60+ Signs You’re Dealing With a Narcissist (According to Experts)

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:

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.

Laurie Hollman

Psychoanalyst, Choosing Therapy | Author, “Are You Living with a Narcissist?

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. 

Related: Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist

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.

Related: Can Narcissists Change if They Want To?

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D.

Linda Sapadin

Psychologist and Success Coach, PsychWisdom | Author, How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age

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.

Related: How to Live with a Narcissist

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. 

Lena Derhally

Lena Derhally

Licensed Psychotherapist | Author, “The Facebook Narcissist

Many people believe they are dealing with a narcissist when they encounter a person who is:

  • Grandiose
  • Outwardly attention-seeking
  • Cocky
  • Arrogant

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.

Related: What Is Narcissistic Abuse?

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: 

  • Entitlement
  • Lack of empathy
  • Centering themselves and their needs at the expense of others
  • Cruelty
  • 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: 

  1. Warm/loving 
  2. Cold/withdrawn/cruel

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.

Marisa Peer

Marisa Peer

World-renowned Therapist and Relationship Expert | Author, “Tell Yourself A Better Lie

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.

Related: Are Narcissists Happy? 

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. 

Christian Bumpous, MA, LPC, LMFT, CDWF

Christian Bumpous

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Owner, Therapie

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 therapycouples 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.

Liza Gold, LCSW

Liza Gold

Psychotherapist and Director, Gold Therapy NYC

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.

Christy Piper

Christy Piper

Relationship Coach | Author, “Girl, You Deserve More“

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:

  • Coworkers
  • Family members
  • Close friendships
  • Roommates
  • 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
  • Paychecks
  • Livelihood

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.

Related: How to Make a Narcissist Fear You

Brooke Schwartz, LCSW

Brooke Schwartz

Psychotherapist, Choosing Therapy

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.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT

Darlene Lancer

Marriage and Family Therapist | Author, “Conquering Shame and Codependency

They want and maintain power

Narcissists put themselves first. By becoming aware of how a narcissist thinks and the reason behind their actions, people will regain their own power and finally start to live the life they deserve.

Establish P.O.W.E.R in a narcissistic relationship by recognizing their toxic traits and start with realizing your mistakes.

Power vs. Peace: Narcissists sacrifice peace for power, and accommodators sacrifice themselves for peace. Ill-equipped to confront the narcissist, they end up allowing abuse.

Opposing beliefs: People don’t understand the narcissist’s brain, which is about maintaining power. Other people’s feelings don’t enter into the equation.

Waiving your needs: People believe that if they go along and don’t make waves, they’ll get their needs met, giving the narcissist more power.

Excitement vs. anxiety: Don’t confuse the two. Living with Jekyll and Hyde may not be aware that they’re being abused. 

Relentless effort: Fruitless attempts to be loved by someone who has difficulty showing love and intimacy, feed the narcissist’s power.

Anastasia Filipenko

Anastasia Filipenko

Health and Wellness Psychologist | Dermatologist, Loxa Beauty

They demand perfection in anything they do

Most narcissists tend to demand perfection in anything they do. This can be:

  • Expecting all events to run as planned
  • Attending house chores or work tasks 
  • Anything they take part in

Their perfectionism is highlighted in their constant complaints as they feel unsatisfied with what is happening. 

They never allow others to be on top of what they do

All narcissists like being at the top of the hierarchy in any situation. They feel that they are: 

  • The best 
  • Always right
  • Most competent
  • Everyone is under their control
  • Possesses anything
  • Have the right to manipulate other people they deem inferior

Never in any circumstance can a narcissist allow others to be on top of what they do. 

Narcissists lack ethical boundaries on what they should or not do

They have no clear view of things they should not touch or do. A narcissist feels that they have won everything; all people want and think as they do. 

For this reason, they feel intimidated when someone rejects or says no to them and can go to extreme heights to acquire what they want. 

Related: How Does a Narcissist Handle Rejection and No Contact

Other signs include:

  • Have no empathy
  • They are fond of manipulation and want to take control of everything they do
  • Demand more attention and praise from others
  • Splitting and emotional reasoning
  • They are anxious and fear being turned down or getting rejected

Nicole Prause, PhD

Nicole Prause

Licensed Psychologist and Research Scientist | Founder, Liberos

They seek to preserve their self-image as all-knowing and infallible

Narcissism is associated with beliefs in conspiracies. While this does not mean, of course, that every person who believes in conspiracies is high on narcissism, it could be an indicator

This relationship is believed to exist because those high on narcissistic traits seek to preserve their self-image as all-knowing and infallible.

Conspiracy theories are most commonly directed towards authorities, very often scientists, so the narcissistic person will declare themselves smarter or more skilled to have “discovered” a secret plot, despite not having an appropriate background to claim such skills. 

Michelle Devani

Michelle Devani

Founder, LoveDevani

They talk too much about themselves

Narcissists are quite annoying to some people. It makes them uncomfortable talking to them. 

In my experience as an individual, I have met multiple people who are evidently narcissists. 

  • They tend to talk much about themselves. 
  • They are too confident that it makes people around them uneasy.
  • They are not that good to be with. 

However, this kind of condition can be quite severe at some point. If their condition becomes excessive, I believe it is time to consult a health expert.

Veronica Weedon

Veronica Weedon

Founder, Revival Health

Dealing with a narcissist is not only exhausting but can also have dire consequences emotionally, mentally, and physically if exposed to this kind of abuse over any significant amount of time. 

As such, recognizing red flags early on can potentially save you a lot of heartaches, your health, and your sanity.

Narcissists don’t function like normal people

The first thing to understand is that narcissists don’t function like normal people. They fundamentally lack empathy, and so, especially in a romantic relationship (which is where consequences are often the worst because of the amount of time spent with the person), it’s all about control. 

They need permanent sources of narcissistic supply, a pathological need for attention or admiration, no matter the cost to the other person.

A narcissist’s goal is to make you so dependent on them that it becomes near impossible for you to leave. They achieve this by repeating the four stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle over and over again:

  1. Idealize 
  2. Devalue
  3. Discard
  4. Hoover

Related: 10 Best Books on Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse

A narcissist will use tactics such as: 

  • Gaslighting
  • Stonewalling
  • Triangulation
  • Minimizing
  • Drama and chaos
  • Lying 

And many more throughout these phases. Above all, they will never take responsibility for their actions.

So, if you’ve been suffering from:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Getting sick without understanding why
  • Finding yourself unable to remember simple things
  • Experience brain fog in general
  • Feel like you’re permanently surrounded by drama

Then there’s a good chance a narcissist is within your inner circle. 

If this is the case, it’s essential to understand that arguing with or trying to change a narcissist is futile. The abuse game is set up for you to fail. 

The only way to ‘win’ is to tap out.

Armed with the knowledge of the abuse cycle and toxic tactics, however, you will be in a better position to avoid narcissists moving forward.

Joel Jackson

Joel Jackson

Entrepreneur and Co-founder, Lifeforce

They overreact to criticism

A narcissist is free to say whatever they want, even if it’s unduly critical or insulting. 

“I’m just being honest,” a narcissist will say. “I’m just keeping it real.” But when someone says something critical about the narcissist, it can lead to an overreaction.

One famous NFL wide receiver was notorious for his narcissistic behavior. He would lambaste teammates and coaches in the media. He’d go entire seasons without talking to them, freezing them out. 

But any whiff of criticism aimed at him from someone else would cause him to act out in a fit of rage. It was a clear-cut case of narcissism. 

After one of the most prolific careers for a wide receiver in NFL history, that same player had to wait a few years before being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

He took that extended wait personally and decided to give his acceptance speech off-site on the same day his fellow inductees gave theirs in Canton, Ohio. His behavior never improved even years after his playing career ended.

In general:

  • Criticism isn’t welcomed by someone suffering from a severe narcissistic disorder. 
  • Being defensive in the face of criticism is one thing. 
  • Having a meltdown is quite something else. 

Narcissists are prone to that type of behavior. 

When you have someone overreacting to criticism, even when it’s intended to be constructive, that’s when you know you’re dealing with a narcissist. 

If you see yourself showing a pattern of this type of behavior, it would be wise to seek help. Otherwise, you’ll wind up living your life with very few close friends—the kinds of people you may need to lean on in times of crisis.

Priyank Pandey

Priyank Pandey

Founder, Healthroid

A person who suffers from narcissism may have a very inflated view of themselves and believe that they are superior to others. 

They may also be extremely self-centered, often putting themselves first in everything they do. This can make them challenging to deal with, as they invariably expect constant admiration and attention from others. 

If you think that you or someone you know might be suffering from narcissistic traits, it is crucial to seek professional help.

They have manipulative behaviors

Manipulative behaviors can be incredibly controlling and domineering. They often rely on subtle psychological tricks to keep their victims in line.

In some cases, manipulative behavior may have biological roots, but it is also common for people to become manipulative if they feel insecure or powerless

Regardless of the cause, manipulative personalities are often hard to break free from because they know how to manipulate the emotions and thoughts of their victims.

Related: How to Stop Being Manipulative

They have the “false self”

The “false self” is a concept that has been around for centuries, and it refers to the idea that there is a separate, imaginary self that we create to cope with the challenges of life. 

This self is often based on our idealized image of ourselves, which is different from the true version of ourselves. The false self can be helpful in some situations, but it can also be harmful if it becomes too important.

They lack empathy and may not show emotions

People who lack empathy don’t feel the same way as others when they’re upset, hurt, or experiencing something else. They may not understand what others are feeling, and they may not show much emotion themselves. 

This can make it difficult for people with empathy deficits to build relationships or get support from others. People who lack empathy may also be more likely to act impulsively or without thinking things through.

They have a grandiose sense of self

People with a grandiose sense of self often feel the need to be the best at everything. They may have high expectations for themselves and feel like they must always be in control. 

This can lead to problems because they can often not handle setbacks or failures. It can also make them challenging to work with because they are unwilling to compromise their own goals.

They feel entitled to everything

This term can be used to describe people who are not willing to work for what they want or need. Entitlement can also be seen in people who are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. 

All of these behaviors can lead to problems in our society.

How to deal with narcissists?

  1. Seek professional help. If someone you know exhibits several of the following signs, it may be time to seek professional help.
  2. Seek support. If you find yourself constantly battling with this person over anything and everything, it’s likely that they have hijacked your life and controlled your thoughts. It may be best to seek support from friends or family before it’s too late. 
  3. Distract yourself. Remember that narcissists are masters at manipulating people into doing what they want; if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or trapped by their behavior, try distracting yourself from the situation by focusing on something else for a while. Take some time for yourself and relax. 
  4. Remember that they lack empathy. It’s important to remember that Narcissists have no empathy for others and will never care about your feelings or well-being. 
  5. Narcissists are not just evil people; they are also dangerous because they believe they have the right to be the sole authority in their lives and make all the decisions. They will often humiliate and belittle others, even if it means hurting themselves. 
  6. Narcissists are not to be trusted. They will lie, manipulate and steal to get their way. 
  7. Narcissists are highly self-centered and selfish. They don’t care about others; they only care about themselves.

Related: Selfish vs Self-Centered vs Self-Absorbed vs Narcissist. What Is the Difference?

Christa Reed

Christa Reed

Head of Job Market Research, JobSearcher

If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is constantly putting themselves first, never apologizing, and always making you feel like you’re not good enough — chances are, you’re dealing with a narcissist.

Here are some serious signs that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist:

They always have to be right

Narcissists need to feel like they’re always right and will do anything to prove it—even if it means making you feel small or disregarded

When you’re always wrong, and they’re always right, it can take a toll on your self-esteem.

They’re never wrong

If you’re with a narcissist, you’ll quickly learn that they think they can do no wrong. No matter how big or small the issue is, they will never admit that they’re wrong. 

This can be exhausting for you because you constantly have to defend yourself and your point of view. In fact, you might even start to doubt yourself and your sanity.

They’re always the center of attention

If you’re with a narcissist, you’ll notice that they always need to be the center of attention. They will do anything to make sure that all eyes are on them. 

This can be something as small as always needing to be the one to tell the story or as big as staging a scene to get attention.

They need constant validation

Narcissists need constant validation from those around them to feel good about themselves. 

They will fish for compliments and try to make you feel like you’re lucky to be with them. If you don’t give them the attention they crave, they will find someone who will.

Marina Shepelsky

Marina Shepelsky

CEO and Managing Attorney, Shepelsky Law Group

They put themselves first

A narcissist constantly puts themselves first in a marriage and as a parent. That person puts their interests as the highest priority, and they are difficult as it is, but most so at the stressful time of a breakup and divorce. Narcissists are often very self-confident and aren’t sensitive

Here are a few red flags that hint that your partner is a narcissist:

  • You are in danger because you are being physically or sexually abused or coerced. 
  • They abuse you and/or your children. They intimidate you and/or your children.
  • They take every opportunity to talk about themselves or get praise.
  • They have to believe that everything in your relationship will benefit them.
  • You are depressed, blame it on the relationship, and have/claim to have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I communicate with a narcissist?

Communicating with a narcissist can be frustrating and challenging, as they may be defensive, dismissive, or unwilling to acknowledge your feelings or perspectives. However, there are some strategies you can try to improve communication:

• Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs rather than blaming or accusing the narcissist.
• Set clear boundaries and stick to them, even if the narcissist tries to push back or challenge them.
• Remain calm and composed, and avoid getting drawn into arguments or emotional outbursts.
• Use reflective listening techniques to show the narcissist that you are actively listening and trying to understand their point of view.
• Consider seeking the help of a mediator or therapist who can support and guide you in improving communication and resolving conflicts.

Remember that you cannot control the narcissist’s behavior or reactions, but you can control your own responses and reactions. Focus on maintaining your emotional balance and well-being, and seek support as needed.

What is the difference between a narcissist and someone who is just confident?

While narcissists and confident people may appear self-assured and capable, some important differences exist in their behavior and mindset. Here are some important distinctions:

• Confidence comes from a sense of inner strength and self-worth. At the same time, narcissism is based on a fragile ego that constantly needs validation and admiration.
• Confident people are often willing to listen to and learn from others. In contrast, narcissists may dismiss or belittle the opinions of others.
• Confident people can deal with their own shortcomings and admit when they are wrong, while narcissists may struggle with criticism or admitting mistakes.
• Confident people are able to build and maintain healthy relationships, while narcissists find it difficult to connect with others on a deep level.

While confidence can be a positive trait, narcissism can be harmful and toxic to the person and those around them. If you’re unsure whether someone is exhibiting confident or narcissistic behavior, it may be helpful to observe their interactions with others and their general attitude toward themselves and the world.

Can a narcissist be a good leader?

Narcissistic behavior can appeal in certain contexts, such as business or politics, where confidence and charisma may be valuable traits. However, it’s important to recognize that narcissistic leaders may also exhibit harmful behaviors, such as:

• Prioritizing their own needs and desires above the organization’s or team’s needs.
• Belittling or dismissing the opinions or contributions of others.
• Engaging in unethical or exploitative behavior to achieve their goals.
• Creating a toxic work environment through manipulation or aggression.
• Struggling to build and maintain healthy relationships with team members.

Some may argue that narcissistic leaders are effective in achieving their goals, but the negative impact on team morale, employee well-being, and organizational culture may ultimately outweigh any perceived benefits.

Can therapy help with narcissistic behavior?

Therapy can be a valuable tool for people with narcissistic behavior, as it can help them gain insight into their behavioral and thought patterns and learn healthier ways of relating to others. Some specific therapies that may be helpful for narcissistic behavior include:

• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing negative thinking and behavior patterns.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) focuses on mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal skills.
• Psychodynamic Therapy explores unconscious patterns of behavior and helps people develop insight into their behavior and relationships.

It’s important to realize that therapy is a process that takes time and effort and that progress may be slow and difficult. However, with the right support and guidance, individuals with narcissistic behavior can make positive changes and build healthier relationships.

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