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.
Brilliant! And accurate.
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Hi, Great article! Going through the same. In my case it is a woman. I Left her but she does everything to make me stay, even drain me down economical to make me come back. Non stop calling and texting me of how bad preson I’m and how badly I’ve treated her.
We are from different countries and met on holidays. After a week talking she fly to my country as she wanted to see me and started to wanish my brain about that it’s a tween flame connection…
I am not entirely sure she is narcissistic though… from what you are describing she might be simply delusional, borderline, heavily codependent or anything else. You don’t sound particularly broken by the relationship, which people recovering from narc relationships usually are…
Any advice for someone who has married a narc, and has kids with them, that can’t just walk away and leave the kids to be abused?
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I am sorry that you are in a such a tricky situation. I am unfortunately not an expert on co-parenting with a narcissist. I think you would need to exercise a lot of strict personal boundaries while learn not to react to the narc’s provocations and outrageous behaviour since they are experts at triggering you and making you look like the crazy one… It’s quite tricky to remain calm when they are hammering your triggers. If I were you I would try to some experienced relationships therapist or someone who works with NPD people. Elinor Greenberg, who is very active on Quora, shares some useful stuff. I found her advice much more useful then what Craig Malkin has in his Rethinking Narcissism. I believe it’s much more about you setting your personal boundaries. If you reach the calm place, where you are no longer getting triggered, it might be much easier eventually when you decide to leave to get the custody of the children. Narcs are experts at making you look like the crazy person and frequently the judge sides with them for that reason – because they make you react. So be extra careful of your reactivity. Your emotional reactions are exactly what they want and the more the better. Thank you for your comment and good luck with all that…
Thank you for this article. I’m curently going through it, and I’ve been reading a lot about narcissists and love-bombing on the net – I had no idea it was a thing, and reading about it helped me a lot to make sense out of what had happened to me. I think I managed to get out in time, well almost, after two months, one of which was the loveliest month of my life (or so I thought) and the other one one of the most miserable months ever! I simply couldn’t understand how a shift like that could happen, and so sudden, and everything I tried in that second month, somehow left me empty and feeling like I was going crazy – in fact he used to turn everything I said against me and started telling me how my reactions and thoughts weren’t normal. At the same time he kept telling me that he’s ‘still there’ and that nothing has changed, and that i can call him or text him whenever I want and he’ll always answer – which was a huge shift from the lovely phase when he was the one calling me, up to 10 times a day, talking to me for hours, telling me he couldn’t go more for an hour without hearing my voice and simply being the most considerate and open guy… when i finally told him I couldn’t go on like this anymore and wished him all the best, few hours after that he sent me a text, saying I’m mental, and that he had always known that i was mental, but that he’s glad to see now just how much I was mental before this went any further, and oh, yes, btw, he’s also met someone else – sorry. I stared at that text for so long, thinking how on Earth can someone be this cruel, and especially, how could that lovely guy who I thought was my soulmate and who kept saying that his job was only to make me feel good all of a sudden turn into this… asshole! So I wished him all the best (didn’t want to give him a satisfaction of an angry answer!) and blocked him. This was all 10 days ago, and while I know that I did the right thing, and everything I’ve now read about narcissists and love bombing sounds exactly like everything i’ve been through, it’s still very traumatic – and it Hurts! And I know it’s going to hurt for a while, but I’m just glad that I got out so early – relatively – I wished I stopped it during the lovely phase, but there was no way of me knowing it would go like this, because the lovely phase was oh just so lovely! Well, now I know what to pay attention to next time, and it’s so important and more people should know about this! thanks again for the article!
Thank you for your comment and I am glad if my article helped. He does sound like a totally mental narc. It’s not you. We only learn about it when we go through it. There is not enough awareness so that people could detect it before they encounter it. And it’s also too surreal. If someone told me about it before I went through it, I would not have believed. They are unfortunately totally mental and deranged but they are also totally sweet and persuasive in the pedestal phase. It’s not you. While you might have some issues of your own, relationships with narcissists are pretty much run by their disorder. I understand that it hurts and it will for quite a while – but as you said, it appears you got out relatively early and also already have quite a lot of clarity on what it was about. Be careful about his possible hoovering attempts. They sometimes do that. He might try to lure you back in by doing the love-bombing act all over again. Don’t fall for that. It’s just a part of the cycle. The next discard would be even worse… Work on your confidence and your own emotional healing so that next time you are not susceptible to this. They come in various shapes and sizes. Some of them are able to play the game better and longer then others…. And I totally agree, there needs to be much more awareness about narcissism and the NPD relationship cycle.
Yes, I know now that it wasn’t me, but for the past month I’ve been trying to figure out what I did wrong. And it’s such a horrible state of mind, when in fact all I’ve been doing was keeping things going, and just being fine with whatever was happening and whatever he was doing – since he actually pretty early on told me (which should have been a red flag, I guess) that I should never criticize him, and that he doesn’t take critique very well! (He also told me that he gets bored of things very easily, which perhaps should have been another red flag). So even though I could all of a sudden feel the shift in his behaviour towards me (for absolutely no particular reason, except perhaps for me showing and telling him how much I’ve fallen for him), and sometimes his answers to me were rude and unconsiderate, I never dared to bring that up with him, because, well, this was a man one should never criticize… So I just thought, he’s probably going through something, I should give him time, I should give him space, I kept justifying it, and just hoping that that lovely guy I knew would reappear – anything was worth that lovely guy and that feeling he once gave me, right? So I see now that’s how the cycle works, and it can be so danagerous. I’ve pretty much blocked him everywhere, so I think it won’t be easy for him to come in contact with me again, but, yes, you are right, I need to be wary of this, and also at the same time to work on my own confidence and self worth, which are very bruised right now….
Thanks again for the article and the advice! I can only imagine what absolute hell it must have been to be in a relationship with a narcissist for few years – good for you for getting out if it sane and in one piece! 😦
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What you are describing is pretty much text-book. Him not being able to absorb negative feedback, getting bored easily, that’s also typical for narcissists. Also what you are experiencing yourself or were experiencing is very typical: “I should give him time, I should give him space,” …. yeah, that’s what I was telling myself for very many months when the devaluation kicked in… mine was a slower cycling narc plus there were some external reasons why he didn’t get bored that quickly….. “hoping that that lovely guy I knew would reappear” – that’s the trap, that’s how the cognitive dissonance works. We don’t understand that the lovely guy was just a false self created by the narcissist, we think he is still there somewhere, we don’t get that it was a product of the narcissist’s disorder and that the nasty character is the real deal. It takes quite a while to wrap your head around this… confidence and self worth and self-respect – you need to value yourself in a way that you don’t allow anyone to treat you like garbage. The narc I was with was very covert, passive aggressive and manipulative, he wouldn’t be openly rude, he was too smug for that, which is why it took me much longer to figure that out. I hope you recover soon 🙂 Big hug …
Hello again – well, just wanted to say that you were right – after a month of silence, where I was really trying to focus on myself and going through a lot of ups and downs, he reappeared and indeed did try to lure me back. Sent the text: ‘I know I’m the last person you want to hear from but I just wanted to say that I actually miss talking to you’. I’m so glad that I’ve read so much about NPD prior to receiving that, because I know myself and I know that I normaly would have fallen for that… I know that I normaly would have believed that, and automatically think ‘ oh, he’s back, he wants me back, our connection is just so strong, great, lovely’. I would have seen the sign that the lovely guy from the begging is back, and I would have been so happy to receive a text like that.
But I know now better, and I didn’t reply. It wasn’t easy, but not too difficult either. And I thought of replying… thought of saying something nasty to him, thought of replying something civilized… but what’s the point? I need to stay away from him, and staying away means not getting into any kind of conversation. It is though fascinating to me the patterns of their behaviour.. that it can be predicted like that, and thus how important it is to know about it, since it can help you react and deal, and understand better what the hell is going on. I read somewhere else a discussion about whether a narcissist can indeed miss anyone, and someone answered that they don’t miss someone, they miss ‘something’ – and then I reread the text I received:’… I miss talking to you’.
A big hug to you too, and thanks again for all of your texts! You have no idea how much they helped me throught this mess…
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Thank you for your comment. I am really glad if you find my blog helpful. That makes me very happy. Also congratulations for resisting the temptation when it came to the hoover. You did exactly the right thing – most of us, myself included have not resisted saying something nasty so you have my respect 🙂 And your observation with the ‘I miss talking to you’ is spot on. My narc ‘didn’t like sleeping alone’… I am sending good vibes to you and I hope you will have all the strength to deal with whatever ups and down might come (although I hope it will be as smooth as possible from now on)…
Hownis the narc with new supply in same work environments that has small children before he discarded primary supply? Right now he is like the perfect dad,and wants to move in and get married and has blocked and no longer seeing or speaking to ex.will we end soon? I see some red flags, have seen this before but not sure . More worried about my young kids.
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Thank you for your comment Kylee. It’s hard to predict how long the narcissist will stay happy with a new supply. I was on the pedestal for three years. It depends on various factors. The tend to get bored so if there is a lot that is new and special and valuable and different for him, he might stay interested for longer ( a few years), in other cases they might get bored after some months. I recommend you work on your boundaries, self-respect, confidence. If he really is a narcissist the relationship is not going to be healthy.
I am just wondering more and more , is this is a truly narcissistic man is he going to run out on my kids in a few weeks after trying to be a great new dad? Will he get annoyed because I can’t give him all my attention like the kids? He wants to move in already. I feel like everything is too great to be true right now and I am just spinning.
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Hi Kylee, if he truly is a narcissist, it’s not going to work, either you end it or he ‘fucks you up’. We don’t know whether he is narcissistic but you are seeing red flags. Here is what I suggest – I suggest you ask to take things slow. You are having difficult feelings, you are worried that the kids might get hurt if they get attached to him and then he leaves – just ask to take things slower. A man that cares about you would not have a problem with that. A man that wants to control you will. Don’t let him move in unless you feel really comfortable with the idea. Learn to understand boundaries and be strict in protecting your boundaries. If he is a narcissist, he will not be able to respect you and will demand to have things his way, he will manipulate you to have things his way.
If you need any more advice or guidance, I am doing one to one coaching and support sessions. We could go through your concerns in a greater detail and figure out what’s going on. In case of interest, email me through the contact form. In either case, I hope your situation will be resolved with the best possible outcome.
Fits the guy i knew almost to a T. I only knew him online (thank god).
He was in love with me before he knew anything about me, soul mates, never been in love before etc etc. All his ex’s were psychopaths. He had no real friends, no long term relationships.
He wanted me to move to England and get married after a week or two.
I was bombarded with messages of his undying love, sent flowers, gifts….
Then discarded me for no reason, just cut me off blocked me everywhere and immediately began saying exactly the same things to another woman.
Has tried to get me back a few times, when it doesn’t work he goes after someone else.
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Thank you for your comment. I am sorry you had to experience this. I hope you didn’t get bruised too much…