20 Signs of A Narcissist: Red Flags of Narcissism

— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.

Three hallmark signs are self-worship, a craving for constant praise, and a lack of empathy.

But it may be hard to spot them unless you see them constantly bragging, acting superior, or openly dismissing other people’s feelings.

Notice these in your narcissist:

  1. Your narcissist will constantly seek attention, praise, and special treatment, often humblebrag about their achievements while downplaying yours.
  2. You will never receive empathy from your narcissist; instead, they’ll regularly treat you with arrogance, superiority, and manipulative behavior.
  3. If your narcissist feels you have disrespected them, be prepared for aggressive reactions and deceitful manipulation. They make you walk on eggshells.

Some narcissists can give you a chilling, unblinking stare called the sociopathic stare a sign that they want you under total control.

20 Signs of A Narcissist: Red Flags of Narcissism

  1. Inflated Sense of Self-Importance: They have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and believe they are superior to others.
  2. Need for Control: They can’t stand others making decisions for them and feel the need to be in charge.
  3. Belief in Superiority: They feel they are better, smarter, and more competent than others and expect to be recognized as such.
  4. Overestimation of Abilities: They overestimate their intellectual superiority and physical attractiveness, often bragging about their talents and looks.
  5. Strong Sense of Entitlement: They always expect favorable treatment and assume their demands will be automatically met without questions.
  6. Lack of Empathy: They do not feel empathy or remorse for others, making it difficult for them to form genuine connections.
  7. Exploitation of Others: They take advantage of others without feeling shame or guilt, using people for their own gain.
  8. Fragile Self-Esteem: They have high but fragile self-esteem, needing constant validation to maintain their self-worth.
  9. Sensitivity to Criticism: They can’t handle even the mildest criticisms and react negatively to any perceived slight.
  10. Condescending Attitude: They are often condescending towards others, belittling and demeaning those around them.
  11. Bullying Behavior: They bully, demean, and intimidate others to assert their dominance and control.
  12. Disrespect for Boundaries: They do not respect other people’s boundaries, often violating personal space and privacy.
  13. Superficial Relationships: They have superficial, self-serving relationships, using others to bolster their self-image.
  14. Exploitative Relationships: They use their partners, family members, and romantic relationships to feel good about themselves without reciprocating.
  15. Self-Centeredness: They are highly selfish and self-centered, focusing solely on their own needs and desires.
  16. Attention Seeking: They seek constant attention and admiration from others, always wanting to be the center of focus.
  17. Denial of Responsibility: They don’t take responsibility for their mistakes, even when caught cheating or lying.
  18. Arrogance and Hostility: They are arrogant and hostile, finding it almost impossible to apologize or admit fault.
  19. Reality Distortion: They live in a fantasy world created by self-deception and magical thinking, often distorting reality to fit their narrative.
  20. Envy and Projection: They frequently feel envious and believe others are envious of them, projecting their insecurities onto others.
20 Tell-tale Signs of A Narcissist-Pin
Why Narcissists See A Larger Than Life Mirror Image of Themselves

Why do narcissists think they are larger than life?

A narcissist struggles to love their true self. Deep down, they know how embarrassingly average and unspecial they are.

  • So they create and become obsessed with a godlike, perfect version of themselves. This self-worship is a way to compensate for their inset feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and low self-worth.
  • The grandiose persona they project is a defense mechanism, a fragile facade designed to cover up their deep-seated shame, self-loathing, and fears of being unlovable or ordinary.
  • Their narcissistic traits – entitlement, lack of empathy, need for excessive admiration – all stem from this underlying sense of emptiness and desperate attempt to construct an idealized self-image to protect their fragile egos.
  • Beneath the arrogant, self-absorbed exterior lies a tormented individual, haunted by feelings of inferiority and intense envy of others.
  • Their relentless pursuit of narcissistic supply – attention, power, status – is a futile attempt to fill the void within, a black hole of insecurity that can never be satisfied.
  • The more they try to convince the world of their superiority and specialness, the more it lays bare their tragic inability to love and accept their true, flawed selves.

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.

  • 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).
  • Morf and Rhodewalt (2001) explain Narcissism as the dynamic process of creating and maintaining a grandiose self.
Narcissist Traits (Clinical Signs of Narcissism)
Narcissist Traits (Signs of Narcissism)

How is narcissism diagnosed?

The clinically diagnosed form of narcissism is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It’s common and affects 1 in 200 people.

NPD can only be diagnosed by a qualified mental health clinician. It may co-exist with other mental health disorders, like substance abuse, bipolar, anxiety, depression, and anorexia nervosa.

NPD is a part of Cluster B personality disorders that are marked by inappropriate and volatile emotionality, unpredictable behavior, and struggle to maintain relationships. Other three in Cluster B:

  1. Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
  2. Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  3. Histrionic personality disorder (HPD).

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

Signs of narcissism: Narcissistic-Personality-Disorder-NPD-Full-Criteria-DSM-5
Narcissistic Personality Disorder 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.

How many types of narcissists are there?

Psychologists divide narcissists into two types:

  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 vs. NPT

AspectNarcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)Narcissistic Personality Traits (NPT)
DefinitionA mental health diagnosis with extreme, pervasive traits impairing social, occupational, or other functioning areas.Self-centeredness, need for praise, and lack of empathy, not severe enough to impair daily functioning.
SeveritySevere, with a noticeably negative impact on daily life and relationships.Mild to moderate, does not typically affect daily functions or relationships significantly.
DiagnosisRequires clinical evaluation and meets criteria in DSM-5 or ICD-10.No formal diagnosis; traits are present but not at a clinical level.
Impact on LifeCauses substantial difficulties in social, occupational, and other important areas.May cause occasional interpersonal issues but generally manageable.
Behavioral PatternsPersistent grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, and profound lack of empathy.May exhibit self-centered behavior and desire for admiration without the pervasive impact.
EmpathyMarked lack of empathy; difficulty recognizing or caring about others’ needs and feelings.Reduced empathy but still capable of recognizing others’ needs and feelings to some extent.
FunctioningOften struggles to maintain healthy relationships and stable job performance.Generally maintains functional relationships and job performance.
TreatmentOften requires psychotherapy, and sometimes medication, for management.Traits can be addressed with self-awareness, personal development, and sometimes counseling.
Recognition of IssueOften lacks insight into their condition; resistant to acknowledging the disorder.May recognize their self-centered behavior and its impact, more open to self-improvement.
Examples of TraitsGrandiosity, entitlement, manipulative behavior, exploitative relationships.Occasional boastfulness, seeking validation, self-interest.
Table: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) vs. Narcissistic Personality Traits (NPT).

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.

Books on Narcissism

  1. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009) by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell
  2. Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed (2014) by Wendy T. Behary LCSW
  3. The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age (2017) by Joseph Burgo Ph.D.
  4. The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed-in Your World (2014) by Jeffrey Kluger
  5. Narcissistic Mothers: How to Handle a Narcissistic Parent and Recover from CPTSD (2020) by Caroline Foster
  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
  7. Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist (2015) by Ramani Durvasula PhD
  8. The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free (2019) by Julie L. Hall

Research 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

    Don’t let a narcissist trap you. It is better to know one when you see one. Are you dating a narcissist?

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