- They have a sense of superiority, for example being highly critical, often judgmental about others.
- They have a sense of entitlement, sometimes this comes off as confidence, but can manifest in subtle ways, like cutting through a service station rather than wait at the traffic lights, or deliberately leaving rubbish for someone else to pick up.
- They give out back-handed compliments, such as “she has a figure like yours, you know, slim but no muscle tone."
- In a romantic relationship, the relationship moves quickly, for example they will shower you with attention, compliments or gifts, and say “I love you” very early on in the relationship.
- They will start to subtly ignore you. They may appear to lose interest/get distracted or check their phone while you’re talking.
- Their seemingly innocent words are often contradicted by their body language and tone of voice.
- Their stories don’t quite add up, and you start to see the little white lies. You may even tell yourself, “I just heard them lie to their friend, it was just a little white lie. But s/he wouldn’t lie to me."
- They have two sets of rules. Rules that apply to them, and rules that apply to everyone else. They may have unrealistic expectations of love and nurturing from others, but don't hold themselves to the same high standards.
- They have a lack of empathy, and are unable to put themselves in the shoes of others.
- They have poor boundaries, and may regularly invade your privacy, go through your belongings, or expect that you mind read their wishes and needs.
- They may be highly sensitive to criticism, or any suggestion that they are not in the right.
- They have a "my way or the highway" attitude. They believe that they know best, and that their way of doing things is the correct way.
- Initially they can come off quite charming and charismatic, always knowing the right thing to say.
- As the relationship becomes more established, you may start to see some stronger warning signs, or red flags, such as: You may spot bigger lies, and when you confront them, you never get a straight answer or they will turn it around and accuse you of what they're actually doing.
- If you try to raise an issue with them, it becomes a full-blown argument. They may accuse you of causing the fight, or they may use the silent treatment as a way of punishing you for confronting them.
- Arguments feel circular and nonsensical. You're left feeling emotionally battered and confused. There is no resolution to the issue, no sense of compromise or seeking a win/win outcome. It feels like they need to “win” regardless of the issue or what’s at stake. You're left you feeling unsupported and misunderstood.
- They may tell you something didn’t happen when you know it did, or vice versa. This is called gaslighting and it’s designed to make you doubt your own reality and judgment.
- You feel like you need to ask for permission before making plans with others. They may try to control where you go, or call and text constantly to check up on you, and interrogate you about where you’ve been/what you’ve been doing.
- You start seeing less of your family and friends. Perhaps because they openly prevent you from doing so through guilt tripping or threats of abandonment. Or, it could be more subtle, where they make such a fuss about seeing your family and friends that you start avoiding them so you don’t have to deal with the fallout. You end up feeling isolated and lonely.
- The relationship feels one-sided – like you are the one who is doing all the giving, the one who is always in the wrong, the one who is trying the hardest, changing the most or doing the most sacrificing, just to make them happy. And it still doesn’t work. Nothing is enough for them.
- You can’t feel at ease or relaxed in their presence. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells, waiting for the next time they lash out at you. You realize you feel a sense of relief when they aren’t there.
- You feel like whatever you do, it’s not enough. You’re manipulated so that your flaws and vulnerabilities are exploited and used against you at every opportunity. You begin to feel inadequate, unlovable, and like everything is all your fault.
The more of the above behaviors and feelings you recognize, the more likely it is that you are in fact experiencing narcissistic abuse. Bree Bonchay, LCSW and founder of World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day, summarizes it well:
"Narcissistic abuse does not usually include forms of physical abuse with physical signs like bruises. The signs of narcissistic abuse are invisible, which makes it much harder to identify. The abuse is more ambiguous and difficult to prove, but it is no less damaging because it’s a form of spiritual rape. Over time, the abuse chips away at the target’s self-confidence and self-esteem. The target isn’t even aware it’s happening until the damage has been done. The abuse is always about control.”
If you’re still not sure if you're dealing with a narcissist, have a look at this 100-point checklist.
Bonchay, B (2015). A Subtle Warning Sign of A Toxic Person. Free From Toxic, June 4. https://freefromtoxic.com/2015/06/04/the-early-warning-sign-of-a-toxic-person-you-never-hear-about/
Bonchay, B (2015). Tips & Tricks To Move On After Narcissistic Abuse. Free From Toxic, July 2. https://freefromtoxic.com/2015/07/02/11-mental-tips-tricks-to-move-on-after-narcissistic-abuse/
Brown, SL (2016). What Are Some Red Flags in Relationships. Safe Relationships Magazine, November 15. http://saferelationshipsmagazine.com/what_are_some_red_flags_in_relationships
The Hart Centre (2017). How Do I Know If I’m With a Narcissist? The Hart Centre, February 24. http://thehartcentre.com.au/know-im-narcissist/
Matthews, K (2016). Signs you may be dating a narcissist. News.com.au, November 2. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/relationships/dating/signs-you-may-be-dating-a-narcissist/news-story/8d4303f58bb6ea858703baf457dba537
Ni, P (2015). 10 Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist. Psychology Today, July 26. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201507/10-signs-you-re-dating-narcissist
Swithin, T (2013). The Narcissism Epidemic: The Red Flags. Huffington Post, 9 May. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tina-swithin/the-narcissism-epidemic_b_3238674.html
White Ribbon Australia (2017). Signs of an abusive relationship. https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/what-is-domestic-violence/signs-abusive-relationship/
White Ribbon Australia (2017). Five signs you are being verbally abused. https://www.facebook.com/whiteribbonaustralia/photos/a.10150274954304242.350135.134814999241/10155025305064242/?type=3&theater