It’s easy to fall for a narcissist: they’re charming, polished and quick to get in your good graces with compliments and constant attention. Once you realize you’ve been duped into a relationship, it’s often too late; they use the same manipulative tactics to talk you into staying.
Keep in mind that not everyone you date who seems a little self-absorbed has what psychologists call narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), said W. Keith Campbell, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. NPD isn’t just about vanity, he said.
"Narcissism is a personality trait that include an inflated, positive opinion of oneself and a lack of empathy for others," the University of Georgia psychology professor told HuffPost. "Narcissists are able to maintain positive views of themselves by using a number of strategies: They might seek attention, brag, show-off and take credit for success from others but blame others when things go wrong."
Below, Campbell and other experts share eight tell-tale signs that you’re dating a narcissist.
1. Narcissists charm the pants off anyone and everyone.
Narcissists lay it on thick in the beginning, beguiling you with their charm and making you feel as though you’re everything they’ve ever wanted in a partner, said Jean Twenge, a psychologist and the co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.
"The challenge is that narcissists can actually be very charming and exciting when you first meet them. This is especially true if they want to impress you," she explained.
The behavior is often called love-bombing: it’s the narcissist’s attempt to smother their love interest with praise, gifts and other exaggerated displays of affection. By the time you realize what they’re up to, you’re hooked on the attention.
2. They treat waitstaff like crap.
A tell-tale sign that you’re with a narcissist? Waiters, Uber drivers, and others in the service industry are treated like second-class citizens, Campbell said.
"Watch how a person treats other people, especially those lower in social status," the psychologist said, "Are they mean, haughty, dismissive or entitled? The way to avoid the potential trap of falling for a narcissist is it to look at how they treat and have treated others."
3. They shine a light on you — then shift the focus elsewhere.
Narcissists quickly make you feel like the center of their universe — and they’re just as quick to shift their focus elsewhere, said psychologist Margaret Rutherford. The Fayetteville, Arkansas-therapist used a patient’s "ah-ha" moment with a narcissistic boyfriend to illustrate her point.
"The woman told me, ‘When I was there with him, the special pool of light that he believed was on him also shone on me — the exciting and stimulating sense of an ‘us’ was so strong, it was intoxicating. I was his everything at that moment. But when he decided someone else was to stand by him — his attention shifted and I was forced to wait my turn — it felt chilly and cold, almost as if our relationship had never existed. When I was out, I was way out.’"
The woman’s boyfriend dismissed her concern, telling her it was all in her head. Eventually, Rutherford’s patient realized the pattern wasn’t likely to end: "She came to the conclusion that if she was going to be with him, she was going to have to accept this behavior," the psychologist recalled.
4. They’re not a fan of your family or friends.
Initially, the narcissist thinks the world of your friends and family — but as time goes by, they make their true feelings about your loved ones known, said Lindsey Ellison, relationship coach and founder of the site Break Free From Your Narcissist.
"The motivation behind this is threefold," she explained. "First, it’s to get you to believe that your friends and family are truly terrible so that you solely rely on your narcissist. Secondly, your partner is deeply threatened by your healthy relationships (because a narcissist can never achieve one). Thirdly, narcissists have a huge fear of being exposed that they are no longer special — oftentimes, friends and family are the first to point out the truth."
Ultimately, Ellison said, the narcissist sees your besties and family as obstacles who might interfere with their ability to manipulate you.
5. They have a checkered past when it comes to relationships.
It’s a cinch for a narcissist to start a relationship. Staying in a relationship? That’s a different story.
"Narcissistic individuals often leave behind a trail of wrecked relationships," Twenge said. "They won’t take responsibility for this, however, so you will have to do some digging to check out their personal history. The best way to predict a person’s behavior is to see what he or she has done in the past. Whatever it is, it is likely to happen again."
6. They drain you of your energy.
A narcissist barrages you with their own needs and feels no sense of guilt in doing so. What’s worse, the time and energy you devote to them is never quite enough, Rutherford said.
"If you feel you can never meet the needs of the person you’re dating, it’s not you; narcissists are black holes of insecurity and need," she explained.
7. They’re materialistic.
The narcissist is obsessed with self-image and status symbols, said Ellison. Whether it’s clothes, cars, toys or vacation spots, the narc feels entitled to the latest and greatest in everything.
"It’s a sign of their search for endless supply," she explained. "Narcissists have a hard time being content with one person or thing because they continue to change their sense of self due to a deep, internal shame of who they are. And though you may think this person has the financial well-being to afford such things, they often don’t — they just want you to think they do."
8. The compliments are short-lived.
Basking in the attention of a narcissist is intoxicating — but don’t get too used to their praise, Ellison said: Once they’ve got you, they cut the compliments.
"After your first few dates, your partner already gives you glimpses that you could be ‘the one.’ They’ll tell you you’re perfect or that they’ve been searching all this the time for someone like you," she explained.
"A healthy person would wait for the relationship to deeply mature before saying things like this, but the goal of the narcissist is to quickly get you into their web, making you dependent on them immediately."
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