority and everyone else will always come after that.
4. They cheat, lie or manipulate and don’t feel remorse: Narcissists don’t really empathize so when they do something to hurt you, they don’t really feel remorseful. This can actually be the most hurtful part because it may make you feel like they never cared about you at all. Moving on can be very hard because a lot of people feel that they need closure or apologies that they will never get from narcissistic people.
5. When it’s all over, it’s like you never mattered: A classic case narcissist mostly uses people for their own gain and has very little emotional connection to those that are in their lives. Because of this, they discard people in their lives very easily. I recently watched an episode of the new HBO show Girls and in this particular episode, one of the characters who had broken up with her serious long-term boyfriend 2 weeks prior now finds he already has a new girlfriend. Shocked that he could move on so quickly from something so serious she exclaims. “you’re a sociopath!!” and walks away. Even though she was the one who broke up with him, she is shocked that it feels like their relationship meant nothing to him at the end of the day and that she was easily replaceable. People recovering from narcissistic relationships are often in shock that someone who once claimed to love them so much has moved on so quickly and without any sense of remorse.
How to spot a narcissist:
I always tell my clients to take the time to really get to know the people they are dating before getting too emotionally invested or putting all their eggs in one basket. There are definitely fairy tale stories out there of two people falling madly in love with each other right at the get go and spending their lives happily ever after, but that is generally not the norm. Keep your guard up the more intensely the person is into you and the earlier on it occurs. Past relationship patterns are also very important to look at. As mentioned above, people who are narcissistic are intense very quickly and end up leaving a trail of shattered relationships and people who are left to pick up the pieces (and often need quite a bit of therapy after being in the destructive path of a narcissist). If you get an idea of the dating history of someone and it follows a certain pattern, pay attention to that. Yes, people can change, but past relationship patterns can raise a lot of red flags. The reason people have a hard time of extricating themselves from a narcissistic relationship is because it is hard to get past the fact that someone who used to be so wonderful and loving can turn so cold, hateful and lacking in remorse. These people hang on because of the glimpses they get of the good side and hold out the hope that if they were only “good enough” or “better”, or unconditionally accepted and loved this person then they could get the nice and kind person back. It turns into a vicious cycle and the more you get into a relationship, the harder it is to get out of. Being in a relationship with a narcissist will make you feel crazy and most narcissists actually don’t actively leave relationships; they wait to be left first. It can be really hard to get out of a relationship like this and if you have never been in one, it’s hard to know how. If someone makes you feel worthless or crazy and you know they are not treating you with respect, or empathizing with you, that might be hard to change. Learning to spot negative patterns early and having the strength to know what you deserve in a relationship is one of the best things to do if you find yourself involved with one of these people.
Recovery after a narcissistic relationship:
Recovery after a narcissistic relationship can be very difficult. Many people are driven to therapy because they have been left completely shattered and fragile after a relationship with a narcissist. The most important thing to remember is that it’s not about YOU. This has everything to do with the flaws of the narcissist and their inability to make real, meaningful connections with others. What they have done to you is what they have done and will continue to do in all their relationships unless they recognize this within themselves and get help. The problem is, most narcissistic people never recognize that they need to change. Remember that you deserve a relationship that builds you up, that makes you feel safe, and that brings you happiness and warmth. A person who is narcissistic cannot give this to you, simply because they are not capable of it.
For more in depth information on narcissists there are two great books:
Malignant Self Love bySam Vaknin
Help! I’m in Love With a Narcissist by Julia Sokol and Steven Carter