How to Avoid Falling Into a Narcissistic Relationship Pattern

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Do you repeatedly find yourself in relationships where you give a lot more than you take? Do you find that the focus is always on your partner and your needs remain unmet? Do you sometimes feel like a mere object in the relationship? This may be the case if you gravitate toward relationships with people who have narcissistic tendencies.

This article explores the signs of narcissistic relationships, the toll they can take, as well as some steps you can take to break out of this pattern.
Signs of Narcissistic Relationships

These are some signs that you’re dating a person with narcissistic tendencies,1 says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University:

Need for approval: Your partner has a high need for admiration, which can require a lot of emotional energy on your part. You may notice that their goals and motives for decisions are based on gaining approval from other people.
Superficial intimacy: You may get the feeling that the relationship is purely superficial or just for show. You may feel like an object in the relationship, as it can seem like your partner has only slight interest in you and instead uses you only for personal gain and status.
Exploitative nature: You often get the sense that you’re being used or manipulated to cater to your partner’s needs, without any consideration of your own. People with narcissistic tendencies relate to others as objects, using them as fuel to maintain their own self-worth and needs. When their objects are not performing for them, they go to great lengths to have their partners adapt to meet their needs.
Beliefs of grandiosity: Your partner believes they are exceptional and unique and expects special treatment from others. They tend to be arrogant and entitled, and constantly want to associate with high-status people, events, and things. They may have beliefs of grandiosity despite not being very accomplished.

Lack of empathy: You may often feel like your partner cannot empathize with you and lacks empathy for others, in general. They may struggle to identify with the feelings and needs of the people around them.
Sensitivity to criticism: You may notice that your partner is extremely attuned to your reactions to them, using your responses to gauge their sense of self and value. They may be hypersensitive to criticism and often react with shame or humiliation when criticized, or by denying their faults.
Exaggerated extremes: Your partner may fluctuate between grandiose and vulnerable positions.3 When in the grandiose mode, they may make statements like: “I like to have friends who rely on me because it makes me feel important,” or “I often fantasize about being recognized for my accomplishments.” Conversely, when in the vulnerable mode, they may make statements like “It’s hard for me to feel good about myself unless I know other people admire me,” or “I feel anxious and ashamed when others get a glimpse of my needs.”

Relationships with people who have narcissistic tendencies often start off in an intense manner and move at a fast pace. Your partner will seem like a very special person and make you feel like you’re one-of-a-kind.

However, soon enough, they will start to pick on your faults, compare you to others, and find you lacking. You may find yourself working hard to gain their approval. If you try to pull away, they may react with extreme hurt or rage, and the cycle of appreciating you, then criticizing you, starts all over again.

Get in touch with your feelings: Pay attention to your own feelings and perspective, so you can become more confident in trusting your own feelings and beliefs without the coercion applied by your partner.
Set boundaries: Establish firm and clearly defined boundaries in order to communicate to your partner what is acceptable behavior around you and what is not.
Recognize red flags: When you notice your partner has narcissistic tendencies or they are acting in a way that violates your boundaries, don’t ignore your red flags or warning signs. Notice the signs, acknowledge them, and take action.

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