How To Spot A Narcissist: 5 Things To Look For

Updated July 22, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Personality disorders are common, often misunderstood, mental health conditions.  One personality disorder that has a profound effect on friends and/or loved ones, perhaps more than the affected individual, is a narcissistic personality disorder.

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What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of several types of personality disorders.  It is characterized by a person needing excessive attention and admiration, an inflated sense of self-importance, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.

People with narcissistic personality disorder generally have a distorted self-image.  They are extremely preoccupied with themselves and are not interested in the feelings of others.

Learning To Spot A Narcissist

The core of narcissism is rooted in an egotistical preoccupation with oneself.  Narcissism is more than just self-centeredness, though.  Spotting a narcissist becomes easier when you know what to look for.  Some of the most common characteristics of a narcissists include:

  • Pay Attention To Their Words

Narcissists tend to see things in black and white.  For a person with NPD, things are either positive or negative.  This is often reflected in the way they talk.  Watch for a suspected narcissist’s use of words.  They will likely be extremely positive or extremely negative about others.

A person with a narcissistic personality will use words to entice and seduce others.  For example, extreme flattery is a common characteristic.  A narcissist may tell a target (potential victim), “You are the most amazing person I’ve ever met!  No one from my past could ever compare to you!”  This is a sign that once you no longer fit into a narcissist’s scheme or can no longer fulfill a role that he/she envisioned for you that you, too, will be compared negatively to the next target.

A narcissist’s lack of empathy toward others and the air of superiority that he/she projects is often exhibited using negative words about others.  For instance, “I know you don’t think so, but she is an idiot.  Let me tell you the truth about her.”

  • Actions May Speak Louder Than Words

Despite their claim to be honest and caring, people with narcissistic personality disorder are known to be rule-breakers.  Their lack of respect for authority figures and society is often shown by the fervor with which they commit certain acts and show no remorse.

Not every person who commits a crime is a narcissist.  However, because of their lack of empathy and belief that they are superior, some people with narcissistic personality disorder break laws.  When they are caught, they often act shocked that someone could accuse them of committing such acts.

  • Always The Victim

While narcissists believe that they are superior to others, they love to play the victim.  This becomes especially evident when others realize that they are not superior.  Their bruised ego results in what is referred to as a “narcissistic injury.”

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Narcissists have a distinct pattern of blaming others for everything.  They defend themselves even in situations that may not warrant a defense.  It’s not uncommon for narcissists to make angry or threatening phone calls or to attack others on social media.

  • Extreme Sense Of Self-Love Or Feelings Of Superiority

Unlike the typical self-confidence that most people experience, the confidence that is exuberated by a person with a narcissistic personality is very self-centered and shows no regard for other’s feelings.  A person with a narcissistic personality often has what is referred to as delusions of grandiosity.  Grandiose beliefs or delusions involve believing that he/she has some extraordinary talent or power.

  • Threatening

Narcissists love to use threats that are focused on a victim’s fears.  For example, a narcissistic husband may tell his wife, “If you leave me, that’s fine.  Just know this, you aren’t taking my kids.”  Although the narcissist’s self-centered mentality will likely prevent him/her from taking the children (because kids need attention), the threat is usually enough to make a partner stay.  When this happens, it feeds the narcissist’s sense of superiority.

  • Gaslighting

Gaslighting is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that leaves victims questioning their own instincts, feelings, and even their sanity.  This doubt that is caused by gaslighting gives a narcissistic partner a great deal of power.  A person who is gaslighting someone else will use negative and destructive words to spin facts in their own favor.

Did He Say What He Meant?

Narcissists can be very toxic people.  One of the greatest strengths a narcissist has is the ability to twist facts or use words to belittle others or make others question their own sanity.  A narcissist’s sense of entitlement and need to bring others down can be psychologically overwhelming.  As mentioned above, learning to listen to a narcissist’s actions before his words help identify negative behavior and combat the effects it could have on you.

Narcissists have an uncanny way of using words they think others want to hear but usually have a deep, almost sadistic motive for what they are saying.  A few examples of what a narcissist may say versus what they mean include:

“I’m so sorry you feel that way.”  This is usually a narcissist’s way of saying, “I’m not sorry for what I did, but I am sorry that you caught me.” He/she is not sorry you are hurt, but sorry that you are reacting with the emotions you are.  Because a narcissist tends to be self-centered, other people’s emotions are not valid.  This statement is simply a way of ending a conversation so that the issue doesn’t have to be dealt with anymore.

“Nothing is going on.  He/she is just a friend!”  What the narcissist usually means is, “I’m keeping this person as a back-up for when our relationship gets boring.”  If you complain about their behavior, the narcissist will turn the situation to make it look like you are attempting to control him/her.

“Why are you so insecure and jealous?”  This often means, “I love the way your jealousy makes me feel powerful.  In fact, I like to flirt with others when you’re around.”

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“It’s not all about you.”  If you ever try to direct attention to your own needs, a narcissist will quickly remind you that things are not all about you.  They truly believe this.  A narcissist believes his or her own needs are far more important than anyone else’s, and they have no problem making others feel guilty if they don’t get the attention they think they deserve.

The Long-Term Effects Of Narcissism

Living or working with someone who is a narcissist can feel very overwhelming.  For some people, the impact both physically and emotionally can be severe.

A person with a narcissistic personality disorder will blame others for their mistakes and will attempt to make them feel guilty for their problems.  This can lead to tension at work and/or home and can lead to violence if the issue is left unresolved.  A narcissist who does not get his/her way can become angry or aggressive.  Unfortunately, this can lead to physical and/or sexual abuse as a means of controlling others.

Complications associated with being in a relationship (personal or professional) with a narcissist include relationship difficulties, school or work difficulties, increased risk of alcohol or substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.  If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  The lifeline has counselors available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Getting Help When You Need It

If you or someone you know is in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s important to be able to recognize unhealthy traits and to get help as soon as possible.  With the right help, you can begin to understand the dynamic of how narcissistic behavior is or could affect you and learn ways to take control of your life and be free from unhealthy behaviors.

If you have a friend or loved one you can talk to, reach out to them.  If you don’t have someone you know personally that can offer support and direction, there are several other options for help. Connecting with a counselor or other mental health professional can give you a safe outlet for talking about what you are experiencing and help you learn ways to plan for a healthy life that is free from narcissistic control.

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Most communities have local mental health clinics where services are available without a referral.  For some people, however, the thought of meeting someone face-to-face can feel frightening.  If you need to talk to someone but aren’t comfortable meeting with a counselor or therapist in person, online counseling is a great alternative for help.  One example of online counseling services is provided by BetterHelp.  At BetterHelp, licensed, trained, experienced mental health care providers will work with you to develop a plan of care that is tailored to your needs as you prepare to live a life free of abuse.  You can connect with BetterHelp from home or anywhere else that you feel safe and comfortable.  All you need is an internet connection.

No matter how much you care for someone or how they make you feel, a relationship with someone narcissistic can have long-term effects on your emotional health.  Remember, your health and well-being are important.  Reach out for help today.


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