16 Ways Narcissists Show Their “Love” For You

16 Ways Narcissists Show Their “Love” For You

That dream partner who swept you off your feet might not be who they seem, especially if you’ve realized they have narcissistic tendencies. Narcissists are incapable of healthy, reciprocal love. If your relationship feels more like a rollercoaster than a safe haven, it’s time to take a closer look. Here are 16 red flags of how a narcissist’s distorted version of “love” can leave you feeling lost and depleted.

1. They shower you with excessive attention and idealization.

The early days are intoxicating, thanks to their shameless love-bombing, PsychCentral notes. They declare you their soulmate, mirror your interests, bombard you with affection. This isn’t genuine connection; it’s setting the stage. They create intense dependency, making you crave their validation, setting you up to accept less as time goes on.

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2. They make you feel special, like they’ve been waiting their whole life for someone like you.

They tap into your deepest insecurities and desires. They love to throw out phrases like, “No one understands me like you do,” or they flatter you with relentless compliments. This isn’t about truly seeing you; it’s about identifying what makes you tick so they can exploit those vulnerabilities later for control.

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3. They paint a picture of a perfect future together and make grand promises.

Ever heard of future-faking? Narcissists are pros at it. Marriage, kids, that dream house…they dangle it all early on. It gets you hooked, investing emotionally in a fantasy that serves them. They know this keeps you loyal, hoping that if you just work hard enough at the relationship, you’ll eventually receive those promised rewards.

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4. They become the perfect reflection of your desires.

man and woman having serious conversation on couch

Do you love hiking? Suddenly, they’re outdoorsy. Craving intellectual conversation? They’ll quote philosophers. It’s all a facade. They’re studying you to create an illusion of compatibility, so you fall fast and hard for essentially a fictional version of themselves tailored for you. Mirroring is something they use to win you over, but it’s completely disingenuous.

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5. They demand constant validation and reassurance.

Suddenly, it’s all about soothing their fragile ego. You’re tasked with reminding them of their greatness, fishing for compliments, never allowing you to feel content because their need for admiration is insatiable. That early attention flips, making the relationship entirely about meeting THEIR emotional needs.

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6. They slowly start isolating you from the people you care about (and who care about you).

They start saying things like, “Your friends don’t understand us,” or picking fights after you spend time with loved ones. They want you dependent on them alone. This isn’t protectiveness; it’s control. Without outside perspectives, their manipulation becomes easier, and it’s harder to break free.

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7. Gifts with strings attached: They use generosity to manipulate you.

Expensive presents and surprise trips seem nice, but those come at a price. Later, they’ll throw them back in your face if you don’t comply with their demands. It’s not selfless kindness; it’s creating a sense of indebtedness and making you feel obligated to accept their bad behavior in “repayment.”

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8. They twist reality to make you doubt your own mind.

“I never said that,” or “You’re overreacting, it was just a joke…” are common gaslighting phrases used by narcissists. They deny your experiences, making you question your sanity. This destabilizes you emotionally. When you don’t trust your own instincts, you become less likely to challenge them or leave an abusive situation.

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9. They play the victim and make you the bad guy.

skeptical looking man talking to woman

Whenever you try to hold them accountable, they become the one who’s been done wrong. It’s designed to evoke guilt and pity, distracting from their own harmful actions. Taking responsibility would shatter their inflated self-image, so they instead twist things to make themselves the victim, ensuring you’re always on the defensive.

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10. They intentionally provoke insecurity to keep you off-balance.

Flirting in front of you, comments about how attractive someone is, constantly comparing you to others — this is known as weaponized jealousy, per Psychology Today. It’s not insecurity on their part; it’s about destabilizing YOU. They want you anxious, vying for their attention, and feeling you’re never quite good enough to keep their interest.

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11. They blow hot with affection, then go icy cold without explanation.

This is intermittent reinforcement, a psychological tactic used by slot machines. You get addicted to those highs, desperately trying to recreate them. The unpredictability bonds you through trauma while making you doubt your worth when they suddenly withdraw.

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12. They’re the most loving, doting partner… in front of other people.

Couple have a conversation, while he's been ignored by his girlfriend

Everyone thinks your relationship is perfect. They shower you with affection at parties, post glowing things about you online. This makes it harder to leave – who would believe the private abuse when their public persona is so charismatic? It’s all part of crafting their image as the ideal partner.

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13. They punish you with silent treatment or withhold affection.

If you don’t obey, fall short of their expectations, or dare to have your own needs, they freeze you out. This is emotional punishment designed to control your behavior. They train you that disagreeing with them, or focusing on anything other than their ego, leads to agonizing withdrawal of ‘love.’

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14. They try to undermine your accomplishments and independence.

Backhanded compliments, making you feel insecure before a job interview, or “accidentally” preventing you from reaching goals that would take you further away from their sphere of influence are regular occurences in a relationship with a narcissist. They need to make you to feel small, ensuring they remain the star of the show.

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15. When you try to escape, they reel you back in with promises of change.

They lay it on thick with tears, declarations of how they’ll go to therapy, and a brief return to the love-bombing stage. However, it’s all temporary. They need to regain control. The moment you’re back, the abuse cycle continues. These apologies are empty, designed solely to lure you back into their trap.

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16. They never genuinely apologize or take accountability.

A true apology involves admitting wrongdoing, expressing remorse, and changing behavior. Narcissists are incapable of this. There might be a mumbled “sorry” to appease you, but it’s devoid of meaning. They cannot tolerate the idea that they’re flawed; true accountability would shatter their carefully constructed self-image.

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Piper Ryan is a NYC-based writer and matchmaker who works to bring millennials who are sick of dating apps and the bar scene together in an organic and efficient way. To date, she's paired up more than 120 couples, many of whom have gone on to get married. Her work has been highlighted in The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Cut, and many more.

In addition to runnnig her own business, Piper is passionate about charity work, advocating for vulnerable women and children in her local area and across the country. She is currently working on her first book, a non-fiction collection of stories focusing on female empowerment.