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Narcissists have chameleon-like personalities that allow them to go undetectable until their ‘mask’ slips. The proverbial mask represents the false self which is used to hide their true selves and (sometimes) their diabolical intentions.
Add their charming personality and tendency to love bomb their ‘targets’ to the equation… and it becomes far more challenging to identify them in the early stages of interaction.
Knowledge of narcissist traits will come in handy whenever you’re interacting with a narcissist at home, work, or in a relationship.
The traits highlighted below are largely in keeping with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which outlines the characteristics required to diagnose a patient with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Exhibiting the traits does not always mean NPD. The disorder can only be accurately diagnosed by a psychotherapist. NPD or not, dealing with narcissistic individuals is always problematic.
By identifying the characteristics, you can better manage your interpersonal relationship with them and protect yourself from the emotional trauma they cause.
What Is a Narcissist?
“Narcissist” is a term used to refer to someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or deeply ingrained (pathological) narcissist traits. Many people use the term loosely when talking about someone who displays the traits of a narcissist.
NPD, also called narcissism, is a complex mental health condition and a sign of a personality dysfunction. It shows up as chronic self-centeredness. Also noticeable is a pattern of negative behaviors that are potentially harmful in all types of relationships involving the narcissistic person.
A patient must meet at least five of the behavioral criteria outlined in the DSM-5 to receive an NPD diagnosis. The more intense the traits are and the more frequently they are displayed, the more likely the individual is a narcissist by the DSM standards.
Narcissism occurs on a spectrum and can be differentiated as healthy (adaptive) or unhealthy (destructive/malignant). Relationships become toxic when the traits are at the severe or extreme end of the spectrum and move into the sphere of controlling, manipulative, and exploitative.
Narcissists are also grouped into five basic types. Grandiose and vulnerable narcissists are the two types people often encounter. The others are malignant, antagonistic, and communal.
Why Is Narcissism Such a Big Problem?
Dealing with a narcissist in any setting will almost always lead to negative consequences for those exposed to their dysfunctional behaviors. These are behaviors that cause harm to others and destroy personal and professional relationships.
You’re more likely to feel the effects the closer your relationship is to them. The health consequences can be more severe if you’re exposed to narcissistic abuse.
It’s not always practical to distance yourself, such as in cases where you’re co-parenting with a narcissist or the person is your boss or co-worker. You can, however, arm yourself with the tools and strategies to protect yourself from potential emotional and psychological harm.
Exposure to narcissistic abuse can leave you feeling worried, anxious, depressed, and persistently on edge. Moodiness, low self-esteem, and substance use to cope with emotional distress have also been documented as other negative outcomes.
Individuals have reported feeling confused and helpless, especially when the narcissist won’t leave them alone.
I’ve told a narcissist I tried to break up with that he’s like a cat with nine lives. You have no idea how difficult it was to get rid of him. He just kept coming back.
13 Narcissist Traits and Clues You’re Dealing with a Narcissist
The behaviors, traits, characteristics, and attitudes are usually related to the type of narcissist you’re dealing with. I’ve included a link below to an eye-opener article that covers the traits of each type in detail.
But for now, let’s focus on the general warning signs someone may be a narcissist, along with examples of things they might say or do.
#1. Excessive need for admiration
Narcissists admire and love themselves, although in an unhealthy way. Some are unable to pass a mirror or any other reflection object without stopping to admire themselves.
It makes sense when you trace back the term ‘narcissism’, a fixation with oneself, to Greek mythology. According to Greek mythology, a man by the name of Narcissus was fixated on his own appearance and couldn’t stop staring at his reflection.
The deep admiration narcs have for themselves isn’t enough. This drives them to constantly seek admiration and attention from others. In fact, they’ll go to lengths to get it. Attention-seeking means purposely doing or saying things that are likely to get others to notice them.
It can include being overly dramatic or controversial to shine the spotlight on themselves. If it’s not that, they’ll fish for compliments. Their attention-grabbing habit can be as extreme as threatening to harm themselves.
Warning sign: Posting selfies excessively on social media to get “likes” or compliments. (form or validation). They may post controversial commentaries on their status or reply to other people’s posts in an antagonistic way to ignite an argument.
There’s nothing wrong with loving yourself and having confidence in your physical appearance. Similarly, it’s good for your self-esteem to believe in your abilities and accept praise whenever it’s given.
Grandiose narcissists take their purported self-confidence to the extreme. They believe they have special traits and talents no one else possesses and will brag about them every chance they get. In their minds, they are invincible, yet they cannot understand why people fail to see how amazing they are.
Some days, the bragging is about their amazing physical appearance, great wealth, or many accomplishments. Vulnerable narcissists usually complain about how badly people have treated them. To appear believable and relatable, narcissists tend to exaggerate facts and embellish life stories. The underlying purpose is to gain recognition and praise or derive sympathy.
Warning sign: A narcissist may display grandiosity by overestimating their status. They may say something like, “People believe every word that I say. They know I am highly educated and well-respected in the community.”
#3. Sense of entitlement
Narcissists walk around with an extreme sense of entitlement or a “you owe me” attitude. An attitude of entitlement is described as “a sense of deservingness or being owed a favor when little or nothing has been done to deserve special treatment.”
The mentality covers a belief that people should do favors for them because of who they are or how much money they have.
Entitled people swear they deserve more in life and more than what you’ve given. The truth of the matter is that it’s almost impossible to satiate a narcissist.
However, ignoring their demands for recognition and special treatment will cause what’s called narcissistic wounding. They will go into a frenzy from feeling unjustly denied.
Warning sign: They believe they should be given special treatment or favors because of their status in society, e.g. if they are a police officer or politician. They may say, “Why are you asking me to show my ID to enter the building? Don’t you know who I am? It’s impossible for you not to recognize me?”
#4. Air of superiority
People with narcissist traits tend to come off as having a superiority complex or a deeply held belief that they’re better than everyone else. The complex causes them to look down on others and dismiss them as unimportant or inferior.
Like others, they too may be educated or have certain talents and abilities. The difference with narcissists is, they think theirs are unique and special.
Therefore, they’re superior and should be distinguished from the rest of the human race. Obviously, there’s no tangible evidence to support their delusion of grandeur.
The air of superiority arises from their own inflated self-importance, overinflated ego, and exaggerated sense of self-worth. If they perceive you are more talented, they will try to one-up you by revealing some type of made-up special power they possess that you don’t.
Warning sign: These individuals might refuse to shop at a certain store because the customers are of a certain ethnicity or they judge them as having low economic status. In other words, the customers are perceived as being ‘beneath‘ them.
#5. Persistent need for validation
There’s a chronic and practically endless need for validation from any and every source the person can get it from. They always want to hear about how amazing they are and how much you admire and love them.
Sometimes they’ll pose questions to get answers that stroke their ego or misbehave to get your attention. Your response, be it positive or negative, serves to validate their existence.
The need to be constantly validated is one of the reasons why narcissists are deeply hurt if you ignore them. Shockingly, all the praise you can muster up is never enough.
Narcissists are often described by psychotherapists as ’empty shells’ due to an inability to feel satisfied. No matter how much positivity you pour into them, they never feel filled or whole.
Warning sign: They’ll usually say things to get praise. For example, “I don’t think I look so good in this suit.” The statement is an example of feigning insecurity to get you to offer a compliment. Responding by saying, “Oh, stop it! That suit was made for you,” will instantly boost their confidence.
Exploiting others for personal gains is another one of the narcissist traits you have to familiarize yourself with. Although this mode of operation should be obvious, many people like myself did not realize we were being used all along until the situation was too far gone.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a romantic partner, family member, friend, or business partner, narcissists will exploit you in some way.
They may have sensed your vulnerabilities and that usually makes people an easier target for narcissistic abuse. Exploitation is usually one of the main reasons they handpicked you. There is no genuine love or affection or an ounce of basic care for you as a human being.
Warning sign: The narcissist will use you to get attention, admiration, validation, money, sex, or social status. Those are examples of “narcissist supply,” or the thing that feeds their ego and momentarily satisfies their emptiness.
#7. Low self-esteem
Low self-esteem is having a negative opinion of oneself. Some narcissist traits link back to ongoing low self-esteem, particularly in those recognized as vulnerable narcissists.
There’s a need to be constantly recognized and validated to feel important. In grandiose narcissism, acting superior to you and exaggerating facts to one-up you is done to mask their low self-esteem.
When you encounter a grandiose narcissist who speaks so highly of themselves, it’s easy to confuse that with having high self-esteem. In reality, they are forced to fake self-importance to get you to pay attention to them.
Otherwise, you won’t even notice they’re in the room. If you fail to notice them, it reinforces their sense of low self-worth.
Warning sign: You can tell the person doesn’t see themselves as a worthy human being by the way they resort to exploiting others to feel important. Negatively affecting your emotions through lying, cheating, or using you is another way for narcissists to derive feelings of worthiness.
#8. Lack of empathy
Lack of empathy is a hallmark sign of narcissism as indicated in DSM-5. Empathy means having the ability to feel or emotionally understand what someone else may be going through. While narcissists aren’t void of empathy, they don’t possess enough affective empathy needed to connect with people, animals, and even fictional characters on an emotional level.
You can be hurt, you can cry a river and they’re able to dismiss you without worrying about how you feel. Being disconnected from the feelings of others might explain why they can harm and take advantage of others without remorse.
Warning sign: If you’re in distress, a narcissistic individual may fail to show care for your physical or emotional well-being. They may not stop to ask if you’re okay and continue totally oblivious to the fact that you are in physical or emotional pain.
Manipulation is one of the critical issues to deal with if you have a narcissist in your life. Narcissists may rely on emotional and psychological manipulation to control, exploit, and influence the feelings or behavior of others to their own advantage.
They lack the ability to get their needs met, so they’ll resort to manipulative tactics. In psychology, manipulation is a sign of emotional abuse.
An assertive person who is confident about themselves would simply ask for what they desire. They can handle being told “No.” Narcissists, with their low self-esteem, cannot tolerate rejection, so they will proceed to get what they want or control the outcome by deceptive means.
Manipulation can go to the extreme of threatening to harm themselves to gain attention, sympathy, and affection (emotional control).
Warning sign: Emotional manipulation could manifest as threats to leave you or take away something important, e.g., your children, if you don’t comply with their demands.
#10. Pathological lying
Everyone tells lies, but when it comes to narcissism, lying is more pathological in nature and intended to deceive. In other words, they’re dishonest by default. Lying is compulsive, which causes them to fib when the truth won’t cause any harm. What’s striking is persistently lying to cover up previous lies.
I’ve encountered several narcissists who lied so much by default that they’ve inadvertently lied to themselves. Even more bizarre, narcissists believe in their own dishonesty.
They’ll also gaslight you to make you believe them. Gaslighting in relationships is a form of psychological manipulation used to create doubt and confusion in your mind.
Warning sign: The person will tell a lie or do something in front of you, then turn around and deny what they said or did. Here are examples of their response, “I never did that.” or “I never said that. You must be hearing things.” Causing you to doubt what you saw and heard is essentially gaslighting you. They know responding that way will confuse you. In fact, frequent gaslighting can make you start questioning your senses.
#11. Strong desire for control
As individuals who lack the communication skills and emotional intelligence to assert themselves and get their needs met in a healthy way, narcissists are forced to use control tactics to keep their composure.
They’ll try to control your thoughts, feelings, reactions, and decisions and will get upset if you deviate from the plan.
The need for control also helps minimize anxiety, a mental condition that is strongly linked to vulnerable narcissists. This is according to research that attributed anxiety to their “high hypersensitivity and insecurity.”
Warning sign: Let’s assume you want to break up with a narcissistic person. They will raise hell and won’t accept the breakup. They’ll get anxious from feeling like they’ve lost control. Things will go smoothly if they’re the one making the decision to end the relationship and on their terms. They feel relieved and like they won if they’re controlling the outcome.
#12. Disregarding boundaries
Someone who usually reacts disproportionately when told, “No,” may be a narcissist. “No,” is a boundary statement that lets someone know you aren’t interested in what they want you to do.
Narcissists are sensitive to rejection, therefore “No” and any other types of boundaries set to prevent them from accessing you physically or emotionally won’t be taken kindly.
They’ll push back, ask why they can’t do this or that, and throw tantrums when they can’t get their way. Don’t be surprised if they do something to get back at you once you double down and deny them.
Vulnerable narcissists, in particular, hold grudges and like to engage in tit-for-tat. Malignant narcissists or those with borderline sociopathic traits will break your rules and boundaries outright.
Warning sign: If you tell the individual exhibiting narcissist traits, “I don’t like that, don’t do it,” or “Stop coming to my home,” be prepared to hear them beg, plead, love bomb, demand, or cajole you. They might threaten to harm you, your family or your pet to get what they want. A sociopathic narcissist will show up and leave you feeling afraid for your safety.
#13. Lack of accountability
Lie, deny, deflect, project, and shift blame are the strategies used by narcissistic people to try and ‘get away with murder’. Why can’t they just take accountability for their actions?
It seems it would take less emotional energy to just be honest and own up, but no. That’s too easy. They have to create drama. Getting you angry and causing you to second-guess yourself is far more thrilling.
Besides, escaping responsibility and ruffling your feathers in the process gets them the attention they crave. Negative attention is still welcomed, so long as they’re not being ignored.
Warning sign: Instead of coming clean and saying “I lied, and it was wrong of me to do that because I know how much you value honesty,” they will gaslight you into believing you’re the one to blame. They’ll deflect by saying you’re acting like you never lied before. They may continue with, “I only lied because I didn’t want to upset you,” as if they’re doing you a favor. If they truly care about your emotions and well-being, they would be honest even if it makes me look bad.
Final Thoughts on Narcissist Traits
Moving forward, you should be able to easily spot narcissist traits in those around you. The case isn’t always one of narcissistic personality disorder. A lot of it has to do with an internal struggle with insecurity, an inferiority complex, and low self-esteem. The superiority displayed is only to mask the feelings of shame and low self-worth.
You can’t help but empathize with them once you come to realize what’s driving these behaviors. That does not mean you should allow them to break your boundaries or take advantage of you.
You can empathize without staying in a relationship with a narcissist, or keep them at a safe distance if cutting them off isn't practical.
Noting the characteristics and tendencies can also help in terms of how you respond to their attempts to commit narcissistic abuse. Learn more about narcissism by taking a look at 5 Basic Types of Narcissists (and How to Identify Them).
Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.