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Lost sense of self: Seven signs you are in a relationship with a narcissist

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If you are in a relationship with a narcissist and believe you require legal support. Then please contact our team to speak to a specialist family lawyer

A relationship with a narcissist

Being in a relationship with a narcissist can have far-reaching effects on your mental health. And with characteristics including a grandiose sense of self, lack of empathy, superficial charm and a lack of remorse, it’s no surprise that these relationships can be incredibly toxic.

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we have revisited one of our most well-read articles on the seven signs you are in a relationship with a narcissist.

Your partner is always right, needs to be the centre of attention and can’t handle any criticism. Sound familiar? Well, you could be in a relationship with a narcissist.

Julian Hawkhead, Senior Partner joins us on the blog to share the seven signs you are in a relationship with a narcissist.

All too often I see clients whose relationships have broken down due to one party displaying the signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). A mental condition, narcissism “is characterised by an overvalued sense of self-importance and a disregard for and lack of empathy for others.” *

NPD is a very extreme form of narcissism and affects approximately 6% of the population with men more affected than women. For those sufferers and the people in their lives, it can cause a lot of problems, particularly in emotional relationships.

Narcissists can be a nightmare to live with, they can destroy your confidence, make you feel utterly depressed and lose all sense of self and reality. So how do you know if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist?

Here are seven signs to watch out for…

Narcissists are controlling

The narcissist likes to be in control…of everything. People frequently confuse the control with attention, but it often spirals and gets to the point where the other person in the relationship feels dominated and in minimal control of their life.  Do you constantly find yourself asking for permission to go somewhere? Does your partner monitor where you are?  Check your messages?

It’s all about them

Yes, it is all about them. They are so totally preoccupied with themselves that nothing else gets a look in. And if it is not all about them, they will make it so. A narcissist will be put out if the conversation is not about them – and will turn it so it is.

They lack empathy

If their needs are being met, quite frankly a narcissist simply does not care. They have a complete lack of empathy for others even their friends, partner and family; do not have the ability to identify with their feelings; don’t think twice about taking advantage of others to get what they need without any feelings of remorse or guilt.

They manipulate people (including you)

The masters of manipulation, narcissists are very skilful at twisting situations and working them, so they get what they want.  One of their preferred techniques is gaslighting (you can read my blog on it here), whereby they convince you that your views are wrong, often over a long period of time. They use this technique to make you feel worthless, constantly questioning your instincts, feeling confused and anxious and that you can’t do anything right.

They have an inflated sense of entitlement

Narcissists believe they are truly special and much more superior to the people around them. Nobody is as clever, good looking or engaging as they are.  They expect to always get what they want because they are just so much better than anyone else.

Nothing is ever their fault

They never take responsibility for anything because they don’t believe that they can do anything wrong. Lying, cheating, complex excuses, anything to deflect from how they behave. Add in their fine manipulation skills here and before you know the other partner has apologised for an argument they did not cause.

They need constant praise and attention

You will be expected to put your partner first always and frequently acknowledge their wonderful achievements, talents and appearance, whatever they do.

A narcissist must be the centre of attention and as a partner, you must dote on them. Any signs of disapproval or disagreement with what they say will not be received well.

What can you do if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist?

The long-term effects of being married to a narcissist wife or husband or being in any relationship with a narcissist are incredibly difficult. Leaving one can be even harder. However, with the right support you can do it.

It takes a great deal of self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-confidence to end any marriage. Talking to a solicitor to understand your legal rights is a great starting point. I also advise clients that they talk to friends and family and seek out counselling.

Sometimes it’s about taking the first step and making that call. The Relate website is very helpful.

You must get professional legal advice to ensure that the process will work for you and your family.  You can contact our specialist team below.

If your partner makes you feel threatened or anxious or you are in an abusive relationship, please do seek advice. The National Domestic Violence Helpline is open 24 hours a day and can be reached on 0808 2000 247 or visit the website.

Get in touch

If you would like any advice on leaving a relationship with a narcissist, please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers. 

*Dr Annemarie O’Connor, Clinical Psychologist and Director at themindworks, a private psychology practice in London.

This article was originally published on 5 December 2018 and has since been edited. 

Julian is Stowe Family Law’s Senior Partner and is based in our Leeds office.

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  1. S kahn says:

    I have read your blog about narcicism. I was married to one and he was a nightmare. He left thankfully after s 30 year marriage but it’s even a bigger nightmare now. He is dragging me through the court system now for the second time about finances and continues to lie, cheat and abuse the legal system for his benefit. He has hidden all the assets so I cannot get anything financially near what I should be getting because he has cooked his business books. The first time in the court system he was called a liar but did not even get punished for wasting court time. Now he comes back very soon after the first hearings were ordered and reduces his books even further so he wants to vary the maintenance to nothing. All these cases are costing me money I do not have and zapping me of my mental state. I have been advised that saying he’s an abuser in court will only work against me. And the mental state I find myself because of his abuse and further abuse through the court system would not be compensated. He’s basically allowed to cheat me and lie and I cannot do anything about it. I don’t understand the legal system. I feel that the legal system continues where the ex left off and I am not protected. I do have legal representation, but I can’t fight the abuse and I can’t prive the hidden assets. The lifestyle was far different than the accounts he shows. An accountant will only work with the numbers he’s given by his client. I was the home carer in a very traditional marriage. I did not lie or cheat. I did the best for him and my 4 now grown children. So now that I’m 60 I could find myself with very little finances for my future and serious mental issues. The legal system is not their for nieve wives who enabled the family business and raised 4 productive lovely children. Interestingly he was extremely generous throughout the marriage but I pliers all that money back into the family and would never have dreamed to siphon away money for myself in an account that would be unknown to him or my family. I just lived to enable him to succeed for the family, for him to be happy and give my children the best futures I could possibly give them. The spouse had other premeditative thoughts that he did not share and now I’m in an unbelievable mess for doing the best I could during my marriage.

    • J. Gould says:

      I have empathy for every word you have said. My case is almost identical.
      I admit sometimes I wasn’t a perfect wife, but what human being is perfect all of the time. I never did anything that I planned or was intentional and if I did anything wrong it was usually a reaction to the control and abuse I was suffering.
      At a family court hearing in September 2019 when for the first time I tried to speak out about the terrorisation and coersive control I had suffered, the Judge replied saying “You dont look like a woman who has suffered abuse sitting there to me” or words to that effect. I was silenced into shame yet again. My friends and family were appalled and all asked me “What does a woman abused look like?
      I have been told for more years than I can remember that I do not have a voice and that “You do not speak” by my ex husband, and the Judge that day last month, from the British Justice system that I have respected all my life, was ultimately silencing me too with those words.
      I am a white british almost 61 year old female who feels manipulated and controlled, fighting a soul destroying financial battle with my ex husband through the courts, not now for me over money but because I need to see justice.
      I feel as though I wake up in quick sand every day, that it is like fighting a battle blind folded as I am fighting lies, manipulation and deceipt every day, so I have no idea what I am challenging or up against because the truth doesn’t exist.
      I wish you and all the other humans, men and women, who are waking up to this daily living nightmare the very best.

    • Beatrice says:

      I find myself in a similar situation. For years I have wondered what I was doing wrong. I have only recently come across the mental condition Narcissism but it explains so much. My husband became increasingly critical, controlling, abusive over our 30 years marriage.
      In June 2018 he announced that he wanted to be free of this ‘terrible marriage’. Then started 18 months of unrelenting abuse whilst we pursued a divorce. We have had to stay in the family home but he will not reach a settlement despite numerous attempts. He seems to be enjoying the drama and having such an awful wife, it seems to help him justify his perceived failure in life and I can only look forward to my day in Court to bring this nightmare to a conclusion.

      I am so disheartened to hear that your nightmare continues. I too have met with,whilst sympathetic, complete inability by my legal team to advise of some legal recourse to the unrelenting abuse I have been subjected to. My friends and family are incredulous that there is not some action I can take to be treated in a pragmatic professional manner. I can only hope that I am finally free after the court appearance and I wish you a speedy resolution too.

    • Sheay says:

      Comimg from someone who is currently trying to leave the narcissist.. Hunny… You need to let it go and move on with your life… Do you deserve more from that marriage.. Absolutly.. Is it fair.. Hell no.. But you will never know peace until you turn the page and enter into a new chaoter of your life that doesnt involve the narcissist.. They dont give two shits about anyting other than stringing you along and getting enjoyment out of watching you struggle.. I was free of my narcissist for a whole year. He finally made contact with me and weasled his way back into my home because we share two children together and it was the biggest mistake of my life. He told me everything I wanted to hear and absolutly nothing changed.. But he got what he wanted.. A place to sleep and two small little girls to yell at and boss around and he expects me to be his maid and his chauffeur because he refuses to get a driver license or clean his own underwear.. He will literally wait until i do my laundry or the kids laundry and ask if he can throw his clothes in with ours. He will literally go without underwear… Its ridiculous.. I dont even understand how a person would rather rely on other people to do everythinf for them because they literally dont want to do it for themselves. He also flunked out of college because he expected me to do all of his homework for him and when I refused, he just stopped all together and flunked out and now has a 30 thousand dollar college debt.. Lol.. Its insanity.. Narcissism is literally insanity…

  2. Julia Horsnell says:

    I am a domestic abuse support worker (voluntary) and I had a similar experience when I was supporting a woman in court and alleging abuse by the husband (with plenty of evidence). She dismissed it all and said ‘I am not interested in this type of thing, the only time I recognised an abusive relationship in financial proceedings is a case where the man had broken the woman’s pelvis. That is the only kind of abuse that I recognise’. I was so shocked that the Judge was denying the serious crime of ‘Coercive and controlling behaviour’ and implying the only form of abuse was physical. I wrote and complained to the ombudsman, but they wouldn’t do anything about re-training, which would have been the least of what was required.

    • Stitchedup says:

      Why should a judge consider unproven allegations of domestic abuse in financial proceedings!!??!! the judge was quite right to dismiss mere allegations to determine a financial settlement and quite right to take into consideration where there has been proof of physical violence. How can you say “the Judge was denying the serious crime of ‘Coercive and controlling behavior’” when nothing has been proven beyond reasonable doubt…. did the man have a conviction??? if not he hasn’t committed a crime so the judge hasn’t ignored a crime…. please stick to the facts. Seriously, when are you people going to understand that it’s all too easy for women to make false allegations of domestic abuse to secure better settlements??? Judges are quite right to be wary of mere allegations.

      • Sharon Shaw says:

        You can’t see abuse just in facts, maybe these judges need to undergo their own personal therapy maybe they would then be able to see truth? The problem is the whole legal system is run on manipulation that’s why it doesn’t work, in my opinion. So maybe we need to gather evidence to show manipulation at play, that is what I am trying to do. Wish me luck!

      • Unknown says:

        Reading that are you speaking from experience

        • Dina says:

          I totally understand what you are going through, my situation is n at exactly the same as yours, though we have 3 Children. He cooked his books so much and after 10 yrs apart, this year he is providing for his children ever month. Total being £29 ish between them for his own 3 children. I’m utterly disgusted, but I’m holding onto every bit of breath and strength l have, not to contact him. Totally disposable. If I could get my hands on every penny that he is indebted to me and our 3 wonderful kids, I would split I it 3 ways into their own accounts. It isn’t, not wasnt for me, but it would’ve help to keep a roof over our kids head and feed them when we truly needed it. But I’ve managed over the years, I don’t need him, but it would’ve helpful to know that he would pay his best so that our children were not deprived

  3. Karen says:

    Gosh this is exactly what I’ve had to put up with so glad hes left me but still keeps giving me abuse through social media

  4. saddened says:

    It happens to us men as well. I am living in it now

    • Steve Bryant says:

      Hope you made it out. I’m a week out of it now. Struggling……

    • A.K. says:

      My sweet, honest brother has been 30 years married to a narcissistic woman, I don’t think he will ever leave– but yes, there are certainly also female narcissists out there! Wishing you a happier, saner, sweeter future.

    • Dinna says:

      I’m responding to Thee “Saddened” comment. I absolutely agree with you. I know their are lots of other Men, just like yourself in a relationship/Marriage/same sex Marriage or a relationship with a loved one of which you’ve now realised they are definitely Narcissists. Many more than any of us can imagine, who r now . in an abusive relationship, whether it be a male/female. Please don’t think, that you, as a Man, are not being listened to. Just like females who tend to hide the other half’s Narcissisim behaviour from friends an family. I don’t mean to sound sexist, but i think a higher majority of Women than Men tend to talk more to their friends/family/loved ones. But whether male or female we are too ashamed to admit . Even myself, you and so many others know it is not are fault, nor did we create the bitterness that started all because or other halves narciss behaviour. Well,I was ashamed to admit what my other half was doing to me. I had to run away with our 3 children, which I was advised to do so by ‘Women’s Aid’, but i only moved 5 mins drive away from our Marital Home and did not stop him being with his Children. But to this day after 8 yrs, he’ll maybe ask them every other Month to come see him, most times he says ‘make sure Mum feeds yous before coming down’ but a few occasions he’s actually cooked or made brunch for them. FYI I do know their are several other Authorities who can help with your circumstances and find a solution to move onwards and upwards for you, kids, Husbands/Wives) which they do with open arms to make sure yous are all safe. Safety for yourself or any other family members is a must, just one little thing that help you move forward and make sure your beautiful family have a home with their Dad, many blessings to you an lots of luck from us Irish ones over in Northern Ireland

  5. Mr Leslie Hill says:

    The article, which singularly portrays women as the victims (all the photographs featured are of women) is inaccurate; I know as I am a male victim of a female narcissist.
    Unbalanced articles such as this are outdated and I am appalled to see such propaganda being promoted by Stowe Family Law, which is supposed to provide unbiased legal support to both Mothers and Fathers.
    By choosing to project just one side of a coin, it promotes the stereotypical myth that women are always the victims and men are always the abusers.

    • Delbert Orr says:

      You are right im in a narcissus relationship for 18 years just found out what is a narcissist now I understand what is wrong with me now I always felt like I had to walk on eggshells ,controlling manipulative never understood what I was saying always fire back at me what I question her about light on me And I am glad that I am out of the relationship but it’s really hard.

  6. Jane Doe says:

    Yes I’ve fallen victim of this myself and Stowe Family Law represented this narcissist against me listening to his lies and fabrications! I’m still dealing with him and self representing due to lack of finances! As a law firm there is an onus of responsibility for you to identify this narcissistic abuse and not defend it! Shocking

  7. Julia Sweet says:

    Interested in at what point in history the legal system recognised narcissism My narcissistic mother left my long suffering father 40 years ago and continues to abuse him to this day with the full support of the British legal system on her side. Her legal representatives have made a fortune out of our families misery and at no point have they stood up to her.
    There are clear breaches of human rights but the financial costs are too great to pick it all apart.
    I live for the day justice will be served but meantime I consider the law an ass.

    • A.K. says:

      It’s true that legal personnel and family court personnel should be required to receive training in understanding personality disorders and how those can shape divorce proceedings.

  8. Carolyn M Endy says:

    I first encounters this word & person in 2015. She.was be best friend of 28 years, having known each other since my high school graduation in 1986.
    We did everything together, including raising our children. The nightmare
    taking me to court for the charge of harassment & winning (a comment I made of her on FACEBOOK).
    Only to having events escalate. I continually went to the police jurisdictions that we both resided in, majesterial judges involved, up into the County District Attorney. No one would do the job they were hired for or voted into….to do. For 4 years, she stalked me and other just annoying behaviors.
    As I stated to law enforcement, she did exactly what I said she would : get me
    She broke into my home, as I was there ALONE(which she knew).
    As ALL this was explained in court, though I recommended jail time, for only slaps on the wrist over these 4 years of this horror. The judge gave her 2 years probation. TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE.
    IN CONCLUSION……what did I end up with???
    A HUSBAND WHO IS A NARCISSIST !!!! From date #2…..he lied about EVERYTHING.
    We MARRIED, I thought life was now to become everything I’ve ever imagined with a loving spouse.
    WRONG!!! I thought he loved me for 4 years. WRONG!!!!! Was figuring his stragedy on when to vacate our marriage. He vacated pressing charges after charges. I missed a proceeding & protocol was Me = GUILTY and paying for am appeal.
    on charges I KNEW HE WOULDN’T leave by the wayside, he missed. Though my attorney disputed to continue the hearing……judge gave him a continuance. My husband took what I believed to be my happily ever after and turned it into what I believe will be my lifelong nightmare. Why you ask that I say this…..lifelong??
    That non human excuse for (not) a man…..has forever changed who I WAS & WILL BE, though I know whom I was……it will be HELL to get her back in, I feel; damn near EVERY ASPECT AS I MYSELF IN MY PREVIOUS BEING. He has taken the very essence of whom I EVER WAS.
    I feel disgrace in even stating THAT,

  9. Ray says:

    Here’s how is was put to me by a therapist…you can’t enable narcissism. And when you don’t recognize the traits of one and establish healthy boundaries. which I am not even sure is possible with a narcissist. Then a choice needs to be made. You get out or endure the pain and suffering…

    • David says:

      I’m in this right now. We have 3 young daughters who are also feeling the pain. They just look depressed. I feel like my wife is the extreme version. I feel boxed in and made to feel useless (told that too). I can’t take it no more, this is mentally abusive. I notice my daughters can be explosive as well. She’s so tough on them, pushing them way too hard at such young ages. I can’t take hearing them say “mommy is so mean.” It’s sounds like it’s so hard for those on here that have left, and that scares me. Plus, having 3 young daughters in the mix.

      • Bebop says:

        Sad to hear it. I have 2 young boys (im female) and i worry about the ramifications on them. I think I am also in the extreme end of it and its been for a few years. Mine is heavily controlled with stonewalling, gaslighting and meanness to me. I try to talk about one of us leaving but he refuses to give me eye contact and just becomes mean or ignores me . So much so my 4 and 6 year say things like we will never communicate like daddy.

  10. Kim Obrien says:

    My daughter is completely brain washed by her partner of four years they have two children a two yr old and a nine week old baby. He convinced all the family she was going crazy she was paranoid she was abusive NOT. Only turns out for three years he been having an affair planning a wedding saving for a house playing stepdad to the other woman’s son etc etc etc. He lied on Xmas day saying he had to be with his father due to his mother’s death a few month prior turns out he spent the entire day with the other woman. Both my husband and myself have bailed my daughter out financially many times and asked where is all the money going he always hid his phone had numerous calls whenever I was in his company. He interrupted all conversations with utter rubbish. Always changing jobs always had to going somewhere without my daughter and kids even during the labour he was with the other woman now he caught he wants to try again Insisting the kids are his priority. What rubbish he has ruined my family yet my daughter still sees him

  11. Kim Obrien says:

    He believes his own lies he always putting my daughter down Always abrupt always wants to be in control she won’t listen and has chosen him over her family he has other issues I cannot go into why can’t she see him as we do many times she has broken down yet keeps allowing him back he bombards her on the phone everyday checking up on her also

  12. Janet Durham says:

    I have just left a narsacist after 4years we did nothing he was addicted to cocain my life was a nightmare lying cheating making my mental state a mess he would hide his phone on mon I couldn’t get intouch with him in the end he told me he would ring saying he had been in a car crash I was so worried he still hasent been intouch I am fed up exhausted with it all I dont no how somone could do this to somone I suffer from nerve pain in my legs he never asked was I ok so many times I have looked after him me thinking he was I’ll it was the effects of cocain he cheated with a woman sending her money while he give me nothing I found photos on his phone the lies were unbelievable he said he loved me the fact was he loved the way he was waited on I totally loved him but it felt like a drug I would stay with me left me but I couldn’t stop texting obviously he would ignore me because ov the drugs come back back and forth until monday he felt great that morn never spoke since i am so tired from it all i have told him to leave me alone he doesn’t want me so am trying to have no more contact ever

  13. Withheld says:

    The laws have to be changed to recognise this type of abuse, which is as real and horrendous as physical abuse. I was in two such relationships and lost everything because of biased judges, who had no idea , or no interest, in this type of abuse.
    My ex’s brother (a crooked accountant) was best friends with a judge. A few words in the right ear and the Appeal Court judges overturned all previous judgments in favour of my ex. Who says that British Law is fair and just?! It is a complete ass, and totally corrupt on the highest level. Beyond disgraceful!

  14. JK says:

    I am a man who was with a narcissist (undiagnosed) for 7 years, married for 3 of them. I recognised these signs all too well and identify with the men and women who have shared their experiences.

    I tried to involve children’s services who did nothing. My ex-wife went to the Domestic Violence helpline and got assistance and legal aid despite being the one who was perpetrating the violence.

    I could write forever about what I have been subjected too.

    I have been dragged through the courts for 3 years as my ex wife has used this as a means to abuse me further. The court awarded her parts of my pension and salary (thankfully their was no property involved).

    The court identified that she was an unreliable witness yet still sided with her.

    I am so confused and bitter. I naively thought that if I just told the truth it would be ok but it wasn’t. Furthermore, there was no punishment for her perjury.

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