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Is My Partner An Avoidant Or A Narcissist And How Can I Tell?

Illa Lynn September 2023

Midlife & Beyond Dating: Illa Lynn

In the last article, you were introduced to the four universal attachment styles.

This month I thought we could dive into one of the most asked questions I get from singles. And that is “How can I tell if they are a Narcissist or just have an avoidant attachment style? It is so confusing!”

A Lesson Came Out Of This Experience:

This is a brilliant question and one I have also asked myself attempting to avoid past mistakes of falling for manipulators who love-bombed me and in the end shattered my self-worth and faith that I will ever find love. It took me years to bounce back and trust people again. Here is what lesson came out of this experience.

Attachment Styles and Narcissism are two psychological phenomena that greatly influence how we relate to others and navigate our interpersonal relationships. While both can result in challenging behaviors, they stem from different psychological dynamics, according to some peer-reviewed articles in the field of psychology and human behavior. 

Knowing a few fundamental differences between avoidants and narcissists can help you quicker discern if the person you are seeing may be one or the other. Naturally, this is not a definitive yes or no, but can be a useful baseline as you navigate the dating terrain. 

“Individuals with an avoidant attachment style tend to prioritize independence and self-sufficiency in relationships.”

It can equally be useful if you are in a relationship. And on a fence as to why your partner appears to have multiple personalities.

Avoidant Attachment Style:

Individuals with an avoidant attachment style tend to prioritize independence and self-sufficiency in relationships. They are often uncomfortable with emotional intimacy and may struggle with fully opening up to their partner. If they perceive that their freedom is threatened in any way, they will run and not look back.

This attachment style typically develops from inconsistent caregiving during childhood, causing individuals to learn that relying on others may lead to disappointment or hurt. As a result, they form defense mechanisms to protect themselves from potential emotional pain. People with Avoidant attachment style can be classified into two categories; Dismissive or Fearful Avoidants. 

Some Behaviors An Avoidant May Display:

  • Emotional Distance: Avoidants are known for maintaining emotional distance from their partners. They may avoid deep conversations about feelings or personal issues, preferring to keep things light and surface-level. You might say that this person is emotionally unavailable or simply not interested.
  • Difficulty Expressing Vulnerability: Sharing personal vulnerabilities can be a challenge for avoidants. They might downplay their own feelings or dismiss the importance of emotional connection, which can leave their partners feeling unheard or undervalued. This is prominent with dismissive avoidant types.
  • Fear of Commitment: Avoidants often struggle with commitment in relationships. They might hesitate or become anxious when faced with the idea of long-term commitment, leading to a pattern of short-lived relationships. This best describes the fearful avoidant types.


Narcissism, on the other hand, is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with oneself, a lack of empathy, and a constant need for admiration and validation from others. It often stems from childhood experiences where an individual’s emotional needs were not met. Causing them to develop a grandiose self-image as a defense mechanism.

It can also derive from abuse they might have endured as kids, which caused them to behave in the same abusive way. People with narcissistic traits can appear overly interested in the beginning stages and use a manipulation technique called love-bombing. Beware of the types who tell you “I love you” in your first week and go above and beyond to sweep you off your feet quickly. It may feel like a fairytale that turns into a nightmare in no time.

“Narcissism, on the other hand, is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with oneself.”

Some Behaviors A Narcissist May Display:

  • Grandiosity: Narcissists frequently display an inflated sense of self-importance. They may exaggerate their achievements or talents and expect others to recognize and praise them for it. It is how they hide their insecurities and get by in society.
  • Lack of Empathy: Empathy is notably lacking in narcissists, although some may be skilled in dark empathy. They often struggle or refuse to understand or relate to the feelings and needs of others, as they are primarily focused on their own desires and expectations. For all they know, it is only their needs that are relevant.
  • Manipulative Behavior: Narcissists may engage in manipulative tactics to maintain control over relationships. This gives them a sense of satisfaction i.e supply that boosts their fragile egos. They might exploit others’ vulnerabilities for personal gain or engage in emotional manipulation to elicit the reactions they desire. Triangulation and gaslighting are often the route they take to completely confuse their partners and send them into oblivion of self-doubt and worry. And when you address the issue, they turn the tables and blame you for the very thing you have witnessed them do. Sadly you may believe them and question if perhaps you are going crazy,

Comparing Avoidants And Narcissists:

While both avoidants and narcissists exhibit behaviors that can hinder healthy relationships, their motivations and underlying fears differ significantly. Avoidants seek to protect themselves from emotional vulnerability due to past disappointments. Whereas narcissists build a facade of grandiosity to shield themselves from their own insecurities.

In summary, understanding the distinction between avoidants and narcissists is essential for navigating relationships effectively. While avoidants may struggle with intimacy due to a fear of emotional pain, narcissists grapple with empathy deficits and an excessive focus on self. Recognizing these differences can aid in developing strategies for communication, setting boundaries, and fostering healthier connections with individuals exhibiting these attachment styles or narcissistic traits.

A Non-Judgmental Partner:

Avoidants are able to arrive in a more secure place and open up if they feel safe and have a non-judgemental partner by their side. Whereas narcissistic individuals seldom do improve. In my personal experience, a narcissist may try to go to therapy and work on their empathy. However, this is an evergreen process that only a few may stick to. But even after the work they do, they may still relapse at the very next stressful situation or trigger in their Life. 

Ideally, you want to avoid narcissistic types and seek to create a connection with someone who is willing to do the necessary work and get into a secure attachment where you both begin to set the fundamental blocks for a healthy future together.

Please Note: The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for seeking professional guidance.

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About the Author:

Illa Lynn is a former corporate health care leader turned Life Coach who specializes in Relationship Coaching for women. In addition to her ten years of academic and professional training, she specializes in dating after 40. Specifically dating after divorce, or toxic love. Using her psychology background and intuitive nature, Illa helps women open up to love again. In three steps, Illa guides women to create lasting, authentic relationships founded on transparency, respect, and trust. Follow Illa on LinkedIN for more tips and tricks on dating.