A relationship with a narcissist starts like a dream come true and ends like a complete nightmare. The worst nightmare you could ever imagine.
Because I had to live this nightmare I want to share my hard-learned lessons with you so that you don’t need to repeat my mistakes and can keep yourself safe. Engaging with a narcissist (or a psychopath by that matter) is a tricky business and one where you can only lose. These types are dangerous and difficult to spot (I am talking the covert ones, they are master actors.) But the signs are there right from the start.
I will describe all the warning signs that I have ignored over my several-year Odyssey of a narcissistic relationship.
Writing all the signs and symptoms into one article would be way too long so I will break that up into several posts. Let me start from the beginning. The early stages of a narcissistic relationship – that’s where you have the chance to get out before you get too enmeshed. It is unfortunately also the time when the narcissist (or psychopath) is on his or her best behaviour. He is setting up the trap. He really wants to lure you in because at this stage, you are such a valuable source of narcissistic supply.
A dream come true? Don’t brush the red flags under that carpet!
In the beginning, you thought you found the perfect companion, the soul mate, the love of your life. In the end you would see a ruthless enemy, who would stop at absolutely nothing to annihilate you. It’s a sobering experience.
You will experience a lot of strong emotions, as you will be untangling the web of manipulations and lies the narcissist has built around you. If you seek for answers, none will be given. If you push for closure, you will be punished. But maybe you can exit the train before it goes off the cliff. This is what you should watch for.
- The soul mate game
Everyone who is recovering from a narcissistic relationship tells the same story: At the beginning of the relationship s/he loved me like no other, adored me and worshipped me. S/he was telling me I was the love of his/her life, the soul mate, we were the match made in heaven. The best couple, better than any other couple. S/he would never hurt me. S/he would always love me. S/he would never leave me. S/he was so grateful to have met me. S/he was so dead serious about our relationship, talking about the future, encouraging me to commit….
And then it suddenly ended, sometimes after months, sometimes after a few years. The most loving person in the world as if out of the blue turned into a cruel and totally indifferent jerk.
The above mentioned soul mate game the victims describe is the number one red flag. The beginning of a relationship with a narcissist feels different than the beginning of a normal relationship. It usually starts and progresses much faster and feels more intense. The narcissist is a relentless pursuer at this stage. S/he excessively flatters the target, feeds into the target’s deepest insecurities by constantly praising the target’s looks, intelligence and specialness. The narcissist creates the feeling that he or she has never felt anything like this for anyone before.
The narcissist usually targets people with low self-respect and weak boundaries. The unloved child – a person that grew up in an emotionally neglectful family – is the most vulnerable target since they crave this attention and love, which they have not received from their parents.
- At the beginning you might not be totally sure about this person but they win you over
Many people recall that at first they weren’t totally sure about the narcissist (psychopath). The person wasn’t their type, they seemed immature, rude, not what the person usually looked for. However, within a few weeks, the narcissist dispelled all the concerns that the person might have had and emerged as the Mr Perfect, the exact answer to all the target’s desires, deep emotional needs and insecurities.
This effect is called mirroring. Narcissists, during the early stages of a relationship view the target as extremely valuable. They might be strongly infatuated (however, this infatuation never develops into a deeper bond, which is why it is so easy for the narcissist to discard the target without a second thought once the infatuation ends).
At the beginning, they feel they need to have this target in their life and will do virtually anything to achieve that. The narcissists operate with what is generally described as the false self – a mask. They sort of study the target and create a mask that exactly mirrors the target’s needs. They will be exactly what you want them to be, what you need them to be to get hooked to them. And once you are hooked, you are in trouble.
People frequently describe that in the early stages of the relationship, the narcissist (psychopath) pretends to be interested in the exact same things as the target. Only later do you realise that the proclaimed interest is not really there. It was just something the narcissist pretended to have to increase the illusion of closeness with the victim.
3. Crazy bitch ex and the girl who is still in love with him
You really should pay attention to the person’s relationship history. In the case of narcissists (and psychopaths), this is one of the biggest red flags. If their past is littered with crazy bitches and girls that ‘are still in love with him and can’t move one because he is such a great guy’ you really should pack your bags and run. The time when you will be the crazy bitch will inevitably come.
The truth is that narcissists do have the ability to make people act like crazy by deliberately pushing their buttons, which makes it really difficult for the outside world to distinguish, which story is correct.
Because the love bombing tastes so good, you will have a tendency to brush the crazy bitch under the carpet: Sure she must have been difficult, you will tell yourself. He is such a great reasonable guy. The one before me, he wasn’t really serious about her, but with me, it’s different, right? He is telling me all these awesome things, sure he means all that. He didn’t love her but sure as hell he really loves me… You have fallen into the narc trap.
If another woman shows at the narcissist’s doorstep thinking that they are still in a relationship while he is already love bombing you – pay attention to that. Don’t downplay that woman’s turmoil. Don’t think she was naïve or anything. He had given her a reason to believe that they were still a thing. It’s called being put on the back-burner. Once the narc gets bored with you, he sorts of disengages but is not totally clear about his intentions, hoping to keep you on the shelf for possible future re-use. In a few years, you will be that confused humiliated woman, if you decide to dismiss your predecessor’s plight.
4. Refuses to discuss relationship history
The narc would be ready to brand an ex a crazy bitch or share with you that another ex is still in love with him because he is such a great guy. However, if you start inquiring about the previous relationships and questioning the narc’s account, he would likely get irritated. At least that was my experience. The narc refuses to discuss his past relationships. He would say something like that it is his rule, never to discuss past relationships with new interests. He may try to persuade you that he doesn’t want to make you jealous (that’s the mind-fucky way, in which they operate). Don’t buy that. Lack of transparency is always a red flag. Ask yourself why – what is he hiding? What is he ashamed of?
5. Black and white thinking
The crazy bitch situation is an example of splitting. A narcissist views people as either all good or all bad. He can’t see people as having both – good and bad characteristics at the same time. People who are on the all-good pile can do no wrong. Their actions are always justified. People on the all-bad pile (the crazy bitch ex and others that are no longer in the narc’s good graces) on the other hand deserve all their misfortunes, punishment and bad treatment. Totally different measures apply to people on the all-good and all-bad piles. Let’s say the narc’s friend cheats on his girlfriend. In this case, the narc would have a justification, saying that the girlfriend was a bitch and was no good for the friend either way. If the girlfriend cheats, it will be another story – she would be a horrible whore. This is how it works.
Pay attention to the signs of this black and white thinking. That’s a big red flag. The narc I was involved with loved to tell this story from when he was five years old and kicked a girl in the kindergarten in the crotch. He was still laughing about it at the age of 30, saying that she deserved it because she was a bitch. A five-year old girl, in the eyes of a 30-year old man, deserved to be kicked in the crotch. Oops. Yes, I ignored this one too.
In the love-bombing phase, you are on the all-good pile but the time will come when you will be discarded to the all-bad pile and then the hell will break loose.
6. Weird remarks
The narc (or psychopath) plays a role. He wears a mask. But if you pay attention, you will see the mask slip briefly even during the love-bombing phase. I recall many instances when the narc (psychopath) made some weird utterances that were just not making sense to me. I would always dismiss them but in hindsight, this is when he was sharing some important truths about himself.
Here are some examples:
- the narc has a need to stress that he is the good guy. That should make you think. Good people generally consider it normal to be good and don’t have the need to brag about it. To be good is a norm, it’s a standard, not an achievement to brag about. The narc’s soul is filthy. Being good for him (or her) is not a norm therefore he wants to brag about it.
- I am not objectifying you. This one is quite telling as well. It wouldn’t even cross the mind of a normal guy to be objectifying you. The narc sees you as an object. That’s what narcs do. They can’t do it any other way. But they are trying to persuade themselves, and you by that matter, that they are not doing it.
- You are my doll, you are my property, you are my little whore: In the love bombing phase you will probably see this as evidence of his affection and passion for you. Remember, you got yourself into an entanglement with a narc most probably because you are a love-deprived child from a less than optimal home. You would actually enjoy him being possessive about you. You would see it as evidence of his genuine feelings but it’s anything but.
- I am a fraud: This is the narc telling you the truth about himself. Your reaction will likely be trying to persuade him that he is an awesome great guy. You have no clue that he is playing you at this moment. But you’d better listen.
- Sharing weird secrets. This one is particularly haunting for me. I remember that in the early days of my relationship with the narc, he showed me a certain cryptic email address and told me that this is his secret identity. I kind of didn’t understand why he was telling me that. I don’t know what for was he using this email address. He certainly never emailed me from this account. However, two years after the discard, I discovered that he used this email address to hack my Skype account. My Skype account is totally hijacked by him using this email address. I have no control over it because all the recovery email addresses are his and he even changed the security question into something in his language so that I can’t access it. Fucking weird, isn’t it? My therapist looked pretty shocked when I told her.
- Intolerance to physical imperfections – I remember many such instances of the narc expressing disgust about various little imperfections. He would even go as far as saying that he can’t imagine ever wanting to have sex with a woman once she had a child with him.
7. Aggressive sexual streak
I have to say that the aggressive sexual streak was there right from the start. He was sort of able to contain it when asked. However, naturally, there was an aggressive sexual tendency. It came out extremely strong already during my first sexual encounter with the narc and his reaction to when I asked him to slow it down still makes me think. There were other things that still make me concerned about the contents of this guy’s mind.
8. Mr Nice Guy act
You would notice the narc putting an act on in front of other people. The same way he has created a false self for you to fall in love with, he is doing it with everyone he meets in order to extract the maximum amount of narcissistic supply.
The narc that got me into trouble was always very sensitive to people not liking him. He would comment on that and then adjust his behaviour for the given person to like him. He would nurture this Mr Nice Guy persona and pride himself on being ‘the popular guy’.
I was actually enjoying that in the early stages when he would put this on in front of my family. Everybody would love him. I stopped enjoying it later when I realised that he was much nicer to random acquaintances then to myself. But we are not that far yet.
9. The feeling of too good to be true
This is a hunch that many people describe. The guy is just so perfect that is seems too good to be true. He is so compassionate and understanding of all your problems and insecurities. He is the perfect rock in this unstable world. He is everything you ever wanted. Except that he is not and he will pull the rug from under you once you get too comfortable on it.
I am sharing all this with you because narcissists and psychopaths can wreak havoc in people’s lives and cause serious emotional damage. The only way to protect yourself is to learn to spot the signs and disengage as early as possible. I had to learn the lessons hard and it is my wish that no one else needs to be a guineapig in this life experiment.