I didn’t know he was a narcissist when I started dating him.

I didn’t know he was a liar either.

I thought we were friends. We’d been friends for years. What better foundation is there for a relationship than friendship? Yet even before our first date, I sensed that something wasn’t quite right.

But that was an understatement.

My worst relationship looked like the best from the outside.

It also helped me find myself.

Our worst relationships often do.

While I will never thank him for anything he did, I did learn some tough, incredible lessons from dating him. Lessons that I hope can help you if you find yourself in a similar situation.

What is Gaslighting? Confronting the Emotional Abuse

Warning signs.

Red Flags.

Whatever you want to call it.

Ways you can identify deceitful and manipulative behavior, especially when it’s a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing.

This is what I wish I’d known before.

1. If they seem too good to be true, they probably are.

Man Giving Christmas Presents to His Wife

He said all the right things. He did all the right things. He was Prince Charming from every fairy tale, and everything he did was completely different from every guy I’d ever dated. Given that I’d been in two abusive relationships before, it’s probably no surprise that he swept me right off my feet.

But I can’t deny there was that part of me that felt like it was too good to be true. That may be the acts were inauthentic or manipulative. No man could be this perfect, could he? No one, man or woman, could be, yet he was. There was that whisper telling me this but I ignored it.

Eventually, it all came out. The other women. The lies about his children, his home, his cars, his job. When everything was stripped away and the truth laid bare, it was very clear that he was nowhere near as perfect as he’d seemed.

There are great people out there. People with whom you’ll have so much in common, share so many laughs with, and feel very happy with. But if that voice is whispering to you that it seems too good to be true?

Listen to it.

2. They’ll try to use your kindness against you.

Woman Comforting Friend

I care about people. If you tell me your grandma is sick, I’m going to ask what’s wrong, if there’s anything I can do, and if you need anything.

Even if I’m upset with you, I care about you and the people in your life if you’re a part of my life.

He used that against me. He figured out very quickly that the easiest way to avoid me getting angry with him, or having any difficult discussions, was to tell me someone was sick to that something was wrong.

He claimed to have a herniated disc in his back that needed surgery. He never had the surgery in the two years we were together, but his back would mysteriously act up whenever we had plans that he didn’t show up for.

His mom and his dad both had high blood pressure, heart attacks, retina detachments, the flu, pneumonia, and other ailments. His daughter had high fevers with unknown causes.

Anytime he didn’t want to talk about something or couldn’t see me because he was seeing one of the other women, someone close to him was sick. And of course, what kind of byotch would I have to be to question whether his dad really had a detached retina or his daughter really had a fever of 104 for the second day in a row with no relief and no visit to the doctor or ER?

I wouldn’t question it and I wouldn’t bother him so he could take care of himself or his loved one. Even as it began to frustrate me, it felt wrong to think he might lie like that.

On the day one of the other women contacted me, I demanded answers from him. When the first words out of his mouth were not, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” but instead, “My mom has high blood pressure. I need to take care of her,” I knew. I knew he was lying. I knew he was avoiding the conversation so he could try to come up with plausible explanations.

I knew he’d been doing it all along.

If it feels like someone is using your kindness to manipulate you, they probably are.

3. Non-answers are an answer. They can also be lies.

Displeased black woman with unrecognizable boyfriend during conflict on bed

You’ve probably seen the quote on Facebook or other social media. It’s usually along the lines of “No answer is also an answer,” or maybe “No response is a response.” And if you go according to that, then you can convince yourself that as long as they give you an answer, it’s a legit answer.

But that’s not always the case. For me, I’d ask a question. He’d answer. But the answer would have holes in it. Big, gaping holes that you could drive a semi through. Or the answer would have nothing to do with what I asked, but he’d do it in such a way that it wasn’t immediately obvious.

In the beginning, I just thought we had poor communication. We just needed to work on it. I needed to be clearer in my questions, and he needed to work on making sure his answers were better.

But as more time passed, it became clear that it wasn’t an issue of poor communication. The issue was he didn’t want to tell me the truth and would give me any other answer, no matter how nonsensical, to avoid doing so.

Non-answers are an answer, and the answer is that they’re lying.

4. Always needing to be told they’re “better” than your past partners is a bad sign.

Two Women Being Affectionate

It’s also an indication of severe insecurity.

This behavior started in the bedroom. He’d ask me over and over if I’d had an orgasm, how many had I had, was he the best guy I’d ever slept with, was he better than my exes, and on and on.

It wasn’t the first time he’d asked those same questions. Honestly, I’m pretty sure he asked the same questions, in the same order, pretty much every time we had sex. But this time was the time I realized he wasn’t stroking his own ego the way I thought.

Until that moment, I’d thought he was ridiculously confident and was just looking for me to essentially worship him for them. But then one morning, as the sunlight streamed through the bedroom windows, I didn’t feel the same connection with him that I thought I’d felt before.

I realized suddenly that I felt like a hostage. I felt like I was being trapped there, between his body and the wall, until I gave him the answers he wanted to hear–until I padded his ego in the way he craved.

I could see his deep insecurities and need for reassured superiority everywhere.

In every question he ever asked me. Questions like, do I treat you better than your exes? Do you love me more than you’ve loved anyone before? Has anyone else ever taken you on a date like this?

Once the truth came out, it actually made sense. He needed multiple women because if one of us should ever decide he was no longer the best, he needed the others to make him think he was.

5. Narcisissts will make everything in the relationship on THEIR terms.

Woman in Black Turtleneck Sweater Sitting on Brown Wooden Chair

The first date that happened three weeks after it should have? It was a Thursday evening. Dinner at 5 p.m, and he wouldn’t tell me any details until two hours before.

That was the pattern of our relationship.

He would wait until he was ready to see me and then expect me to drop everything to see him.

In the beginning, it didn’t seem to be that big a deal. Working for myself and from home, I had a more flexible schedule than his. My kids were old enough that I didn’t need a sitter anymore.

But while a spur-of-the-moment date is fun once in a while, it became the norm. Advance plans were a foreign concept to him.

The day came where I wanted to see him on short notice. No surprise, he couldn’t manage it. The one time, toward the end of our relationship, he did agree to the short notice meetup, he was an hour late. I was expected to sit there and wait.

We make compromises and even sacrifices for those we love.

But those compromises and sacrifices go both ways. If they don’t, it’s time for you to stop giving in and letting them have their way at your expense.

6. If you do fall in love with a narcissist, you need to forgive yourself. And love yourself the way you thought they did.

woman standing on glass door

He had me completely snowed. For the longest time, I believed that man loved me like no one else had ever loved me. The way he looked at me, the way he touched me, the way he smiled at me and kissed me… oh, he was good.

He would tell me all the things he saw in me that he loved, all the reasons why he loved me. It made me feel adored and cherished. It made me feel special. He made me feel like I mattered.

Many people come out of a relationship with a narcissist feeling damaged or even broken. The narcissist shatters their confidence, drives them to insecurity with alternating love bombing and gaslighting, and sucks them dry of anything they have to give.

For me, it was the opposite. Before I’d met him, I had trust issues from past relationships. I had insecurities. Instead of making those worse, somehow my experience with him transformed me in the best ways.

I realized that I didn’t need him to love me. I just needed to love myself the way I thought he loved me. I needed to love all the qualities in myself that he professed to love. I needed to fall in love with myself.

And I did.

I fell in love with myself the way I’d want a partner to love me: deeply, fully, and with no conditions or judgment. I learned to love all the good things about myself and accept all the other things.

I love myself the way I thought he loved me and it feels so much better than his fake love.

7. You never, ever, have to settle.

women holding denim jacket near glass window

All of these lessons combined to give me a curriculum that can be stated in one sentence: I’ll never settle for less than I deserve ever again.

My eyes are wide open to what I deserve. My heart is wide open to love when it’s real and pure. But both my eyes and my heart are also wide open to the signs of being used and one-sided relationships.

While I would never want to date another narcissist, I can’t deny the lessons I learned from that relationship were the most profound and life-transforming lessons I’ve ever had.

In some ways, I guess you could say he did break me. He broke me open in the most beautiful way. But where he meant for me to be his supply, his victim, I became something much more.

Something much different.

I became whole.

And if you’ve been through this experience as well and are struggling, I hope you know that you can become whole too.

That’s what you deserve, and no one, not even a narcissist, can take that away from you.

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