17 Ways Dating A Narcissist Changes You (And How To Recover)
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When you first met this guy, everything felt like a fairytale. He brought you flowers on your first date, he held doors open for you, and he whisked you away for a romantic weekend in Paris. He seemed like your dream man. Maybe your intuition sensed something was off, but it’s easy to miss the red flags when dating a narcissist because they’re skilled at confusing and charming people. When you start to suspect him, he distracts and dazzles you in a different way, reeling you back into his web before you can give your hunch another thought.
But one day, you read something, watched something, or heard something, and it slowly dawned on you that you are, in fact, dating a narcissist. Don’t blame yourself. The most important lesson here is that you’re finally seeing him for who he really is. Whether you’re still with him and plotting your exit strategy or you recently got yourself out, this article is for you. I’ll be exploring what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is, what it’s like dating a narcissist, how dating a narcissist changes you, and how to recover after dating a narcissist (and not give up on love).
The roots of narcissistic personality disorder
Yes, narcissism is an actual disorder, and approximately 1 in every 200 people suffer from it in the U.S, while a whopping 75% of cases are men. But there’s a difference between dating a person with narcissistic personality disorder and dating an a**hole.
NPD develops in childhood when a child is abused or made to feel worthless or helpless. For example, when parents pit their children against each other or constantly criticize and put them down. Narcissism can also result from overprotective parenting, which tells the child that they are incapable of doing anything themselves and are therefore worthless. This child will view their true self as flawed, so construct a brand new, fake version of themselves to compensate. But this phony self cannot truly make them feel worthy, which they’re craving, so they have to look for external sources of validation. This leads to them manipulating everyone in their life 24/7 to feel good about themselves.
What is it like dating a narcissist?
Are you wondering, “am I dating a narcissist”? Here are some of the characteristics to watch out for when it comes to narcissistic personality disorder:
- A huge ego
- An insatiable need for praise and admiration
- Lack of empathy
- Being envious of others or paranoid that others are envious of them
- Feeling they are special
- They love bomb you/pursue you almost desperately
- Manipulation/exploitation of others
- Making false promises
- Unable to receive feedback
- They don’t feel guilt
Signs you’re dating a narcissist
How does a narcissist make you feel in a relationship? Let’s dive into this.
The hot and cold effect
You have the best night you’ve ever had and remember why you fell in love with him, but the following day it feels like you’ve woken up with a different man. He’s rude, frosty, or giving you the silent treatment. Is this man a real-life Jekyll and Hyde? When things are good, they’re great, and you let yourself dream of a happily ever after. But it never seems to last.
You start wondering, “what’s wrong with me?”
Dating a narcissist changes you because you’ll end up turning the spotlight on yourself and wondering if it’s you instead of him. Trust me; it’s him.
He’ll gaslight you to the point where you start to wonder if you really are to blame for his anger and outbursts and the way he mistreats you.
You’re too sensitive.
You made me do it.
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It’s all your fault.
You’re not a good girlfriend.
These are all standard lines that narcissists keep up their sleeves, ready to roll out whenever the finger points at them. Classic deflection.
He is the top priority in your life (at all costs)
It’s one thing being in love with someone and wanting to take care of them and make them happy, but it’s a different thing if it feels like his happiness and wellbeing come at the expense of your own. If you’re constantly sacrificing your needs and wants for his, something is wrong.
You are walking on eggshells
Because he loses his temper so frequently, and you’re never sure what mood he will be in, you overthink everything. You censor your words and actions because you’re worried about how he will react. You want peace and for your relationship to be good, but this brings you so much anxiety day-to-day because you’re always on edge anticipating another explosion.
Your success is too much for him to handle
Narcissists are jealous creatures. If you get a promotion at work, have success in your business, or do something great in your social life, don’t be surprised when he can’t handle it. He might make a sarcastic comment or tell you you’re being big-headed and try to knock you back down to beneath his level. Maybe he’ll counter by saying, “I’m only joking,” but the damage is done. Other times, he’ll try and steal your limelight by clouding your success with his own.
Traits that were praised are twisted into negatives
Think back to when you first started dating this guy and everything he complimented you on and praised you for.
For example, maybe he said he loved that you were so ambitious, but now he says that you’re a workaholic who has no social life. Or maybe he said he loved your sense of style, but now he often tells you that you look stupid or trashy.
Eventually, all of the qualities he said he loved about you will be twisted into negative traits.
Everything is about them
He wants all of your attention all the time and wants to be your everything. So if you find joy, attention, or love anywhere else, he’ll try and sabotage it. On the day of your birthday party, he gets into a bad mood, and all your attention is then focused on him rather than enjoying your day with your loved ones. Or maybe you’re giving a big presentation at work the next day and prepping for it, and he decides to start an argument.
Here’s how dating a narcissist changes you
Unfortunately, there is a range of long-term effects of living with a narcissist.
1. You become a shell of the woman you used to be
Because of the controlling, dominant, unempathetic nature of a narcissist, it will only be a matter of time before they grate you down and make you feel small and insignificant. Rather than engage in another fight, it’s easier to cave to his demands, which leaves you setting aside your own needs and dampening down your spirit. You may also struggle to make decisions, know what you want, and set healthy boundaries for yourself.
2. You become insecure and self-conscious
Regular criticism, insults, and put-downs will take their toll on your self-esteem and make you think you’re the one with the problem instead of him. Maybe it’s comments about your body, your career, or the friends you keep. You’ll feel like nothing you do is right or good enough.
A narcissist will beat you down to the point where you’re thankful for any scraps of love or kindness he gives you. And when you do finally leave him, the feeling of insecurity will linger and can affect your future relationships (if you’re not aware of it).
3. You start defending or enabling abuse
Although this may be tough to hear, I want to be honest with you. Staying in a relationship with a narcissist means that you are tolerating and enabling his abuse on some level. His behavior is not your fault, and you are in no way responsible for it. But if you find yourself defending or rationalizing his behavior, this is a problem and will likely enable him to continue being narcissistic with other people and in other situations.
4. You become clingy
The longer you stay with a narcissist, the more entangled in his web you become. Because he has slowly chipped away at your confidence and made you feel like you cannot get anyone better than him, you start to cling to him out of fear that he’ll leave you. Newsflash: this is the best thing that could happen.
5. How dating a narcissist changes you: you become isolated
It’s typical of a narcissist to slowly cut you off from all the people who love and care about you, either by convincing you they’re out to sabotage your relationship or making you feel guilty for spending time away from him. This is because he’s jealous of anyone else having your attention—he wants to be the only person in your life. Narcissists have a habit of getting what they want, so you inevitably wind up isolated on a metaphorical desert island with him.
6. You blame yourself for everything
He constantly twists everything around and convinces you that everything is your fault.
His bad day at work? Your fault.
Him spilling tomato sauce down his white shirt at dinner? Your fault.
Are you feeling upset after he told you those jeans made you look fat? Of course, it’s your fault.
It sounds absurd when you lay it out like this, but everything can become real fuzzy when you’re in the relationship. It won’t be long before you start to agree with him and blame yourself for everything.
7. You fear conflict
Narcissists cannot deal with the finger pointed at them. Any constructive criticism or call out on behavior will make him flip a switch.
So what happens?
You fear conflict so much that you learn to withhold or lie about your feelings to keep the peace. It’s easier to lie than deal with the fallout, which means all the problems in your relationship get swept under the carpet and are never resolved.
8. You feel trapped in the relationship
Any sign of you wanting to end things and leave the relationship will make a narcissist change their behavior to convince you to stay. He’ll go back to being Prince Charming for as long as it takes to reel you back in, but once he’s got you, the toxic cycle will repeat. You’re left feeling trapped.
9. You struggle to make yourself a priority
Dating a narcissist changes you because everything is always about him: his needs, dreams, and goals. He believes he is more important than you (than everyone) and deserves special treatment, which means that your needs will always come second, and his complete lack of empathy will mean he doesn’t feel an ounce of guilt.
10. You feel worthless
Because a narcissist needs constant affection, he will expect the woman he dates to be obsessed with him. If you’re not, you’ll hear about it. But because you’re giving so much love, interest, and attention to your partner, there will be nothing left over for you. This can significantly damage your self-worth and leave you feeling unappreciated and unloved.
11. You become subservient
Narcissists need to control everything—this is where they derive their power. You won’t be allowed to wear that skirt out for drinks with your friends. He will have to approve the recipe you’re cooking for dinner. He’ll tell you getting your hair styled at the salon each month is a waste of money, and you won’t do it anymore, or you’ll do it in secret and try and hide it from him.
Often without realizing it, you become subservient to his demands.
12. You become anxious
When you reach the walking on eggshells stage of a relationship with a narcissist, you’ll find that no matter how hard you try to avoid conflict and make him happy, nothing works in the long run. This feeling of doing everything you can to make your relationship work but still coming up short will leave you feeling anxious 24/7.
13. You may become depressed
Dating a narcissist changes you by slowly stripping you of hope and joy. If your self-confidence is gone, you’ve lost connections with people you love, and your needs are not being met in your relationship, it’s only a matter of time before you slip into a depression. Life isn’t meant to feel like this, and this is not what a healthy relationship looks like. You deserve so much more from every part of your life.
14. You may feel a sense of shame
Although he might be a narcissist, staying in a relationship with him can leave you feeling a sense of shame. For example, you’re ashamed of how other people might view your relationship, or for staying with him so long even though you know it’s abusive, or because you know you deserve better, but you’re afraid to leave or can’t financially support yourself.
15. You lose trust in yourself and others
Because you’ve been lied to and gaslighted for so long, it can lead to you losing trust in yourself and other people. You may second guess your thoughts and decisions, and you may struggle to trust again in a new relationship. You might assume that no matter what you do, you will inevitably get hurt again or that all men are despicable misogynists who get a buzz out of manipulating and abusing women.
16. You develop PTSD
Dating a narcissist changes you because it inflicts trauma, and the effects can have a huge impact on the rest of your life. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) develops after repetitive trauma, which can happen through emotional abuse in a relationship. The irony here is that the narcissist already has PTSD due to childhood trauma and knows how painful this is, yet they decide to inflict it on you too.
C-PTSD can be worked through, but it will often require help from a professional.
17. You may date another narcissist
If you’ve dated a narcissist in the past, you’re more likely to be drawn to one in the future. This choice usually happens on a subconscious level and is a reflection of our desire for what’s comfortable and familiar. So if your parents were narcissists, it’s likely you’ll seek out someone narcissistic in a relationship. But it is possible to break this toxic cycle for good and end a narcissistic relationship pattern.
If you suspect you are currently dating a narcissist, it’s vital that you end things as quickly as possible so you can find your way back to your happy, healthy, confident self.
How to recover after dating a narcissist
1. Break the pattern
If you want to avoid repeating the same mistake, use this as an opportunity to reflect on how you ended up in a narcissistic relationship and what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Think back to your childhood and whether you grew up with narcissists or experienced abuse. Familiarize yourself with the signs of narcissistic personality disorder in this article. Do your own research, so you know exactly what to beware of. Stay on guard when you start dating again.
2. Remind yourself you’re stronger than you think you are
You might feel a tendency to judge yourself for ending up in a relationship with a narcissist in the first place, but try and let go of the self-judgment. That is the last thing you need right now—you’ve been criticized enough. Reframe your thoughts. You survived this, and you got out. You decided you deserve better and have made a conscious choice to pursue a happier and healthier life. This requires a tremendous amount of courage, strength, and self-respect. Remind yourself of this anytime shame or judgment creeps in. Dating a narcissist changes you in positive ways too, so focus on these.
3. Work with a therapist
If you do have deep emotional scars from your relationship—for example, if you’re still suffering from anxiety, depression, or C-PTSD—after it has ended, you may want to consider working with a therapist. A qualified therapist familiar with your situation can help you process these traumatic events so that you can start to heal and move forward.
4. Focus on healing
Before jumping into a new relationship, you’ve got to take some time to heal from what happened. Cry if you need to. Grieve the loss of this man in your life, even though you know he’s not good for you. Accept what happened. Let yourself get angry. Journaling can be a brilliant tool to make sense of a jumble of thoughts and emotions and find clarity. Forgive yourself, and when you’re ready to, forgive him, so you can let go and move on. Take as much time as you need.
5. Rebuild your confidence
The next step to recover after dating a narcissist is to rebuild your confidence, which also happens to be numero uno on my list of Little Love Steps.
Who were you before you met this guy? What did you love doing in your free time, how did you like to dress, who did you enjoy hanging out with? Start exploring who you are again and rediscovering yourself. Do small things each day to build confidence, like talking to a stranger, trying a new hobby, or doing something you know you’re great at.
Be kind and loving to yourself. This is how you’ll rebuild your self-worth and start to recognize your value. The most attractive quality in a woman is when she deeply loves herself.
6. Set boundaries and uphold them
Dating a narcissist changes you because it teaches you the importance of setting boundaries—Little Love Step #6. Without personal boundaries, you risk being walked over, manipulated, and not having your needs met in a relationship. So think about what your boundaries are. What are your limits and personal values? What would make you feel like someone has crossed a line in a relationship? How can you communicate these more clearly next time so that you avoid feeling used or disrespected?
Boundaries are vital for your emotional wellbeing and an integral part of every healthy relationship.
Dating a narcissist can change your life forever in a negative way, but only if you don’t get yourself out of the relationship and embark on a journey of healing and rebuilding.
Remember that everything you experienced in your relationship was a direct result of his disorder and not you. You were never the problem.
Finally, know that dating a good guy after a narcissist is possible. There are great men in this world. Not everyone is a narcissist, and not everyone is out to lie, cheat, or exploit. So no matter what happened in your previous relationships, do not give up on love! You deserve to find the healthy, loving, committed relationship you’ve always dreamed of, and it’s out there waiting for you to go get it.
I was married to a narcissist for 12 years and we had 4 children together. I definitely identify with everything in this article. It has been a 20 year journey of recovery and even though I’m currently seeing someone new, the fears, doubts, and anxiety are always present.
Thank you for this article, I have a Narcissist mother, (didn’t know until later years) I met a man in early 20″s (My Prince , covert narc) married him and had children, I was blindsided to what I was going through, and yes, I made all the excuses. It wasn’t until I threw him out that the light went on and I researched this kind of behavior that I knew what I was dealing with. It took me 30 years of marriage that I wasted and can’t get those years back to know. Now I don’t think that I want… Read more »
Great article and very helpful. Unfortunately, this has been a common theme throughout my life but in the long run, it made me stronger and more resilient. Once I started seeing the pattern, I started standing my ground. I am a force of nature 🙂
Thank you so much for delving into these types of topics in relation to dating. A lot if content in dating advice focuses on how to make yourself more appealing to a guy, which is also appreciated, but so many people are struggling with relationships due to deeper more complex issues. Sometimes our in, whilst other times, the other person’s. I like the way you break it down into the simple signs which resonate. As you said, you’re in a relationship which confuses you, and then you read an article which outlines behaviours, internal thoughts, etc, and then it sparks… Read more »
I agree. I wish content would not focus on what we can do to make ourselves more marketable in dating. We are telling women to be malleable to attract men. Pretend to be someone else and to enjoy activities men may like. This advice chips away at our identities and makes it far easier to end up with a narcissist abuser. I changed my interests and even how I dressed to be with my now ex-husband at first. By the time I had kids, I gradually worked back to myself. He constantly called me names and attacked me for what… Read more »
Thank you for your article. My father is a narcissist. Every point you mention here fits my mom. Here are just a few examples: Mom has depression for over 30 years because that liar has another woman outside which he violently denies but everybody has seen them together. He stopped mom from seeing her psychiatrist because “you have nothing wrong and you are wasting money!” Now she has deteriorated to Parkinsons disease and again he stops her from seeing the doctor with the same excuse. He becomes sweet and nice when she is dependent on him, and after (say cooking… Read more »
I’m a year on from leaving my narcissistic husband after 25 years of marriage and he’s still trying to control me and make me feel guilty for having broken up the family that apparently only he built from his armchair whilst I worked full time – we went no contact but after a year he still holds on to my money – it took me a year to build up the courage to ask for it and he rewrote history again and laughed when I said he’s controlling- he projects on to me his behaviours and it’s pointless trying to… Read more »
This was a spot-on look at relationships with narcissist and abusers. Telling others about this is embarrassing and it’s easy to feel ashamed. They are skilled at manipulation and chilling away at the target’s self esteem. Some abusers swing back and forth between love bombing and abuse but others, between ignoring and abuse. Either way, it’s always waiting for the abuse to start. It’s really hard to recover, but possible.
Great amount of information. So Clear as what I have experienced. I dated for 8 years off and on and have now shown traits of a narcissist as well. Will give myself time to heal and rebuild.