Narcissists are often difficult to deal with and can leave you feeling drained and frustrated.
But knowing the indicators can help you protect yourself and make things a little easier.
If you think you might be dealing with a narcissist, experts say these are the signs to look out for:
You find yourself doing all the listening
You find you are doing all the listening and that listening seems to focus on the narcissist’s pleasure with himself and his achievements. Your smiling response is all that’s needed to confirm what he already feels validated about.
Your feelings aren’t understood or treated with indifference
Narcissists have a deficiency literally in their brain anatomy that precludes empathy.
Don’t be fooled if a response sounds empathic. It’s scripted, meaning learned to get the effect they’re looking for. It may even feel good, but it could sadly be said to anyone they need to connect with or even exploit.
If you make even the slightest criticism, you get the silent treatment
The bravado and charm of the narcissist are his masks, but he is deeply prone to humiliation. The slightest note of any need for improvement feels like a heavy criticism, and he’ll want to retaliate though he may not.
Narcissists are easily humiliated
This person is easily humiliated though they won’t say so—but will do something vengeful or make an unwarranted comment.
This corresponds to the previous comment. Humiliation is sometimes hard to read in someone who knows how to offer a serene appearance. But what is said next or an unintentional action may give you the clue you need to know he’s actually quite hurt. Don’t blame yourself, however.
Part of life is taking suggestions for improving ourselves; unless you are someone who wants to appear as if no improvements are possibly needed.
You feel invisible because they take up too much space, literally or figuratively
You feel very alone or even invisible at times because this person must be the admired center of attention, taking up much more than their space, literally or figuratively.
Typically, the partner of a narcissist is used to this person droning on about his knowledge which may be quite large. Intelligent narcissists may read extensively with the intention not only to learn (let’s be fair) but also to impress on any subject on any occasion.
You begin to feel exploited, not loved
This may take a while because even a narcissist may have romantic gestures and words that he knows keeps him in your favor. But when this is overdone, and you aren’t even in the mood, he’s miscalculated, and you feel something’s off.
Because he’s not sensitive to your needs or moods, he will slip up with scripted lovey messages that may be motivated by something your trusting self isn’t aware of. That, unfortunately, is the beginning of exploitation.
It hurts if you’re trusting. Don’t blame yourself for that either. We expect kind words to be meant, not have misplaced intent.
The narcissist knows how not to be rude, so loving messages may easily be mistaken, at least for politeness. But the narcissist doesn’t comprehend the depth of caring that genuine love involves.
If, however, you have been misled and the relationship is long-term, don’t give up hastily; It is because narcissists with well-trained therapists can change, especially when suffering from depression or the fear of losing important people in their lives.
Remember, the narcissist is a human being with a flaw, which one might even call a disability in the part of the brain that functions around emotions and empathy.
If you find other attributes that you want to hold on to, be candid eventually with someone in a long-term relationship and share that you and others are seeing through them and that their hurting others will haunt them.
The narcissist wants to be a winner, which may affect them. Regret or remorse won’t come easily, but your compassion may be worthwhile if the motivation for change is high because profound loss is impending.
Just remember, change doesn’t happen in a straight line. It takes a lot of love to love a narcissist.
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D.
It’s often hard to accept that someone you care for is a narcissistic personality. These individuals are often attractive, talented, charming, intelligent, and even caring at times.
But when it’s a member of your own family, it is usually terribly frustrating to try to help the person (monetarily or otherwise) yet not feel taken advantage of.
Narcissists are self-centered and are rarely empathetic
First and foremost, narcissists are very self-centered. They are very focused on their own needs and issues and are rarely empathetic to the needs of others.
The importance or validity of a different viewpoint is either not acknowledged or taken seriously.
They maintain relationships only when a person increases their self-importance
For narcissists, relationships are primarily based on how well others satisfy their perpetual needs.
They maintain relationships (friends or family or even therapists) only when that other person increases their sense of self-importance or provides them with what they need.
They can quickly drop a long-term relationship if disappointed and just as easily pick it up again when it suits their needs.
They are impulsive and impatient
Because a narcissist’s self-esteem is a facade, they need many things to bolster their ego.
These things could be a Rolex, a Lexus, or a hot new date. Usually, the more expensive the item is, the more they “must” have it.
Narcissistic personalities are usually impulsive and impatient, unable to wait for what they want. Though their demands may be seen as grandiose by others, they just feel naturally entitled to them. Affording them is irrelevant.
They’re sometimes very generous just to feed their ego
Strangely enough, narcissists can sometimes be very generous with others, but this generosity always has to feed their ego and enlarge their sense of importance.
For instance, they may treat new friends to expensive dinners to impress them.
It is usually tough to understand the narcissistic ways of another family member. I hope this description helps a bit.
Many people believe they are dealing with a narcissist when they encounter a person who is:
- Outwardly attention-seeking
Still, the truth is that narcissism is way more complex and nuanced.
Narcissism is on a spectrum, meaning some people may have traits of narcissism but do not necessarily qualify for the personality disorder known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
When dealing with someone high on the spectrum of narcissism, you are being subjected to abusive behavior because, at the core, true narcissists are abusive and cruel people.
Narcissists all crave attention and need to feel important
They will often do whatever it takes to ensure they receive attention (known as narcissistic supply).
However, not all narcissists are loud and pompous jerks. Other categories of narcissists go beyond the grandiose type, such as:
- Covert – more withdrawn and secretly preoccupied with being recognized for their perceived greatness
- Communal – an altruistic narcissist who uses good deeds to get attention from others and prides themself on being a good and trustworthy person
The other qualities all narcissists have in common (besides needing and seeking attention in various ways) are:
- Lack of empathy
- Centering themselves and their needs at the expense of others
- Exploitation of others
Their behavior is consistently hot and cold
Do you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells with this person?
A narcissist often has two distinct personalities:
If you are dealing with a narcissistic person, you never know what personality you will get.
An episode of cruelty is often followed by their warm and cheerful personality, which creates a rollercoaster of ups and downs and leaves you feeling anxious, confused, and generally on edge.
They are intense, charming, and your biggest fan—in the beginning
Narcissistic people will often turn on the charm and flattery when you’re first getting to know them.
If it is a romantic relationship scenario, they often do something known as “love bombing,” where they shower you with attention, affection, and gifts and pursue you intensely.
Once they feel they have won you over, they move to what is known as the “devalue” phase, where you start to see the two opposing personalities alternate back and forth and begin to experience their cold, calculating, and cruel side.
They are never wrong, and if they apologize, it is manipulative
A narcissistic person will never admit fault or wrongdoing if they have hurt you. They will:
- Blameshift – put all the blame on you when they are the ones that did something wrong)
- Gaslight – make you doubt your reality by saying things like: “oh, that never happened, it’s all in your head,” or “you’re being too sensitive, it was just a joke.”
If they do apologize, it is only because they need to get something they want from you, but they will always revert to their bad behavior with zero accountability or desire to change.
They can be charming publicly and abusive behind closed doors
Narcissists can be so friendly, gregarious, and charming, and some even appear incredibly altruistic (the communal type).
It is often a frustrating experience when you’re dealing with a narcissist, and no one else around you can see what you are enduring because the narcissist can put on a real show for the public.
Just because someone easily wins people over in shallow and surface interactions does not mean they are like that in private.
Keep a healthy dose of skepticism when interacting with someone who appears a little too charming or too good to be true.
A narcissist is only happy when the limelight is firmly on them
Whether it’s focusing the conversation on her, making sure she looks perfect or creating drama, the narcissist is only happy when the limelight is firmly on them.
Their favorite topic of conversation is always themselves, and they have a grandiose sense of self-importance.
They believe they are always right
A narcissist always believes they are right. Over time, this affects the victim’s confidence and esteem because they feel like they are always in the wrong.
If they ever question it, often the narcissist will “gaslight” the victim by lying or distorting events to fit their “truth.”
They feel special and above others
They will often expect those around them to agree and comply with their demands with a sense of self-entitlement because they feel special and above others.
If the child defies them or tries to speak about their own needs, the narcissistic parent will react with anger, outrage, and withdrawal, leaving the child feeling vulnerable and unloved.
They are quick to criticize others and demand high standards
A narcissist is often quick to criticize others and demand high standards. However, they may regularly over-promise and under-deliver and see no fault in that.
If they are challenged on this, they go into full attack mode to retain their “perfect” persona and discourage the victim from challenging them again.
They want to be in control
Control is at the heart of what a narcissist does and gives them all the power.
From dictating what their children wear to making all the decisions and isolating them from others, this behavior leaves the child feeling like they don’t have any say in their own lives.
As a result, as an adult, they can struggle with their own identity and make decisions as this feels alien to them.
Their mood changes are erratic
Often the mood of a narcissist mother will be erratic, swinging from delight and affection to anger and resentment in an instant.
Anticipating what mood they will be in often leads the victim to feel they are constantly walking on eggshells and triggers deep-rooted anxiety.
They feel no guilt at putting their needs first
A child is more of a possession which means boundaries don’t exist. Narcissists have an inability to empathize with others, so they feel no guilt at putting their needs first.
This often means that they exploit and manipulate them to their own means and needs and have no concept of physical and emotional boundaries.
They are more than just being selfish
While true narcissists are quite rare (up to 5% of the world’s population), it is not uncommon for my clients to come to me and ask me if their partner might be a narcissist. Oftentimes, they feel their partner is selfish and does not care about them and their needs.
The truth is that all of us can be selfish at times. That in and of itself does not make a narcissist.
When my clients want to find out if they are actually dealing with a narcissistic partner, I ask them to answer the following questions (Answer true or false. Only answer “true” when the statement describes your partner most of the time.):
Does your partner act as self-absorbed?
Ask yourself if your partner acts self-absorbed. Do they usually make everything about themselves?
For example, if you are invited to a mutual friends’ birthday party, is your partner somehow able to make it about them instead of the birthday person?
Does your partner believe that they are better than others and deserves special treatment?
For example, do they feel like they should always get the best table at a restaurant or be first in line, even if they have not made a reservation?
Does your partner regularly put you or others down?
For example, do they say things like “You’re so stupid” or “Nobody else would ever want to be with you”?
Does your partner regularly accuse you or others of lying, cheating, or being out to get them?
For example, do they always think their friends are talking about them behind their back?
Does your partner expect you or others to be perfect?
For example, do they get angry with you if you make a mistake or do not live up to their high standards?
Does your partner look down on people they perceive as being beneath them?
For example, do they make fun of people who are not as wealthy or educated as they are?
Does your partner constantly seek approval from others?
For example, do they need to be the center of attention and always be right?
Does your partner have difficulty understanding or sharing the feelings of others?
For example, do they seem unable to understand why you are upset or why somebody else might be upset?
Does your partner take responsibility for their actions?
For example, do they apologize when they make a mistake or hurt you?
Does your partner feel the need to control everything and everyone around them?
For example, do they have to be in charge of every situation or micromanage you and others?
Does your partner have any addictive tendencies?
For example, do they need to drink alcohol or use drugs every day?
Does your partner seem unable to get close to you or others emotionally?
For example, do they never say “I love you” or express any other emotions?
If you answered “true” to most of the questions, there is a high chance that you might be, in fact, dealing with a person that has narcissistic traits.
Ultimately, the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) can only be given by a mental health professional.
If you find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist, my advice would be to seek therapy—couples therapy if your partner is open to it, or therapy for yourself.
Being in a relationship with a narcissist can have its unique challenges for the relationship and the person without those traits.
Narcissists have an inflated sense of superiority
One of the most recognizable traits of narcissism is grandiosity.
Narcissists have an inflated sense of superiority, believing they’re unique, special, and deserving of special treatment.
They not only want the recognition that they’re special; they need it because this exaggerated self-image is actually protecting a very fragile and empty sense of self beneath it.
Anything they find threatening to their sense of self will be met with defensiveness or even rage. They see the social world as a hierarchy, and they’re always at the top.
They talk about themselves incessantly
Narcissists talk about themselves incessantly at the expense of making room for others and tend to be poor listeners. It’s easy to feel invisible around someone narcissistic because the relationship is so one-sided.
They avoid taking responsibility
In line with this, narcissists tend to avoid taking responsibility. If things don’t go according to plan, their default is to blame someone or something else because they cannot admit to their own shortcomings.
They don’t think twice about how their action
Individuals who are narcissistic lack empathy. They haven’t developed the ability to identify with the feelings of others, so people in their lives tend to be viewed as objects to fulfill their own needs.
They don’t think twice about how their actions affect others. The only perspective they can see is their own.
Lastly, narcissists have a hard time with boundaries. Because they lack empathy, they cross other people’s boundaries regularly, often to the point of exploitation.
Most narcissists seem like normal people at first. Some are even extra nice or charismatic in the beginning. It isn’t until you have to deal with them in a private one-on-one scenario that you see their true character.
You see their true nature if you work closely with them or depend on them in any way. Common scenarios often involve:
- Family members
- Close friendships
- Romantic relationships
They test you early and often
As soon as you come into their sphere, they begin testing you. Their tests start from day one. They will do little things to cross your boundaries, to see what they can get away with.
This may seem harmless at first, but it gets worse over time. The more you interact with them or the more control they have over your livelihood, the more likely you are to see their true nature.
Prime scenarios include if you live with them or if they are in charge of your paycheck, workload, or livelihood. It is extremely hard for them to control themselves and hold back when they are around you all the time.
Narcissist bosses you around
If they are your boss, this can include:
- Asking you to stay late at work without getting paid
- Asking you to grab coffee or breakfast for them without paying you back
- They may ask you to do silly or purposely stupid tasks to see if you follow them without question.
As long as you follow them obediently, they will reward you. They will find someone else to punish. But you aren’t safe. At any moment, the tables can quickly turn on you if you do the tiniest thing to upset them.
If their prime target leaves, they need to choose a new target to unleash their negativity on. This is also the person they blame if anything goes wrong.
They will poison their boss by speaking badly about you behind your back. The narcissist looks innocent, and the target takes the fall. This is the narcissist’s insurance in case any conflict arises.
Even if they were nice to a person before, that person could quickly become the new target and enemy. Once this happens, it’s tough to get the narcissist off your back.
They promise a lot but deliver little to nothing
Some narcissists start with a whirlwind romance, telling you everything you want to hear. They even tell you things you didn’t even know you wanted to hear.
Everything sounds amazing. They listen to you and reflect your values back to you with their words. Even if you don’t tell them all about your dreams, they will assume the gender stereotypes apply to you.
For example, if you are a woman:
- He may talk about how badly he wants to get married and have kids.
- He will verbally paint a picture of life as a stay-at-home wife if you marry him.
- He’ll talk about how much freedom he’ll give you
- How he’ll take you to travel to amazing destinations
But if you notice over time, they often don’t follow through with actions.
They promise a lot but deliver little to nothing. If their words and actions don’t line up, this is your sign to run.
As the relationship progresses and you become more invested, it becomes harder to leave. After moving in, getting married, having a child, and buying a home together, they know they’ve got you when they feel like you won’t leave.
This is when they start slipping. They stop caring about impressing you as much. With each level of commitment, they get uglier and uglier. Until one day, you’ve realized you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life.
They care more about their image than anything else
Since a narcissist is nicer to everyone else than their own family, nobody will probably believe you.
Sometimes the narcissist is a pillar of the community since they care more about their image than anything else. Some people will even laugh at you if you tell them you married a monster.
They will bring up all the examples of “the narcissist” helping them move, contributing to the community, or doing other favors for them.
Of course, these sacrifices are likely to the detriment of your family since the narcissist is looking out for everyone and putting you last. But nobody realizes it. They probably assume the narcissist treats their family best of all.
They control others in your family
If the narcissist is related to you by blood, they will control others in the family.
Sadly, the family already likely has poor boundaries because they are programmed by their own narcissist parent:
- They either don’t see how ridiculous and controlling the family narcissist is or fear going against them.
- They will launch smear campaigns against anyone who questions them.
- They will try to leave you out of events or embarrass you in front of everyone else.
Your family has been too heavily conditioned by this point. They know that they will become the next target if they go against this person. Don’t expect anyone else to stand up for you publicly. You’re on your own.
So many of them will blindly believe the narcissist or won’t speak up even if they know it’s wrong.
They need to protect their ego and be right
Expect a bumpy ride if you get into a legal entanglement with a narcissist.
They will probably try to play nice in the beginning, so you lower your defenses. Then they learn your plans, so they can attack you with everything they’ve got.
They need to protect their ego and be right. This means wanting to win at any cost, even if it is detrimental to themselves.
So expect any legal issues with them to be longer than necessary and more dramatic. They are not looking for a win-win situation. If they owe you money or have more money than you, they will try to draw it out as long as possible.
They will try to starve you out, so you run out of money and settle on their terms.
Narcissists treat different people differently
This is one reason why the situation is so tricky. Even if you ask other people who know the narcissist, they may not see the same side of them.
This is because they typically have a main target who they treat horribly. They either bully others to a lesser extent or treat them nicely.
The purpose of them treating someone nicely is to always have someone on their side. This person is often above them in rank, such as their boss. It can also be someone below them who can help spy on their coworkers and carry out their dirty work.
This also protects them, so they don’t always have to get their own hands dirty.
The narcissist treats their boss amazingly:
- They publicly strongly agree with everything their boss says even if it is wrong or don’t privately agree.
- They will especially take their boss’s side if others go against them. This makes the boss like them a lot. It also makes the boss feel like they are similar.
- They run and fetch whatever the boss wants and act as the model employee in front of them. The boss likely thinks this is their all-star dream employee.
This is hard to detect for even the most brilliant bosses, especially if that boss doesn’t regularly observe the narcissist’s interactions with the other coworkers.
If you want favors and good treatment from a narcissist, keep your distance. Ensure they never have any control over your:
- Housing situation
Otherwise, they will try to control you through those methods. If they can’t, they have no leverage on you.
So they’re more likely to use other methods to impress you or win you over, especially if they can use it to boost their image in the community or their ego.
Narcissists love it when you make their good deeds publicly known. Give them lots of compliments and praise. But don’t let them get too close to you. Always stay just outside their reach.
If you want to beat a narcissist:
- Stand up to them publicly in a calm manner if they try to criticize you.
- Stick to facts
- Don’t react, and don’t get emotional. This is the only way to win a narcissist’s respect. And the only chance to get them off your back.
If you smartly bring up their wrongdoing in front of others, this is the biggest hit to their ego. They will be afraid to confront you publicly again.
They can also sense when you stop fearing them. In return, they will start to fear you. After this, they will likely choose a new target.
They demand praise and admiration to fuel their self-esteem
One sign you’re dealing with a narcissist is that the person has a pattern of seeking out praise and admiration.
Because narcissists don’t know how to self-validate or find internal self-worth, they seek out, expect, and even demand praise and admiration to fuel their self-esteem.
Their conversations are surface level
Another sign you’re dealing with a narcissist is that conversations with this person stay surface level. This kind of superficiality helps narcissists avoid intimacy and vulnerability, which is characteristic of a narcissist.
It’s also possible the conversation centers around the narcissist’s achievements. Don’t expect a narcissist to ask you questions or take an interest in you unless it somehow helps them meet their needs or goals.
Narcissists rarely show remorse
Another sign you’re dealing with a narcissist is if this person rarely shows remorse. To a narcissist, apologizing or showing remorse means their imperfections and faults have been exposed, which compromises their grandiose sense of self.
In addition to rarely showing remorse, narcissists also struggle with forgiveness. They have a sense of entitlement that makes them believe they are deserving of specific and special treatment.
Not being treated this way is unjust and a violation of their rights.