The Internet is full of stories about people who have experienced abuse and distress after dating a narcissistic partner. While narcissism can generally lead to problems in relationships, some forms of narcissism can be worse than others.
Grandiose narcissistic personality disorder, in particular, can create toxic patterns in relationships. The behaviors associated with this condition can be quite damaging and even abusive. Below, learn about grandiose narcissists, including signs that you’re in a relationship with one.
What is grandiose narcissism?
When people reference grandiose narcissists, they are talking about a specific form of narcissistic personality disorder. There are two general forms of narcissism, of which grandiose narcissism is one.
Grandiose narcissist traits include high self-esteem, manipulative tendencies, a high degree of exhibitionism, and self-centeredness. In intimate relationships, grandiose narcissism leads to behaviors like dominating and manipulating others and behaving callously.
A grandiose narcissist has an inflated sense of self-importance combined with a big ego.
This personality type comes across as quite arrogant, and they are often willing to take advantage of others, including their partners, to get what they want. Ultimately this leads to hurt feelings and even toxic patterns in relationships.
Grandiose narcissism vs. vulnerable narcissism
Part of understanding grandiose narcissism definition is knowing the difference between grandiose vs. vulnerable narcissism. While grandiose narcissists are outwardly exhibitionistic, self-centered, and dominating, vulnerable narcissists tend to experience anxiety, shame, and feelings of inferiority.
In contrast to a grandiose narcissist, a vulnerable narcissist appears quite shy and thin-skinned. They may avoid contact with others, but quietly, they can be angry or aggressive when faced with threats to their ego.
Compared to the grandiose narcissist, a vulnerable narcissist is likely to internalize and experience psychological distress in the form of anxiety or depression.
Some vulnerable narcissists act out with anger and aggression when they feel slighted. Still, they are more likely to turn inward and experience deep depression and anxiety when others hurt them.
15 signs of a grandiose narcissistic personality disorder in toxic relationships
So what are grandiose narcissism symptoms in relationships? Consider the 15 signs below.
1. Superficial charm
One of the primary features of grandiose narcissistic personality disorder is that people with this condition present as incredibly charming. At the beginning of the relationship, they may appear highly attractive and charming.
In fact, their charm is usually what helps people with a grandiose narcissistic personality disorder to attract a partner. However, as time goes on, the initial charm fades, and the grandiose narcissist will become cold, callous, and even cruel.
2. They come across as immature
Research has shown that grandiose narcissistic personality disorder is associated with immature defense mechanisms. This means that grandiose narcissists can come across as quite immature within the context of a relationship.
During arguments, they may demonstrate childlike or even toddler-like behaviors, such as pouting, throwing temper tantrums, or demanding that they have their way.
3. Outbursts of anger
Anger is one of the core grandiose narcissists traits. People who show symptoms of grandiose narcissism are likely to have outbursts of anger in response to perceived slights or disagreements.
They are also likely to have outbursts of anger disproportionate to the event or trigger that led to the anger. For instance, they may show outbursts of rage in reaction to a small disagreement.
4. Double standards
A relationship with a grandiose narcissist is likely to feel one-sided with double standards. They will expect you to devote all your time, energy, and attention to them, but they will give little to you in return.
They may also expect extreme loyalty and commitment from you, while they give you only bread crumbs of attention, or they are repeatedly unfaithful.
5. Frequent bragging
Grandiose narcissists are known for their frequent bragging. In most social situations, they will take over the conversation and tell everyone about their accomplishments. They may even exaggerate their achievements so long as they remain the center of attention.
In a relationship, they will likely remind you how superior they are to you regarding looks, talents, and achievements. They will also be willing to put you down to appear superior.
People with grandiose narcissistic personality disorder want to have the best of everything. They will come across as extremely flashy, with the best car, clothes, and house.
When you’re in a relationship with one, they will likely place their material needs before yours.
You might even end up sacrificing your own needs or perhaps going into deep debt to satisfy the material desires of the grandiose narcissist.
7. Sexual promiscuity
One telltale sign of grandiose narcissism is sexual promiscuity. The grandiose narcissist is likely to have many sexual encounters, and they are also at high risk of being unfaithful. They may even go so far as to be sexually manipulative, coercing their partner into sexual activity that makes the partner uncomfortable.
People in long-term relationships with sexual narcissists may give in to their partner’s sexual demands to keep the relationship going or to prevent the narcissistic partner from cheating.
8. Tendency to blame others
Narcissistic grandiosity is associated with a tendency to blame others for one’s shortcomings.
When you’re dating a grandiose narcissist, you’ll find that when you give advice or correct them for some sort of wrongdoing, they will shift the blame onto other people.
They will not be able to accept accountability and may even become enraged at you if you point out something they’ve done that offended you.
Selfishness is one of the main grandiose narcissist signs. This means that the grandiose narcissist won’t be particularly concerned about your needs. They can only see things from their point of view, which they perceive to be the most important.
10. Lack of empathy
Grandiose narcissists aren’t particularly concerned with the feelings of others because they have a hard time showing empathy.
It seems they don’t care about your feelings when you’re hurt or upset. They may even come across as cold and heartless because they don’t identify with your feelings.
A person who is a grandiose narcissist ultimately believes that they are worthy of constant admiration, and they need it to maintain their self-esteem. Being in a relationship with someone like this means you will be expected to shower them with attention, gifts, and compliments.
If you don’t meet the grandiose narcissists’ need for attention (which is difficult to do), they won’t hesitate to go elsewhere to meet their needs.
12. Sense of entitlement
Being told “no,” or not getting what they want threatens the self-esteem of a grandiose narcissist. They feel they are entitled to having all of their needs met, and they don’t particularly care who they have to take advantage of to achieve this end.
13. Expectation of compliance
In relationships, grandiose narcissists do not view you as a person with unique needs and free will. Instead, they view you as an extension of themselves and expect automatic compliance with their demands.
They will likely become quite upset if you question them or set a boundary.
14. They’re rigid in their beliefs
A grandiose narcissist views themselves as being superior to others, and as such, they believe that their way of thinking is perfect.
If you challenge their beliefs, they will become angry and maintain their way of thinking, even when presented with evidence that it’s flawed. They are likely to become hostile if you challenge their belief system.
If you cross a grandiose narcissist, there will likely be consequences. This personality type is incredibly vindictive; they feel people deserve revenge when they make mistakes.
A partner with grandiose narcissistic personality disorder will likely punish you for hurting them, even if it was minor or unintentional.
See the video below for more information on grandiose narcissist signs within a relationship:
5 ways to deal with grandiose narcissistic personality disorder
If you’re in a relationship with a grandiose narcissist, you must be prepared to deal with this mental health condition. After all, a narcissistic personality disorder is a legitimate mental health condition that interferes with a person’s daily functioning.
Some tips for managing a grandiose narcissist include:
1. Learn about this personality disorder
Understanding the symptoms and side effects of narcissistic personality disorder gives you an idea of what to expect from your partner so you aren’t as shocked by their behavior. Make an effort to learn about the condition, so you are equipped with knowledge.
2. Don’t take the behavior personally
The worst thing you can do when in a relationship with a grandiose narcissist is to blame yourself for their behavior. Your partner with grandiose narcissistic personality disorder may blame you for their behavior, but you should not accept blame. Their behavior is a manifestation of their personality disorder.
3. Set boundaries
Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be emotionally and mentally taxing. This means you must set clear boundaries around what behavior you will and will not accept. You may need to disengage from a conversation when your partner is disrespectful.
You should not give your partner compliments just to feed their ego, but you can maintain harmony by giving praise where praise is due. Acknowledging their good ideas, thanking them when they do something kind, or complimenting their good qualities can reinforce good behavior and keep them content.
5. Be prepared to leave if needed
You cannot change a person who has grandiose narcissism. You need to be prepared that you might have to leave the relationship if it becomes too much to manage.
You might have to walk away if your partner becomes abusive and/or refuses to change toxic behavior.
Can grandiose narcissism be treated?
Treatment options can be effective for treating grandiose narcissistic personality disorder. For instance, a type of counseling called psychodynamic therapy can help people with grandiose narcissism to explore and correct immature defense mechanisms.
Schema therapy can also help narcissists to change unhelpful ways of thinking.
While there are therapy methods available to treat narcissism, the reality is that it can be difficult to treat this disorder. People with this condition tend to have inflated egos, meaning they are likely to think they are doing things perfectly and do not need to change.
There are treatments available if a grandiose narcissist is motivated to change, but the unfortunate reality is that they often do not see a need for change.
What do grandiose narcissists want?
Grandiose narcissists want to have their needs met, and they desire to maintain their high sense of self-esteem. They want a partner who dotes on them, meets their demands, and never corrects them. All of these desires are an effort to avoid confronting underlying self-esteem issues.
What triggers grandiosity?
Many psychology experts believe that grandiose narcissism results from negative childhood experiences, especially rejection or mistreatment from a parent.
Negative experiences cause a person to develop low self-esteem and a fragile ego, and grandiosity can serve as a defense mechanism against self-esteem issues.
Grandiose narcissism can create challenges in relationships as this personality trait is linked with self-centeredness, lack of empathy, immaturity, and outbursts of anger. All of these can make it difficult to have a healthy intimate relationship with someone with a grandiose narcissistic personality disorder.
If you love your partner, you can use strategies to cope, such as setting strong boundaries and not taking your partner’s behavior personally. It can be helpful to insist that your partner seek mental health treatment.
If your partner’s grandiose traits become difficult to cope with, and they are not willing to seek therapy or other treatment, you will have to consider whether you are willing to continue in the relationship.
A grandiose narcissistic personality disorder is an enduring condition, and you need to understand that you’ll likely be coping with the side effects of this disorder for the duration of your relationship.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.