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How to Tell If You're Dating a Narcissist

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In honour of February, while we celebrate all that's great about love, I feel it's important to also talk about what -- or who -- to avoid when it comes to matters of the heart.

Do you remember learning about the myth of Narcissus, the handsome man who fell in love with his own reflection? He broke the heart of a mountain nymph named Echo and so the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, lured Narcissus to a pool of water where he saw his own face looking back and became forever depressed that he couldn't have what he wanted.

Today, this kind of self-centredness is called narcissistic personality disorder, named after the ill-fated Narcissus, and describes an undesirable character who is unfortunately rampant in today's society...and in many people's relationships. With all the pressure on men (and women) to succeed in business, in school and in life, it's no wonder that many people 'big' themselves up. Society rewards confidence; it's how you get to the top. But where does healthy confidence end and unhealthy narcissism begin? How can you spot this behaviour pattern, and why should you avoid those who have it?

Narcissists believe they are the sun that everything -- including you -- should revolve around. Dating a narcissist can be really exciting at the beginning. They're attractive, successful, charming, popular... and you're their partner! Yay you! But scratch under the surface and you'll find that's all you are to them... a sidekick, a trophy, someone to amuse and distract them. You're there to feed their ego, to flatter them. You're a part of their life, but are they a part of yours? Do they spend time with your friends... or are you always with their circle? Do they only see you when it's convenient for them? Do you only do the things they like to do? It's a one-sided relationship when you're with a narcissist and they're always the star of the show.

They thrive on attention and require constant reinforcement. Narcissists need you to praise them. All. The. Time. You'll start off giving them genuine love and attention for being the amazing person you think they are (or for the potential you see in them) and they'll love the compliments. They need you to constantly tell them (whether you mean it or not) "You are the smartest... you are the most brilliant... you are the most talented... there is nobody more skilled than you." But one day you'll realize that you might as well make a recorded message and play it to him because it doesn't matter who delivers these messages... he could be having them with himself... for all you really matter. The narcissist is being fuelled by your compliments. And if you have some honest feedback or constructive criticism? The narcissist will turn on you, throw a tantrum or sulk like a child. Being with someone like this will drain you... emotionally, physically, and mentally... but it will fill up your narcissist lover.

Narcissists need to put you down to build themselves up. When you date a narcissistic man or woman, chances are they're not going to shower you with the kind of love and attention they expect you to give them. If anything, they'll give you the opposite. Narcissists don't want an equal partner. They won't like it if you're in a job that doesn't measure up to their standards, but they'll be even more upset if you're a success... because they're extremely competitive and need to be the best. They will make you feel like they're the boss and you're the protégé, that you need to live up to their extreme ideals of achievement and that they know better than you what you should do with your life. Some narcissists may tell you how to dress or wear your hair; they may even try to tell you how to feel! You tell them that they made you sad; they'll reply 'No, I didn't.' Nothing is ever a narcissist's fault.

They often behave how they think they should, not how they really feel. This kind of pretense can include false modesty, politeness and courtesy... but also pompousness and extroversion. Narcissists surround themselves with sycophants and admirers; they want people to look up to them and envy them. The flipside of this is that narcissists have incredible envy of other people's successes. They hate feeling inadequate or less anything than someone else. If you try to discover a narcissist's weaknesses, you'll likely find yourself kicked to the curb. One thing a narcissist does not want you to know is that they have any insecurities or shortcomings. If you push them for answers, they'll get their back up fast. They do not seek self-improvement, they do not want to expand or evolve; narcissists want to grow bigger and better, yes, but it's in an illusionary way. No one is better at keeping up appearances than him...and narcissists lie so much that they actually start to believe their own delusions.

Narcissism is a learned behaviour and is often a response to childhood abuse. Chances are, the narcissist became this way because of something that happened in his or her past. Whether they had an overbearing parent or if they were constantly told they're not good enough... this or another type of traumatic experience affected them deeply and created the self-defence mechanism of extreme egotism and lack of empathy. The problem with this is that the narcissist eventually comes to think he or she really is their new, grandiose persona and forgets who they truly were inside. This is the opposite of living an authentic life... something I believe very strongly in!

It's not your job to save them. What's sad is they are actually unhappy people because they can never attain true happiness...it is fleeting for them...they're never satisfied with anything...nothing is good enough. American humourist Emily Levine has a great quote about narcissism that really hits home..."I thought narcissism was about self-love 'til someone told me there is a flip side to it. It is actually drearier than self-love; it is unrequited self-love." Narcissistic personality disorder is a psychological abnormality; anyone who suffers from it needs professional help. Narcissists are very smart... they study you... they make you believe that they are exactly what you have been waiting for your whole life. It is not your fault that they are so unhappy; you can't save a narcissist... even if you tried. If you look closer, their life is actually a mess... and you don't need their self-centred drama. The best thing you can do for yourself is run - don't walk - away and never look back!

I was quite surprised to find out many people I know have had a relationship like this but didn't realize it until they were in too deep. Have you ever dated a narcissist? Do you know someone who has... or still is? The more we talk about narcissists, the easier we'll be able to spot -- and avoid -- them!

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