The narcissist you're dating is making you jealous, on purpose.
If you're prone to dating self-involved, emotionally unavailable cheaters, you're not alone. Often called bad boys in their youth, that nomenclature changes when they grow into men who behave terribly (@ssholes, cads, dogs, b@stards, exes). You can insert your own favourite expletive here for your least favourite selfish turd, but science simply calls them chronically self-absorbed narcissists. And apologies for being heteronormative, and for focusing on men, but science also tells us they consistently test higher for narcissistic traits than women (thanks science). Although, side note: both sexes scored the same for vanity (#selfiesunday). Unfortunately, even experienced women, science will again tell you, tend to fall for narcissists over and over.
We're glad that science sets its scrutinous sights on things that are detrimental to our well-being: heart disease, diabetes, muffin tops, jerks. Medical research has now confirmed that jealousy plays a large role in the romantic playbook of the textbook narcissist (and those are pretty rare by the way – only 1 to 2 percent of the population qualify although we all show traits, however subtle). Still, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa recently examined just how much flirting, cheating and even simply talking about other attractive people factored into narcissistic coupling.
First, researchers made a distinction between the two sub-classes of narcissism: grandiose and, oddly enough, vulnerable narcissists. For the uninitiated, grandiose narcissists are chronically selfish, extroverted and typically seek out high-profile positions of power, fame and status (imagine an arrogant politician, any one you like *raised eye emoji*). Vulnerable narcissists can be quiet, demure, and even socially anxious but still feel a strong sense of entitlement and eventually display toxic thoughtlessness (imagine a painter who needs categorical silence from his wife and kids while he's working everyday). In the end, for both types of ego-vacuum, jealousy was a trusted romantic tool (super fun), though used for different ends. The difference was the motive for attempting to elicit jealous feelings in their partners.
Using a Motives for Inducing Romantic Jealousy Scale (MIRJS), researchers tested the self-serving impulses of 237 subjects who wielded jealousy to achieve five specific outcomes: 1) exert power and control over their object of affection, 2) exact revenge on their partner, 3) test and strengthen their relationship, 4) seek security, and, 5) compensate for their bouts of low self-esteem. Note that I've never been happier to be single.
What they found was that the grandiose narcissists rarely used jealousy to bolster low self-esteem (they already had plenty). Instead, they were more prone to test or attempt to strengthen their relationships with jealousy in very deliberate ways. Trust test! Dear god. Vulnerable narcissists on the other hand were less calculating and more prone to use jealousy in reactive ways out of insecurity. Surprisingly, vulnerables were also more prone to display all the MIRJS across the board: compensating for low self-esteem AND exacting revenge AND seeking security AND testing and strengthening AND reestablishing power and control. That's a lot of creepy scheming.
This almost adorable TED Ed animation about notoriously self-serving people will set you straight if you need more narcissistic knowledge:
W. Keith Campbell, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia who studies narcissism and its effects on relationships.
If you recognize a few narcissistic traits in yourself or your partner, don't panic just yet.
Keep in mind that narcissism often comes from a place of deep insecurity and is a learned behaviour. Dr. Susan Heitler says "many of the most lovable and admirable guys in this world tend toward narcissistic habits." She also says that behaviour can be unlearned or tweaked, if you love a fixer upper. Remaining calm and opening communication is a sound way to sidestep insecurity and any tendency to assert control. Walk away if need be but remember that most sentient beings display various narcissistic personality traits to one extent or another (heck, even chickens are downright Machiavellian).
Of course, there's a hierarchy of toxicity that can undermine a relationship. But that's something you and your favourite ego-vacuum will have to suss out yourselves.