DEAR DR. JENN,
I recently started dating a guy who is hot AF, smart, and super charming. In the beginning, I didn't mind that he didn't ask me a lot of questions about myself — I loved listening to his stories and getting to know everything about him. Now, a few months in, it feels like the topic he's still most interested in discussing is himself. How do I know if I am dating a narcissist? — Looking Into Narcissus' Reflection
First thing's first: Narcissism occurs on a continuum, and we all have narcissistic traits to some extent. If we had no narcissism at all, we would not be able to get ourselves out of bed in the morning and get ourselves dressed and looking decent. The problem is that when someone is high on that continuum (which it sounds like your boyfriend may be), it can wreak havoc on those who are close to them, especially those who date them.
While we tend to throw around the word 'narcissistic' rather liberally, technically speaking, a narcissist is someone who suffers from a mental health condition called narcissistic personality disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that we shrinks use to diagnose our patients describes nine different traits that make up the official diagnosis of a narcissist. They are:
Grandiose sense of self-importance
Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Believes that he or she is special or unique and should only associate and can only be understood by high-status people.
Requires excessive admiration
Has a sense of entitlement
Is interpersonally exploitative
Is often envious of others and believes people to be envious of them
Is arrogant or haughty
Your boyfriend would need to meet five of these nine in order to qualify as a narcissist, clinically speaking – however, it may be hard for you to determine whether he truly has NPD without a mental health expert to make this determination.
10 Signs You're Dating a Narcissist
Even if someone does not meet the official diagnosis of a narcissistic personality disorder, they can have such an abundance of narcissistic traits that make them unpleasant, difficult, or even dangerous to date. Here are a few of the red flags you should look out for.
1. It’s always about them.
Narcissistic people always love to talk about themselves. As a narcissistic friend once said to me, “enough about me, now let’s talk about my music.” A first date with a narcissist often involves them telling you a lot of stories about themselves and very few questions about you or your life.
2. They are charming.
Narcissists are incredibly charming. They can be almost chameleon-like in their ability to adapt to any situation and zone in on what makes other people tick. They are great seducers. For them, seduction is a game and they like to win. They often lose interest after they have conquered.
3. They are grandiose and entitled.
Narcissists often speak about themselves in highly inflated terms and love to brag. They often talk about who they know, where they’ve been, and what they’ve done. They feel entitled to special treatment — for instance, pushing to the front of a line.
4. They love to look at themselves.
I once had a teacher in graduate school who taught about personality disorders and said that going into the home of a narcissist, you will often find tons of photographs of themselves in their own home. Things like this are a tip-off.
5. Always a hero or a victim.
When a narcissist tells a story, they typically present themselves as either the hero or the victim, so listen closely when your boyfriend tells you about his last relationship, last job, a friendship that ended, or his family dynamics.
6. No empathy.
Narcissists have little or no ability to feel empathy. They are terrible at understanding other people's pain or hurt. They do not have a very good grasp on how their words, deeds, or actions impact those around them. They are too self-focused to be able to step out of themselves to have a deep understanding of other people’s feelings.
7. They have a great ability to dispose of people.
When things don’t go their way, conflicts arise, or problems happen, they have a great ability to cut people out of their life. Their ability to form lasting emotional attachments is poor, which is why it's not uncommon for narcissists to not to have a lot of long-term friends.
8. They need constant attention and validation.
Narcissists are like a bottomless pit when it comes to attention and validation. They never tire of hearing how great they are and need constant attention and praise. There is an emotional void, that often goes back a long way to childhood, that needs to be filled but never can.
9. They are overly concerned about their reputation.
They care more about what other people think of them than about the interpersonal dynamics. For example, if you have a fight in public, they are more likely to be worried about how other people perceive them than the conflict between the two of you. If you break up, their primary concern will be how they are perceived by others.
10. They get injured easily.
They are quick to inflame and anger and get what we therapists call a 'narcissistic injury' quite easily. What I mean by this is that you can say something without meaning harm and they will take it what you said very personally and get hurt and angry very easily.
Again, even if your partner doesn't have NPD, it can still be an unhealthy relationship to date someone who shows these narcissistic behaviors. Pay attention to the red flags that you are seeing early on in the relationship and trust your instincts.