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What is narcissistic abuse? These are the 12 signs you might be dating a narcissist

Picture: Joe Goldberg in YOU, played by Penn Badgley, Netflix, Instagram/@netflixsa
Picture: Joe Goldberg in YOU, played by Penn Badgley, Netflix, Instagram/@netflixsa

Are you getting Joe Goldberg vibes from someone you're dating?

As one of Netflix's most prolific narcissists – Joe Goldberg, played by Penn Badgley – returns in a third season of You, it's time we talked about narcissistic abuse, and the many red flags that Joe exhibits.

We often hear the term "narcissistic" thrown about in popular culture, usually just to refer to somebody who is a bit egocentric and self-absorbed. But narcissism can run much deeper than that, narc abuse can have a serious affect on our mental health.

According to Healthline, key characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder include “having an inflated opinion of themselves” and “an intense need for the admiration and attention of others”. Tick and tick for Joe's creepy personality.

The way in which a narcissist might react when their partner doesn't meet their needs can be abusive, emotional or physical. While Joe is a rather extreme example of this, it's definitely worth swotting up on the real-life experiences and advice around identifying, and acting on it, if you're dating a narcissistic.

Like many forms of psychological abuse, narc abuse can be so dangerously subtle and insidious that you aren't even aware it's happening. That's why it's so important to recognise the signs and causes, and not just dismiss it as mere self-absorption.

"Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder where a person has a heightened sense of his or her importance and self-admiration," agrees Dr Martina Paglia, psychologist and founder of Expat Therapy 4U. "People who have this disorder believe that they are superior to others and they seldom care for anyone else’s feelings."

While it's easy to assume that narcissists simply have an innate inflated sense of self-worth and entitlement, there is usually a deep-seated trigger.

"They have often been a victim of chronic relational trauma in childhood, and now lack empathy because their caregivers – for whatever reason and circumstance – did not meet their emotional needs when they were children," explains Dr Paglia. "Hence they developed their narcissism as a defence against loss and feeling vulnerable."

If you're concerned that your friend or partner is a narcissist and potentially subjecting you to narc abuse, here are Dr Paglia's 10 warning signs to look out for...

1. Charming, but for their own good

At the start, they will come across incredibly charming with their charismatic personality. They will try their best to win you over with their charm. They will make you feel special.

While there is nothing wrong with being an attentive friend or partner, it soon starts to wear off with narcissists. Or worse, they will keep using their charm to use and manipulate you. They extract whatever they want from you and be done with it.

2. Instant gratification required

You will find them self-absorbed and self-centred all the time and they expect you to fulfil their needs instantly. They might fight with you if you don’t do what they want, answer their call and texts immediately or you don’t do the things their way. Just try to say ‘no’ for once, and if they go off the rails, then that’s a strong narcissistic trait.

3. Entitlement is their go-to

They often expect exceptional treatment from others. In their minds, the world revolves just around them. To spot this, try and observe their behaviour when they visit a restaurant with you – see how they behave with the waiters and other staff members. If they are all about picking mistakes and making them embarrassed, then that’s a sign of narcissism.

4. Love to talk about themselves

One of the easiest ways to track a narcissistic personality? See if they want to talk or listen. A narcissist loves to talk about themselves exaggeratedly and excitedly. If they dominate the conversation every time you talk about something, then that’s a strong sign of narcissism. They always focus and give extra value to their issues and life more than yours.

5. They're unreliable

Another way to spot a narcissist is to see how much they act according to their words. Many of them don’t follow through on what they say they'll do. They will break promises, not stick to appointments, and fail in fulfilling any agreements. This can also mean that they are emotionally available one time and are gone the next.

6. They manipulate and feel no guilt at all

Some narcissists use their partners, friends and co-workers to fulfil their personal needs, fulfil their ambitions and cover up their flaws. For example, they might say things like: "I can’t wait for you to meet my friends so that they can be jealous", or "I get to live with my girlfriend rent-free and use her car". They don’t see anything wrong with this, since they lack empathy, and some narcissists even have what we call ‘cognitive empathy’ – they understand at an intellectual level how others feel and use this to manipulate them.

7. There are consequences when their demands are not met

They can’t stand disappointments or rejection at any stake. If they want you to do things their way, you must. Otherwise, there are consequences. They become rude, fight with you, or worse, might torture you emotionally. These are all the tactics they use to make you do whatever they want.

8. They don't 'do' commitment

You might have fallen in love with their charming and charismatic personality, but you won’t get a serious relationship out of it. They often have commitment issues. They often take advantage of their relationship with you but keep an eye on the options outside, and you might catch them looking at other people intimately.

They want to keep you, use you and then ditch you for someone else. But because they can't handle rejection, they're afraid it might not work with you, and that’s why they never make serious commitments.

9. Always breaking the rules

Narcissists tend to believe that they make their own rules. They seldom care about what the regulations and boundaries are around them, and believe everyone should follow their rules instead.

Signs to look out for: cutting a queue, stealing office supplies, disobeying traffic rules, and breaking multiple appointments. And, above all, they will feel pride in it, and don’t care if their behaviour is affecting society or others in any way. If something goes wrong, it's always somebody else's fault – they never take the blame.

10. Constantly putting others down

Their gratitude and superiority come from putting others down constantly, making jokes or comments to make you feel embarrassed or inferior. Consider if there have been any changes in your personality – your confidence has slipped, you don't think you deserve anything good – as these thoughts and feelings are likely a result of the narcissist putting you down.

11. Gaslighting is their go-to

One of the most common traits of a narcissist is convincing others to doubt their own instincts or sanity. They will deflect responsibility and invalidate your feelings on a subject by making you doubt your own memories and thoughts by denying that they have value or ever occurred.

This is emotional abuse, and can be really hard to identify because of its manipulative nature.

12. Lack of long-term friendships

Of course, there might be a number of reasons why a friend or partner may not have any (or many) long-term relationships. But, it is something worth looking out for.

The reason for this is a narcissist may not see the point in maintaining friendships once they feel they have served their own needs, or perhaps they are too pre-occupied with their own self image and are worried about how said friend(s) might damage it. What they might do is convince or manipulate you to spend less time with your own friends to spend more time with them. This is a red flag.

Written by Ali Pantony & Charley Ross.

This article originally appeared on Glamour UK.

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