There is a desire in society to prioritize mental health and gain a deeper understanding on the mind and how it functions. As a result, mental health terms filtered their way into the conversation. However, since most people aren’t mental health professionals, there are some words that are used incorrectly. Narcissism is one of those terms, especially when it comes to relationship patterns. 

Many people claim to have been in romantic relationships with a narcissist. However, licensed professional counselor Theresa Rose, said that only 6.2 percent of the overall population actually has narcissism.  

“It’s a personality disorder,” Rose said. “There’s a difference between having narcissistic attributes and a narcissistic personality.  You have to fulfill criteria to truly be a narcissist.”

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a person must possess at least five out of nine attributes to be considered a narcissist. These are the nine characteristics listed in the manual:

  • A grandiose sense of self
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success
  • Believing that they are “special” and unique 
  • Requiring excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement 
  • Being interpersonally exploitative (taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends)
  • Lacking empathy 
  • Envious of others 
  • Showing arrogant behaviors or attitudes

While a narcissist must be clinically diagnosed, the criteria is prevalent in the way they behave in romantic relationships. Rose said there is evidence of these attributes from the moment you meet. 

Interpersonally Exploitative

Rose said a narcissist often seeks out someone who is vulnerable and acts as a “helper.”

“They’re looking for someone who has been wounded in a past relationship or a single mom who needs that extra assistance,” Rose said. “A narcissistic person will know your triggers and know when to use them. They study your vulnerability. They take notes.” 

A Grandiose Sense of Self

A narcissist may employ lovebombing at the beginning of a relationship to woo a potential partner. However, Rose said the signs are still there.

“They’ll say something like, ‘After this date, you’re going to want me,’” she said. “It’s not a behavior you can disguise. You can try very hard to, but you recognize it right away.”

Rose said that people often ignore the signs and believe people will change. 

Lacking Empathy 

Narcissists struggle with taking accountability for their actions. You can recognize this early in the ways that they may speak about their past relationships. Rose said that they may say that they may say something like, “My past relationship ended because I was a good guy. I gave her everything and too bad for her.”


A narcissist is often envious of people who they perceive as more successful than themselves. That can include their own partners. 

“They tend to sabotage their [partner’s] success,” Rose said. “They’ll manipulate them into thinking that they don’t deserve to have that master’s degree or this job.” 

A narcissist will do more than dump on the things you’ve already achieved. They may try to prevent you from achieving anything in the first place. They can do this by subtly suggesting that you stop doing certain things. For example, they may suggest that you stop working. While the idea of someone paying all of the bills can seem appealing, you may realize your partner has complete control of the household finances. 


A narcissist’s entitlement, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, often presents itself with “unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or automatic compliance to their expectations.” Rose gives an example of how this might look in a romantic relationship. 

“[They’ll say] ‘You’re my wife. I’m entitled to respect. When I get home, things need to be in place. When I sit on the couch, I need a beer. I’m entitled to that because I work all day,’” she said.

Requiring Admiration 

A narcissist needs admiration. If their romantic partner finds and expresses fault in them or attempts to hold them accountable, a narcissist will lose interest. At that point, the abusive party attempts to discard their partner. In the early stages of a dating relationship, it may look like ghosting. In a more committed relationship, it may be a breakup that is blamed on you.

“It happens when they’re challenged,” Rose said. “You didn’t believe them. It’s all about them feeling needed, and if you’re not fulfilling that need and they realize you’re headstrong, independent and don’t need them, it’s easy for them to leave.”

Sometimes this phase is final. Other times, a narcissist will circle back to see if they can still exert power and control over their partner and the cycle begins all over again.