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9 Red Flags You're Related to a Narcissist, Therapists Say

If your family member has five out of nine, they could be clinically diagnosable.

In our worst moments, anyone can be selfish, entitled, or lacking in empathy for others. However, there's a difference between behavioral lapses and a pathological pattern. When taken to an extreme, unfavorable traits such as these can reflect a bigger problem. In fact, they could be a sign that someone you know—a partner, friend, or family member—is actually a clinically diagnosable narcissist.

The closer your relationship to this person, the more complicated it can be to navigate their narcissistic traits. "It can be difficult to maintain healthy boundaries and protect your mental health in the face of a narcissist's self-centeredness and manipulation," says Najamah Davis, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist for ND Counseling Services.

The first step is to spot the problem and call it by its name. In order to meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a person must meet five out of nine symptoms, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

However, to confirm your suspicions and better understand your family member, you may also benefit from a professional perspective. "Seeking therapy or counseling can help you develop coping strategies and learn how to set healthy boundaries with a narcissistic family member. It's also essential to prioritize your well-being and reduce your exposure to toxic behaviors and interactions," Davis tells Best Life.

Concerned that someone in your family might possess these traits? These are the nine red flags that could mean you're related to a narcissist.

RELATED: 7 Signs You've Been Raised By a Narcissistic Mother, Therapist Says.

They lack empathy for others.

mature couple sitting on couch looking upset at each other – Yuri A / Shutterstock

Narcissists tend to make a good first impression, exuding power and confidence when they meet new people. However, those closest to narcissists, including their family members, are usually privy to another side of their personalities.

Davis says that their fundamental lack of empathy for others makes it difficult for them to sustain meaningful connections. "Narcissists are often unable to understand and empathize with the feelings of others, making them appear emotionally cold and insensitive," she tells Best Life.

"A narcissist will not be able to put themselves in your shoes and imagine the situation from your perspective," agrees Alyse Freda-Colon, LCSW, founder of AFC Therapy. "They see it from their perspective, and that's the only perspective that matters to them. They are right, you are wrong—forever, end of story."

They have an outsized sense of self-importance.

Grandparents telling grandchild a family story in living room

If you're related to a narcissist, you may notice that the family member in question is abnormally self-centered.

"Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance and believe that they are superior to others," says Davis.

Freda-Colon adds that this often means they can only look at situations from the perspective of how they are personally affected. She shares an example of a situation that might tip you off to this trait.

"Let's say you tell your narcissistic husband that you might lose your job. A supportive, loving spouse would likely empathize with you, console you, and discuss your feelings and plans with you," she explains. "A narcissist will likely only be concerned about how they will be impacted, saying things like: 'Well, what about our health insurance? How are we going to pay our bills? What am I supposed to tell people when they ask me what my spouse does? This is very inconvenient for me.'"

RELATED: I'm a Therapist and These Are 6 Signs Your Sibling Is Toxic.

They crave attention, admiration, and praise.

Overconfident Business Man wearing a blue suit sitting on a white couch

At first glance, it may seem that a narcissist's greatest fault is always loving themselves too much. However, research has shown that there are actually "two faces of narcissism," and only some narcissists are motivated by an over-inflated sense of self-worth. Others are actually driven by an underlying feeling of self-loathing that prompts them to look for external validation, attention, and adulation from others.

"Narcissists can go to extreme lengths to get attention and admiration, sometimes even at the cost of hurting others," Davis says.

In practice, this may show up as excessive bragging, taking credit for other people's efforts, or other attention-seeking behaviors.

They manipulate or exploit others.

Couple Having a Fight; man is yelling in background with woman putting her hands up in frustration in foreground
Just Life / Shutterstock

Because a narcissist is primarily or exclusively concerned with their own needs, it's not uncommon for them to exploit others to get their way.

"Narcissists often use manipulation tactics to get what they want, such as guilt-tripping, gaslighting, and emotional blackmail," says Davis.

If you notice this particular trait, which lends itself easily to abuse, it's especially important to set boundaries and recognize the relationship's limitations.

"It is very hard to have a reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship with a narcissist. In their mind, you are there to serve their needs, and what you need doesn't much matter," says Freda-Colon.

They have a strong sense of entitlement.

Couple meeting with a therapist; the man is pointing his finger at his wife

Having a sense of entitlement means that you feel deserving of special treatment, even though you've done nothing in particular to merit it. This is common in narcissists, the experts warn.

"Narcissists feel entitled to special treatment and privileges, and they may become angry or resentful when their demands are not met," Davis says.

RELATED: Covert Narcissist Traits: 8 Signs to Look For.

They're preoccupied with their own grandiose fantasies.

Blonde woman wearing a black turtleneck, red lipstick, and glasses taking a selfie in coffee shop
photominus / iStock

Many narcissists are solely focused on their own grandiose pursuits "of success, power, perfect love, beauty, or brilliance," the DSM-5 says. These fantasies are often not rooted in current reality, but they help support the notion that the individual is more uniquely special than others.

Though this distortion can cause friction within relationships, Freda-Colon says a true narcissist is unlikely to change their ways: "With narcissism, they don't even see that they need to change—it's everyone else who needs to change. Don't hold your breath thinking that they will have an epiphany and things will get better. This is as likely as good as it gets."

They are arrogant, disdainful, or hyper-critical.

thoughtful man after argument with father
fizkes / Shutterstock

In the words of the DSM-5, people with narcissistic personality disorder tend to have attitudes towards others that are "arrogant" or "disdainful." In practice, this may mean that your family member puts you down often.

"Narcissists may be quick to judge and criticize others, often belittling them and making them feel inferior," says Davis.

If you notice this trait in someone, the experts say it's important to remember that you are under no obligation to receive or internalize their negativity.

Despite being highly critical of others, narcissists typically fail to look at their own actions critically. Rather than holding themselves accountable for their own choices, they instead blame others for their failures or mistakes, says Davis.

"They are defensive and perceive threats even when they aren't there," agrees Freda-Colon. "They often project their anxiety onto others and accuse them of the very thing they are doing: being unsupportive or closed-minded. They aren't able to see their own role in any dysfunction or relationship issue, so it's always your fault."

RELATED: 10 Red Flags Your Friend Is a Narcissist, Therapists Say.

They are prone to envy and jealousy.

Shot of a young woman sitting on the sofa and ignoring her girlfriend after an argument

People with narcissistic personality disorder tend to have another destructive trait: "Narcissists may become envious of others' success and achievements, leading them to engage in competitive or destructive behavior," Davis explains.

If you notice that your relatives are unsupportive or undermining when things are going well, this may be a sign that they're feeling their own sense of superiority is under threat.

They think they're special.

Shot of a mature woman and her elderly mother having coffee and a chat at home

Narcissists usually believe that they are unique and superior to others and only want to associate themselves with other individuals that they view as having equally high status.

"Narcissists often have a distorted view of themselves and their abilities, making it difficult for them to recognize their flaws and limitations," Davis says.

Underlying this is a profound lack of self-awareness. "They think they are always right," says Freda-Colon. "They take credit for anything good and blame the rest on someone or something else. They don't have the ability to be introspective or see their part in a conflict or a situation-it's all or nothing."

If you notice this trait, the therapist recommends putting distance between you and the family member in question. "You can attempt to limit your interactions with them, find other people to form your squad, and have your needs met outside of this person. The most important thing to remember is that they will not change," says Freda-Colon.

Though you can urge the person to seek professional help, remember that you can't force them to get better. Instead, your primary focus should be on your own mental health and support systems, which will put you on the path to healing.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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