Individuals who have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) believe they are superior and unique compared to others. Signs you could be dating someone with NPD include the fact that they have very few or no friends, lack empathy, and often gaslight you.

When someone posts one too many selfies on their social media or talks about themselves constantly during a first date, you might call them a narcissist.

But a true narcissist has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Individuals with NPD believe themselves superior to others and expect to be recognized and treated as such.

They may be unable to recognize the opinions and needs of others and may dismiss others’ problems.

What are the nine traits of a narcissist?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists nine criteria for NPD. Still, it specifies that someone only needs to meet five to clinically qualify as a narcissist.

  • grandiose sense of self-importance
  • preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • the belief they’re special and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with other special or high-status people or institutions
  • need for excessive admiration
  • sense of entitlement
  • interpersonally exploitative behavior
  • lack of empathy
  • envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
  • demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

What it boils down to, according to licensed therapist Rebecca Weiler, LMHC is selfishness at the expense of others, plus the inability to consider others’ feelings at all.

Like most mental health or personality disorders, there are varying degrees of NPD severity.

“Narcissism falls on a spectrum,” says Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, the author of “The Self-Aware Parent.”

In outpatient settings, for example, people with narcissistic personality disorder may be high functioning and relatable, but in the inpatient settings, they may show aggression. A person’s aggression typically indicates the severity of the disorder.

Additionally, people with NPD often experience other physical and mental health conditions, like substance use disorder and anxiety, which may further complicate close relationships.

Knowing the “official” diagnostic criteria doesn’t usually make it easier to figure out if someone has NPD, especially someone you’re romantically involved with. A qualified expert typically administers a standard psychiatric interview to diagnose someone with NPD.

Still, knowing the signs of NPD may help give your relationship some context. Here are some signs to look out for and tips to handle them.

People who have NPD gravitate toward grandiosity and fantasy. Your relationship might have felt like a fairytale at first — maybe they complimented you constantly or told you they loved you within the first month.

Maybe they tell you how smart you are or emphasize your compatibility, even if you just started seeing each other.

“Narcissists think that they deserve to be with other people who are special and that special people are the only ones who can appreciate them fully,” says Nedra Glover Tawwab, LCSW, the founder of Kaleidoscope Counseling in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Weiler’s advice: Be wary if someone came on too strong at the beginning. Sure, we all love to feel lusted for. But real love has to be nurtured and grown.

“If you think it’s too early for them to really love you, it probably is. Or if you feel like they don’t know enough about you to actually love you, they probably don’t,” Weiler says.

People with NPD may manufacture superficial connections early on in a relationship.

People with NPD can have an inflated sense of self-importance and may exaggerate achievements and expect to be recognized as superior.

“Narcissists love to constantly talk about their own accomplishments and achievements with grandiose,” says psychotherapist Jacklyn Krol, LCSW of Mind Rejuvenation Therapy. “They do this because they feel better and smarter than everyone else and also because it helps them create an appearance of being self-assured.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Angela Grace, PhD, MEd, BFA, BEd, adds that narcissists often exaggerate their accomplishments and embellish their talents in these stories to gain adoration from others.

They’re also too busy talking about themselves to listen to you.

The warning is two-part here, says Grace. First, your partner won’t stop talking about themself, and second, your partner won’t engage in conversation about you.

Consider these questions: What happens when you talk about yourself? Do they ask follow-up questions and express interest in learning more? Or do they make it about them?

Narcissists may seem super self-confident. But according to Tawwab, most people with NPD lack self-esteem and require excessive attention and admiration.

“They need a lot of praise, and if you’re not giving it to them, they’ll fish for it,” she says. That’s why they’re constantly looking at you to tell them how great they are.

“Narcissists use other people — people who are typically highly empathic — to supply their sense of self-worth and make them feel powerful. But because of their low self-esteem, their egos can be slighted very easily, which increases their need for compliments,” adds Shirin Peykar, LMFT.

“The main difference between folks who are confident and those with NPD is that narcissists need others to lift them up and lift themselves up only by putting others down. Two things people with high self-confidence do not do,” Peykar says.

As Weiler explains, narcissists may “punish everyone around them for their lack of self-confidence.”

Lack of empathy, or the ability to feel how another person is feeling, is one of the hallmark characteristics of NPD, Walfish says. People with NPD are often unable to apologize and understand the feelings and perspectives of others.

“Narcissists lack the skill to make you feel seen, validating, understood, or accepted, because they don’t grasp the concept of feelings,” she says.

Does your partner care when you’ve had a bad day at work, fight with your best friend, or scuffle with your parents? Or do they get bored when you express what makes you mad and sad?

Walfish says this inability to empathize, or even sympathize, is often why many, if not all, relationships of people with NPD eventually collapse, whether romantic or not.

It’s common for people with NPD to have frequent conflicts with others. If you dig deeper into their connections, you may notice they have few close friends.

On top of this, people with NPD can be hypersensitive and insecure. As a result, they might lash out when you want to hang out with other people.

They might claim that you don’t spend enough time with them, make you feel guilty for spending time with your friends, or criticize you for the types of friends you have.

Questions to ask yourself

  • “How does my partner treat someone they don’t want anything from?”
  • “Does my partner have any long-term friends?”
  • “Do they have or talk about wanting a nemesis?”
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Maybe, at first, it felt like teasing, but then it became mean. Suddenly, everything you do, from what you wear and eat to who you hang out with and what you watch on TV, is a problem for them.

Antagonism and hostility are well-documented traits in people with NPD, and the toll on others is large.

“They’ll put you down, call you names, hit you with hurtful one-liners, and make jokes that aren’t quite funny,” Peykar says. “Their goal is to lower others’ self-esteem so that they can increase their own because it makes them feel powerful.”

What’s more, reacting to what they say may reinforce their behavior. “A narcissist loves a reaction,” Peykar says. That’s because it shows them they have the power to affect another’s emotional state.

A warning sign: If they knock you down with insults when you do something worth celebrating, get yourself out of there.

“A narcissist might say ‘You were able to do that because I didn’t sleep well’ or some excuse to make it seem like you have an advantage that they didn’t have,” Tawwab says.

They want you to know that you’re not better than them. Because, to them, nobody is.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and emotional abuse, and it’s a hallmark of narcissism. People with NPD may tell blatant lies, falsely accuse others, spin the truth, and ultimately distort your reality — especially in response to perceived challenges of authority or fear of abandonment.

Signs of gaslighting can include:

  • You no longer feel like the person you used to be.
  • You feel more anxious and less confident than you used to be.
  • You often wonder if you’re being too sensitive.
  • You feel like everything you do is wrong.
  • You always think it’s your fault when things go wrong.
  • You’re often apologizing.
  • You have a sense that something’s wrong but aren’t able to identify what it is.
  • You often question whether your response to your partner is appropriate.
  • You make excuses for your partner’s behavior.

“They do this to cause others to doubt themselves as a way to gain superiority. Narcissists thrive off of being worshipped, so they use manipulation tactics to get you to do just that,” Peykar says.

People with NPD are often described as being arrogant and having haughty behaviors or attitudes. That’s why fighting with a narcissist may feel impossible.

“There is no debating or compromising with a narcissist because they are always right,” Tawwab says. “They won’t necessarily see a disagreement as a disagreement. They’ll just see it as them teaching you some truth.”

According to Peykar, you may be dating a narcissist if you feel like your partner:

  • doesn’t hear you
  • won’t understand you
  • doesn’t take responsibility for their part in an issue
  • doesn’t ever try to compromise

While ending the relationship is the best game plan if you’re dating someone who has NPD, Weiler advises avoiding negotiation and arguments.

What irritates someone with NPD “is the lack of control and the lack of a fight. The less you fight back, the less power you can give them over you, the better,” she says.

And because they may never think they’re wrong, they rarely apologize.

People with NPD are especially vulnerable to humiliation and shame and tend to lash out at others when they feel their self-esteem has taken a hit.

If you insist you’re done with the relationship, they’ll make it their goal to hurt you for abandoning them, Peykar says.

“Their ego is so severely bruised that it causes them to feel rage and hatred for anyone who ‘wronged’ them. That’s because everything is everyone else’s fault. Including the breakup,” she adds.

The following includes frequently asked questions about identifying NPD.

What are the traits of a narcissist?

A person may receive a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) diagnosis if they meet five of the nine criteria listed in the DSM-V. This includes having a lack of empathy, a grandiose sense of self-importance, and a sense of self-entitlement.

How can you tell if you are with a narcissist?

The only way to diagnose someone with NPD is through a clinical exam performed by a qualified expert. But you may be able to notice some signs of narcissistic tendencies if the person always puts themself first and does not show empathy for others.

How does a narcissist act in a relationship?

In a romantic relationship, a person with NPD may first come on strong with compliments and proclamations of love. But over time, they may begin to criticize and even gaslight you. They may also need constant compliments and validation of their superiority.

What are narcissist red flags?

A person may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) if they meet five of the nine criteria listed in the DSM-V, which can include lacking empathy, having an inflated sense of self-importance, and believing that they are special and unique and should only associated with others who have a high status, among other traits. Red flags might include not having any close long-term friends, never apologizing, and gaslighting other people.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who has NPD, chances are you’ve already experienced quite a bit.

Being in a relationship with someone who’s constantly criticizing, belittling, gaslighting, and not committing to you may feel emotionally exhausting.

How to prepare for the breakup

  • Constantly remind yourself you deserve better.
  • Strengthen your relationships with your empathetic friends.
  • Build a support network with friends and family who can help remind you what is reality.
  • Urge your partner to talk with a therapist.
  • See a therapist yourself.
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“You cannot change a person with NPD or make them happy by loving them enough or by changing yourself to meet their whims and desires. They will never be in tune with you, never empathic to your experiences, and you will always feel empty after an interaction with them,” Grace says.

“Narcissists can’t feel fulfilled in relationships, or in any area of their lives because nothing is ever special enough for them,” she adds.

Essentially, you’ll never be enough for them, because they’re never enough for themselves.

“The best thing you can do is cut ties. Offer them no explanation. Offer no second chance. Break up with them, and offer no second, third, or fourth chance,” Grace says.

Because someone with NPD will most likely make attempts at contacting you and harassing you with calls or texts once they’ve fully processed the rejection, Krol recommends blocking them to help you stick to your decision.

Remember: This article isn’t meant to diagnose your partner.

Instead, this article is meant to outline unacceptable behaviors and reactions in the context of a loving, equitable partnership. Having one or six of these signs doesn’t make your partner a narcissist. But it’s a good cause for re-evaluating whether or not you’re thriving in your relationship.

Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie-blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York–based wellness writer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drunk, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal, all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.