How to Spot Narcissistic Behaviors in Your Relationships

Narcissistic behaviors emerge in relationships in the form of self-centered attitudes and actions That can cause notable strain in relationships. They create an imbalance, skewing the relationship heavily towards the needs and desires of one person, leaving their partner feeling overshadowed and undervalued.

This is why narcissistic behaviors lead to significant emotional distress and fundamentally disrupt the balance required for a healthy relationship.

narcissistic behaviors

What are Narcissistic Behaviors?

Narcissistic behaviors encompass a spectrum of self-centered attitudes and actions that can significantly alter the dynamics of a relationship. These behaviors stem from a personality pattern marked by an inflated sense of self-worth, a constant craving for admiration, and a notable lack of empathy.

When these behaviors manifest in a relationship, they inevitably create an unhealthy imbalance. The narcissist ensures that their needs and desires take center stage, sidelining the feelings and needs of their partner.

Moreover, narcissists are extremely entitled, expecting others to cater to their needs without reciprocation. This can lead to a cycle of exploitation and emotional neglect, causing significant distress to their partners.

Taken to extreme these narcissistic behaviors can cross into the realm of abuse, with the narcissist using tactics such as gaslighting, projection, stonewalling and the silent treatment to maintain control and dominance in the relationship.

At the heart of these behaviors is the narcissist’s inherent inability to truly empathize with others. They are incapable of providing the emotional support, understanding, and genuine love that form the cornerstone of a healthy, balanced relationship.

Recognizing the signs of narcissistic behaviors is the first step towards seeking help, setting boundaries, and potentially extricating oneself from a harmful relationship dynamic.

Typical Narcissistic Behaviors – Grandiosity

One of the most telltale signs of narcissistic behaviors is grandiosity. Narcissists have an overblown sense of self-importance, perceiving themselves as being superior to those around them.

As a result they think that they deserve special privileges that others are not entitled to, reinforcing their perceived superiority and entitlement.

In addition, most narcissists believe that they are unique, special, or destined for extraordinary success. They will boast incessantly about their accomplishments, whether these are real or simply a figment of their imagination.

Such constant self-aggrandizement serves a dual purpose – it reinforces their inflated self-image and helps them garner the admiration and validation they crave.

The successes of others, including their own partner, are often viewed as a challenge to their grandiose self-image, so they will belittle or disregard the achievements of the people around them, invalidating them in the process.

Typical Narcissistic Behaviors – Constant Need for Admiration

Narcissists have an insatiable desire to be continually praised, noticed and adored. They thrive on compliments and flattery, using them as fuel to bolster their inflated self-image.

They will often go to great lengths to seek this validation, engaging in showy behavior, constantly talking about their achievements, or manipulating conversations to steer the focus back onto themselves.

In truth, however, this incessant need for admiration exposes their deep-seated insecurities and their reliance on external validation to maintain their grandiose self-perception.

Their ego is in fact so fragile that they respond negatively when they do not receive the continuous praise and recognition they need to maintain their self-worth. They can become irritable, dismissive, or even aggressive when others do not validate their superiority or fail to acknowledge their accomplishments.

narcissistic supply

Typical Narcissistic Behaviors – Lack of Empathy

Narcissists are typically engrossed in their own experiences and perspectives, leaving little room for the consideration of the viewpoints or emotions of others.

However, the relationship between narcissism and empathy is complex and nuanced. Some research suggests that while narcissists may struggle with empathetic responsiveness, they may not entirely lack the capacity for empathy.

Instead, their empathy may be contingent on specific circumstances or relationships, implying that the narcissism-empathy link is not “all or nothing.”

Despite this complexity, the general lack of empathy in narcissistic behaviors contributes significantly to interpersonal dysfunction.

It creates an emotionally unbalanced dynamic in relationships, leading to feelings of invalidation and emotional neglect in those interacting closely with narcissists.

fake apology

Typical Narcissistic Behaviors – Exploitative Behavior

Narcissists are often strategic and manipulative in their interactions. They view relationships primarily as platforms to serve their own interests, rather than mutual exchanges of support and affection.

This can lead to a pattern of exploitation where they take advantage of the kindness, generosity, or vulnerabilities of others in order to further their own agenda.

This exploitative behavior can manifest in various ways. Narcissists will manipulate others into doing tasks for them, capitalize on someone’s skills or resources without reciprocating, or use emotional manipulation to control and influence people.

They may also exploit others’ empathy and compassion, feigning helplessness or distress to get attention and assistance.

Moreover, narcissists will not hesitate to use deceitful, corruptive, or even harmful behaviors to get what they want, exhibiting little remorse or accountability for the impact of their actions on others.

narcissistic behaviors

Typical Narcissistic Behaviors – Envy and Arrogance

Narcissists tend to view life as a competition where they must always come out on top. They frequently compare themselves to others, not for self-improvement or learning but to establish their dominance and superiority.

When they perceive someone else as being more successful or possessing something they desire, they experience intense envy.

However, their envy is often masked by arrogance and haughtiness. They will belittle the achievements of others or attribute their successes to luck or unfair advantages. This serves as a defense mechanism to protect their fragile ego and maintain their grandiose self-perception.

In addition, narcissists are often convinced that others are envious of them. They believe that their success, attractiveness, or talent incites jealousy in those around them. This presumption allows them to maintain their self-image and dismiss any criticism or negative feedback as mere envy.

Arrogance is another common trait among narcissists. They tend to have a superiority complex, often coming across as condescending or dismissive towards others. This arrogance is not just a manifestation of their inflated self-view but also a tool to establish dominance and control in their interactions.

narcissistic behaviors - envy

Typical Narcissistic Behaviors – Inability to Handle Criticism

Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need for admiration and validation. Criticism, therefore, threatens their self-perception and sense of self-worth.

As a result, they react with anger, defensiveness, or even aggression when confronted with negative feedback.

This inability to handle criticism often manifests in various ways.

Narcissists may deny the validity of the critique, deflecting blame onto others instead of accepting responsibility. They may also resort to gaslighting, a manipulative tactic where they make the critic question their own perceptions and sanity.

In some cases, narcissists respond to criticism with what is known as ‘narcissistic rage.’ This involves intense anger, hostility, or even violent behavior triggered by perceived threats to their self-esteem or self-worth.

This often creates an environment where open communication and constructive feedback become exceedingly difficult.

narcissistic arrogance

Understanding Narcissistic Abuse

As mentioned above, when taken to extreme narcissistic behaviors become emotional and psychological abuse. Narcissistic abuse can manifest in various ways, all involving manipulative tactics and power dynamics that damage the victim’s mental and emotional health.

The following are some common tactics used in narcissistic abuse.


Gaslighting is a powerful and destructive form of psychological manipulation often employed in narcissistic abuse. This tactic involves the narcissist systematically undermining the victim’s reality by denying their experiences, contradicting their memories, or dismissing their feelings.

The aim is to make the victim doubt their own perceptions, memory, or sanity, which can lead to a profound sense of disorientation and confusion.

The effects of gaslighting are insidious and far-reaching. By manipulating the victim’s belief in their own judgment, the narcissist can control their thoughts and behaviors, leading to feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and low self-esteem.

Over time, the victim may become so uncertain of their own reality that they become entirely dependent on the narcissist for validation, further strengthening the abuser’s grip.

narcissistic gaslighting

Love Bombing

Love bombing is a classic narcissistic tactic characterized by an intense and sudden showering of affection, compliments, gifts, and promises of eternal love and commitment.

It’s an overwhelming, whirlwind romance designed to sweep the victim off their feet and secure their emotional investment in the relationship.

However, the excessive adoration and attention are often short-lived. Once the narcissist feels they have successfully secured the victim’s attachment, the behavior often changes abruptly.

The once constant stream of love and affection turns into a cycle of devaluation and discard, leaving the victim feeling confused, hurt, and longing for the love that was initially shown.

This drastic shift from idealization to devaluation is designed to keep the victim off-balance and continually seeking the approval and affection of the narcissist, thereby ensuring their continued control and influence over the victim.

What is Love Bombing


After the initial love bombing phase, narcissists often transition into the devaluation stage.

In this phase, the previously affectionate and adoring behavior is replaced with constant criticism, belittling comments, and demeaning actions.

The narcissist may start to find faults in the victim’s actions or personality traits, frequently highlighting their flaws while downplaying their strengths.

This relentless devaluation can significantly erode the victim’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth, causing them to feel unloved, inadequate, and even worthless.

Over time, the victim might start to internalize these negative messages and become increasingly dependent on the narcissist for validation and approval. This further empowers the narcissist, allowing them to maintain control over the victim and the relationship.

depressed woman


The discard phase is a particularly painful stage in narcissistic abuse, often following the devaluation phase.

This stage involves the narcissist abruptly ending the relationship or withdrawing their affection without any clear explanation or reason. The discard could be temporary, as part of a cycle of abuse, or it could be permanent.

Regardless, the sudden and unexplained nature of the discard is designed to inflict maximum emotional pain and confusion on the victim.

They are left feeling rejected, abandoned, and emotionally devastated, often questioning what they did wrong and how they could have prevented the discard.

This turmoil and self-doubt further reinforce the power dynamic in favor of the narcissist, who may use the victim’s emotional distress to manipulate them further, either by returning with promises of change (also known as hoovering) or by blaming the victim for the end of the relationship.

narcissistic behaviors - Narcissist Hoovering


Hoovering is a manipulative tactic used by narcissists to suck their victims back into the cycle of abuse after a period of separation or discard.

Named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner, it involves the abuser attempting to ‘suck’ their victims back into the relationship through promises of change, expressions of love, guilt trips, or even threats.

Narcissists use hoovering tactics when they sense their control over the victim is slipping away, such as when the victim tries to establish boundaries, end the relationship, or move on from the abuse.

It’s important to recognize these tactics for what they are: attempts to regain control rather than genuine remorse or desire for reconciliation.

Hoovering can take various forms, including excessive apologies, grand gestures, or playing the victim.

Narcissists may also use third parties (known as flying monkeys) to communicate their messages. Despite the apparent sincerity, the goal is not to make amends but to pull the victim back into the abusive cycle.

Flying Monkeys in the World of Narcissism


Triangulation is a sophisticated and insidious tactic employed by narcissists to manipulate relationships and maintain control over their victims.

In this strategy, the narcissist introduces a third party into the dynamic, either real or imagined, in order to provoke feelings of jealousy, insecurity, or inadequacy.

The purpose is threefold: to divert attention back to them, to sow discord, and to create a sense of competition for their approval.

By causing tension between the victim and the third party, the narcissist positions themselves as the coveted prize, the object of desire, thus keeping the focus on them.

This tactic can also lead to confusion and insecurity in the victim, making them question their worth and further deepening their dependence on the narcissist.

Over time, this can significantly skew the power dynamics in favor of the narcissist, amplifying their control and influence.

narcissistic behaviors - triangulation

Silent Treatment

The silent treatment, a form of emotional abuse often employed by narcissists, involves ignoring or excluding the victim as a punitive measure.

By withholding communication or refusing to acknowledge the victim’s presence, the narcissist seeks to inflict emotional pain and exert control.

This tactic can cause significant emotional distress, leaving the victim feeling neglected, insignificant, and desperate for the narcissist’s attention.

The agony of being ignored can be so intense that the victim might find themselves apologizing, pleading, or changing their behavior in an attempt to restore communication – even when they are not at fault.

This further empowers the narcissist, allowing them to manipulate the victim’s emotions and behaviors to their advantage.

narcissistic behaviors

Coping with Narcissistic Behaviors in a Relationship

If you find yourself in a relationship where you are experiencing narcissistic behaviors, it’s crucial to understand that you’re not alone, and there are steps you can take to protect yourself emotionally and mentally.

Acknowledge the Situation

The first step is to acknowledge the reality of your situation.

Recognize the signs of narcissistic abuse, such as gaslighting, manipulation, devaluation, or silent treatment.

Understand that these behaviors are not a reflection of your worth but are tactics used by the narcissist to maintain control.

Educate Yourself

Educate yourself about narcissism and narcissistic abuse.

Knowledge is power, and understanding the dynamics at play can help you make sense of what you’re experiencing and why.

It can also help you realize that the problem lies with the abuser, not with you.

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is crucial when dealing with a narcissist.

Clearly communicate what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

Remember, your feelings and needs are valid, and you have every right to express them and expect respect in return.


Seek Support

Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or a mental health professional.

Talking about your experiences can provide emotional relief and allow you to gain valuable insights and advice.

Joining support groups, either in person or online, can also be beneficial as it allows you to connect with others who have had similar experiences.

Practice Self-Care

Ensure you’re taking care of your physical and mental health.

This can include regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices like meditation or yoga.

Engage in activities that you enjoy and that boost your mood and self-esteem.

Consider Professional Help

If the abuse continues, consider seeking help from a professional, such as a therapist or counselor, who specializes in narcissistic abuse.

They can provide you with strategies to cope and help you decide on the best course of action, which could include leaving the relationship.

Plan for Safety

If you are in an abusive relationship, your personal safety must be your top priority.

If you make the decision to exit the relationship, it’s crucial to have a secure location to retreat to and a network of reliable individuals for support.

Should there be an immediate threat to your safety, promptly reach out to law enforcement or local authorities without hesitation.


Narcissistic abuse is a complex and harmful form of emotional and psychological abuse that can leave deep scars. Understanding the tactics used by narcissists, such as gaslighting, love bombing, devaluation, and discard, is a crucial step towards recognizing and addressing this form of abuse.

If you find yourself in a relationship characterized by these behaviors, remember that you’re not alone, and there are resources available to help you navigate this challenging situation. Acknowledge the reality of your circumstances, educate yourself about narcissism, set boundaries, seek support, practice self-care, and consider professional help.

Remember, it’s essential to prioritize your safety and well-being above all else. The journey towards healing may seem daunting, but with time, resilience, and the right support, recovery and a healthier, happier future is within your reach. You deserve respect, love, and kindness—don’t settle for anything less.

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