Painted fresco Narcissus on yellow wall in a house of ancient Pompeii buried

Is my Ex a Narcissist?

The picture is a photo of a Fresco in Pompeii, which depicts Narcissus gazing lovingly at his own reflection. The Greek myth tells of a young man, who thought that no one he met was alluring enough. One day he catches sight of himself in a reflection in a pool and realises that he has finally seen someone worthy of his love and attention. However, when he touches the image, it vanishes in ripples across the water. He realises that no other person will be as worthy, and he becomes obsessed with looking at his image. He is unable to personify the image and is destined to wither away and starve to death. In the ancient Greek world, he meets with his merciless fate because of his self-obsession and lack of piety and admiration for the Gods. 

It is from this Greek myth, that our modern world derives its use of the word narcissism. 

I covered the definitions of personality trait and personality disorder here.

As previously stated, having some personality traits of a narcissist does not always mean that someone has a diagnosis of a personality disorder.  

For the purposes of this article, I am referring to a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). 


Mitra and Fluyau [1] summarise NPD as: “a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy ... The disorder is classified in the dimensional model of “Personality Disorders.” NPD is highly comorbid with other disorders in mental health. Persons with NPD can often present with impairment in maintaining work and (personal) relationships.” 

“Comorbid” means that it often exists with other mental health diagnoses, with the most common one being substance abuse. 

There are two basic types: 

  • Grandiose, which is characterised by overt grandiosity, aggression and boldness 

  • Vulnerable, which presents with hypersensitivity and defensiveness (this one is harder to spot) 

DSM-5 states that, the definition of NPD includes [1]:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and with lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood, as indicated by at least five of the following: 

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognised as superior without actually completing the achievements) 

  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love. 

  • Believes that they are “special” and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people (or institutions). 

  • Requires excessive admiration. 

  • Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favourable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations. 

  • Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends. 

  • Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others. 

  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them. 

  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours and attitudes 

How did I not realise what they were like? Now I feel so stupid.

On the surface a narcissist can behave like the perfect partner. They “love bomb” you to get what they want, namely your attention, praise, adoration, love, dependence etc. In the initial stages of a relationship, this makes you feel good too.  

Under the surface, they do not care about anything other than self (remember Narcissus in the Greek myth?). All of your amazing qualities enhance them, their social standing, and their outward appearance of success (perfect job, partner, family, home etc), “Everyone will envy me.” 

As your relationship progresses cracks will begin to show. All relationships have an undulating course, but a narcissist has very definite views on how theirs should be conducted and appear to the outside world. The narcissist will reveal less attractive traits to maintain and enhance their ego, if things start to slip in your relationship. 

If someone tells you statement enough times, you will start to believe it is true. It is hard to accept that everything is not as it seemed, and that you were taken in by their “love bombing.” This realisation can make several unwelcome emotions surface, such as guilt, shame and anxiety. 

This is completely normal, and you can turn the process of Recognising, Understanding, Labelling, Expressing, and Regulating the emotions into a strength, for yourself. Teaching this skill to your children is one of the best things you can do to help them navigate through your divorce. Professor Marc Brackett is an expert in this field and his RULER method works well [2]. 

I want to stop you for a moment.

Everything you have read so far, will either be confirming what you already know or might be triggering some uncomfortable thoughts. 

Have you started to think any of the following? 
  • No one else has seen this. Why is it only me? 

  • They tell me everything is my fault and make me look and feel bad 

  • They are telling everyone it is my fault that the relationship is over 

  • They tell me that I am crazy, if I challenge them 

  • They are telling friends and family (even my children) that they are worried about my mental health, because I am making poor decisions 

  • Why does everyone believe them and not me? 

  • They are turning my children against me 

No one else has seen this, why is it only me?

You will not be the only person to have experienced their behaviour. As previously discussed, personality starts to form in childhood and is unlikely to change after young adulthood. A narcissist may have experienced a childhood where they have been rejected, and a fragile ego may have contributed to the occurrence of NPD in adulthood. In contrast, excessive praise, including the belief that a child may have extraordinary abilities, may also lead to NPD. 

Friends, family and work colleagues will have seen and experienced the façade put up for the world to see, but when things do not go as planned, they may well have seen the uglier side too. 

They tell me everything is my fault and make me look and feel bad. They are telling everyone it is my fault that the relationship is over.

A narcissist’s lack of empathy means that they are unable to identify with your needs and they can be cruel, aggressive and demeaning to make you comply with their agenda. This behaviour will be reserved for behind closed doors, so that in public everything looks perfect. 

Their arrogance confirms that everything deemed to be less than perfect, is your fault. How could it be anything to do with them? They may even engineer circumstances to prove this. 

They tell me that I am crazy, if I challenge them

As soon as you start to question what is going on, you are challenging their rigid beliefs, sense of importance and control over their domain. They will be very afraid of losing control and will do anything to keep it. Aggression may surface under these circumstances and there is a risk of domestic abuse and violence.

They are telling friends and family (even my children) that they are worried about my mental health, because I am making poor decisions.

Narcissists can be very persuasive. They have been honing their skills for a very long time. Parents who have been praising their offspring, for their brilliance since birth, are far more likely to collude with them in a relationship breakdown. It can be exceptionally hard when you know that friends and family have been told lies about you, heard accusations and listened to questions about your sanity.  

Why does everyone believe them and not me?

Some families, religions and cultures will dictate that you should stay married at all costs, your husband is right and that you must put up and shut up. You may have the people closest to you, telling you that you are wrong. This can be extremely hard to process and may directly impact your values and sense of who you are. It can be extremely hard to find the courage to go against the expectations of those closest to you. A narcissist will lean into this and use it as leverage. 

They are turning my children against me

A narcissist will not put their children first when it comes to a divorce. They will always be number one. They will want to win every decision and do everything on their terms. Influencing your children, will be another way to exert control over you and how you think, feel and behave as a result. 

Children can be very conflicted when someone they love, and trust tells them something about their mum that, they do not understand. They do not know who to believe and their behaviour is often affected. This is an undesirable behaviour, which does not just apply to narcissists.  

What can you do to protect yourself and your family?

  • Make sure that you are safe, before you act. If you think you might be at risk of domestic abuse or violence, seek local professional help. There are some links to organisations in the UK, at the end of the article [4-8]. 

  • The most important thing that you need to know, is that you are NOT responsible for how your Ex behaves. You are ONLY responsible for how you think, feel and behave in response to their behaviour. 

  • You cannot control what other people believe or think about you, and it is exhausting to try. It is much better to spend that energy working on how you think, feel and respond to issues.  

  • You know who your tribe are and who will support you and your family. They will want what is best for you and your future happiness. 

  • A small shift in mindset may be helpful. Emotions need to be recognised, accepted for what they are, processed and then you can regulate them to your advantage. Marc Brackett’s RULER model is helpful for this [2]. 

  • Examining your values and beliefs might be useful. The values exercise will help you to work out what your values are, which values serve you well and which are not so helpful. This process will help you to work out what you want and how it will add meaning and purpose to your life. 

  • Clarity around your values leads on to being able to work out what boundaries you would like to set. It may be that you need some distance between you and your close family, or that you tell them which topics are not up for discussion. You may wish to have limited or no contact with your Ex. You will know what is right for you. 

  • If you have children, try to answer questions truthfully (in an age- appropriate way), try not to apportion blame or sink to the level of your Ex, reassure them that you love them, and do your best. Good enough mum is simply fine. 

  • If you are worried about how your children are coping, it may be worth exploring counselling options. It is a good idea to let school know, that they may need some extra support. There are links to Relate in the UK, at the end of the article [3]. 

I know that all of this can seem overwhelming at the start, but with some extra support and new skills you can make the changes necessary to take control of your situation. 


  1. Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. [Updated 2021 May 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: 

  1.  for relationship counselling, they also have links for children and young people