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How Dating a Narcissist Changes You

Are you wondering how dating a narcissist changes you? I got an email the other day that said, “Ryan, I’m in a bad relationship—I’m fairly certain that she’s a narcissist. What should I do? Is this having an impact on my life? Should I walk away?”

This is a strong question. And one that needs to be evaluated with depth before we draw significant conclusions.

What to know about dating someone with narcissistic personality traits and BPD/NPD…

Dating a narcissistic personality type can certainly alter who you are. In fact, there’s now abundant research that points to the negative qualitative and quantitative effects of being around individuals with pathological narcissism.

According to a study by Nicholas J.S. Day, Michelle L. Townsend, and Brin F. S. Grenyer—screened participants described those with narcissistic personalities as having “grandiosity.” Or “having a requirement for admiration, showing arrogance, entitlement, envy, exploitativeness, grandiose fantasy, a lack of empathy, and self-importance.”

The study helps us to understand the types of behaviors that a single person could get exposed to over time. In a book published by the American Psychiatric Association titled “Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 5th ed” (link to Amazon), which includes more than 200 experts, making it the definitive medical reference on all things borderline personality disorder—they outline the comprehensive effects of being with NPD partners.

What dating someone with narcissism is going to feel like

—How dating a narcissist changes you: general instability that you should be concerned about

The net result of both of these publications is one simple yet shocking conclusion, stating, “the vulnerable aspect of pathological narcissism impacts others in an insidious way given the core deficits of feelings of emptiness and affective instability.”

How dating a narcissist is going to change you

There’s no doubt that dating a narcissistic personality or someone with a mental health issue is going to have an impact on your future. In fact, whether it’s a relationship or a family member, there’s a multitude of resources available to address how this is going to have an impact on your regular life.

These emotional difficulties that you may face could be: guilt, anger, depression, tiredness, helplessness, shame, embarrassment, and much more. A repeated feeling of these emotions could leave someone bruised, battered, and exhausted from the continual struggle.

What makes most of us the most exhausted is that those with the mental health issue (NPD/NV) don’t exactly get exhausted from their own behaviors. They’re so accustomed to them that it has become part of their regular routine—making it an illness.

1. You’ll feel your personality will have changed

—How dating a narcissist changes you: you are at risk

A significant and key part of dating a person with NPD is the way that their behaviors have a natural effect on your life. For example, being around someone who treats others without a certain degree of respect will naturally have an impact on you.

You may start to lose respect for others. Or certain behaviors of others that the narcissistic personality doesn’t value. Typically, the narcissistic personality will only appreciate those who serve them, not a mutually beneficial relationship.

The personalities that those with NPD tend to target are those with lower self-esteem, people who are impressive in some way, and those who will reflect them well in the eyes of other people. As we can see from these descriptions, there’s not much that the narcissistic personality “gives back.” A study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discussed what creating “good relationships” looks like. Often, it is the “responsiveness between two people—improving relationship quality for the both of them.”

What to do when you feel this way:

  • It may be time to consult a medical professional or therapist. This list by Mental Health America is a great resource for finding a qualified professional near you.
  • Talk to those you trust. While it’s a simple piece of advice, speaking with other people who you can knowingly share your feelings with is a great way to talk through your prior problems. You may have to wait until you “disconnect” the relationship you have with the NPD.

2. There will be a feeling of self-doubt, lack of confidence, and doubt of others

—How dating a narcissist changes you: where did you go

This study published in 2016 discusses the linkage between narcissism and self-esteem. In particular, the self-esteem of an NPD is typically quite low, although they still have higher modes of grandiosity. This complex mental relationship makes it difficult for the NPD to judge their own actions and to which degree it is serving their overall self.

As a byproduct of being around this behavior, a person without NPD is going to struggle to know how they fit into the world. For example, narcissistic vulnerability (NV) is linked to low explicit self-evaluations regardless of their own implicit self-esteem. To put this simply, the NPD doesn’t have a direct connection with themselves or others around them. Lastly, this personality type is going to have a destructive tendency for all things around them.

While you’re involved in all of this madness—you, too, will become mad. You once could have understood how to have a positive impact on others around you and, as a result—yourself. After living with or being around the NPD long enough, you’ll begin to exhibit small amounts of the same behavior (destructive and self-loathing behavior). This study, published by the Association for Psychological Science, sheds light on the destructive habits of a narcissistic personality.

How to handle feeling this way:

  • Reconnecting with yourself is going to be a strong way to build your confidence. It’s unlikely that jumping into a new relationship is going to help. Pursuing simple hobbies and habits that bring you joy will lead to more positive outcomes than simply “moving on” to a new romantic relationship.

See also: Relationship red flags

3. A residual effect on all relationships in the future—how a narcissist changes your future “love” potential

—How dating a narcissist changes you: it will slow your life down

The word “fantasy” is used over and over to describe the reality that NPD’s live within. When you’re part of this fantasy, it is going to take some time to heal from it. Before we can fully comprehend how to heal from a narcissistic personality, most professionals will suggest learning about the inner workings of NPD and how it cultivates.

According to Simund Freud, he suggests that all NPD patients suffer a developmental arrest in infancy. Freud argues “that infants are inherently selfish; they focus on having their needs met by others, and they alter their behavior with others so as to attain these goals.”

The average healing time for those who have been around narcissism is going to vary, depending on those that are getting treated. If you haven’t picked up on this yet—you are going to need a significant amount of time to heal. At a minimum, think anywhere from 8 to 12 months if you were with someone who had NPD for anywhere under 3 years.

The longer your relationship is with that person, the more time you are going to need to find yourself reconnecting with reality (and not the fantasy reality you’ve gotten accustomed to).

What you should do:

  • Avoid jumping into new relationships where you could harm new people around you based on prior experiences.
  • Continue to deepen your understanding of the NPD and how it functions—this understanding will help to reverse negative or bad traits you may have been exposed to.

Related: 21 questions for a new relationship

4. Potential to have a more difficult time trusting others in the future

—How dating a narcissist changes you: trust is critical for all relationships

When we take a look at the chart that points to the personality traits and characteristics of an NPD, we can see that it is quite complex.

how dating a narcissist changes you
The personality and traits that dictate much of the NPD.

The chart shows a number of difficult behaviors that are challenging for anyone to get exposed to over long periods of time. For example, if we mix a “charming personality” with “grandiose fantasy” we have an imbalance that can manifest itself in a number of negative or positive ways.

This feeling will be a roller coaster: very heightened and strong emotions along with very low and negative emotions. You, the non-NPD, will start to feel as though your life is part of this roller coaster. For the NPD, this is life as normal. For you, this isn’t.

As a net result, you’ll begin to lose trust in yourself and others. Assuming that others may be “out to get you,” or may not be telling you the truth. Trust, as a byproduct of this, comes into question. Can you trust others? What signals tell you that you should trust someone? And how soon should you start to trust another person?

According to this study, they put it quite simply, “Trust is essential to building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships.”

Here’s what to do to combat this:

  • Reconnect or continue to establish relationships with those that you have trusted prior. These should be family members or close friends who have always served your purpose in life. Think of this as “giving” or “mutually beneficial” relationship.
  • Learn more about adult attachment types and how they manifest in romantic relationships. There could be a linkage between yourself and your NPD partner. It’s best to address these issues within yourself for your future relationships and overall mental health.

See also: Beta male

5. General exhaustion and impact on your professional or personal life—how a narcissist changes you into a “beaten down” person

—How dating a narcissist changes you: exhaustion and lack of future effort

Based on everything mentioned in the evidence above, it’s easier to depict how the presence of an NPD is going to have a significant bearing on your mental stamina. There are a lot of new questions to ask, more issues to address, and stringing together of “fantasy” that can be difficult to maintain. Whether you like it or not, having an NPD partner makes you “part of the fantasy.”

The references to the damaging effects of being exposed to narcissistic personalities is abundant. If you can take a moment to see how fear, guilt, shame, punishment and manipulation are wreaking havoc on your personal life—then it’s impossible to think it’s not going to have an effect on your work life.

These traits do not bode well for the qualities that make up great leaders, which include the following:

  • Treating your teams with respect and gaining their respect in return.
  • Becoming transparent with others around you.
  • Having the capability to delegate and being open, honest, and friendly.

This could leave your work life, career, and/or “job” at serious risk. For example, you could be the “difficult one” to work with. Or the person that “no one understands.” This could put a target on your back for future layoffs or even termination due to how you see your regular actions being “normalized” from your exposure to the NPD partner.

If you’re feeling this, here’s what to do:

  • Seek the advice of a mentor that you can trust. This should be someone who has a strong career and has significantly more experience than you. Ask them to guide you through the challenges you’re seeing in the workplace and what to do about them.
  • Try to address your personal life along with your work life. Understand the connection and linkage between the two. Our cognitive recognition of certain habits allows us to engage in behavioral change


Strachey J. On Narcissism: An Introduction. In: Freud S, Strachey J, Freud, A, et al. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV (1914-1916): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. London, UK: The Hogarth Press; 1957:67-102.

6 Signs That You Might Be a Vulnerable Narcissist | Psychology Today. PsychologyToday. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

APA PsycNet. Psycnet.org. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Campbell, Lorne, and Sarah Ce Stanton. “Adult Attachment and Trust in Romantic Relationships.” Current Opinion in Psychology, vol. 25, Feb. 2019, pp. 148–51. PubMed, DOI.org.

Day, Nicholas J. S., et al. “Living with Pathological Narcissism: A Qualitative Study.” Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation, vol. 7, no. 1, Aug. 2020, p. 19. BioMed Central, DOI.org.

Di Pierro, Rossella, et al. “Narcissistic Traits and Explicit Self-Esteem: The Moderating Role of Implicit Self-View.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 7, 2016. Frontiers, Frontiersin.org.

Grapsas, Stathis, et al. “The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Narcissism: A Process Model of Narcissistic Status Pursuit.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 15, no. 1, Jan. 2020, pp. 150–72. DOI.org (Crossref), DOI.org.

Leaders, Emerging, and Phil Sennett. “15 Qualities That Make a Great Leader | Emerging Leaders | University of Rochester.” Emerging Leaders, 15 Mar. 2021, Rechester.edu.

“The Science Behind Behavior Change.” Columbia University Irving Medical Center, 20 Feb. 2018, Columbia.edu.

Wilkins, Consuelo H. “Effective Engagement Requires Trust and Being Trustworthy.” Medical Care, vol. 56, no. 10 Suppl 1, Oct. 2018, pp. S6–8. PubMed Central, DOI.org.

Fact checked:
Board reviewed by Marianne Tomlinson, LCSW (Couples and Family Therapy). Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Learn more.

About the author

Ryan Sanderson (LCSW) Ryan is a game and relationship enthusiast who enjoys all things quizzes, games, fun, love, relationships, and family. He's a licensed social worker and helps families, couples, and children in need. He's spoken about love and relationships on Salon.com, Forbes, and Mirror, to name a few.

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