20 Signs of A Narcissist: Red Flags of Narcissism

— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.

A “narcissist” is obsessed with a godlike, perfect version of themselves.

Despite this self-worship, they know who they really are, and don’t like it.

So, they proudly embrace this lionized version of themselves. And this “mad self-love” that we see in them is actually a mask for self-hatred.

This disconnect drives their need for external validation to feel good, making them put on their finest act to attract praise and admiration from others.

The combination of this self-worship, a craving for constant praise, and a lack of empathy, form the three hallmark signs of a narcissist.

  • Morf and Rhodewalt (2001) explain Narcissism as the dynamic process of creating and maintaining a grandiose self.
  • Back and colleagues (2013) note that narcissists use self-enhancement or self-protection strategies to sustain the grandiose self, in their narcissistic admiration and rivalry concept (NARC).

20 Signs of A Narcissist: Red Flags of Narcissism

It is not too difficult to identify narcissists in a group; their attitude of superiority stands out. These are the classic grandiose ones. They are typically loud, gasconading* a crowd with their captivating, often magical, life stories.

By the way, gasconading* = boasting about one’s accomplishments, qualities, or possessions.

These are the 20 key signs/traits of a narcissist:

Sense of Superiority and Entitlement:

1. They have an inflated sense of self-importance.

2. They can’t stand others making decisions for them.

3. They feel they are better, smarter, and more competent than others.

4. They overestimate their intellectual superiority and physical attractiveness.

5. They have a strong sense of entitlement. That is, they always expect to get favorable treatment and have their demands automatically met.

Lack of Empathy and Exploitation of Others:

6. They do not feel empathy or remorse.

7. They take advantage of others without feeling shame or guilt.

Fragile Self-Esteem and Sensitivity to Criticism:

8. They have high (but fragile) self-esteem.

9. They can’t handle even the mildest criticisms.

Interpersonal Behavior and Boundaries:

10. They are condescending towards others.

11. They bully, demean, and intimidate others.

12. They do not respect other people’s boundaries.

13. They have superficial, self-serving relationships.

14. They use their partners, family members, and those in romantic relationships to feel good about themselves.

Self-Centeredness and Attention Seeking:

15. They are highly selfish and self-centered people.

16. They seek constant attention and admiration from others.

Denial of Responsibility and Reality Distortion:

17. They don’t take responsibility for their own mistakes (even when caught cheating).

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.

Envy and Perception of Others’ Envy:

20. They frequently feel envious and perceive others to be envious of them.

Narcissist Traits (Clinical Signs of Narcissism)
Narcissist Traits (Signs of Narcissism)

Narcissists can sometimes give you a chilling, unblinking stare called the sociopathic stare. This stare can be a sign that the narcissist is trying to assert their dominance or control.

Diagnostic Signs of Narcissism

The clinically diagnosed form of narcissism is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It’s common and affects one in 200 people.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines NPD as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder Diagnostic Criteria:

Signs of narcissism: Narcissistic-Personality-Disorder-NPD-Full-Criteria-DSM-5
NPD diagnosis requires 5 or more of these 9 traits

Find out what each of those 9 narcissistic behaviors means. Knowing these will help you stay clear of their manipulative tendencies.

What Is Narcissism: An Ultra-Short Introduction

Narcissism has fascinated people for a long time. This is because it has many effects on our lives, both individually and socially.

Narcissism and narcissists are common terms. The medical term is NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), a mental health disorder that can only be diagnosed by a qualified mental health clinician.

Psychologists divide it into two types – grandiose and vulnerable.

  1. Grandiose narcissists are very self-centered and use a lot of I, me, mine statements. However, they can largely adapt to the general population. Raskin and Hall’s Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) measures grandiose narcissism by asking people if they agree with statements like, “I am a special person” or “I am more capable than other people.” (Raskin & Terry, 1988).
  2. Vulnerable narcissists are also called covert narcissists, since they usually keep their self-centeredness “hidden.” Their vulnerability is often associated with various personal and social problems (Kaufman et al., 2020; Miller et al., 2011).

NPD may co-exist with other mental health disorders, like substance abuse, bipolar, anxiety, depression, and anorexia nervosa.

There’s a difference between NPD and NPT:

  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health diagnosis where these traits are so extreme and pervasive that they significantly impair a person’s ability to function in social, occupational, or other important areas of life.
  • A narcissistic personality trait (NPT) is characterized by self-centeredness, a constant need for praise, and a lack of empathy. These signs might be shown to some degree by many individuals, but they do not necessarily signify a disorder.

How Common Is NPD?

  • NPD has a global lifetime prevalence of 6.2%.
  • NPD affects around 0.5 percent of US adults.
  • 75% of those diagnosed with NPD are men.
  • Narcissism appears in the early-20s to mid-20s.
  • Once it sets in, it is typically lifelong and may get worse in middle or old age unless treated.
  • 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).
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
What is NPD?

“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

If you feel someone you love has narcissism, seek the advice of a psychologist to clear your doubts.

Narcissism In Children & Adolescents

Narcissism is moderately heritable and partly comes from early temperamental traits.

So, while most children are born with narcissistic tendencies, some of them are more likely to become narcissistic during adolescence.

A 2015 study found that narcissism levels have been increasing among Western youth, and contributing to societal problems such as aggression and violence.

This study found that narcissism type was predicted by specific parenting styles:

  • Parental overprotection (“helicopter parenting”) and parental overvaluation were associated with greater grandiose narcissism.
  • While parental leniency was associated with more vulnerable narcissism.

The children seem to partly acquire narcissism by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them (e.g., “I am superior to others” and “I am entitled to privileges”).

High narcissism in young people can also contribute to depression, anxiety, low self-worth, suicide attempts, and poor-quality relationships (Narcissistic traits in young people, 2020).

History of Narcissism

The concept of narcissism can be traced to the Greek myth of Narcissus. In ancient myth, Narcissus rejects the love of Echo, and is therefore condemned to fall in love with his mirror image.

He kept looking at his beautiful reflection in the water. But as soon as he tried to touch it, the ripples would make it go away.

So, Narcissus sat there, unable to stop looking at his own reflection. Ultimately, he withers away to a tragic death, pining for his self-image.

Psychologists have identified the characteristic traits of Narcissus as narcissism. In 1898, Havelock Ellis, a British medical doctor, was the first to classify narcissism as a mental disorder.

Sigmund Freud wrote a famous essay on narcissism in 1914: On Narcissism. He suggested narcissism was a normal stage in child development but becomes a disorder when it occurs after puberty.

FAQs

  1. What are the top 10 signs of a narcissist?

    1. Grandiose self-importance; 2. Need for admiration; 3. Sense of entitlement; 4. Lack of empathy; 5. Envy of others; 6. Arrogance & Superiority; 7. Manipulativeness; 9. Lack of accountability; 10. Insecurity about being exposed.

  2. What are 10 “surprising truths” about narcissism?

    Here are 10 surprising facts about narcissism:
    1. To some extent, we all have narcissistic tendencies. Most of us have a few narcissistic traits. People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have these traits to an extreme degree. People with a “milder” form, the Narcissistic Personality Type (NPT), have many features of NPD but stay within a normal personality range.
    2. Narcissists have a difficult time accepting feedback and handling criticism. They often see feedback as a personal attack and become defensive or angry.
    3. Not all narcissism is toxic. A modest, healthy amount of narcissism can let people feel positive pride and honest joy in their achievements and lives.
    4. Narcissists are often very charming and charismatic. They can be very persuasive and likable, which can make it difficult for people to see their real manipulative selves.
    5. Narcissists are often very successful in their careers. They are often driven and ambitious, and they can use their charm and charisma to get ahead.
    6. Narcissists are often very good at reading people and manipulating them. They can quickly read people’s weaknesses and use them to their advantage.
    7. Narcissists are often creative and innovative. They are often driven by a need for recognition and attention, which can lead them to achieve great things they will be praised for.
    8. Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, and not everyone with narcissistic traits has NPD. Some people may have only a few narcissistic traits, while others may have many. Grandiose narcissists are mostly outgoing, but covert narcissists are more introverted, have low self-esteem, and are afraid of being rejected.
    9. Narcissism can come from their parents. A study published in 2014 found evidence for a genetic influence in at least two traits of NPD: entitlement and feelings of grandiosity.
    10. Narcissists often have a history of troubled relationships. They may be unfaithful or abusive partners, and they may have difficulty maintaining long-term relationships.

  3. Is narcissism a part of Cluster B personality disorder?

    NPD is a part of Cluster B. Cluster B personality disorders are a category of mental health conditions characterized by inappropriate and volatile emotionality, and often unpredictable behavior. They typically have trouble regulating their emotions and struggle to maintain relationships.
    Cluster B category: 1. Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), 2. Borderline personality disorder (BPD), 3. Histrionic personality disorder (HPD), and 4. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

  4. Do narcissists lack empathy?

    Narcissists are capable of one type of empathy called cognitive empathy, which helps them read other people’s thoughts and emotions. They lack emotional and compassionate empathy, which involves feeling the pain of another person and acting to relieve their distress. However, they are good at faking emotional and compassionate empathy, which can make it difficult to recognize their lack of genuine empathy.

  5. How to protect yourself from a narcissist?

    When dealing with a narcissistic partner, use these strategies to protect yourself from their emotional abuse:
    1. Set healthy boundaries to prevent the narcissist from gaining power and control over you.
    2. Avoid taking things personally and do not engage emotionally with the narcissist.
    3. Watch out for their selfish motives and be aware of the innocent-looking tactics they use to get their narcissistic supply from you.
    4. Maintain a safe distance from the narcissist as much as possible, and if you have to continue living with them, record everything.
    5. Be self-confident, defend your boundaries, and stay in touch with people who care about you.
    6. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, regardless of what the narcissist says or does. Seek offline or online therapy.

  6. What are dark personalities?

    These are the 4 personalities that form the dark tetrad:
    1. Sadism: Sadists derive pleasure from inflicting pain or suffering on others.
    2. Narcissism: Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance, lack empathy, and a need for admiration from others.
    3. Psychopathy: Psychopaths are characterized by a lack of empathy, impulsivity, and a tendency towards thrill-seeking behavior.
    4. Machiavellianism: Machiavellians are strategic manipulators who are willing to deceive and exploit others to achieve their goals.

  7. What is pathological narcissism?

    Pathological narcissism is an extreme form of narcissism where individuals have a constant, overwhelming need for admiration and have little to no empathy for others. It is often associated with harmful behaviors like domestic violence. Some pathological narcissists are malignant narcissists – a mix of narcissism, antisocial behavior, aggression, and sadism.

10 Books on Narcissism

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist (2015) by Ramani Durvasula PhD — This book offers strategies to recognize signs of a narcissist and coping with narcissistic individuals in personal and professional contexts, and what we can do to survive.
  8. The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free (2019) by Julie L. Hall — This book identifies the mental and physical damage caused by narcissistic abuse, and gives practical advice to help survivors recover from the trauma cycles.

10 Research Papers On Narcissism

Here are 10 research papers on narcissism:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Kjærvik, S. L., & Bushman, B. J. (2021). The link between narcissism and aggression: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 147(5), 477–503.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Casale, S., & Banchi, V. (2020). Narcissism and problematic social media use: A systematic literature review. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 11, 100252.
  9. Brummelman, E., & Sedikides, C. (2020). Raising Children With High Self‐Esteem (But Not Narcissism). Child Development Perspectives, 14: 83-89.
  10. 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.

Final Words

Take-home message:

  • Narcissists consistently seek attention and praise.
  • Narcissists believe they deserve special treatment.
  • They often brag excessively about their own successes.
  • They notably lack emotional empathy and compassion.
  • They downplay others’ achievements, feelings, or thoughts.
  • Their behavior is marked by arrogance and a sense of superiority.
  • They may react aggressively when they feel disrespected or slighted.
  • They are skilled at manipulation, often deceiving those they interact with.

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.

In general, it is better to spot them from afar and keep a safe distance from them. Are you dating a narcissist?

Finally, know that there is hope: People with NPD can get better with treatment and can have healthy relationships.

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