Narcissists typically don’t like themselves.
What they actually like is what they keep well hidden: an obsession with a godlike version of themselves.
This mad self-love goes way beyond self-approval and self-compassion. However, they still feel empty until they get others to validate that overinflated self-image.
So they put on their finest act to entice people who will praise them lavishly without demanding anything in return.
This self-worship, plus a craving for constant attention, and a lack of empathy are the three hallmark signs of a narcissist.
20 Signs of A Narcissist: Red Flags of Narcissism
How do you tell if a person is narcissistic? Most narcissists in the room are easy to spot, especially the grandiose variety.
They are typically the loud ones, gasconading* a crowd with their captivating, often magical, life stories. By the way, gasconading* = boasting about one’s accomplishments, qualities, or possessions.
We chose the 20 most telling signs to help you easily spot the narcissist, even if they aren’t the classic loudmouth. Check out these obvious red flags of narcissism before they suck you in with their charms.
Here’s a list of the 20 most characteristic signs of a narcissist:
1. They lack empathy and remorse.
2. They are condescending towards others.
3. They have high but fragile, self-esteem.
4. They bully, demean, and intimidate others.
5. They seek constant attention and admiration.
6. They can’t handle the mildest of criticisms.
7. They have an inflated sense of self-importance.
8. They do not respect other people’s boundaries.
9. They are highly selfish and self-centered people.
10. They have superficial, self-serving relationships.
11. They can’t stand others making decisions for them.
12. They do not assume responsibility for their mistakes.
13. They are envious and believe others are envious of them.
14. They take advantage of others without feeling shame or guilt.
15. They feel they’re better, smarter, and more competent than others.
16. They are people who use their relationships to feel good about themselves.
17. They overestimate their intellectual superiority and physical attractiveness.
18. They are arrogant and hostile, and find it almost impossible to utter the word “Sorry.”
19. They live in a fantasy world created by reality distortion, self-deception, and magical thinking.
20. They have a strong sense of entitlement. That is, they expect to always get favorable treatment, and their demands get automatic compliance.
Narcissists use their relationships to feel good about themselves. They will constantly make you feed their fragile ego.
The signs listed here will help you figure out whether someone you love has narcissism.
If unsure, consult a psychologist or mental health counselor who can confirm if the person you’re related to has narcissism.
To some extent, we all have narcissistic tendencies.
Diagnostic Signs of Narcissism
The clinically diagnosed form of narcissism is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
It is a common mental health disorder that affects one out of every 200 people.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines NPD as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.
According to the DSM-5, a clinical diagnosis of NPD requires 5 or more of the following:
- a grandiose sense of self-importance;
- preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love;
- beliefs of being special and unique;
- demands for excessive admiration;
- a sense of entitlement;
- interpersonal exploitativeness;
- lack of empathy;
- envy of others;
- arrogant, and haughty behaviors or attitudes.
Furthermore, people with NPD have a difficult time accepting feedback and handling criticism.
- They feel disrespected and become upset when they don’t receive special treatment.
- They have serious interpersonal issues and are easily irritated by their partner’s actions.
- They react with rage and contempt, and belittle or insult people to feel superiority.
- They struggle to regulate their emotions and actions, and they are usually unhappy.
- Their rigidity makes it hard for them to adapt to changes and deal with stressful events.
- They become sad, irritated, and frustrated when they fail, as it exposes their weaknesses.
- They harbor hidden feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and past humiliation.
Narcissistic people constantly push their partner’s boundaries, so they must be taught to respect the other person in the relationship.
What Is Narcissism: An Ultra-Short Introduction
Narcissism is one of the four types of dark personalities that form a tetrad with Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, and Sadism.
In fact, a modest, healthy amount of narcissism lets people feel positive pride in their achievements and honest joy in their lives.
NPD appears in the early to mid-20s, and it may worsen in middle or old age unless treated. Once it sets in, it is typically lifelong.
Current data points to a global lifetime prevalence of NPD of 6.2%.
NPD affects around 0.5 percent of the US adults. 75% of those diagnosed with NPD are men.
The concept of narcissism can be traced to the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.
In psychology, it was the British physician Havelock Ellis, who first referred to narcissism as a mental disorder in 1898.
Sigmund Freud, in his 1914 essay On Narcissism, popularized it as a concept in psychoanalytic theory. According to Freud, narcissism is a normal stage in child development but is a disorder that occurs after puberty.
There is a “milder” form of narcissism called the Narcissistic Personality Type (NPT).
NPT people show most or all of the characteristics of NPD but stay within the normal range of personality.
They may be referred to as covert narcissists. They stand in stark contrast to grandiose narcissists.
While the typical narcissist is extroverted, the covert narcissist is more of an introverted type. But they come with the same trouble as the typical ones — they lack the capacity to regulate their self-esteem.
Both types are people-manipulators.
There is a particularly toxic type of manipulation called gaslighting that narcissists employ to abuse their victims.
- A narcissist gaslighter creates a false reality for their victim and makes them into their intellectual and emotional slaves.
- Then, to quench his thirst for constant affirmation and superiority, he blames them for playing the victim card.
- An interesting type of this behavior abnormality is Unconscious Gaslighting.
Narcissists And Empathy
Actually, this idea of narcissists lacking empathy needs a slight correction.
Empathy can be of three types:
- intellectual empathy – the ability to read the thoughts in the other person’s mind,
- emotional empathy – the ability to feel the pain of another person in distress, and
- compassionate empathy – the ability to get moved by and act to relieve another person’s distress.
Narcissists have a lot of intellectual empathy, but not so much emotional and compassionate empathy. They are, nevertheless, masters at faking emotional empathy.
How To Protect Yourself From A Narcissist
Even if it is easy to identify the signs of narcissism, it is hard to prove a person has an NPD with 100% certainty unless they take a personality test or consult a psychiatrist.
Keep in mind that NPD may co-exist with other mental health disorders, like substance abuse, bipolar, anxiety, depression, and anorexia nervosa.
Diagnosed NPD can get better with treatment.
According to research, positive life events such as new achievements, secure relationships, and manageable setbacks can lead to a significant reduction in pathologic narcissism over time (Ronningstam et al., 1995).
When you find out a person you know has narcissism, it’s time to shield yourself from their manipulations and self-serving behaviors.
Three effective ways to protect yourself from a narcissist (who you can’t avoid, like an office coworker or a long-term partner) are:
- Set healthy boundaries.
- Create physical distance.
- Avoid taking things personally.
Finally, if you want a narcissist to dare not hurt you, be self-confident, defend your boundaries, stay in touch with people who care about you, and never stop the self-love supply.
The best defense against a narcissist is to believe in yourself and put yourself first, not them. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, regardless of what bad things a narcissist says about you, and to you.
10 Books on Narcissism
- “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement” (2009) by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell – This book discusses the rise of narcissism in contemporary society and the consequences of this trend.
- “Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed” (2014) by Wendy T. Behary LCSW – This book offers strategies for coping with and managing relationships with narcissistic individuals.
- “The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age” (2017) by Joseph Burgo Ph.D. – This book provides insights into the psychology of narcissistic individuals and offers strategies for dealing with them.
- “The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed-in Your World” (2014) by Jeffrey Kluger – This book discusses the prevalence of narcissistic individuals in society and offers strategies for coping with them.
- “Narcissistic Mothers: How to Handle a Narcissistic Parent and Recover from CPTSD” (2020) by Caroline Foster – This book helps learn how to deal with a narcissistic mother and heal from Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- “The Narcissist’s Playbook: How to Identify, Disarm, and Protect Yourself from Narcissists, Sociopaths, Psychopaths, and Other Types of Manipulative and Abusive People” (2019) by Dana Morningstar – This book discusses how to spot manipulative behaviors early and offers advice for protecting oneself from them.
- “Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist” (2015) by Ramani Durvasula PhD – This book offers strategies for recognizing signs of a narcissist and coping with narcissistic individuals, both in personal and professional contexts, and what we can do to survive.
- “The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free” (2019) by Julie L. Hall – This book explores the emotionally ravaging experience of narcissistic abuse, identifies the resulting mental and physical damage, and gives practical advice to help survivors recover from the trauma cycles.
10 Research Papers On Narcissism
Here are 10 recent research papers on narcissism:
- Gauglitz, I. K., Schyns, B., Fehn, T., & Schütz, A. (2022). The Dark Side of Leader Narcissism: The Relationship Between Leaders’ Narcissistic Rivalry and Abusive Supervision. Journal of Business Ethics (2022).
- Miller, J. D., Back, M. D., Lynam, D. R., & Wright, A. G. C. (2021). Narcissism Today: What We Know and What We Need to Learn. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 30(6), 519–525.
- Kjærvik, S. L., & Bushman, B. J. (2021). The link between narcissism and aggression: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 147(5), 477–503.
- Meng, K. S., & Leung, L. (2021). Factors influencing TikTok engagement behaviors in China: An examination of gratifications sought, narcissism, and the Big Five personality traits. Telecommunications Policy, 45(7), 102172.
- Cragun, O. R., Olsen, K. J., & Wright, P. M. (2020). Making CEO Narcissism Research Great: A Review and Meta-Analysis of CEO Narcissism. Journal of Management, 46(6), 908–936.
- Golec de Zavala, A., & Lantos, D. (2020). Collective Narcissism and Its Social Consequences: The Bad and the Ugly. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 29(3), 273–278.
- Grapsas, S., Brummelman, E., Back, M. D., & Denissen, J. J. A. (2020). The “Why” and “How” of Narcissism: A Process Model of Narcissistic Status Pursuit. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(1), 150–172.
- Casale, S., & Banchi, V. (2020). Narcissism and problematic social media use: A systematic literature review. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 11, 100252.
- Brummelman, E., & Sedikides, C. (2020). Raising Children With High Self‐Esteem (But Not Narcissism). Child Development Perspectives, 14: 83-89.
- Kaufman, S. B., Weiss, B., Miller, J. D., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Clinical Correlates of Vulnerable and Grandiose Narcissism: A Personality Perspective. Journal of Personality Disorders, 1-S10.
What is NPD – A Short Video
In a nutshell, narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.
Narcissists want positive feedback about themselves, and they actively manipulate others to solicit or coerce admiration from them. Accordingly, narcissism is thought to reflect a form of chronic interpersonal self-esteem regulation. — Encyclopedia Britannica
Narcissists are master manipulators, and we can’t emphasize this enough. They will most likely manipulate everyone who comes in contact with them. They are experts at dumping people and trampling over their feelings once they are done with them.
You cannot heal a narcissist (there’s a reason behind the cruelty and evil nature of narcissists) unless you are a qualified specialist, so don’t waste your time fooling yourself otherwise or trying to improve them. Instead, refer them to a mental health practitioner and keep your distance and sanity.
In general, it is better to stay away from people who might be narcissists. Spot them from afar and keep a safe distance between you and them.
• • •
The 6 different types of narcissists.
How to deal with “Narcissistic Rage”
What happens at the end of a narcissistic relationship
What Happens To A Narcissist In The End? (Better or Worse)
• • •
Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and the philosophy of Stoicism.
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