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  • Narcissistic individuals are arrogant, lack empathy, and manipulate their victims, which can make identifying narcissism difficult.
  • That said, if you know what signs to look out for, you can successfully identify narcissism and then make the decision that’s right for you regarding the relationship.
  • For example, a lopsided smile of contempt, which signifies a feeling of superiority, is often a sign that your partner is narcissistic.
  • Other signs of narcissistic personality disorder include a constant need for attention, unreasonable expectations, and an obsession with power.
  • While it’s important to remember that this is a mental illness, it’s more important that you prioritize your health and wellbeing.
  • If your partner has narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic tendencies and you are suffering as a result, consider what is best for you; a mental health professional can assist.

Have you ever met a narcissist up close and personal? Maybe you aren’t sure. How can you tell if someone is narcissistic, anyway? Narcissism is characterized by arrogance, a lack of empathy, and manipulation. The thing is that when you’re in love with a narcissist, you might not take notice of these signs. Consider my experience:

At 5 a.m. I jolted awake, unsure of where I was or who I was with. I grabbed a handful of sheets and heard the faint buzzing of my fan—home. It was just a dream. Minutes before, I was not home in the comfort of my bed; I was in a random kitchen in a random house but with a familiar person: my ex of six years. We were separated by an island, but the five feet of countertop that separated us was less than reassuring. Uneasy about the situation, I ignored his pleas to “just talk” and escaped to the living room where I found my friends. Moments later, without warning, my ex appeared in front of me, yet again, only this time he wasn’t begging to talk—he was spitting in my face. My ex was angry, and he wanted me to know it.

My ex-boyfriend and I broke up four years ago, but I still have nightmares about running into him. I know what you’re thinking: “It’s not normal to have nightmares about your ex, four years later.” But you don’t know the full story yet. My ex was an insecure, controlling narcissist. Again, I know what you’re thinking: “Well, then why’d you stay with him for six whole years?” The simple answer is that I loved him. And I was blinded by that love for the majority of our relationship. Fortunately, however, it became clear that our relationship was unhealthy. And I learned to spot his narcissistic ways, which was a difficult, yet essential mission.

How Can You Tell If Someone Is Narcissistic?

I finally realized my ex-boyfriend was narcissistic (and dangerously so) after years of being blamed for his mistakes, laughed at for “not being better,” and ultimately undervalued. But according to Laurie Thomas, author of Don’t Feed the Narcissists, there was one tell-tale sign I should’ve kept an eye out for, which would have ultimately revealed his narcissistic tendencies: a lopsided smile full of contempt.

“Watch out for that lopsided smile that expresses contempt. Contempt is the feeling that goes along with being in a superior social position (in contrast, shame is the feeling that goes along with being in a lower social position). Feelings of contempt cause people all over the world to make the same facial expression: a smirk, which is a smile on only one side of the face.

Good relationships are based on mutual respect. In contrast, co-dependencies are based on dominance and submission. If you keep seeing that smirk on your partner’s face, it is a sign that your partner does not respect you. This problem could arise because you have done something shameful, in which case you should probably clean up your act. However, the smirking could mean that you are in a relationship with someone with a superiority complex (narcissism). Narcissists are people who love themselves too much and other people too little. They tend to seek out and cultivate relationships with submissive people (co-dependents).

Narcissists are confident and often ambitious people. For this reason, they can be appealing, especially to people who lack self-confidence. As long as the weaker partner stays submissive and co-dependent, the relationship may look stable (but is not necessarily healthy for either partner). Yet, as the weaker partner grows stronger and more assertive, the relationship may become rocky. Narcissists can feel threatened by even the mildest challenge to their rule. As a result, they can become aggressive, to bully the underling back into line. The bullied partner may then suggest couples’ counseling. The narcissist will resist this suggestion because he or she sees it as the underling’s attempt to recruit an ally. From the narcissist’s perspective, the problem is the underling’s rebellion. The narcissist sees their partner’s desire for couples counseling as a symptom of the problem, not as a way to solve a problem.”

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

While it’s easy to loathe and to blame the narcissistic individual for how they’ve treated you, it’s important to remember that narcissistic personality disorder is a real mental illness. That being said, you are not obligated or expected to maintain a relationship with a narcissistic individual, especially if doing so proves to harm your wellbeing.

To this day, I do not know if my ex is/or should be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder—just that he appears to meet the diagnostic criteria. Again, your job is not to stay with the individual nor is it to diagnose him or her when you start to suffer as a result of their narcissistic behavior. But it is important you familiarize yourself with and consult the warning signs:

  • The individual envies others or believes others envy them.
  • They require constant attention and admiration.
  • The individual has unreasonable expectations.
  • They take advantage of you or others.
  • They disregard the feelings of others.
  • The individual displays arrogant behaviors or attitudes.
  • They are obsessed with the idea of success and power.
  • They exaggerate their own importance.
  • The individual insists they are “special.”

If you’ve consulted these warning signs and realize that your partner meets this very description, consider your options. You can try to bring up couples counseling as well as individual counseling for the individual but remember: it’s likely they won’t take these suggestions well. You must prioritize your wellbeing, which might mean making an exit or breaking off the relationship. If you need help with this situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for guidance or assistance.

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

We wrote a "choose your own adventure" style book about depression. To help as many people as possible, we're selling it for what it costs to print ($6.80) on Amazon.com. Check it out: Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book

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