30 Signs You’re Definitely a Narcissist
You're so vain, you probably think this article is about you.
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 to which 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 and consider your ways. So read on to learn the tell-tale signs of narcissism.
Many narcissists consider themselves better than everyone else, including their friends, co-workers, 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 narcissist’s grand sense of self-importance generally goes well beyond their actual beauty, brilliance, or level of achievement.
You Constantly Need Attention
The need for attention 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 narcissist’s 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.
You Take Perfectionism to a Whole New Level
Psychology Today reports that those suffering from grandiose narcissism 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 Feel the Need to Shame Others
Yes, narcissists need to feel in control, which relates to so many other tell-tale 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
To be sure, no one likes criticism. But narcissists are particularly sensitive to that outside pressure. Serani says that anything remotely threatening to their sense of self has to be “obliterated… So, the narcissist will use techniques like denial, deflection, and blame-shifting. 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 them 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.”
Special treatment—it’s what narcissists believe they automatically deserve. According to Serani, too much entitlement creates a particularly pathological strain of narcissism, where you don’t really consider the needs of others, but rather only the ones that pertain only to yourself.
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.
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.
A competitive streak is one thing, but narcissists take things to the extreme. “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.”
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.”
Love bombing occurs at the beginning of a relationship, right after the “we have so much in common” phase. “Once the idealization [that you have a connection] 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 he or she grows bored.
It’s one thing to strive for success and perfection, but narcissists are different in that their rage and dissatisfaction are 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—and expecting it to be so 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 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?
You Don’t Take Criticism Well
Since narcissists think they are God’s gift to the world, it’s little surprise that they’re not the best at handling anything they assume to be a critique. “When criticized, narcissists show themselves woefully incapable of retaining any emotional poise, or receptivity,” Seltzer says. “And it really doesn’t much matter whether the nature of that criticism is constructive or destructive. They just don’t seem to be able to take criticism, period.”
You Keep People at Arm’s Length
According to Seltzer, one of the most tragic traits of a narcissist is their inability to let people in. Even with their closest friends, narcissists keep their guards up so as to avoid being vulnerable and potentially getting criticized.
You’re Overly Defensive
“Needing so much to protect their overblown but fragile ego, [a narcissist’s] ever-vigilant defense system can be extraordinarily easy to set off,” says Seltzer. “In challenging circumstances it’s almost as though their very survival depends on being right or justified, whereas flat out (or humbly) admitting a mistake—or, for that matter, uttering the words ‘I’m sorry’ for some transgression—seem difficult to impossible for them.”
Though narcissists struggle to form true connections with peers and partners, “they can be charismatic, often quite smart, charming and very gripping,” says Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Narcissistic Relationship. Ultimately, what separates a caring, charismatic individual from a deceptively charming one is whether they maintain their manners or slowly devolve into someone who doesn’t listen and lacks empathy.
You Make Decisions Without Considering the Repercussions
There’s no use trying to explain something logically to a narcissist. When it comes to their decision-making process, the only thing they take into consideration is their own wants and needs, and nothing you say or do is going to change their mind about that.
You Have Frequent Angry Outbursts
Both narcissists and patients with borderline personality disorder suffer from uncontrollable fits of rage. And “the reason that feelings of anger and rage are so typically expressed by them is that in the moment they externalize the far more painful anxiety- or shame-related emotions hiding just beneath them,” Seltzer explains. “When they’re on the verge of feeling—or re-feeling—some hurt or humiliation from their past, their consequent rage conveniently ‘transfers’ these unwanted feelings to another.”
You Struggle with Insecurities
Narcissists constantly seek attention and praise from others. As Dr. Margalis Fjelstad explains: “They’re constantly afraid of being ridiculed, rejected, or wrong. Narcissists fear any true intimacy or vulnerability because they’re afraid you’ll see their imperfections and judge or reject them. No amount of reassurance seems to make a difference, because narcissists deeply hate and reject their own shameful imperfections.”
You Lie about Your Accomplishments
Have you ever talked up your role in a work assignment or lied entirely about an accomplishment just for the validation and/or recognition? According to the Mayo Clinic, this could be a sign that you’re a narcissist. In addition to wanting to be the most successful person in the room, narcissists will exaggerate or even make up achievements entirely in order to get ahead—or just to be praised.
You’re Ashamed of Your Emotions
“Buried in a deeply repressed part of the narcissist are all the insecurities, fears, and rejected traits that he is constantly on guard to hide from everyone, including himself,” says Fjelstad. “The narcissist is acutely ashamed of all these rejected thoughts and feelings.”
You Struggle to Work Well With Others
In order to work on a team, you need to be able to empathize with your teammates and have everyone’s best interests in mind. “Don’t expect the narcissist to understand your feelings, give in, or give up anything he wants for your benefit,” says Fjelstad. “It’s useless.”
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