As a child, you probably remember the joyful feeling of receiving a holiday basket, many times (if you celebrated Easter) featuring a giant chocolate bunny, front and center. Large and beautifully wrapped in twinkly tinfoil, it was clearly the highlight of the entire gift. But chances are, once you bit in you were quickly disappointed. On the inside it was just hollow.
That is what a relationship with a narcissist is like. In the beginning there’s flash and excitement. Their presence is magnetic and he or she seems larger than life. They are intelligent, charming, and popular, and when they’re the center of attention, some of the spotlight shines on you, too, leaving you glowing with pride, importance, and accomplishment. Yet after a while, you discover that under the surface the relationship is hollow. Soon, the excitement and status wear thin.
This is because a true narcissist lacks inner qualities necessary for a healthy bond: empathic perspective-taking, a moral conscience, stable confidence, and the ability to be intimate and genuine with another human being. Being in a relationship with a narcissist (especially if you don’t realize they are one) can leave you feeling worthless, emotionally exhausted, and unfulfilled.
So how can you know if you are in this kind of “hollow chocolate bunny” relationship before it crashes and burns in heartache? Do you have to wait until your relationship sours to find out? Not necessarily. Spotting the signs early means being able to avoid getting entangled in a narcissist’s web, and could spare you from doing the challenging, messy work of digging yourself out later.
Here’s a few signs to look for in your partner, which may signal that the person you are dating has narcissistic tendencies, and the negative effects those behaviors can have on you:
1. He poses as “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”
A narcissist may initially intrigue you with his or her apparent confidence, swagger, or audacity, regaling you with stories about accomplishments, rubbing elbows with influential people, or their innumerable talents and gifts. He or she may seem fun and magnetic, always the center of attention and the life of the party, but this may actually be a facade — a ploy to satisfy the narcissist’s pathological need for praise and reassurance. You may come to find out that the stories are exaggerated (or altogether false), their confidence is artificial and fragile, and his or her need for attention may trump good judgment or others’ needs.
2. You feel talked down to.
Because narcissists deeply lack self-esteem, almost everything else in their lives is orchestrated to hide their weaknesses and give them a temporary sense of power and success. This can take the form of subtle insults that cause you to question your worth, such as a dismissive sneer when you make an observation, a condescending “that’s nice” when you share an accomplishment you’re proud of, or demeaning comments about your behavior or appearance.
When you look to a partner who is a narcissist, it can feel like you’re looking into a funhouse mirror and getting back a distorted view of yourself. Your flaws seem to be highlighted and your strengths diminished — a careful ruse constructed to ensure the narcissist holds themselves in a more flattering light.
3. She acts like the victim.
Narcissism also is characterized by extreme self-centeredness. Anything that is outside the narcissist’s experience or that contradicts his or her beliefs is wrong, foolish, or crazy. For this reason, a conflict with a narcissist is almost certain to end with all the blame being directed to you. This, combined with the funhouse mirror effect, can make even minor arguments emotionally exhausting.
Nothing you say can convince the narcissist that you’re not making intentional and irrational attacks against him or her. In the narcissist’s eyes, you’re somehow responsible for their sadness, anger, or even immoral behavior.
4. Your relationship feels one-sided and shallow.
When it’s time to move from casual to committed, this is where the “hollow chocolate bunny” effect of narcissism really shows through. A relationship with a narcissist is unlikely ever to reach greater depths of sharing, emotion, and intimacy.
A narcissist is likely to spend time with you when it suits his or her emotional, physical, or sexual needs, and dismiss or ignore your needs, desires, and preferences. Your time together is likely to be marked by a lack of genuine interest in anything other than him- or herself. For example, you could get late-night calls when he or she is distraught, excited, or wants something but similar calls from you may not even be answered. Attempts to share your deeper thoughts, beliefs, or feelings may be given lip service, ignored, or dismissed.
If these seem to describe your current relationship, don’t panic. In fact, seize the opportunity to reflect and evaluate your twosome. These red flags may help shed light on the dysfunction you’re bearing and guide you away from further pain. If you want to make things work, there are ways to cope with dating or living with a narcissist, including developing conflict-resolution skills and bolstering your own confidence and self-esteem to shield you against narcissistic attacks.
Ultimately, knowledge is power. Being aware of signs of narcissism (and some of the problems that can arise from dating a narcissist) allows you to be prepared and to make informed decisions about the relationship.