May 10, 2022


In Love with a Narcissist? 

 by Emma Kmetzsch 

The word “narcissism” comes from an ancient story told in Greek mythology about a man named Narcissusi. Narcissus was loved and sought after by everyone; he was the handsomest bachelor in Greece. One day, a nymph named Echo spotted Narcissus in the forest and immediately fell in love with himii. She tried to approach him, but he rejected her. Nemesis, goddess of retribution and revenge, learned what happened and decided to punish Narcissus. She sent him to a pool where he saw his own reflection and fell in love with it. At first, he did not realize it was his own reflection; when he finally understood, he fell into despair that his love could not materialize and took his own life. 

The dating world can be brutal, especially when you are trying to find a nice guy. It can be very easy to fall for a Narcissus–that tall, dark, and handsome trap. Although narcissism is commonly associated with extremist personalities such as political dictators and serial killers, it is much more common than we might think—especially in the dating world.  

In the beginning of a relationship, narcissistic signs can go unnoticed, but with time, can slowly creep in until you wake up one day in a situation you never saw coming. Understanding and recognizing red flags is key to getting out of—or avoiding altogether—a toxic relationship with a narcissist. 

Understanding Narcissism 

Narcissism is defined as an exaggerated sense of grandiosity, vanity, self-absorption, feelings of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a willingness to exploit others. It is more than just self-absorption, but also affects how someone feels and processes their emotions. In fact, in some way we are all on the continuum between healthy and unhealthy narcissism 

Healthy narcissism is based on genuine achievement. It is a steady sense of one’s worth, the ability to recover from disappointment or failure, and the capacity to find comfort and support in relationships. Unhealthy narcissism is the opposite. On the extreme end of unhealthy narcissism is pathological narcissism. Pathological narcissism is a state which involves seriously disproportionate preoccupation with personal competence, power, and superiority with potential to slip into alienation and estrangement 

Today, full-blown narcissistic personality disorder remains relatively rare, but narcissistic traits–including arrogance, feeling special, vanity, having little regard for others, and lacking empathy–are becoming increasingly more common. 

Looking for Red Flags  

It can be difficult to spot red flags or signs that you might be involved with a narcissist. Here are some of the most important signs to look for.  

Emotional Intelligence  

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage emotions in yourself and others. This ability is connected to characteristics that form interpersonal relationships, such as friendships and romantic partners, and is related to the quality of these relationships. Narcissism decreases the ability to not only manage your own emotions, but to perceive the emotions of others. This makes it very hard for a narcissist to empathize or connect with anyone, even themselves.  

Benefit-provisioning Behaviors  

Narcissists thrive on the notion that they are better than everyone else. In the early days of the relationship, narcissists tend to try and win you over with how amazing, rich, or well liked they are. They accomplish this by buying you or promising you expensive gifts and excursions. These are known as benefit-provisioning behaviors. These types of behaviors provide incentives for you as their partner to stay in the relationship. 


Narcissists’ relationships have been shown to be shallow and transitory; they lack commitment. Several elements play into the low commitment levels of a narcissist. First are the narcissist’s perceived alternatives for a romantic partner. Narcissists believe they have other relationship alternatives besides the romantic partner that they are with. They will not hesitate to explore those options if they get bored of their current partner or feel threatened in any way. This is commonly shown by stepping out or cheating. 

Another element related to low commitment is investments. Investments are the amount the person has staked in the relationship–for example, friendships or shared assets. A common narcissistic tendency is to chase one’s own selfish pursuits–even if doing so comes at the expense of close others. Shared investments are easily taken away by the narcissistic individual, even at the expense of their partner. They may try to turn your family and friends against you. Investments are related to satisfaction, which is the reward you are getting from the relationship minus the cost. If narcissists are gaining less than they think they deserve, they are more likely to be less committed. 


Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse aimed at making victims seem or feel “crazy,” creating a “surreal” interpersonal environment. It systematically destabilizes their realities and makes them feel like they are at fault.  

This tactic is mostly aimed at women. There is a long history of stories and theories that create a stereotype claiming that women are overly emotional, irrational and not in control of their emotions; narcissists often try to gaslight their partner by playing into this. Gaslighting can be subtle and hard to detect. It can be as small as someone pretending not to understand you or saying things like “you are just trying to confuse me.”  

Physical Violence  

Studies show that narcissism predicts violent and aggressive behavior. This is especially true when a narcissist feels like they have received a blow to their ego. Narcissists thrive on feeling superior to those around them and can get aggressive when that is threatened. Narcissism is related to many other forms of aggression as well. This includes verbal aggression, bullying offline and online, trolling and stalking. Individuals high in narcissism are not particularly picky when it comes to how they aggress against others. 

What’s Next?

It can be terrifying to find yourself in a toxic relationship at the hand of a narcissist. Looking for red flags like low emotional intelligence, benefit-provisioning behaviors, low commitment, gaslighting and physical violence are crucial to avoiding or getting out of a narcissistic relationship. Remember you are not any less worthy of love because you found yourself in this situation. You have the power to get out. Seek help from family and friends who can love and support you. Communicating with people who are on the outside of the relationship will provide you a new perspective, allowing you to see things for how they really are. If you find yourself in a physically abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 800-799-7233.