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Two Clear Signs You're Dating a Grandiose Narcissist

Grandiose narcissists make for terrible partners. Here's why.

Key points

  • Grandiose narcissism can be thought of as the presence of narcissistic admiration and narcissistic rivalry.
  • These competitive dynamics make it difficult for their partners to feel emotionally safe or valued.
  • It’s essential for individuals to set boundaries and prioritize their own well-being.
Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash
Source: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

Grandiose narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with grandiose narcissism often believe they are superior to others, have a sense of entitlement, and seek to dominate social interactions. They may exaggerate their achievements, expect special treatment, and exploit others to achieve their goals.

“Grandiosity is commonly expressed through arrogance, self-enhancement tactics (e.g., explicit expressions of greatness or attractiveness) and social boldness (e.g., nominating oneself for a leadership position),” explains Kennedy Balzen, lead author of a 2022 study on narcissism and relationships.

Research shows that grandiose narcissism can be conceptualized as the presence of narcissistic admiration and narcissistic rivalry, two behaviors with a shared goal of enhancing and maintaining one’s inflated self-concept, often at the expense of close relationships.

Here’s how the two core traits of grandiose narcissism negatively impact romantic connections.

1. Narcissistic Admiration

Narcissistic admiration refers to the intense desire for attention, praise, and adoration that individuals with narcissistic traits seek from others. This serves to bolster their fragile self-esteem and validate their inflated sense of self-importance.

This quest for admiration can affect relationships due to the following narcissistic qualities.

  • A constant need for attention. Individuals displaying grandiose narcissism crave constant validation, admiration and special treatment from others, engaging in behaviors designed to draw attention to themselves, such as boasting about their achievements, seeking compliments, or dominating conversations. While initially their confidence may be appealing, over time, their self-centeredness can strain relationships.
  • Exaggerated self-image. Grandiose narcissism involves beliefs that one is uniquely talented, attractive, or successful. When they don’t receive the admiration they desire for these perceived qualities, narcissists may become resentful or dismissive of others, leading to a cycle of idealization and devaluation. Initially, they may idealize their partner, showering them with attention and affection to gain their admiration. However, once the partner fails to meet their unrealistic expectations or challenges their superiority, the narcissist may devalue them, belittle their achievements, or discard them altogether in search of new sources of admiration.
  • Manipulative behavior. Narcissists may use manipulative tactics to garner admiration, engaging in charm offensives, flattery, or manipulation to win people over. However, this behavior is often superficial and insincere, eventually leading to conflict and a lack of genuine connection.
  • Difficulty maintaining intimacy. Genuine intimacy requires mutual empathy, respect, and emotional vulnerability, qualities that narcissists often lack. This makes it difficult for them to form deep, meaningful connections with others. They may struggle to empathize with their partner’s feelings or prioritize their needs, leading to a one-sided relationship dynamic.

2. Narcissistic Rivalry

Narcissistic rivalry involves defensive strategies aimed at protecting one’s self-image through aggressive behavior toward others. This trait reflects a deep-seated insecurity and a constant need to maintain a sense of superiority. Individuals high in narcissistic rivalry may engage in exploitative behaviors and harbor envy toward others’ accomplishments as it threatens their grandiose self-image.

In relationships, narcissistic rivalry can have profound and damaging effects. Here’s how it may manifest:

  • Sensitivity to criticism. Narcissists have a fragile sense of self-esteem and are highly sensitive to criticism or rejection. When faced with feedback that challenges their self-image, they may react with defensiveness, anger, or aggression rather than trying to work through relationship issues healthily.
  • Envy and resentment. Narcissistic partners may seek to outshine the other to protect their self-image. Constant comparison and envy of their accomplishments can lead to resentment, sabotage, or attempts to undermine their partner's confidence. For instance, they may criticize an important work presentation their partner has just given in order to feel superior. This can breed feelings of hostility, betrayal, and insecurity rather than the vital dynamics of cooperation and support.
  • Confrontational and aggressive behavior. Narcissistic rivalry can manifest as frequent arguments, power struggles, gaslighting, or emotional manipulation in relationships. A narcissist’s tendency to resort to hostility and intimidation to maintain a sense of control can create an environment of fear and tension, leading to lower relationship satisfaction, driving romantic partners away, or trapping them in abusive relationship dynamics.
  • Lack of constructive communication. A lack of empathy can exacerbate conflicts and prevent meaningful communication or compromise. With traits of grandiose narcissism, a person’s arrogant demeanor can make it challenging to resolve conflicts constructively, as they tend to focus solely on their own desires while dismissing their partner’s perspectives and feelings.

These competitive dynamics make it difficult for their partners to feel emotionally safe or valued, which can continue even after the relationship has ended. A 2021 study examined the emotional reactions of individuals with grandiose narcissism after a break-up and found that both narcissistic rivalry and admiration were associated with greater anger towards an ex-partner.

Additionally, researchers found that while admiration traits were associated with a more positive perception of an ex-partner and rivalry was associated with a negative bias towards them, narcissistic admiration also made individuals more likely to initiate these break-ups due to a lack of interest, highlighting the superficial nature of their romantic connections.

Initially, individuals with grandiose narcissism can appear naturally charming, confident, and attractive, but with time, as narcissistic rivalry rears its ugly head, their true intentions begin to surface and derail their relationships.

The exploitative, envious, and confrontational behaviors associated with this trait undermine trust and breed resentment, ultimately making narcissistic partners unlikable and difficult to maintain long-term relationships with.

It’s essential for individuals involved with them to set boundaries, prioritize their own well-being, and seek support if they feel trapped in these relationship dynamics. For narcissistic individuals, it is also vital to seek support to cultivate self-awareness and work through their self-promoting and antagonistic tendencies to build healthier, long-lasting relationships.


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