Ask Adam: Is My Boyfriend a Narcissist?
My boyfriend is very good looking, funny, and the life of every party. We have a great time going out, but at home I feel ignored.
I ask him about his day, but he never asks me about mine. I plan wonderful birthday parties for him but I’m lucky if he even remembers mine. I send him loving texts each day but he never does the same.
When I talk to him about this he gets defensive and critical. How can I get him to pay more attention to me?
Ignored in Illinois
Dear Ignored in Illinois,
While it is impossible to assess someone based on just a few pieces of information, from your description your boyfriend sounds narcissistic.
Narcissism occurs in a range. We all have some narcissism within us. Healthy narcissism gives us the motivation to get out there and make a splash when we need to. Unhealthy narcissism isolates us from others when it blocks our capacity to empathize and authentically meet someone else’s needs.
Many of my clients fall in love with narcissists. It’s pretty easy to do. Narcissists often are extremely charming, bright, and attractive. I call them “shiny”. Around them we can feel excited, more alive, entertained, and flattered that these shiny people chose us.
While narcissists can make a charming first impression, they can be challenging to love. Because they tend to have trouble empathizing with others, loving them in the context of a long term relationship can feel lonely. If you want to feel “seen” by your partner then you might not want to date a narcissist.
My clients typically feel hurt by their narcissistic partners because their needs are not valued and respected. As you know, it’s quite painful to keep giving and receive little care in return.
While narcissists look very confident to the outside world, inside it is a different story. Internally they are experiencing painful low self-esteem. In order to avoid this feeling they spend a great deal of energy searching for new and greater sources of admiration from others. That search feels so important and consuming that it leaves little room for focusing on another person. It’s like a drug addiction.
They tend not to handle criticism well because it pokes at this internal insecurity.
If you consistently date men who are high on the narcissist scale then you may have a tendency to ignore your own needs in service to another. A common term for this is “codependency.”
If you tend to be codependent then you might be asking right now, “What can I do that will help or change him?” The difficult to accept – but true answer – is “nothing.” Each of us must be motivated from within to change. Period.
So what can you do? The solution is to start giving your own needs the attention they deserve. That means figuring out what they are, respecting them, and bringing people into your life who enjoy meeting them. If your boyfriend can respond well to your new assertiveness, great. If not, then perhaps you are in the wrong relationship.
Adam D. Blum, MFT is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in relationship and self-esteem issues for gay men. Adam offers services in his San Francisco office or by Skype and phone worldwide. Visit his website to subscribe to his e-newsletter and his free guide on building gay relationships. Follow him on Facebook and read his blog. Send your questions for possible publication to [email protected]. (Questions may be edited.)