- Narcissists choose to be with you because you have something special to offer them.
- You may be involved with a narcissist if you experience the person's artificial humility, selfish sex, and a pattern of lying.
- A narcissist may adopt behaviors that have great appeal, but the person is simply "acting" to gain acceptance.
- Early in the relationship, a narcissist may go to great lengths to make you feel special.
A few months ago, I edited the second edition of a book called Narcissistic Lovers by Cynthia Zayn. Since then, I am having a hard time shaking the memories of a long-ago boyfriend who returned to haunt me as I placed commas and tweaked pronouns in Zayn’s excellent book.
Her insight on page one struck me as exactly what I’d experienced:
In the beginning, your partner made you feel so appreciated. That special person complimented you by saying things like, “You are the perfect fit,” I have never had a relationship this special…”
A few pages later, her description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder confirmed one thing I’d been told about the boyfriend after our breakup by his boss: “Bob” was fired over his lies about his colleagues and inflation of his accomplishments at the expense of others. A man who began his career as well-liked, trusted, and a great team player was seen without his stage make-up on.
Zayn draws the reader into a deep understanding of what it feels like—from first steps to last—to walk alongside a narcissist daily.
We are supposed to feel flattered when we realize that even though it seemed like chance that we were brought together, the N actually “hand-picked” us due to the particular positive characteristics or strengths we displayed.
I was publishing articles in newspapers and magazines and Bob wanted to be a published author. I was a successful competitive athlete in a sport that Bob loved and trained in every morning before work.
When we broke up—when he broke up with me because I began to question the “truth” of his work and family relationships—my heart broke. I had loved him; I thought he was the elusive soulmate that only a few people find. But it wasn’t the conversation with the former boss that helped me center and evaluate what I’d been through. It was being with my friends.
If you pay attention to how your true friends treat you and interact with each other, you will get some perspective on the toxic aspects of a relationship with a narcissist. That helped me move forward more than anything else.
Now, armed with decades of study in human behavior and access to exceptional works like Narcissistic Lovers, I feel somewhat qualified to offer insights into narcissistic behavior. However, what I want to do here is offer you three main red alerts based on my time with Bob and grounded in what I’ve learned from the credentialed experts. These are not warnings I took from a study or peer-reviewed paper. They are simply what I saw, and in hindsight, realize that recognizing them would have spared me from emotional anguish.
Artificial humility. Novelist C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.” Someone you are with might utter humble-sounding words, but still make everything about himself (or herself). One thing Bob did was politely say he still had a lot of work to do on his body, even though he was a successful amateur bodybuilder. That merely invited the compliments he sought about how amazing he looked.
Comfortable lying. It might even seem playful, as in, “Let’s spread it around that we eloped over the weekend and see how people react.” And then you realize that every day involves some kind of “playful” lie and your narcissistic lover has no problem with them. You begin to recede into some kind of cinematic world where willing suspension of disbelief is your norm.
Put ice on your cheeks and wake up if you think you are with a narcissist. Read what PT experts like Dr. Elinor Greenberg have to say in “Are You in Love With Someone Who Has a Personality Disorder?” Use resources designed for lay readers such as Narcissistic Lovers. Those of us who’ve been there, or seriously studied the experience, want to help you avoid years of pain.
Greenberg, Elinor (2021). "Are You in Love With Someone Who Has a Personality Disorder? What to expect from a relationship with someone who has BPD, NPD, or SPD." Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-narcissism/202108…)
Zayn, Cynthia. Narcissistic Lovers: How to Cope, Recover, and Move On (Second Edition). Estes Park, CO: Armin Lear Press