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  • Brianna Paruolo

Toxic Love: Recognizing and Healing from Narcissistic Relationships

Updated: May 22

Are You Dating a Narcissist? How to Tell and What to Do

If you feel like your relationship is one-sided, and your partner seems to prioritize their own needs above yours, it’s time to ask yourself: Am I dating a narcissist? Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by a lack of empathy and an inflated sense of self-importance. While many people have self-confidence and a healthy sense of self-worth, narcissists take it to the extreme, often causing damage to those around them. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of narcissism, the signs to look out for in a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship, and how to create a safety plan to leave a narcissistic relationship.

What a Narcissist Is and Isn't

First things first, it's important to understand that not all self-centered or egotistical people are narcissists. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person with NPD must have at least five of the following characteristics:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance

  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

  • A belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions

  • A need for excessive admiration

  • A sense of entitlement

  • Interpersonal exploitation

  • Lack of empathy

  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them

  • Arrogant behaviors or attitudes

It's worth noting that narcissistic personality disorder is a rare diagnosis, and it's important not to label someone as a narcissist without a professional diagnosis.

Understanding the Different Types of Narcissism

While narcissism can be divided into two categories, grandiose and vulnerable, there are subtypes within each category. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, grandiose narcissists can be divided into three subtypes:

  • Arrogant/entitled: These individuals feel superior to others and believe that they deserve special treatment. They tend to be competitive and have little concern for the feelings of others.

  • Grandiose/charming: These individuals use their charm and charisma to get what they want from others. They have a sense of entitlement and may exploit others to get their needs met.

  • Manipulative: These individuals are willing to manipulate and exploit others to achieve their goals. They may be charming or aggressive, depending on what they believe will work best.

Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, tend to be more introverted and insecure. They can be divided into two subtypes:

  • Fragile: These individuals have low self-esteem and are highly sensitive to criticism. They may feel a sense of entitlement but are also aware of their shortcomings.

  • Grandiose/malignant: These individuals are highly reactive to perceived slights and may become aggressive in response. They have a tendency to blame others for their problems and may hold grudges.

Knowing the Signs to Look Out for in a Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationship

In a healthy relationship, both partners should feel valued and respected. If you’re unsure whether your relationship is healthy or not, here are some signs to look out for:

Healthy Relationship:

  • You feel safe and secure in the relationship.

  • You and your partner communicate openly and honestly.

  • You both prioritize each other's needs and desires.

  • You both respect each other's boundaries.

  • You feel supported and encouraged by your partner.

Unhealthy Relationship:

  • Your partner consistently puts their needs before yours.

  • You feel unsafe or uncomfortable around your partner.

  • Your partner is emotionally manipulative or abusive.

  • Your partner consistently

Creating a Safety Plan to Leave a Narcissistic Relationship

Leaving a narcissistic relationship can be difficult, but it's important to prioritize your safety and well-being. Here are some steps you can take to create a safety plan:

  • Reach out to a trusted friend or family member for support.

  • Document any instances of abuse or manipulation.

  • Make a plan for where you will go if you need to leave quickly.

  • Consider changing your phone number and/or blocking your ex on social media.

  • Seek professional help, such as therapy or counseling.

Remember, leaving a narcissistic relationship can be a process, and it's important to take the time to care for yourself and seek support as needed.

Final Thoughts

Dating a narcissist can be a confusing and damaging experience, but understanding the different types of narcissism and the signs to look out for can help you recognize when it's time to prioritize your own well-being. If you're currently in a narcissistic relationship, creating a safety plan can help you take the steps you need to leave safely and with support. Remember, seeking professional help can also be a valuable resource in healing from the effects of a narcissistic relationship.

About the Author

Brianna Paruolo, MSED, CMHC-LP, works as a women's perfectionist and self-esteem therapist, offering guidance and support to women who want freedom from the pressures they so often place on themselves. She is passionate that everyone can welcome a new normal where they love themselves and face the future with hope. Send her an email at to connect today!

Legal Notice: The content presented in this blog post/Instagram post is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide mental health treatment. It is crucial to consult with a qualified mental health professional for personalized advice or treatment regarding your specific circumstances. Reading or engaging with this content does not establish a client-counselor relationship, and the author is not liable for any actions taken based on the information provided. It is recommended to seek up-to-date information and consult professionals for the latest advancements in mental health research and practice. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact your local emergency services or helpline immediately.

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