How do I know my partner is a narcissist? 3 Key Warning Signs

Narcissistic

It’s fairly common to refer to someone as a narcissist in passing if they’re vain, entitled, arrogant or preoccupied with beauty and appearance. But, what should you actually be looking for if you suspect your partner is one?

Sometimes, we see our partners through rose-tinted glasses, and don’t see their behaviour for what it is.

While your partner may have narcissistic qualities, it’s important to note the difference between narcissistic traits and actual Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD.

For example, traits of narcissism are fairly common in adolescence, but usually disappear as a person becomes socially self-aware. To be diagnosed with NPD, however, these dysfunctional personality traits must be stable over a long period of time and in a range of situations. The traits must not be normative for the individual’s culture, environment, or age, and must not be caused directly by substance use or medication.

What is Narcissistic Behaviour?

When it comes to knowing whether or not your partner is a narcissist, things become even more complicated. In psychology, narcissistic behaviour is described as overt or covert. Overt behaviours are often obvious to others, and are the stereotypical narcissistic traits (someone who lacks empathy, thinks the world of themselves, and generally believes that the world owes them something). Covert behaviours are more subtle and often not obvious to others who aren’t close to this person.

Is My Partner a Narcissist?

Of course, when these behaviours are that of someone we love, we often ignore the warning signs and accept their negative behaviour. This is certainly not a case of being clever enough or “strong” enough to see it, you just need to note the small, petty actions they take that you have learned to live with.

If you’re worried your partner is a narcissist, here are three major warning signs you should look out for in the future, and when reflecting on past events in your relationship.

They Project their negative feelings

Projection is a much-debated psychological term for displacing one’s feelings onto another being or person. It emerged in Sigmund Freud’s work in the 1980s and is a classic display of defensiveness. A narcissist says and does things, subtle or obvious, to make you feel less valued, less competent, or less intelligent. They find feeling insecure to be intolerable, so they act this way to pass the feeling onto you instead. A commonly projected emotion is jealousy, and it’s common for narcissists to believe that others are jealous of them, when in fact, they may be jealous themselves. 

Inflated Sense of Self-Importance

Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance. Surprisingly, this often comes from a fragile sense of self, which needs constant soothing and reassurance with praise, admiration, and words of affirmation. Depending on the narcissist’s specific character, this may come in the form of microaggressions: constantly giving backhanded compliments or downplaying your success. It may come in the form of demanding attention a little more overtly, or it may even come in the form of minimising their own success so that you succumb and offer them comfort and praise.

Desperate Need for Control

Narcissists need control. Narcissistic partners can’t stand being at the mercy of other people’s decisions; instead of expressing their needs or preferences, they often arrange things in a way that gets them what they want. In its extreme form, this can turn into abusive, controlling behaviours, but this particular tactic is often incredibly subtle. If your partner makes you nervous about sharing your feelings or discussing certain topics, or gives you the feeling that your choices are off-limits, there’s a chance they’re a narcissist. You should also look out for if you say or think things like “I’ll have to ask [name] if…”, as you’re seeking permission. While it’s perfectly okay to talk to your partner about whether or not something is right for you as a couple, you absolutely should not have to ask for permission, especially if it’s related to your own freedom to talk, meet, or travel elsewhere.

If you find yourself second-guessing yourself when it comes to their behaviour and your own, there’s a chance they have trained you to second-guess your judgement. If you are in (or are worried you are in) a relationship with a narcissist, worry your partner is a narcissist, or have recently left a relationship with someone you suspect is a narcissist, it’s perfectly okay to seek support in this time.

As a survivors of this type of emotional abuse, specialists like me, are here to help you recognise this behaviour and recover from the emotional damage a narcissistic relationship may have caused you.

Recovery is a gentle process and it usually takes a multidisciplinary approach, looking at the mental, emotional and physical aspects healing.

Kate is a trauma and embodiment specialist. She is a TRE & EFT Supervising Mentor and is on the Executive Board of EFT International (formerly AAMET) and is a Comprehensive Energy Psychology Practitioner, DipPsych, Master Hypnotist, Master Practitioner of NLP and Time Line Therapy (accredited by the ABNLP) and has been an intuitive body & energy worker for 30 years. While she works with any problem state she specialises in the sensitive areas of Post Traumatic Stress, emotional abuse, chronic pain and anxiety.

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