It’s usually not terribly difficult to spot a narcissist. After all, it’s a genuine psychological affliction—Narcissist Personality Disorder, if you take it from the DSM-5—wherein a person displays “pervasive patterns of grandiosity” to the degree where social functioning is impaired. Purportedly, it affects about 1 percent of the total human population.
To ID a narcissist in the wild, you just have to look for the guy who never apologizes for his frequent, grievous mistakes. Or the girl who hijacks seemingly every conversation she’s part of. Or the precocious new hire who refuses to take advice, yet constantly dishes it out—unsolicited. Yes, classic narcissists.
When it comes to turning the lens on yourself, though, well, that’s an entirely different story. After all, it’s human nature to turn a blind eye to personal bad behavior—and that’s even more applicable for narcissists. To that end, we’ve rounded up, straight from experts, all the dead giveaways that narcissists exhibit on a regular basis. If you display any of these tells, you may want to take a good look in the mirror (but not literally, or you might spend an entire morning obsessively staring at yourself.) So read on, just to make sure you know, you know? And for more ways to hack your mind, learn these 70 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
Many narcissists consider themselves better than everyone else, including their friends, coworkers, and family. But this severely inflated ego is little more than a mask, Psychology Today reports. It serves as a defense mechanism to hide the real problem: “The narcissist cannot tolerate being vulnerable.”
Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., a blogger for Psychology Today, says that a narcissists grand sense of self-importance generally goes beyond their actual beauty, brilliance, or level of achievement. For examples of some serious bloated superiority complexes, check out these 15 Things Dictator Bosses Banned at Their Companies.
You Constantly Need Attention
The need for attention and likely stems from childhood, according to Kimberly Hershenson, Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist. “If the individual was either overly pampered or overly criticized they may be struggling with insecurity, low self-esteem, or jealousy,” she says. “In order to combat these feelings, they may try and put [themselves] on a pedestal in an attempt to feel better.”
You Constantly Look for Outside Validation
Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D., author of Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety, wrote that a narcissists’ need for validation stems from their self-esteem issues. She compared their self-esteem to that of an outdoor thermometer—it only reacts to external conditions.
Seltzer adds that striving endlessly to prove yourself reveals that your self-acceptance is conditional: you’re only as good as your last performance. If you’re having self-esteem issues of your own, you may want to learn about the 15 Daily Habits That Are Killing Your Confidence.
You Take Perfectionism to a Whole New Level
Some narcissists suffer from perfectionism. Psychology Today reports, however, that those suffering from grandiose narcissism—being preoccupied with looking better than everyone else—are more likely to be perfectionists. Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, are too concerned with not being as good as everyone else to actually want to achieve things. Hershenson explained that both forms of narcissists like things their way on their own terms—anything that deviates from this plan makes them feel out of control.
You Have to Be in Control
Yes, narcissists need to feel in control, which relates to so many other telltale signs of a narcissist. PsychCentral reports that narcissists actually use shame to control others as a way to beat them to the punch and avoid embarrassment.
But Deborah Serani, Psy.D. Professor at Adelphi University, says that a narcissist’s goal is always to have a flowing supply of others to fulfill his or her needs. “So, in order to do this, narcissists exert great control over their environment and their relationships,” she says. “Much of what is done is intellectual and calculated, planned and well-rehearsed.”
You Don’t Accept Your Failures—Or Your Role in Them
When you just can’t deal with failures—or you’re always playing the victim—you might possess some narcissistic tendencies. “If nothing is ever their fault and they tend to feel like they’re misunderstood or not valued this may be a sign of narcissism,” Hershenson explains. “They can’t take criticism.”
To be sure, no one likes criticism. But narcissists are particularly sensitive to that outside pressure. One would never admit to being accountable for anything. Serani says that’s because anything remotely threatening to their sense of self has to be “obliterated… So, the narcissist will use techniques like denial, deflection, and blame-shifting,” she explains. “Most narcissists are very skilled at double-talk and can find the right way to twist blame away from themselves—and onto you.”
If you’re a narcissist, you likely don’t recognize boundaries that aren’t yours. In some cases, you may not notice boundaries, while in others, you might not care that you’re making someone else uncomfortable. According to PsychCentral, narcissists often react to set boundaries with accusations—for instance, continually asking “why” instead of respecting the other person’s wishes and leaving well alone.
“Narcissists also manipulate situations and violate boundaries, so trust becomes an issue,” says Hershenson. “Communication and trust are two of the most important traits in a healthy relationship, and with a narcissist, it is nearly impossible.”
Being a conversation hog is not attractive, and yes, it’s a sign of narcissism. If you’re a bad listener, you tend to control most of the conversation. You’re likely listening for the sole purpose of being able to reply aptly.
“You could be talking to someone about a health scare you had, and the conversation drifts to [the narcissist’s] upcoming vacation,” Hershenson explains. “It is difficult to have a meaningful relationship with a narcissist because conversations are always one-sided and about them.”
Shahida Arabi, author of POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, writes that narcissistic abusers manipulate victims because they enjoy “bringing down anyone whose accomplishments and traits they envy to reinforce their false sense of superiority.” This points further to the fact that narcissists don’t typically maintain strong relationships.
Special treatment—it’s what narcissists believe they automatically deserve. According to Serani, too much entitlement creates a pathological kind of narcissism, where you don’t really consider the needs of others, but rather only the ones that pertain only to yourself. Seltzer adds that narcissists’ innate arrogant sense of entitlement requires no reciprocity on their part since they believe they deserve special treatment.
For narcissists, people are a means to an end. Serani says that they simply do not see others as whole people. “They see others as ‘pieces’ or ‘objects’ that serve them,” she says. “So, since they don’t value others, why would they respect boundaries?”
A lack of empathy is one of the most identifiable qualities of a narcissist, according to Seltzer. “They literally are unable to feel another’s distress and act with any genuine compassion for them,” he says.
This unsolicited advice is never genuine, it is simply another way for narcissists to be in control and to show off their superiority. Giving advice gives a narcissist a chance to inflate his or her ego even more.
Again, this is similar to a few other signs on this list. These status symbols are meant to replace a sense of self that the narcissist doesn’t naturally have. If it is hard for narcissists not to view people as objects, then it is even harder for them to accept that objects are just objects. For objects that are more than objects, though, check out the 15 Killer Style Accessories You Never Knew You Needed.
A competitive streak is one thing, but narcissists take things to the extreme—a pattern in most of their behavior. “When criticism and shaming from others lead us to question whether we’re good enough, we’re likely to overcompensate for these perceived flaws by doing things that might help us feel better than others,” Seltzer says. “Since, deep down, we question whether we’re really as good as them.”
This striving rears its ugly head by way of competition and judgment. “Remember, to be ‘good enough,’ you’re not required to be better than good enough,” Seltzer explains.
Some people argue that holding a grudge is an art, and for the narcissist, that’s seemingly true. “An individual with narcissism generally responds to threats to his or her sense of self by using the silent treatment (fight) or rage (flight),” Serani explains. “Because they cannot and will not own mistakes, the grudge services as a way of holding on to their need for vindication and rightness.”
First, love bombing is a two-step targeted dance that occurs after the initial “we have so much in common” mirroring. “Once the idealization occurs, the narcissist continues with love-bombing, a technique that overwhelms the intended person with attention, recognition, and love,” Serani says. “All of this is to secure the narcissistic supply.” It is typically a short-lived affair because the narcissist ends up tossing that person to the side when they grow bored.
It’s one thing to strive for success and perfection, but narcissists are different in that their rage and dissatisfaction is always bubbling near the surface—even after attaining their fantasies. Serani says that the damage done in the narcissist occurs very young in life, where the sense of self doesn’t develop cohesively. “The narcissist is aware of these deficiencies, so the dreams, fantasies, or aspirations for the best, the most, the perfect, are deeply wished for to remedy the pathological defect,” she explains.
Superficial friendships are the norm for narcissists. In fact, Serani says these are the only types of friendships narcissists can manage. “Deep, caring, thoughtful relationships are not tolerated well by someone with narcissism,” Serani says. “This is because empathy and compassion are not traits found in a person with narcissism.”
Life is never going to be perfect all the time—and expecting it to be is unrealistic. But the narcissist sure doesn’t know that. “Many of us can live with failure, regret, and loss without it setting into motion pathological responses,” Serani says. “We get sad, feel remorse, grieve, and look to other things as more realistic goals.”
That said, identifying with having unreasonable expectations or a couple of other signs and traits on this list does not automatically mean you are a narcissist. In fact, Serani says that chances are—if you’re wondering if you’re a narcissist—you probably aren’t. A good way to check your entitlement is to self-reflect about your behavior and ask yourself some questions: is my request realistic; do other people call me selfish; when is the last time I compromised and felt okay about it?
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