Narcissists are skilled manipulators. They rarely resort to physical abuse but their manipulative behavior leads to a low self esteem of their targets. As such, it is challenging to cultivate a healthy relationship with a narcissist.
If you’ve dated a narcissist or have a friend or family member with narcissistic traits, you’ve seen them in action.
It can be hard to believe their behavior when you hear it from someone else and just as hard to believe when you see it yourself.
Narcissists leave a lasting impact on the people they meet, especially their romantic partners.
Unfortunately, the impact is often negative.
It’s common to hear someone talking about that time they dated a narcissist, all the confusion and doubt they went through, and the ‘waking up’ they experienced once the relationship ended.
In this article, we’ll explore how dating a narcissist changes you.
We’ll look at that change’s positive and negative sides while further exploring what a narcissist is.
What is a narcissist?
‘Narcissist‘ is a term used to describe two types of people.
The word’s first and most common usage refers to people with narcissistic traits.
The second usage of the word refers to people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), an official diagnosis found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-V).
Signs of narcissism
Whether a person has NPD or demonstrates narcissistic tendencies in their behavior, some telling signs that you’re dealing with a narcissist include:
- Inflated sense of self-importance and grandeur
- An unwavering sense of entitlement
- Lack of personal accountability
- Constantly blaming others
- Deep insecurity masked by displays of bravado or success
- Lack of empathy for others
- A need for excessive respect and admiration
- Manipulation of others
Sometimes the symptoms of NPD cross with those of borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, the two are not the same.
BPD is characterized by significant mood swings and a deep fear of abandonment, leading to controlling behavior.
Ways to tell you’re dating a narcissist
If you suspect that you’re going out with narcissist, the following can be indicators:
- Everything is about them
- They don’t take responsibility when things go wrong but instead blame you or someone else
- They thrive off compliments and adoration
- When you confront them, you end up feeling guilty
- You notice they don’t have many (or any) long-term friends
- They don’t show the level of empathy you would expect from a partner
Going out with a narcissist is no breeze. They can be incredibly charming and persuasive, so much so that when you find yourself in a new relationship with one, you’re convinced it’s a match made in heaven.
However, sooner or later, you realize the truth about narcissistic relationships. You start to notice yourself changing, becoming less of the person you used to be and more of a toy or plaything for the narcissist and their tendencies.
How dating a narcissist changes you
How does going out with a narcissist change you? What feelings, beliefs, and self-perceptions arise in those who date narcissists? Some of the most common changes include:
1. You doubt yourself
Narcissists are skilled manipulators.
They know how to push your buttons and influence your decisions based on your feelings and perceptions.
Narcissists tend to use gaslighting as a manipulation tool. Gaslighting is emotionally abusive behavior in which one person makes another doubt themselves for the former’s gain.
For example, you may confront a narcissist about a mean comment they made. They won’t take personal accountability and apologize but claim they never said those things.
If they do apologize, they’ll do it in a way that makes you feel wrong about the confrontation in the first place.
When people begin to doubt themselves in their relationship with a narcissist, they also doubt themselves in other areas of their life.
Good friends and family members notice this change long before you and may try to warn you about this toxic person.
However, if the narcissist has already begun to play their game, it may take a lot of effort to show you just how much you’ve been manipulated.
2. You prioritize them
One of the most common consequences of dating a narcissist is that you start to prioritize them over other important people and things in your life.
They hook you in with their charming behavior, but this is an act.
Once they’ve hooked you, they’ll go to great lengths to stop you from extricating yourself.
Friends and family members are the first to notice your behavior has changed. They may tell you that you haven’t been around as much, that you seem distant around them, and that you don’t seem entirely yourself.
If you’re deep in the narcissist’s games, you may not agree with those you love, but once you start to see through their behavior, those messages from your friends and relatives will begin to make a lot of sense.
3. You feel shame
As mentioned earlier, narcissists are skilled manipulators.
Gaslighting is just one tool they use to manipulate others. Another tactic is to play on people’s emotions.
Narcissists understand the mechanics of human behavior and how ‘negative’ emotions can be used for control.
A narcissist may know your feelings like guilt and shame and use those against you.
If you struggle with guilt and shame, a narcissist may guilt trip you or constantly criticize your behavior, making you feel bad about yourself so that you’ll act how they want you to.
The result is that you behave differently. You stop doing activities you like, such as meeting your friends on the weekend, because the narcissist makes you feel guilty about abandoning them.
You may dress differently because the narcissist feels insecure about how much skin you’re showing and uses shame to persuade you to cover up.
4. You feel isolated
The narcissist wants excessive admiration and adoration.
They won’t want to let you go if you’re close to them. They want your attention and praise but are unlikely to offer the same in return unless they want something.
Eventually, you start to feel isolated from others in your life.
You give the narcissist the attention they want, but it drains you, and you feel disconnected from the people in your life who are good for you.
Dating a narcissist can also make you feel isolated within the relationship. Narcissists are takers, and you may feel like you’re not appreciated for all you do.
5. Your mental health declines
The gaslighting, doubt, confusion, isolation, and stress from dating a narcissist can seriously affect your mental health.
Many people feel so exhausted in their relationship with a narcissist that they burn out, become more anxious or depressed than usual, or use substances to cope.
Romantic relationships are inherently a place of vulnerability and sensitivity to one another.
A narcissistic partner’s behavior can be subtle but damaging to your well-being.
They are skilled manipulators and are likely to take any chance to make you feel guilty or ashamed if it means they will benefit somehow.
A narcissist is not a safe person to be with because, very often, they disregard the psychological safety and well-being of others.
Positive aspects of dating a narcissist
Dating a narcissist can have a detrimental effect on your mental health.
It can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, confusion, self-doubt, and low self-worth. These are all serious issues and can deteriorate your mental health if not taken care of in good time.
However, despite all the negative consequences of going out with a narcissist, there is a positive spin.
Experiencing a romantic relationship with someone who manipulates you, emotionally abuses you, and never takes responsibility can teach you some valuable life lessons.
1. You learn about the importance of boundaries
The only way to deal with a narcissistic partner is to set firm boundaries. If you’re not great with boundaries before entering a narcissistic relationship, you will know much about their importance afterward.
Many ex-partners of narcissists come to a sense of gratitude for the experience.
Were it not for their toxic relationship with that person; they may not have learned how to set healthy boundaries in their future relationships and fallen into another toxic situation.
Boundaries are essential when dealing with narcissists because they will take advantage of you if you let them.
It’s not until you maintain boundaries and follow through with them that the narcissist realizes they can’t control you anymore.
2. You see who your real friends are
Victims of narcissistic abuse, later on, realize that they have neglected their friends. How can one forget about the people who love them so much?
Still, your best friends will understand that you were not your best self during that relationship. They may try to convince you to leave before you even realize there’s a problem, but they’ll also understand your situation enough to have patience with you.
The best friends are still there after the breakup to remind you that you’re loved, appreciated, and valued just as you are.
3. You experience post-traumatic growth
Being in a relationship with a narcissistic partner can be traumatizing.
They may have you so deeply manipulated and enchanted that you forget yourself.
As you prioritize them more and more and neglect yourself, you may wake up one day and realize how much time and energy you’ve wasted on someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Add to that the mind games, the childish behavior, and the lack of empathy and maturity, and you may feel overwhelmed and shocked at how you ended up in this situation.
Being a victim of emotional abuse can lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), not just because of the narcissistic behavior but due to the lack of support around you as you go through it. As mentioned, narcissism lures you into a corner and makes you feel isolated.
When you feel isolated, you don’t have the support of those you love, so you’re more likely to develop a trauma.
Support systems are vital for preventing overwhelming experiences from becoming traumatic.
Still, many people who go through psychological trauma develop a new sense of appreciation, gratitude, and zest for life after working through a bad relationship.
As if a veil has been lifted about the reality of the world and one’s position, they realize they can take back control of their lives and how they respond to it. They now know they can set boundaries and maintain them.
Of course, post-traumatic growth doesn’t happen quickly. It takes conscious effort, having support groups consisting of friends and loved ones, and the guidance of a trained therapist or counselor.
Can a narcissist change?
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you may wonder if they’ll ever change.
The fact is that a narcissist can change, but it takes a lot of work and time. It’s also tough to talk a narcissist out of their narcissism.
Often they won’t want to hear anything of the sort, instead opting for avoidance or distraction or turning the tables around to put you and your flaws in the spotlight.
Narcissists are only likely to change once they see the errors of their ways and seek adequate mental health support and guidance.
As such, it’s crucial for those dealing with narcissists to prioritize themselves first and set healthy, firm boundaries.
Doing so is the only way to help a narcissist because it prevents you from enabling them.
Over time, after losing enough people due to their behavior, the narcissist might learn to think and act differently.
So, if you want the narcissist to change, focus on yourself.
You won’t change them directly, but by setting boundaries, grounding yourself, and refusing to play their games, you help them realize they cannot and should not try to control other people so much.
Still, don’t count on the narcissist changing anytime soon.
“When we meet and fall into the gravitational pull of a narcissist, we are entering a significant life lesson that involves learning how to create boundaries, self-respect, and resilience. Through trial and error (and a lot of pain), our connection with narcissists teaches us the necessary lessons we need to become mature empaths.”Mateo Sol
Some people date a narcissist once and realize they’ve had enough. In contrast, others seem to attract narcissists into their lives, end up in a relationship with yet another narcissist, and wonder how they got themselves into this situation.
Don’t fret if you’ve lost a part of yourself. That’s a natural consequence of dating a narcissist, but it isn’t permanent.
Ultimately, the lessons you learn from dating a narcissist will help you form healthy relationships with both yourself and others in the future.
Reconnect with friends you lost along the way to help yourself recover from a narcissistic relationship for your own wellbeing.
Do things that cultivate self-confidence and self-esteem (both of which you may have lost in the relationship).
Finally, seek mental health support if dating that narcissist has led to feelings of shame, depression, anxiety, and insecurity.