Key Takeaways

  • People with narcissistic tendencies typically demonstrate significant self-centeredness and a lack of empathy for others.  
  • Narcissistic relationship patterns usually involve dynamics like manipulation, control, belittling, and emotional neglect.
  • If you’re in a narcissistic relationship, know that support is available. A mental health professional can help you learn the skills you need to cope in your relationship, or, when you’re ready, make a plan to leave safely.

A note to the reader: If you feel unsafe in your relationship for any reason, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by dialing 800-799-7233 for confidential support.

Like other mental health terms, the word “narcissist” has made its way into everyday conversation more frequently in recent years. From bosses to parents to ex-partners, many people are quick to label those who exhibit cruel or selfish behavior as narcissists. 

While it’s true that people with narcissistic tendencies tend to demonstrate significant self-centeredness, these behaviors are also associated with a serious mental health condition called narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) which only a mental health professional can diagnose. 

A person doesn’t need to have NPD to demonstrate narcissistic traits that can have a negative impact on their well-being and their relationships. Being in a relationship with someone with unchecked narcissistic tendencies makes it difficult to maintain a healthy relationship. 

What are narcissistic traits?

Someone with NPD will exhibit narcissistic traits across a wide range of personal, professional, and social situations. These distressing behaviors create significant impairments in their daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life. But a person can have narcissistic tendencies without having a clinical diagnosis of NPD. These traits include:

  • Having a grandiose, arrogant, entitled, and haughty attitude and sense of self
  • Viewing others as inferior and viewing the world as their kingdom
  • Seeing themselves as better than everyone else, as if there’s no limit to their abilities
  • Getting angry or disgusted when people don’t realize how “important” or “special” they are
  • Frequently fishing for compliments
  • Getting angry when their entitlement is challenged or special treatment is not received
  • Frequent, excessive discussion of themselves and their accomplishments
  • Undermining or minimizing others’ accomplishments and speaking about others in a demeaning, competitive, or contemptuous way

What are narcissistic relationship patterns?

Many narcissistic relationship patterns have their roots in something called “love bombing.” This occurs at the beginning of a romantic relationship when one partner demonstrates over-the-top displays of adoration and affection for the other person. It lulls the “adored” partner into feeling loved and admired, making them more likely to let their guard down and feel safe with their new partner. 

However, people with narcissistic tendencies may quickly pivot from love-bombing to demonstrating some of the toxic traits listed above. This, in turn, leaves their partner feeling confused, unstable, or unable to trust themselves. The partner may understandably wonder if they did something to warrant this abrupt shift in behavior or blame themselves. Feeling isolated and fearing further criticism, they start to worry about upsetting their narcissistic partner. They begin “walking on eggshells” and the pattern continues. 

Examples of narcissistic relationship patterns 

While narcissistic patterns can reveal themselves in different relationships in different ways, learning to spot them is the first step in healing. If you identify with any of the following signs, it may be time to consider seeking support either individually or as a couple.

  • You view your partner as cold, selfish, self-centered, uncaring, demanding, manipulative, demeaning, angry, insensitive, or arrogant
  • It seems like no matter what you do or say, you can never satisfy your partner or make them happy
  • You’re regularly irritated with your partner, may feel afraid of them, may avoid them, or act passive-aggressive towards them
  • Your partner belittles or mocks you, despite your efforts to meet their needs
  • You feel disdain for your partner but you try to please them anyway

How narcissistic relationships can impact your mental health 

Being in a relationship with someone who exhibits narcissistic tendencies can have significant emotional and psychological consequences. 

Being the victim of controlling, domineering behavior can erode your sense of self. And being frequently criticized, belittled, or emotionally neglected can damage your self-worth and self-esteem. Living with someone with narcissistic traits can create a destabilizing effect that can lead to increased rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. It can also leave you without the confidence to leave the relationship and live independently, despite feeling disdain for your partner’s behavior. 

In serious cases, people who exhibit narcissistic tendencies can become angry and violent, leading to mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. If you feel unsafe in your relationship for any reason, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by dialing 800-799-7233 for confidential support.

Find the support you need 

Being in a narcissistic relationship may lead to loneliness and isolation. So be sure to get support from friends and loved ones as you navigate this experience. 

In addition to nurturing these connections, it also might be helpful to talk to a mental health professional. A therapist can help you learn the skills you need to cope in your relationship or, if needed, develop a safety plan to leave. They can also teach you tools and strategies to:

  • Rebuild your confidence and self-esteem
  • Set and maintain healthy boundaries
  • Learn to speak up for yourself and say “no” assertively
  • Treat yourself with more kindness and compassion
  • Replace negative thoughts like “I’m not good enough” with positive affirmations like “I’m worthy of love and respect” 

How Path can help you navigate a narcissistic relationship

At Path, we know that when it comes to breaking unhealthy relationship patterns, finding the right support can make all the difference. No matter where you are in your journey to healing from the effects of narcissism in your relationship, we make it easy to find a provider who can help. 

With Path, you can match with therapists who takes your insurance in less than 30 seconds. And our network of 8,000+ therapists means that you can begin online therapy this week. 

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