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

Divorce|Wellness & Self Help | 8 Oct 2019 8

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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…

They 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?

Being married or in a relationship with a narcissist is 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, you can find further articles here or please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers here. 

*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.

  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.

  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

  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.

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