How to Tell If a Loved One Is the Victim of a Narcissist
Here are some red flags you can look for if you are worried someone you love is involved in a narcissistic relationship. This is mainly regarding romantic relationships or friendships, as some of these would not come up if the person were in a long-term narcissistic relationship such as with a parent or sibling. Not all of these things point to narcissism in and of themselves, but when taken in context, they point to a troubled, selfish relationship at the very least.
When someone becomes involved with a narcissist romantically, they are usually taken by storm, or "swept off their feet," as people sometimes say. The narcissist engages in something called "love bombing." This happens partly because narcissists are very idealistic and unrealistic; they believe every new partner or love interest is "the one," and they become very intense very quickly. It also happens because they are jealous, possessive and treat people like objects, so they move quickly to secure their new "soulmate" and bond this person to them before something can happen to ruin it or someone else can take it away. This is often very disorienting and confusing for people. They may believe they love the narcissist even when they barely know them. The narcissist strives to come across as perfect in every way at first, with no flaws at all - and they see their supposed new soulmate the same way. They are chameleons and since they have no identity, they simply reflect a person's own nature and personality back to them, making the person believe they have found the perfect match. Beware of a friend or family member who says things like "He's perfect!" or "She already told me she loves me!" No one is perfect and no one can love someone before they even know them. Beware of a new partner that does not want to talk about their past, a partner that has been totally cut off by family, or who claims to have always been a victim of others. A loved one's new partner who says things like "All my other partners have been _________" or claims not to know why their previous relationships ended should raise red flags too. Anything that seems too perfect probably is.
After the perfect phase wears off, cracks start showing in the narcissist's facade. It usually doesn't take very long, either. When this happens, the narcissist begins showing who they really are. They have realized their new supposedly perfect soulmate is just another regular flawed person, and they feel disappointed and angry. This usually leaves people very confused and unable to understand what went wrong or why it went wrong so fast, for what seems like no reason. They may report that their new partner is cold, or ignores them or seems angry with them for no reason. They may report that they don't understand what the problem is, or that things just seem different somehow. They might say their new partner is suddenly sarcastic, rude or insulting, or that their new partner seems to have a really bad or flawed memory. They may mention that their new partner seems jealous or that they seem to have a bad temper. They may mention that their partner seems to have two different personalities. We will often hear people make a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comparison. The longer the relationship goes on, the worse these problems will become, and the farther the facade will drop. Pay particular attention if someone says things like "There is another side to this person" or "No one has ever said such terrible things to me" or "I've never seen anyone act like that before."
Narcissists work to erode someone's self-confidence so that they can force this person to "carry" all of the narcissist's emotional baggage and bad behaviors. Partners of narcissists may begin to doubt themselves, may seem unsure, they may become insecure when they were not that kind of person previously. They may increasingly seek validation from others, where they never did that before. They may ask things like, "Do you think I'm mean? Do you think I'm stupid? Do you think I try to cause problems?" They may become totally wrapped up in pleasing this other person, and seem afraid to do things that may displease or upset their new partner. They may spend an excessive amount of time worrying about their new partner's feelings, problems and opinions. They may become an anxious or nervous person, or seem to worry overly much about offending people or saying the wrong thing. These are all signs that your loved one's confidence is being undermined.
People in relationships with narcissists report that they do not feel heard, that they do not feel cared about and that their needs, opinions and feelings are ignored, dismissed and even mocked. If your loved ones are telling you that they have no voice, that their needs don't seem to matter or that they are being told they are a bad person just for having needs, normal emotions, for having normal expectations or for doing normal things, you should be concerned.
Narcissists like to make reasonable things sound unreasonable because to them, the idea that they should show any amount of respect, consideration or understanding to another person is threatening and insulting. The idea that they are required to show empathy for other people is scary because it is foreign to them and impossible for them. Any request to consider other people is perceived as a direct threat to their own needs. Narcissists truly believe that they cannot give to others without shortchanging themselves somehow, and they absolutely refuse to do this. They do however expect others to do it for them without question. It doesn't matter that you haven't eaten all day and they've eaten all of the rest of the food in the house, for example. If you don't share your one meal with them, you are selfish and horribly abusive. They will claim that you are starving them and refusing to give them food. If they can't have it all, then it isn't enough.
Other things to look for include signs of gaslighting, such as the need to excessively validate their reality and perception with other people; signs of being manipulated, such as giving things and money to this new partner or being coerced into signing things; being isolated from family and friends or other signs that their partner is controlling them; doubting their own sanity or feeling that they are going crazy; becoming withdrawn, timid or losing interest in things they used to love to do. Another red flag is something we can call parroting. This is when your loved one repeats their partner's opinions or feelings in place of their own. For example, you ask your friend if they'd like to come to a concert with you and they say something like, "My partner says live music is a waste of money." This behavior is the result of the narcissist forcing their feelings and opinions onto the other person. You should also be aware of the reverse effect, which is when the narcissist is the one who parrots the other person. Both of these things occur because narcissists have no identity.
One of the biggest red flags is people reporting they are being accused of things that they did not say, did not do or do not think. Narcissists live in a paranoid, self-centered world where everything and everybody is an extension of themselves. They project their negative thoughts, feelings and opinions about themselves onto other people. What they think becomes what others actually said. What they believe becomes what others actually did. This results in confusing conversation after confusing conversation, with the narcissist accusing people of things they themselves feel or believe. "I think I'm stupid because I lost the house key" becomes "You think i'm stupid because I lost the house key," and no amount of reasoning will make them understand that you did not say this, nor do you feel that way. If loved ones report that they are being continually accused of things they didn't do or say, this should be of special concern.
Narcissistic relationships are fraudulent, because they cause people to make decisions they would not make if they had all the information. In the end, we cannot make our loved ones' decisions for them and we cannot control their lives but we can make sure that they have all the information needed to make a decision.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.