Have you ever felt like your fairytale romance is turning into a nightmare? Have you thought you met your soulmate in Jekyll, but are now coming face to face with Hyde? Has your partner told you that you are imagining things, and everyone thinks you’re crazy? Do you tell yourself that if you can just hold on a little longer, he will change back into the person you fell in love with?
If you are asking yourself these questions, it may be a warning that you are a victim of narcissistic abuse.
Narcissism is a personality disorder as determined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th. Edition (DSM-IV), the manual published by the American Psychiatric Association covering mental health disorders for both children and adults. According to the DSM-IV, narcissism is defined as, “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.” In other words, a narcissist loves himself and only himself.
If your new or potential partner displays any of these signs, it’s important to step back and take a deeper look to ensure you aren’t entering what could potentially become a painful and toxic relationship. Narcissistic abuse follows very specific stages, and while it may not be realistic to take your partner to a psychiatrist seeking a diagnosis after the first date, there are several red flags to be on the lookout for.
Here are 7 early-warning signs to help you determine if you are a victim of narcissistic abuse:
- Narcissists are very charming.
It’s called “love bombing” and occurs in the early stages of a relationship with a narcissist. Narcissists deliberately roll out the red carpet on the first several dates. He might bring flowers and take you to the nicest restaurant in town. She may tell you that you are the sexiest man she’s ever met. There could be lavish trips and VIP seats at concerts. The texting and calling is incessant, and he says he doesn’t want to let you out of his sight. It’s almost too much, but you’ll feel as if this person really adores and loves you. You’ll want to continue this relationship because the high you receive from this feeling of “true love” is like a drug – and you’re addicted. But, for the narcissist, however; it’s not about love. It’s about hooking you and winning you over. It’s about you becoming the next hit of the drug he needs. Your needs don’t matter.
- Narcissists move quickly.
Narcissists move very fast because they don’t want you to perceive any of their flaws. They want to ensnare you in their web so they can get what they want
from you: your adoration, devotion, or love. They constantly need the rush of someone or many people worshipping them, and you are merely their latest supply source. The narcissist may tell you in the first two dates, “I’ve never met anyone like you, or “you are my soul mate.” The words “I love you” come quickly, and you are expected to say it back.
A narcissist may also pressure you for sexual intimacy very early in the relationship with nothing less than monogamy expected on your part. A narcissist wants it all and wants it all now. He wants you to be his “girl” as if you are his property. The monogamy may last a mere few weeks or months, but for the narcissist, “wanting it all,” often includes other women.
- Narcissists love to talk about themselves.
A narcissist is skilled at constantly turning the conversation back to how wonderful he is. He may brag about his wealth, cars, intellect, expensive home or boat. But the narcissist doesn’t ever reveal anything deeper about themselves: their values, beliefs, emotions, or fears. He or she may try to appear empathetic or authentic to win you over, but the stories shared are shallow and often manufactured. Watch carefully for their story to change over time, or to be manipulated to fit the current circumstances.
- Narcissists like to punish you for not complying to their wishes.
If you don’t abide by what the narcissist demands of you, brace yourself for an onslaught of mind games. This is where the second phase of a narcissistic relationship begins: the devaluation stage. For example, if you don’t want to go to an event the narcissist wants to attend, you may suddenly find yourself receiving the silent treatment. You are expected to text back immediately, but the narcissist will wait days to respond. Or, he evolves into the victim himself. He might say, “Oh, I see. I really wanted to do that, but you don’t want to make me happy. That’s okay.” But you know it’s not really okay in the narcissist’s eyes. This tactic is a form of manipulation and it’s used to control you.
- Narcissists “gaslight” you.
This is a psychological term that has recently gained popularity in the media. Gaslighting is a form of emotional and mental manipulation used to distort the victim’s sense of reality, and it is often used as a control tactic by narcissists. The victim starts to believe she’s crazy, doubting their own eyes and ears. A person who gaslights another often uses replies such as, “I didn’t say that,” or “you must have misheard me.” A favorite is, “You really are going crazy. Everyone can see it.” Because the narcissist wants to control you, he sequesters you from friends and family so you can focus all
your time, attention and energy on making him happy. These manipulative tactics keep you off balance and constantly relying on him. You lose confidence in yourself. Words of advice? If you saw it or heard it, it happened. Trust your gut. Believe in your reality.
- Narcissists don’t respect others.
One key trait of a narcissist according to the DSM-IV, is a grandiose sense of self. This superiority is reflected in their sense of entitlement they impose on any situation. For example, a narcissist may treat a server in a restaurant with disrespect or leave a minimal or non-existent tip. The narcissist may speak down to those he believes are “beneath” him. There is no sense of humanity and they believe everyone, and everything, is on this earth to serve them.
- Narcissists don’t take responsibility.
For narcissists, it’s always someone else’s fault. They often show no respect for other people’s time. They may be consistently late, but blame you for it, even though you were ready 30 minutes early. If the checking account is low, it’s not because he played an expensive round of golf or bought a new suit, it’s because you had the audacity to eat lunch out twice that week.
A woman named Julie, who was married to a narcissist, once told me her husband blamed her for being arrested for shoplifting. He told Julie, “I went to buy your father a Father’s Day gift, so it’s your fault I went to jail. Had I not been in the mall in the first place, this would never have happened.”
After the control and manipulation, you may find yourself feeling the need to push back. This can lead to the next stage, which Dr. Lundy Bancroft, a psychologist who specializes in abuse, refers to as, “the eruption.” You may feel the tension building over time, but you aren’t sure when he will finally blow. The slightest thing will set him off. After he rages at you he will feel better, and that takes you into the next phase called, “hearts and flowers.”
During the hearts and flowers stage, he is doing everything he can to apologize in his own demented way. He may say things like, “you know how to push my buttons,” or “it’s your fault I get angry because I love you so much.” This stage is critical because it’s the reason many people cannot leave a narcissist. This stage gives you hope once more – you feel like he is truly committed to change this time – until the cycle begins all over again. And again.
You may have heard the saying, “guard your heart.” In addition to that, keep your eyes and ears open for the warning signs above. They could keep you safe and protected from a toxic relationship.
If you believe you are a victim of narcissistic abuse, there is hope. Seek counseling, confide in friends who support you, or meet with a trusted church leader. Also, you can visit the websites below for more resources on narcissistic abuse and how you can get the help you need.
Get the book Ugly Love: A Survivor’s Story of Narcissistic Abuse