Learn How To Spot a Narcissist in a Relationship

Narcissistic personality disorder describes a mental health condition where someone has an unreasonably high sense of their own worth and importance. People who are narcissists seek constant approval, attention, and admiration. When they don’t receive it, they quickly become toxic.

A relationship where one person is a narcissist is doomed. These people look great on the outside and often have success, money, and looks. But they do everything for their own benefit and don’t consider others’ thoughts and feelings. Here is how to spot a narcissist so you can avoid these relationships or know when to get out.

Effects of Narcissistic Abuse

Individuals remaining in a relationship with a narcissist may suffer narcissistic abuse. The term refers to the emotional abuse a narcissist delivers when manipulating their marital partner. This kind of abuse often involves demeaning the target and taking away their sense of worth.

Victims face immense impacts from this type of abuse, including:

  • Anxiety – Narcissists are hyper-vigilant about their partners and may criticize everything. They create an atmosphere of fear that makes victims anxious. Victims may feel they can’t function without their abuser and suffer panic attacks.
  • Depression – If anyone hears they are stupid and worthless often enough, they will start to believe it. Victims internalize this feedback and develop depression. Many also isolate, which makes their depression worse.
  • Loss of self – Many people leave narcissistic relationships barely remembering who they truly are in themselves or recognizing that they have value as people. Narcissists sabotage dreams and goals and leave their victims with no identity outside of their abuser. A victim often must form a new sense of self to recover.
  • Post-traumatic stress – Narcissistic abuse puts victims on high alert. Victims may struggle with anxiety attacks and avoid certain places that bring up memories of the abuse. This constant state of “fight or flight” can result in post-traumatic stress.
  • Physical symptoms – Stress often causes physical pain. Headaches and muscle aches are common. Many victims struggle with sleep, especially if their abuse uses sleep deprivation as a control mechanism.
  • Memory loss – Fight or flight mode is tough on short-term memory. Victims often have trouble concentrating and focusing.
  • Mood swings and irritability – Being questioned about everything every day affects mood. Traumatic events often leave people feeling fatigued and irritable as they question reality. The victim might sometimes feel emotionless or robot-like at times and hate-filled or vengeful at others.
  • People pleasing – Narcissists leave their victims hypervigilant and defensive. Narcissistic abuse makes the abused person place the narcissist’s needs over their own. A non-narcissistic partner will do anything to avoid the abuse, including things they don’t enjoy or want to do.
  • Self-destruction – Victims often lack self-forgiveness. They feel they’re to blame for the narcissist’s behavior. Many feel so broken down and worthless that they can’t cope. Many abuse victims turn to alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or even gambling, which can become addictions.

It can take years to recover from narcissistic abuse. Meanwhile, victims face issues trusting other people and creating new relationships.

Signs of Narcissistic Abuse in a Relationship

Want to know how to spot a narcissist? Here are the primary signs that you are in a narcissistic relationship pattern:

  • Gaslighting – Gaslighting is intentionally misleading people to the degree that they question reality. Victims often wonder if they’re too sensitive or apologize to their abuser, often for perceived slights. A narcissist is skilled at making victims feel unstable and delusional.
  • Lack of empathy – Narcissists care about their feelings, perceptions, and goals – not their victim’s. They often state that their victim’s feelings are wrong and push their self-interested interpretation onto them.
  • Sabotage – Narcissists can’t retain power if their target becomes empowered or confident. So, they will disrupt plans and interfere with success. If the abused person achieves despite the narcissist’s interference, they will ignore the abused’s accomplishments.
  • Grandiosity – Many narcissists sincerely believe they are superior to other people. They leave no space for their partner and design their environment to suit their ego.
  • Silent treatment – Ignoring partners is a favorite narcissist punishment. Since everything is their target’s fault, they will demand an apology – even if they are to blame.
  • Love bombing – Love bombing is demonstrative attention meant to hook the victim again. It often follows substantial emotional abuse or silent treatment.
  • Financial abuse – A narcissistic partner loves to dominate finances. They will manipulate through guilt or by spending big without consulting their partner. Many victims leaving narcissists find their abuser opened credit accounts in their name or stole their valuable property.
  • Entitlement – Narcissists believe that everyone owes them whatever they want. When they don’t receive it, they’ll act out. Narcissists seek special treatment and often believe they are more deserving of promotions, admiration, or money than anyone else.
  • Aggression – There is no fury like that of narcissists who don’t get what they want. When a person or situation challenges their sense of entitlement, or someone stands up to them, they are likely to act violently.
  • Projection – Narcissists don’t take responsibility for their shortcomings. So, they project them onto others. They’ll accuse their partner of lying, cheating, or overspending when they are the ones doing those things.

Narcissistic behavior in relationships grows slowly. It will start mild enough that the abused won’t recognize it. The abuse will continue to escalate. Once it becomes severe, the target may feel too weak or incompetent to leave the relationship.

A narcissist’s primary motivation is to make the target easier to control. They’ll insult the abused, accuse them of things they never did, and slander their target. Specific examples of narcissistic behavior in a relationship may include:

  • Sabotaging behavior – If it’s a one-car family, they may drive their target to a job interview late. Once the target gets a job, the abuser may call them at work constantly or keep them from socializing with coworkers.
  • Gossip – Narcissists may gossip about their target and comment on their sexuality, mental status, or perceived misbehavior. These statements are often exaggerations of the truth or completely false.
  • Harsh words – Name-calling, biting criticism, and sarcasm are a big part of the narcissist game. For example: “Good job not emptying the dishwasher before I came home!” When the target calls them on it, they may say, “It’s just a joke.”
  • Interference with other relationships – Narcissists often interfere with friendships and familial ties to isolate their target. They may insist on spending holidays with only their family because those individuals are more likely to appease them.
  • Twisting – Narcissistic individuals excel at using their partner’s emotions against them. If the abused complain of loneliness or lack of support, the narcissist twists it to make it their victim’s fault. For example, they’re lonely because they’re a terrible partner.
  • Limiting access to resources – Narcissists may remove their partners from bank accounts or hide keys to storage units or safety deposit boxes. Sometimes, they limit a partner’s food intake and insult their bodies.
  • Surveillance – In some extreme examples of narcissistic abuse, a perpetrator may install surveillance cameras to ensure a partner stays home and “behaves.” They may also go through cell phones, mail, and private journals since they rarely respect boundaries.

When tactics fail to work, narcissists play the victim card. They will claim the target’s shortcomings caused them to act abusive and that the target only needs to be “better.” This technique flips sympathy to the narcissist and away from their target.

Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome May Deter People from Seeking Help

Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome refers to the adverse effects of being on the receiving end of an abusive narcissist’s behavior. It is not an official diagnosis but a description of these victims’ reality.

Victims may be aware of their mistreatment but feel hopeless about stopping it. They may form a trauma bond with their abuser and feel like they can’t function without them. That is often due to the narcissist’s unrelenting criticism of their partner. Victims find it challenging, if not impossible, to move on without their original sense of self-worth.

While in the relationship, victims feel trapped and imprisoned. They often blame themselves for the adverse effects and strive to create an optimal environment for the narcissist. Many victims report feeling like they’re walking on eggshells and that the slightest misstep will set off the narcissist. Then they brace for another round of physical or emotional abuse.

Once they leave the relationship, victims often face post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) They often experience flashbacks, panic attacks, detachment, and hypervigilance. It can take years of therapy to overcome these patterns and feel safe in the world again.

Is There Hope After Narcissistic Abuse?

Many people find recovery and hope after suffering a narcissistic abuse relationship. It can take some work, but the result is worth it.

As you recover, remember to:

  • Educate yourself about narcissism so you see it’s not your fault.
  • Recognize your feelings and process them.
  • Consider joining a support group to see that you’re not alone.
  • Find a good therapist or counselor who specializes in narcissistic abuse.
  • Forgive yourself. One mistake doesn’t cancel out all the good things you deserve.

It can be challenging to navigate an exit from these relationships. That’s why working with professionals who understand narcissistic behavior is essential.

If You Have an Abusive Narcissistic Partner, Contact Our Narcissistic Abuse Attorney Now

Don’t blame yourself if you fall for a narcissist. They are often charming and affectionate at the beginning and adept at hiding red flags. It is never too late to leave the relationship and move forward to better things.

Leigh Daniel, Attorney at Law, has experience helping people divorce narcissistic spouses and make positive changes in their lives.. Contact her today for a consultation, and get the support you need.


A respected Huntsville family law attorney with more than 20 years’ experience, Leigh Daniel is known for her positive attitude and her skills in the courtroom. She prides herself in the care and compassion that she and her team put into every case. Her goal is to instill a sense of confidence in her clients so they know success is on the horizon. As an author, inspirational speaker, coach, and founder of Project Positive Change, Leigh stays focused on the positive impact she can make on every client’s case.