Did you blow right past the red flags in a relationship with a narcissist? Don’t be too hard on yourself. It turns out that spotting a narcissist is actually a lot harder than most people think. Not all narcissists display red-flag behaviors immediately.
If you’ve done your homework on narcissists, you know that most follow the traditional pattern of love bombing, devaluing, and discarding. That means that they come on strong, build you up, and promise to fulfill your wildest dreams until their toxic behaviors send it all crashing down around you. However, some narcissists actually take a subtle, soft approach that doesn’t conform to the standard pattern. Here’s a look at three reasons why it’s sometimes easy to miss the red flags of narcissism.
1. You Didn’t Spend Enough Time Together Before Things Become Serious
Distance is a great cloak for narcissists. Everything from busy schedules to long distance can help narcissists to keep charming façades going. If you were seeing what turned out to be a narcissistic partner sporadically, you may have missed the red flags simply because you weren’t around them enough to observe the cracks in the veneer. It can also be difficult to put pieces together when you’re not with a narcissist in a variety of settings and scenarios that can bring out their true character. Keep in mind that it takes 200 hours of being together just for two people to become close friends.
It’s common for someone to be unaware that they are dating a narcissist until a couple begins living in the same city after being in a long-term relationship. In some cases, the realization doesn’t happen until a couple is either married or living in the same house. Distance gives the narcissist the perfect route for presenting a romanticized, grandiose version of their personality.
2. The Narcissist Is Displaying Delayed Flags
Some narcissists are exceptionally skilled at hiding their toxic traits. Traditionally, narcissism red flags show up by the third date. However, it’s possible for a narcissist to hide their nature for weeks or months. You may be dealing with a mild or low-grade narcissist who has much “lighter” narcissistic tendencies. This can actually make discernment harder because behaviors don’t seem “that bad.” Even narcissists who are capable of “holding it in” until they have you hooked can’t hide forever. It’s only a matter of time before things begin to unravel once the narcissist achieves a certain comfort level with their partner. Unfortunately, that “comfort level” can mean marriage!
3. You Were Introduced to the Person by Someone You Trust
It’s possible that someone with good intentions unwittingly unleashed a narcissist on your life. When we’re introduced to what we assume is a “vetted” person, we tend to let our guard down because we believe that the person is trustworthy. The problem is that narcissists are different people when they’re with different people. While a “healthy” person relates to others in a consistent way, a narcissist has a superficial personality that can be shifted in order to get their needs met.
It’s also important to know that narcissists will behave differently with different people based on the dynamics of relationships. It’s as though they have a closet full of costumes they can use to get the validation they’re seeking at any given moment. If the person doing the introducing is either useful to the narcissist or powerful compared to the narcissist, the narcissist will put effort into being affable and charming with that person.
We are far more likely to ignore red flags when they are coming from someone who was introduced to us by someone we know. We assume that they must be a good person if a friend, family member, or colleague is vouching for them. Unfortunately, exposing the narcissist in this type of situation can be riskier simply because there’s a chance that people who know “other versions” of the narcissist may not believe you.
While you may be noticing flags later than expected, you need to know that it’s never too late to break free from a narcissist. Narcissists often use fuzzy flags to their advantage by making you question your own experiences. Trust me when I say that you are not the only person who has ever missed red flags that became obvious in hindsight! I outline some great ways to avoid accidentally stumbling into a toxic relationship in my Dating Survival Guide.