Single people are increasingly turning online to find love, with more than 300 million people around the world trying their luck on dating apps. Some find their fairy tale. But for others, stories of online dating have very different endings.
You may be ghosted after a seemingly blissful start, or strung along with just crumbs of attention. Perhaps you suddenly learn the person you’re dating isn’t who you thought they were.
If these scenarios sound familiar, you may have dated a “vulnerable narcissist.”
Narcissism in a broad sense can be conceptualized as a personality trait that falls on a continuum. Those at the extreme end are characterized by entitlement, superiority, and a strong need for attention, admiration and approval.
Vulnerable narcissism is characterized by high emotional sensitivity and a defensive, insecure grandiosity that masks feelings of incompetence and inadequacy.
If you’re wondering whether you’re dating a vulnerable narcissist, look out for these red flags waving in sync.
1. Vulnerable narcissists are usually introverted and high on neuroticism. In isolation, these traits need not be of concern, but in vulnerable narcissists they typically present in combination with dishonesty, and a lack of agreeableness and humility.
2. Love-bombing is a manipulative dating tactic commonly used by vulnerable narcissists. It’s characterized by excessive attention and affection. While this can be flattering in the early stages of a relationship, the intention is to manipulate you into feeling dependent on and obligated to them.
3. The devaluation phase follows love-bombing. It will often manifest in emotionally abusive behaviors such as harsh and relentless criticism, unprovoked angry outbursts, gaslighting and stonewalling.
4. Finally, vulnerable narcissists are hypersensitive to criticism. Constructive criticism is an important component of communication in healthy relationships. But a vulnerable narcissist is likely to perceive the slightest criticism as a personal attack. They may respond to criticism with emotional outbursts, making you feel like you’re walking on eggshells.
5. The onset of narcissistic abuse is often slow and insidious, but the adverse effects (such as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder) can persist long after the relationship has ended. If you have concerns, it’s important to seek support from your family doctor, a psychologist, or a domestic violence support service. They can help you navigate the relationship, or safely exit it.