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Narcissistic Abuse: 10 Signs you are in a toxic relationship with a narcissist:

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

1. Your partner lacks empathy and has no or very little understanding or insight into how you or others are feeling.

A key defining feature of narcissistic personality disorder is a distinct lack of empathy. Narcissists, usually due to experiencing early childhood neglect, do not tend to reach the emotional developmental stage of truly being able to understand or sympathise with another persons experience. Instead they stuck in their own inner world. Their inner landscape is the extent of their world. With this they are trapped with their focus being on the

ir own wants and needs. Without being able to put themselves in somebody else shoes, or to genuinely empathise they instead can become quite persecutory. Narcissists are generally harsh, unforgiving, judgemental of others and are of course, incredibly selfish. Instead of empathising, understanding or genuinely caring about others, they prefer and actually need the focus and attention to be on them.

2. Your partner needs to believe they are ‘special and different’ and/or are always right. They can come across arrogant and self-entitled.

Narcissists are arrogant and self-entitled. They have a deep need - actually born out of deep insecurity - to be ‘special and different’. This includes being all-knowing, intelligent, super-beings. They will often talk down to others in a condescending or belittling way. This is usually, again due to their own deep inner insecurity, as making others appear or feel ‘less than’ helps them to feel better about themselves.

3. Your partner is extremely selfish and only or mostly concerned about their own wants or needs.

Narcissists are incredibly ego-centric and egotistical. They are the centre of their universe, therefore their wants and needs are, as far as they’re concerned, much more important than anybody elses. A narcissistic partner will usually want to pursue their wants and needs regardless of any impact this may have on anybody else. They may also expect you and others to also regard their interests or needs in the way that they do and become critical or judgemental if this is not the case. Narcissists are essentially very controlling. You may find a partner will attempt to put you off expressing your wants and needs, as if they do not matter, instead expecting the attention to be all on what they want. As far as narcissists are concerned - it’s all about them, all of the time.

4. Your partner is manipulative and lies.

Perhaps you have evidence for this, or have suspicions. Either way, if your gut instinct is that you are being lied to or manipulated, it could be a sign you are in a toxic relationship with a narcissist. Narcissists go to any lengths to lie and manipulate in order to get what they want, to gain admiration and the attention their fragile ego state desperately needs. This can have a devastating impact on your own emotional and mental health.

5. You feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. A relationship with a narcissist has ups and downs, is often ‘on and off’ and fuelled with drama.

Toxic relationships can feel addictive. They are both exciting and draining.

Being in a relationship with a narcissist is a journey of endless ups and downs. The highs are addictive - the lows horrendous. This in itself is a key sign of a toxic relationship. Relationships with narcissist are constantly up and down and on and off. It’s exhausting. It’s one of the reasons why this kind of abusive relationships leads partners to stress, nervous exhaustion and burn out. Healthy relationships feel - because frankly they are - safe and balanced.

6. Your partner rarely, if ever, apologise or takes responsibility for themselves or their actions.

Narcissists rarely do either of these things. Although sometimes they may appear to apologise or seem to take responsibility for themselves. However, this is rarely, if ever, genuine. Usually any apology or act of responsibility is with the aim to manipulate and only serves their own selfish needs and gains. In healthy relationships, all parties have healthy boundaries, and respect other peoples boundaries. In healthy relationships, individuals take complete responsibility for themselves and their part and apologise if necessary.

7. You notice you feel more anxious, more often.

Simply put, a healthy relationship feels safe, fulfilling, nurturing and supportive. Feeling more anxious, feeling trapped or oppressed is a sign of being in a toxic or unhealthy relationship. It may also indicate being in a relationship specifically with a narcissist. Narcissists seek to trigger anxiety and intrigue in others - by provoking fear and anxiety in other, it is a way in which they gain a sense of power and control over others.

8. If you express how you feel or try and state a boundary you are told you are being ‘sensitive’, ‘over-the-top’, demanding, or that you are ‘imagining things’, that you are ungrateful or mad.

Narcissists do not respect other peoples boundaries. What they want and need always takes priority. We are all entitled to our personal boundaries. In healthy relationships we feel safe and comfortable in communicating them. Healthy relationships rely on healthy boundaries. Usually our boundaries - our wants, needs, likes, dislikes, what is OK or not OK for us is simply and absolutely understood and respected. When in a relationship with a narcissist however, this is not the case. It usually serves and benefits them to be with somebody who will not hold their boundaries or stay true to what is OK or not OK for them. Narcissists usually find every which way to push and manipulate other peoples boundaries in order to have things their own way.

9. You often feel like it’s “my fault” and that nothing you do or say is ever “good enough”.

Feeling ‘not good enough’ along with feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt or shame are often synonymous with being involved with a narcissist. Not feeling enough is just what is feels like to be in relationship with a narcissist. In many ways nothing is or ever will be enough for a narcissist. They never have enough and nobody and nothing is (or ever will be) enough as far as they’re concerned. No external anything is or will likely ever be enough to heal or fill their deep and inner emptiness. That is their stuff. It’s their issue. Therefore it is their responsibility - not yours. What is your responsibility though is working to really understand this. To establish such distinction and to work on your own self esteem and sense of self worth and boundaries. With boundaries comes a clearer sense of what is your responsibility and lessens a sense of blame or fault. In time you can also let go of any guilt and know that you are in fact absolutely good enough.

10. The relationship is having a negative effect on your self-esteem and mental health.

Toxic relationships with a narcissist can have a devastating and damaging effect on your self and mental health. Healthy relationships overall enhance your mental health and wellbeing. Within them you feel safe and secure. Not anxious, nervous or feeling like you are walking on eggshells - like it usually does when you are in an abusive relationship. It can feel like you just can’t relax or be you when in a relationship with a narcissist and it’s not uncommon to start to feel a loss in yourself - as if you don’t even know who you are anymore. In a bid to cope, many partners or relatives or narcissists turn to maladaptive coping strategies like drink or drug abuse or developing controlling issues such as eating disorders or obsessive compulsive disorder. Many people also end up seeking therapy for some of theses others issues or being concerned about their own mental health when in actual fact the issue really is to do with the effects of a toxic relationship. When coming away from and ending such toxic relationship, self-esteem and positive mental health and wellbeing can be restored.

What to do if you suspect you are in a toxic relationship with a narcissist.

If you suspect you are in a toxic relationship with a narcissist or are feeling affected in this way it is important to seek the right kind of help and support. Arming yourself with further information about narcissism and narcissist abuse can be helpful in the first instance. Reaching out and talking to people you can trust is important - whether that is family, friends, colleagues or professionals. Fundamentals to help put an end to unhealthy relationships and recover from narcissistic abuse include working on your own self esteem, learning about healthy boundaries and communication as well as addressing any trauma that impacts on any of these factors. Finding a therapist who specialises in narcissistic abuse, codependency and/or trauma can be hugely helpful to support you through a difficult time and support your personal growth. You may also find support groups or meetings valuable.

Dr. Sarah Davies is a Counselling Psychologist and Therapist based in London who specialises in helping people recover from narcissistic abuse.

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