You recently came out of a relationship with an abusive narcissist, you’ve taken some time and feel ready to re-enter the dating pool.
After what you’ve been through, you believe you’ve learned your lesson—the hard way—and one thing is for certain: You’re never going to make the same mistake again. No more toxic egomaniacs or ‘narcs’ for you!
Things seem to be going well at first; you’re chatting with people and maybe even going on dates. You meet and connect with someone who captivates and excites you and decide to give it a real shot.
Then, suddenly, the red flags appear: You’ve seen this before. You recognize this feeling. This person might be completely different from your ex, but something is familiar still. What’s happening?
If you’ve been close with a narcissist once, chances are you’ll end up attracting more, or others with similar toxic traits. If you’re lucky, you might realize quickly enough to get out unharmed. Other times, you may not see it until you’re back on the deep end, yet again.
You start to sound like a broken record to your friends: Another narcissist? Are you sure you’re not the problem?
And so, the self-doubt starts creeping back. Perhaps you are the crazy one? Is this all in your head? Was it, all along?
The reason you end up here, again and again, is not a coincidence. It’s neither their fault nor yours—but has to do with both of you. If you’re someone who attracts people with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) or high on the narcissism scale, you’re likely an empath and/or highly empathetic. The two of you are drawn to each other like moths to a flame.
In a previous article, I outline the reasons why the narcissist picked you: They’re drawn to your strengths, your compassion, and kindness, as well as your loyalty and dependability. You’re everything they’re not, and vice versa; you both want what the other represents.
What is codependency?
The majority of the people I know who’ve been in these kinds of relationships, myself included, tend to struggle with codependency. Dependents are immensely loyal people-pleasers, who yearn for approval and therefore end up in the role of the enabler. They often fail to define and prioritize their own needs—and thus end up sacrificing them at the cost of the needs of others. They may also compromise personal values and integrity to avoid rejection or confrontation. In addition, they’re highly independent—which sounds like a fallacy—and not likely to ask outsiders for help; they’ll mask (or not even recognize) their own pain and have a tendency to isolate rather than reaching out when they suffer.
Dependent Personality Disorder is an actual thing, recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, but also here, there’s a scale. If the above description sounds like you, I recommend prioritizing in-depth self-reflection before pursuing romantic partnerships. You may want to seek professional help to overcome the roots of these behavioral patterns. In any case, practicing being alone—free of the involvement and consideration of someone else—while you define your own needs, wants and boundaries can be vital.
Personally, I fell into the same trap multiple times after I left my narcissistic ex. Far from everyone I got involved with were full-blown narcissists, still, I kept attracting—and being attracted to—individuals with overinflated egos, unhealthy boundaries, clingy and obsessive traits mixed with controlling, manipulative behaviors.
Recently, an old lover popped back into my life; one that I had already realized before was not good for me, and who had displayed a number of disturbing qualities that led me to cut contact a few years back. The problem is that we have such strong chemistry that he has the ability to knock me off my feet with minimum effort, so when he returned, proclaiming that he’d changed and become a new man, I wanted this to be true so badly that I (almost) fell for it again.
Can’t fool me twice? Well, apparently you can… at least almost. After this last run-in, which caused me to close this book for a last and definite time, I was reminded of a number of blinking red lights to be aware of:
Look out for this:
Are they love-bombing you? | This is how narcissists prime you for what’s to come. The stage feels like a Disney fairytale on acid and is nothing short of intoxicating—it’s addictive too. They might come on very intensely, declaring their adoration and devotion to you, showering you in compliments, and doing everything to make you feel like their very special, chosen one.
Take a deep breath or a cold shower, and wait a minute before you swallow their Kool-Aid. Then continue to ask yourself the following:
Are they displaying healthy boundaries? | Do they write to you all the time without waiting for an answer in between—or at all hours of the day and night? This might feel flattering if they have you swooning, but make sure to question their communication style with a clear head.
Are they moving at super-speed? | Do they go too far too fast, even just with their words? Do they place you in scenarios in their lives that insinuate a long term, serious commitment, very shortly after you’ve met or started dating?
Do they respect your boundaries? | Do they overstay their welcome? Do you feel like you have to push them out of your place? Do they ask things of you that demand you jumping through hoops to fulfill them?
Do they have two distinct personas? | Do they come on strong in one moment, just to disappear and seem unavailable the next? Not only is this a manipulative power-move that asserts dominance, but it makes you yearn for them and their love-bombing drug even more intensely.
Are they making grandiose statements about themselves? | Do they talk excessively about all the spectacular things they’re doing or have done? Do they display an unrealistic sense of self-importance? Do they make themselves appear just a tad otherworldly?
Are they really listening to you? | In the love-bombing phase, the narcissist will seem very into you, but pay attention: When you talk about yourself, do they ask relevant questions? Do they seem like they really pay attention? Or do they quickly pull the focus of the conversation back at them?
If you can confirm a few or several of the questions above, pull the breaks and take another deep breath.
No one’s a better judge of how someone or something makes you feel than yourself. Therefore, if you find yourself getting involved with someone and start eyeing a few blinking red lights on the horizon, remove the rose-colored glasses for a moment and tune into your intuition:
How do you feel around them?
Are you unnaturally swooned or even knocked off your feet? | These are wonderful feelings and not always signs that something is wrong. We all want to feel this way, right? Narcissists tend to be incredibly charming and charismatic, especially in the beginning. Ask yourself if this behavior is healthy and authentic or if you’re being taken for a spin.
Are you holding back around them? | Are you careful voicing what’s on your mind? Are you already tiptoeing in fear that your complete honesty might scare them off? Take note of these feelings and examine them. Often, this is where your dependency-tendencies will come up.
Someone empathetic and dependent-leaning, wanting to be liked by anyone with an overinflated, unhealthy ego, will quickly pick up where the limits of that person’s comfort and sensitivities, and will do what they can to stay safely within them.
Do they make you feel uneasy? | This one’s a hard one to reconcile, especially when you’re simultaneously high on their love-potion. When I’ve been in these situations myself, I can feel wonderful around them, but then, when I leave to spend time with myself, I’m stuck with an unsavory taste in my mouth—unable to shake the feeling that something is off. Listen to this feeling!
If you suspect that something is not quite right, there are a few things you can do and say to gently trial your suspicion. In short, you want to challenge every item on the list above of things to look out for.
How to test your suspicions:
Disagree with them | This sounds simple enough, but a dependent people-pleaser will avoid confrontation at all cost and will therefore start self-censoring. When your new acquaintance says something you really don’t agree with or that doesn’t sit right with you, question their statement, tell them how you feel, and observe how they react.
Stop catering to their ego | Similar to the above, dare to be your honest, authentic self even if you’re afraid they won’t approve. If you’re already holding back, it will only get worse.
Don’t go the extra mile | If they commonly ask you to cater to their schedule and preferences without returning the favor, step up, and ask that they do the same for you.
Insist on your boundaries | Be shamelessly clear with your boundaries and tell them immediately if and when they go too far, too fast.
Communicate your needs | Clearly state what you want and need in a relationship.
If a few, or all of the above, causes them to react with anger, resentment, or avoidance—if they can’t handle criticism or the fact that you don’t agree with them—and if they won’t meet you halfway or are sensitive to your needs, these are clear signs that you could be headed down a dodgy and potentially harmful path.
When meeting potential new partners, and even friends, look for someone who makes you comfortable and at ease in their presence; who allows you to speak freely and candidly without feeling constantly on guard. Being smitten and desiring returned admiration doesn’t mean you should accept feeling anxious and fearful of losing someone’s approval if you say the wrong thing. At the end of the day, you should be left with a sense of peace, not turmoil and nervousness.
If you’re stuck in a cycle of unhealthy connections and you keep attracting people and situations that are not helping you grow, try taking time to heal on your own. Seek to feel grounded before you open back up to anyone else.
Remember that you are whole in yourself and do not need anyone to complete you. Being alone can feel scary if you’re not used to it, but when you learn to rely on yourself without attachment, your inner voice will become stronger and you’ll get better at distinguishing your own wants and wishes from those of others. Only when we learn to depend on ourselves first can we break the cycle of co-dependency and be truly ready to venture into healthy unions with others.
The Irresistible Allure of the Abusive Narcissist
The reasons you were swayed — and why you stayed
This Is Why the Narcissist Picked You
They chose you for your strengths, not your weaknesses
Below are all of my articles on narcissistic abuse gathered in one place: