12 Subtle Signs of Narcissism To Watch Out For

There are six different types of narcissists. Most of them are “loud” enough for others to recognize them.

But some of them, particularly the covert ones, are skilled at hiding their tell-tale behaviors.

Still, they display the subtle signs of narcissism, which you may be able to spot if you are already aware of them.

Discover the non-obvious warning signals that someone might be a narcissist.

12 Subtle Signs/Traits of Narcissism To Watch Out For

Three classic signs of a narcissist are:

  • a lack of emotional empathy,
  • an inflated sense of self-importance, and
  • a persistent craving for praise and attention from others.

Here are 12 subtle signs of narcissism:

1. They fantasize about their greatness.

Narcissists often have a preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, or popularity.

These fantasies may involve ideas of achieving fame, wealth, or admiration from others, and they often serve as a way for the narcissist to escape from feelings of inadequacy or insecurity.

Strangely, while they spend a lot of time on these fantasies, they may not strive to make them a reality unless they are vilified or mocked for having them.

The focus on these fantasies may also distract the narcissist from their problems or shortcomings and help them maintain a grandiose self-image.

2. They are unreasonably overconfident.

Narcissists are often overly confident and self-assured, even in situations where their knowledge, skills, or experience may be limited.

They tend to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the challenges they may face, leading them to take unnecessary risks or make reckless decisions.

This overconfidence can be off-putting or intimidating to others, but the narcissist will go ahead while dismissing or deriding the concerns or reservations of their team.

The narcissist’s unreasonable conviction in their own abilities can lead them to overlook the potential risks and consequences of their actions and may put themselves or others in danger.

3. They think they are special and unique.

Narcissists often think they are unique and special, and may believe that they are superior to others.

They truly believe they are extraordinary people and should only associate with other successful, rich, or high-status people.

This sense of entitlement can lead them to be selective about their social circles, and they may distance themselves from those who they perceive as inferior.

They may also have an exaggerated sense of their own attractiveness, often believing that they are more appealing than they really are.

Their preoccupation with their appearance may take them to great lengths to maintain a certain image or appearance.

4. They are envious, and feel that others are too.

Narcissists tend to be highly envious of others and may believe that others are envious of them as well.

They do not react well to other people’s successes, and may feel resentful of the achievements of others.

This envy can lead the narcissist to feel threatened or insecure, and they may react with anger or hostility towards those they perceive as rivals.

Narcissists may also believe that others, including their close relationships, hate them or are envious of their “hallowed” status or high achievements, even if this is not the case.

This paranoia can lead them to isolate themselves or to constantly seek validation and admiration from others to reassure themselves of their own worth.

12 subtle signs of a narcissist

5. They are overly critical of others.

Narcissists tend to be overcritical of others and may find fault with anything that others have done, even if it has been done with finesse.

They may be perfectionists and may have high expectations for themselves and others, which can lead them to be overly critical and judgmental.

Narcissists may also have difficulty controlling their temper and may react with sudden anger or savagery (narcissistic rage) when they feel compared down to others or when their own ego is threatened.

This tendency towards rage and criticism can create stress and conflict in relationships, making it difficult for the narcissist to build and sustain healthy connections with others.

6. They do not take responsibility for mistakes.

Narcissists have a tendency to avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes. Instead, they find a scapegoat or an excuse for their failures and f-ups.

They have an overpowering need to maintain their own ego and self-image, and see admitting fault or offering an apology as a threat to their own self-worth.

For them, it is convenient to deflect blame onto others or cite external situations for their misguided actions, even if they are clearly at fault.

This tendency to make excuses is also obvious when they are asked why they said one thing and did another.

7. They do not feel remorse or guilt.

Narcissists lack guilt or regret for their wrongdoings.

It is terrible to them when others hurt them, but their misdeeds that bring others distress do not cause them to suffer.

It comes from their inability to empathize with others. Because they lack empathy, they find it difficult to understand, relate to, or act upon the feelings of others.

8. They are obsessed with talking about themselves.

They love to talk about themselves, their experiences and adventures, and their problems.

They often brag or boast about their purchases and accomplishments.

If you notice, they are bored when you are talking about your issues.

Even when you are answering their questions about yourself, they want you to stop so that they can start talking about themselves.

9. They are arrogant with persons of lower status.

They have this tendency to be haughty and high-handed in their behavior or attitude with people who are “under” them.

They may be perfectly gracious with you but you may find them routinely look down on others who are placed below them.

Power fills narcissists with hubris. They are frequently rude to those who are socially disadvantaged and work at a lower level than them.

You will often find them misbehaving with the restaurant and airline staff.

10. They expect special treatment for themselves.

They have an exaggerated sense of entitlement, expecting special treatment or privileges that they believe they are entitled to.

If they go to a place on someone’s invitation, they want themselves to be treated better than anyone else.

They are usually the ones who shout at the people for not serving them as special customers, harassing and threatening them for little mistakes.

11. They are always looking for ways to manipulate you.

Narcissists are manipulative by their very nature.

It may not be obvious to others, but they are always scheming to use others to meet their own needs or goals.

They are skilled at subtly twisting the facts to gaslight their victims.

12. They are bad at handling criticism.

They have difficulty accepting feedback or handling criticism. They are easily offended and become defensive when their sense of self is challenged. This may be because they have a fragile sense of self-esteem.


How to differentiate narcissism from high self-esteem?

Narcissists have:
1. unrealistically positive views of themselves (illusion),
2. strive for superiority (superiority), and
3. oscillate between hubris and shame (fragility).

While people with high self-esteem have:
1. positive but realistic views of themselves (realism),
2. strive for self-improvement (growth), and
3. feel intrinsically worthy, even in the face of setbacks (robustness).

Final Words

Finally, even if you pick up these subtle signs in a person, keep in mind that not everyone who exhibits some of these traits is a narcissist.

Moreover, not everyone who has signs of narcissism has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). NPD is a psychological illness that can only be diagnosed by mental health professionals using the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have NPD, it’s important to seek professional help from a mental health professional.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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