Narcissists are appealing for good reason: they’re charming, compelling and don’t hold back on the compliments. By the time you realize just how toxic a narcissist can be, you’ve likely already been duped into developing feelings for him or her.
Of course, not everyone you date who’s vaguely self-absorbed has a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It’s important to note that narcissism exists on a spectrum, said Dr. Craig Malkin, an instructor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — and Surprising Good — About Feeling Special.
“Not all narcissists have NPD,” Malkin told The Huffington Post. “‘Narcissist’ is just a label that indicates someone scores well above average on narcissism measures. They’re high in traits, but may or may not have the disorder.”
Below, Malkin and three other experts shed light on the telltale signs you’re in a relationship with a narcissist.
1. In the beginning, they love to bomb you.
Narcissists are very, very good at turning on the charm when they first meet you. As far as they’re concerned, you’ve got the looks of a young Elizabeth Taylor and the wit of a thousand Tina Feys. But don’t get used to those compliments or the pricey dinners they treat you to — it’s not likely to last, said licensed marriage and family therapist Virginia Gilbert.
“That behavior is called love bombing, but with a narcissist, the smothering, razzle-dazzle display has nothing to do with you,” she said. “You merely supply whatever the narcissist wants at the time (sex, money, status, youth),” she said. “Once he or she has you, the ‘love’ you feel will morph into control and denigration.”
2. Grand, sweeping gestures are their strong suit.
Narcissists want to be remembered. If there’s a chance to one-up someone’s excellent story and impress others in the group, they’ll take it. If there’s a group dinner tab, they’re more than happy to pick it up. They live for those moments that bolster their grandiose self-image, said Tina Swithin, the author of Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle. But you need to stay wary of their motives.
“As a narcissist is paying the tab, she is scanning the group and taking notes on how she can use the experience or group members to maintain her inflated self-image or elevate her status,” Swithin said.” There is always an ulterior motive when it comes to a narcissist.”