When a narcissist targets their victim, there’s little chance of escape. They have identified the strength they want to use for their own gain or destroy, and they strike when they know they will succeed.
But if you’re unsure, there are four major signs the person you’ve started dating is a narcissist, according to counsellor Suzanne Degges-White in a blog post for Psychology Today.
Essentially, she says, it all comes down to whether you think your partner is trying to change you, and you feel like everything they say and do is for their own gain.
1. Gifts always have strings attached
At the beginning stages of a relationship with a narcissist, they will likely be charming and full of affection. This is known as the love bombing stage, and during it the victim can expect gifts, compliments, and their full attention. However, as time goes by, they may notice the narcissist is losing interest, and every gift suddenly has a catch.
Degges-White says narcissists see people as objects and leave their partners feeling like accessories. So if they feel their affection is being bought, it’s a sign there are strings attached.
2. You feel guilty
Narcissists are masters of manipulation, and they know how to twist any situation to make their victims feel ashamed, guilty, and responsible for everything that’s gone wrong. They believe they’re entitled to every shred of their partner’s attention, so they label anything else as “selfish.”
“When someone tries to convince you that they know better than you do about what would make you happy or help you become a ‘better you,’ take that as a warning sign that the purpose of the change is to please your partner, not support you,” says Degges-White.
3. You feel like an object
The victim will never win an argument with a narcissist. Rows can quickly spiral out of control, and they may use tactics to baffle their partner – speaking very quickly and making confusing and contradictory statements, known as a “word salad.”
In private, they will argue and abuse, while in public they will be charming and show their victim off. Essentially, they only see their worth when they have someone else to boast to. The rest of the time, the victim is just a punching bag – both metaphorically and literally.
Degges-White says if someone is more concerned about themselves (or what other people think) than the relationship, then they’re probably a narcissist.
4. Everything drains you
Narcissistic rage is fierce and scary, and the arguments can feel like they go on forever. Essentially, the victim is expected to apologise – even if there’s nothing to apologise for – and will get the silent treatment, or should expect to go round in circles, until they do.
“Narcissists have a difficult time when their perspectives are challenged because being wrong is an assault on their sense of self and their identities,” says Degges-White.
“Arguing with a narcissist isn’t really worth the energy it takes as they are pretty much incapable of ever seeing any side of an issue but their own.”
Small disagreements can reach “breakup level” in a matter of minutes, which makes the victim feel like they’re walking on eggshells most of the time. This is highly stressful and exhausting.
It’s up to you whether you stay or not
Many therapists say the only way to heal from narcissistic abuse is to run fast and far, because they will never change. But for some people, leaving isn’t an option. Being in a relationship with a narcissist will be hard work – it will be a draining life full of sacrifices.
It all comes down to whether you can live in the narcissist’s reality or not. According to Degges-White, a narcissist will always demand the last word and will not back down. If you can handle that, you might be able to make things work.
However, “if you cannot agree or support a narcissist’s perspective, then the narcissist will no longer have any need for you in his [or her] life,” she said.