In relationship with a narcissist

Are you wondering if you are in a relationship with a narcissist?

If you are reading this article, chances are that you have your suspicions that your partner might not be the person you fell in love with. Perhaps you are unsure of what narcissists are like. After all, not all narcissists are dressed in vanity, there are different types of narcissists (although, the types are not discussed in this article). Instead, this article will explore the common traits of a narcissist and the signs you may be in a narcissistic relationship.

Although there is a typical cycle when it comes to being in a relationship with a narcissist, identifying common narcissistic traits can be confusing when your partner is a covert narcissist. It might not be obvious that they are treating you badly because their abuse comes out in a passive-aggressive way.

The phases of a narcissistic relationship

Phase 1: Love bombing

This is the ‘wine and dine’, sweeping you off your feet’ phase. It goes beyond what the average person would do. Expect the grandest of grand gestures like surprise weekends away, expensive gifts, flowers and champagne, compliments and more compliments. The narcissist will leave you feeling like you are the only person who exists them. You will at first fall in love with the person they portray themselves to be and also the person they lead you to believe you are. 

You will feel like you can achieve any dream. You will feel that you are loved and accepted for who you are and that you have no flaws. 

Of course, there are amazing authentic partners out there who will do the same for you, but take into account that with a narcissist, this happens right from the start and not when you have an established relationship. 

Narcissists don’t know how to take things slowly. And if you ask them to, they will accuse you of doubting their love for you. This phase ends quickly in relationships where one partner is a narcissist. 

Phase 2: Devaluing

This will start without you noticing. Criticism and lies will be presented to you with so much confidence that it might as well be a piece of plastic wrapped up in a Tiffany’s box. It is said with just enough truth for you to believe what the narcissist is telling you. This is their bait to see if you believe it.

The intensity and frequency at which it happens increases and instead of questioning them, you start questioning yourself - keeping them on that pedestal you put them on during the love-bombing phase. Since they are still portraying themselves as this wonderful person, you have no reason to believe that you are the one who is seriously flawed. 

The more you doubt yourself, the more they convince you that you're lucky they still want to be with you. They convince you that they love you and that they will stay with you, if only you changed certain things about yourself or stop seeing people you love, like your friends and family. 

You can have evidence of them being dishonest and they will convince you that you have been fooled by what you see, that they have been framed or that you are the one with the problem for being suspicious. 

When you eventually no longer serve a purpose to them, they will discard of you.

Phase 3: Discarding

It's common for relationships where one partner is a narcissist, for the narc to do the discarding. This can happen for several reasons, but by the time this happens, the abused partner will usually have such low self-esteem and will doubt themselves so much that they have become dependent on the narcissist. 

It's painful for the abused partner to be discarded in a cruel and cold manner. The narcissist loves power and also to witness the pain experienced left by their departure. If the narcissist feels that they have lost power over you and would like it back, the next phase begins. 

Phase 4: Hoovering

Hoovering is the phase during which the narcissist will apologise, admit that they were to blame and that they love you and want you back. As usual, they are very convincing and can pull you back only to start with further devaluation. If this phase happens, you might be left feeling fully dependant on the narcissist, being isolated from friends and family, and feeling unable to trust in yourself and your own perception of reality. 

Signs that your partner might be a narcissist

It's important to note that there is a spectrum for narcissism and not everyone who has one of these traits will be a narcissist. It's also worth mentioning that if someone was raised by a narcissist, they might have learned some narcissistic traits. Again, this does not mean that they are a narcissist. 

Passive aggression

This is common, especially with a covert narcissist. Your partner might not be overly critical or aggressive, but you will know that something is wrong. They seem easily triggered but unwilling to communicate openly about what they perceive the problem to be. 

Passive aggression can be recognised through a look you might be familiar with, a tone, a withdrawal or a sneering remark. It is done with the intention to alert the partner and make them guess what they have done wrong. If feels personal and punishing. It feels and is unloving and dismissive. It is judgemental and controlling. 

They might also be agreeable or silent when you are self-critical instead of being reassuring. 

Using partners

This is especially true when it comes to intimacy. They will leave you feeling cheap and undervalued. Partners of narcissists often describe feeling like prostitutes. They feel that the narcissist wasn’t having sex with them but with someone else. They were just the body that was there. 

They like to be adored and ask the partners to describe how they look and how amazing they are. Narcissists are often described as selfish and forceful. 

The narcissist sees their partners as someone to meet their needs. They will not value your qualities and respect you in the way you would want to be valued and respected, but instead, they will only respect the way you make them look. They can be humiliated easily if you don’t look or play the part. 

Triangulation

This is a technique where the narcissist builds a triangle between you, your friends or family and themselves. They will tell one friend something negative about you - perhaps that you said something bad about that person. They will then do the same with the other person in an attempt to drive a wedge between you and them. No one is aware that it was actually the narcissist that created the problem in the first place. 

There is so much written about narcissists and their behaviour, that one can easily get lost and be left confused when searching for the answers. If you suspect that you might be in a relationship with a narcissist, it might be helpful to reach out to friends and family.

However, narcissism can also extend outside of your relationship, reaching friends and family too. If a family member or friend was able to see through the narcissist when you were together then they might convince that person that they were wrong after the break-up. The hoovering and love bombing isn’t a phase that involves just the partner. The narcissist might cry in front of fiends convincing them of how they messed up with you. This is done to convince the friends or family member to encourage you to take them back. 

When they do this, it is a sign that they believe they have lost power over you. 

Narcissistic relationships are complex as there is usually a trauma bond between the partners. It takes a long time to heal from narcissistic abuse and the processes involve grieving the relationship you thought you had.

If you feel that you might be in a relationship like this or might not have had healing from a past relationship where there was narcissistic abuse, reach out for support and speak with a professional - help is available.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Sonica Mushi - MBACP, BA (Psych),

I am an integrative counsellor trained in Psychodynamic counselling, CBT, Schema Therapy, (EFT) based on attachment and a person-centred approach. I offer online, phone and face-to-face sessions for individuals and couples.

I'm based in the Hammersmith and Fulham area and work with my clients on a plan that is designed around their needs.… Read more

Written by Sonica Mushi - MBACP, BA (Psych),

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