Is my partner a narcissist?

Recognising narcissistic abuse in your relationships can be challenging because narcissists are very skilled at manipulating and ‘gaslighting’ their victims, leaving them feeling very uncertain about their doubts and wondering if it is in fact them that is the problem.


The fact you’re reading this article, and maybe searching for clues about what is going on in your relationship that doesn’t feel quite right, would suggest you’re likely in the right place. If you’re looking for reassurance that you’re not going mad and that your partner’s behaviour really is a problem, keep reading.

There are several common signs and patterns that may indicate that you are experiencing narcissistic abuse. The following items are some key characteristics to look out for:

Love bombing and idealisation 

At the beginning of the relationship, the narcissist will shower you with excessive attention, compliments, and gifts, making you feel like the most special person in the world. This is known as ‘love bombing’ and is a tactic used to gain your trust and admiration quickly. They will become your ‘soul mate’ as they deliberately become the person you will feel connected to. Narcissists tend to listen more than talk and respond positively to the things you’re interested in rather than giving you information about themselves and their own interests which they will tailor to meet your needs.

Emotional manipulation

Narcissists are skilled at manipulating your emotions to control and dominate you. They may generate feelings of guilt, shame, or fear to ensure you pander to their desires or use anger to get what they want and to keep you feeling off-balance and dependent on them for validation. You’ll want to please them and keep them happy, often at your own expense.

Lack of empathy

Narcissists have a limited capacity for empathy and will likely disregard and minimise your feelings and needs. They tend to be self-centred and unwilling (or unable) to see things from your perspective. Everything will be done their way and it will feel easier to put your needs aside rather than fight for them to be met.

Constant criticism

Narcissists often criticise and belittle their partners to undermine their self-esteem and create dependency. They may use insults, sarcasm, or passive-aggressive comments to diminish your confidence. You may never feel quite good enough for them, making you work harder to please them. You may become dependent on their praise to feel good about yourself for a little while until more criticism arrives.


Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where the narcissist distorts or denies the truth to make you doubt your perception of reality. They may make you question your sanity, memory, or judgements. They’ll tell you that what you remember didn’t happen. You’ll find yourself desperate to prove your side of the story and may start looking for evidence.


A narcissist may try to isolate you from friends and family or discourage you from spending time with people who might challenge their control over you. This can be very subtle, with criticism of your loved ones, how they aren’t good for you, how the narcissist wants better for you, and how you are being mistreated by others. They may throw some guilt in for good measure by telling you they miss you when you’re gone, how they need to see you before they go to bed so you’ll come home early, or how they’ve arranged plans for the two of you that means you either have to cancel with others or disappoint the narcissist.

Unreasonable demands for attention or admiration

The narcissist may demand constant attention, praise, and validation. They expect you to cater to their needs whilst dismissing or ignoring yours. They may tell you they feel unappreciated and unloved and de-prioritised in your life whilst putting you second to their own needs.

Sense of entitlement

Narcissists often believe they are special and deserve special treatment. They may act entitled to your time, resources, and admiration without reciprocating. 

Manipulative intimacy

They might use sex and intimacy as tools to control and exploit you, rather than genuinely connecting with you emotionally. They will likely remove affection completely if you dare to upset them by calling them out on their behaviour.

A cycle of idealisation and devaluation

Narcissists may cycle between idealising you (putting you on a pedestal) and devaluing you (treating you poorly or ignoring you). This rollercoaster behaviour keeps you emotionally invested and confused. This can also be called trauma bonding which describes the intense state you can find yourself in between bouts of happiness and distress. The narcissist will be responsible for both and you can become dependent on them for helping you feel better after their poor treatment of you. You can become hopeful that the happiness you can feel with them will become permanent which can keep you stuck in the cycle.

Difficulty taking responsibility

Narcissists struggle to take responsibility for their actions and may blame others, including you, for their mistakes or failures. Narcissists need to feel good about themselves as they are actually desperately insecure underneath their confident behaviour and so will be unable to accept they need to feel bad about anything.


Narcissists may involve other people in their manipulation tactics, using them to manipulate or control you indirectly. This can take the form of literally ‘getting people on  side’ to further enhance your belief that you are in the wrong or simply by telling you that people have told them your behaviour is toxic etc. Triangulation can also be used in the cycle of idealisation and devaluation when they tell you how you are their priority and how another person (literally anyone but quite often an ex-partner) is a thorn in their side but will then go on to prioritise the other person and let you down, followed up by calling you out on your ‘jealousy’ when you challenge it.

Relationships with narcissistic people are tremendously challenging and so very difficult to understand because, as a decent person looking for a healthy relationship, it’s virtually impossible to put yourself in their position and understand how they can deliberately behave in this way towards you. It can make recovery difficult as victims reject the idea that the narcissist’s behaviour was intentional because it seems so unbelievable. 

It takes an open mind to accept narcissism for what it is and acknowledge this is what you’ve experienced, and that you were never loved in any true sense by them. But this is also where freedom and self-reflection take place and healthier relationships look more promising.

If you suspect you are in a relationship with a narcissist and experiencing abuse, it is essential to seek support and consider professional help. Narcissistic abuse can have long-lasting emotional and psychological effects, and breaking free from such a relationship may require careful planning and support from friends, family, or a therapist who understands the dynamics of narcissistic abuse. 

The end of a relationship with a narcissist will not be straightforward, they will use every tactic in the book to regain control and make you doubt yourself and you will need strength and confidence to refrain from getting drawn back in. Remember you deserve respect, empathy, kindness, and consistency in your relationships and shouldn’t settle for anything less.

If you are looking for support from a therapist with a wealth of knowledge and experience in this field, please reach out today and get yourself booked in. I’m here for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Manchester, Greater Manchester, M27 8UW
Written by Tracy McCadden, Counsellor & Supervisor BSc(Hons) MBACP
Manchester, Greater Manchester, M27 8UW

I have an educational background in Psychology, Counselling, & Cognitive Behaviour Therapy as well as a wealth of additional training, offering an integrative approach to clients' specific needs. My specialism is supporting clients recovering from abusive relationships, and I welcome clients that are committed to making a change for the better.

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