How To Tell if Someone is a Narcissist

10 Signs of a Narcissist

signs of narcissism
  • Monopoly on Conversation
  • Flaunting Rules or Social Conventions
  • Fixation with Appearance
  • Unreasonable Expectations
  • Disregard for Other People
  • Praise, Praise and More Praise
  • It’s Everyone Else’s Fault
  • They Fear Abandonment
  • The Narcissist Lives in a Fantasy
  • There Are Always Strings Attached

Despite its origin from a figure in ancient Greek mythology, the modern term “narcissist” typically refers to people who exhibit traits associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NPD is recognized as a psychological issue and life limiting illness by the scientific community. There are many different views regarding causes and treatments. Classic signs of a narcissist can have profound negative effects on the mental health of friends, family members, and coworkers.

How to Know if Someone is a Narcissist?

Movies like “Mommie Dearest,” “American Psycho,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” give audiences a glimpse of narcissistic behavior in society. Narcissists make for an interesting theater-going experience, but the markers of pathological narcissism aren’t always as clear-cut in the real world.

Psychologists have several theories about how and why NPD develops in some people. The crux of these theories centers around the idea that the narcissist suffered a great psychological wound early in life. This wound usually resulted from some form of trauma, like abuse or neglect. This, in turn, caused individuals with NPD to create a false self.

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What are the signs of a narcissist? How to tell if someone is a narcissistic person

How can you tell if someone is narcissistic? Many of the classic signs of narcissism arise from their need to protect this self at all costs. The American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) criteria for NPD include significant impairments in self and interpersonal functioning. The narcissist may have pathological personality traits that include:

  • Grandiosity
  • Attention Seeking
  • Troubled Relationships
  • Lack of Empathy
  • Sense of Entitlement

NPD is a life limiting illness that can be challenging to treat. Narcissists don’t typically seek out treatment on their own. Treatment for NPD is usually talk therapy. Mood stabilizers may be used if the individual has other mental health challenges or additional personality disorders. So how can you tell if someone is narcissistic? While there is a multitude of different signs that point toward NPD, the following 10 count among the most common signs someone is a narcissistic person.

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1. Monopoly on Conversation

Sign of Narcissism Monopoly on Conversation

You might wonder how to tell if you’re a narcissist. There are plenty of narcissist traits, but monopolizing a conversation is one of the most obvious. Narcissists talk over or interrupt other people during conversations to express their views or talk about themselves. This behavior can border on a compulsion, cowing others into total silence for minutes at a time. They also tend to ignore what others say or only give superficial responses before steering the conversation back to their narrative.

These narcissistic traits come partly from a/an:

  • excessive need for praise
  • sense of entitlement
  • lack of empathy

Narcissists disregard the need for others to feel seen and heard. The narcissist wants to be the center of attention.

2. Flaunting Rules or Social Conventions

Still curious how to tell if you’re a narcissist?  One of the more disruptive signs of narcissism is a desire to flout rules or traditions, sometimes with dramatic consequences. A person with NPD may seek out special treatment or feel wronged when they can’t circumvent the system. Examples of these narcissistic traits according to Psychology Today include:

  • Violating traffic laws
  • stealing supplies at work
  • getting in front of people in lines

In other words, the rules exist for other people, not the narcissist. The narcissist is special. He or she sidesteps the rules because of the special status afforded to him or her.

3. Fixation on Appearance

signs of narcissism

The narcissist may be obsessed with their appearance. Some narcissists spend hours in front of a mirror every day. They fix or adjust their appearance constantly. Narcissists are also more apt to discuss the appearances of others. They may directly belittle people by criticizing:

  • clothes
  • body type
  • facial features

In addition to their physical appearance, people with NPD focus on creating grand impressions on other people. They will inflate or even fabricate stories that increase their self-esteem and self-importance.

Some people with NPD also expect their family to be good-looking (but not as good-looking as the narcissist – think the evil queen in Snow White.) The narcissistic parent may abuse or bully their child, validating their behavior because they believe a child is an extension of the parent. A parent with NPD may believe that children exist to make their parents look good and enhance their sense of self-importance. They have no use outside of this. They certainly don’t have their own needs and wants.

However, appearances go beyond physical looks. For a narcissist, it is also important that their lives appear perfect. They demand admiration. Keeping up with the Joneses is an important goal for the narcissist. If the narcissist can surpass the Joneses, that’s even better.

4. Emphasis on Envy

Jealousy is another example of narcissistic behavior. While many people feel envious of others at certain points in their life, narcissists can become completely consumed by these feelings. They may constantly discuss other people’s property or good fortune in a negative light. They might hold a strong belief that other people are envious of them. Some narcissists use this drive to get closer to wealthy or high-status people and actively try to associate with them.  In the workplace, feelings of envy cause the narcissist to steal or at least downplay their colleagues’ work. The narcissist may have done little work on a project. Still, the narcissist may feel entitled and expects his or her name to appear at the top of a project.

Narcissists may also feel like someone who is doing better than they are owe them a break in the workplace. The narcissist feels envious of skills that others have acquired through years of hard work. If the narcissist can’t acquire those skills, they think nothing of using the skilled person.  If the narcissist can’t use someone to get what he or she wants, then they may try to drive their coworker out of the workplace. This manipulative behavior lessens the competition the narcissist faces at least for a time.

5. Disregard for Other People

Narcissists often display manipulative tendencies and use their interactions with others to further their own goals. People with NPD cultivate intense emotional relationships with friends or family members and use the connection to benefit themselves and boost their self-importance. This type of manipulation varies extensively but can include:

  • pronounced mood swings
  • fierce arguments
  • a need to assign blame to other people

In the extreme, the narcissist can become angry at others if they perceive a slight. For example, if someone in the narcissist’s family gets sick, the narcissist may be neglectful at best and mean at worst. Since they lack empathy, they have a difficult time acknowledging the suffering of others.

6. Praise, Praise and More Praise

Sign of Narcissism Praise and More Praise

Narcissists are the movie star in the group. They tend to have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and expect adoration everywhere they go. Narcissists also expect constant praise and special treatment from others even when that praise is unwarranted. Through positioning and monopolizing the conversation, narcissists ensure that they get their narcissistic supply. If others feel slighted in the process, so be it. The narcissist gets what he or she wants regardless of the cost to others. This includes praise.

Additionally, as points out, the narcissist puts him- or herself in the way of compliments if those compliments don’t come naturally. Commonly referred to as fishing, the narcissist reaches for compliments about their appearance, cooking, career, or life. Anything to validate their importance. Although they seem confident on the surface, self-doubt consumes them and threatens their sense of self-importance. If praise doesn’t come at regular intervals, they begin to feel slighted. This makes them push to get more compliments.

The narcissist needs someone who constantly puts them on a pedestal. Early on, their superficial charm makes them a crowd favorite. Compliments come to them easily. However, the adoration phase never lasts long. A bottomless pit couldn’t contain the narcissist’s need for praise and excessive attention. Unfortunately, if they don’t receive the amount of praise he or she expects, the narcissist resorts to rage. For narcissists who become physically abusive, this rage often represents the first step in the cycle of abuse.

Individuals with NPD get adoration and praise by charm if they can. The slightest criticism or threat to their self-image could throw them over the edge. If they cannot get praise, they resort to other, often very harmful and sometimes even dangerous, tactics to get what they feel they deserve. If the opposite happens, that is, the narcissist receives criticism, the situation often turns explosive. Again, the narcissist may exhibit symptoms of anger bordering on rage.

Sadly, the person at the receiving end of the rage may not have criticized the narcissist at all. Instead, the narcissist perceived the person’s comment or behavior as a slight and reacted to the slight. All of this arises from the narcissist’s low self-esteem. Given the amount of hubris that many narcissists display, it’s difficult for their victims to believe that the narcissists’ low self-esteem cripples them. It does.

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Many narcissists go to great lengths to stroke their own ego and to get the praise they need. This is one of the most obvious signs of narcissism. Some narcissists need praise and adoration so much that they pursue high-profile careers in business or politics to fill this need, according to Psychology Today.

This insatiable hunger for adoration stems from a damaged and wounded inner child. This wound caused the child to create a false self to be accepted and to feel safe in an unsafe environment. An attack on the narcissist’s false self feels like annihilation to the narcissist. The way the narcissist keeps these feelings of inferiority at bay is by getting compliments and praise from others.

7. It’s Everyone Else’s Fault

Shaming and blaming are two very important tools in the narcissist’s manipulation toolbox, according to Very Well Mind. With these toxic twins, the narcissist exerts control. The narcissist takes an elevated position in their relationships by shaming their partner. It’s always a one-up situation for the victim. If the victim somehow upsets this balance of power, the narcissist does what it takes to regain control.

The narcissist achieves this power by:

  • being rude,
  • by putting a person down,
  • by hiding behind cruel jokes,
  • by criticizing
  • and by sabotaging.

For example, the person who feels insecure about his or her weight becomes the butt of the narcissist’s fat jokes, or they may forego the joke and be rather blunt. Since they lack empathy, the narcissist often couches the comments as well-meaning. “I’m just concerned for your health,” a narcissist might say after humiliating someone about his or her weight at a public lunch.

When the victim protests, the narcissist shames him or her into silence, again by reminding the victim that the comment was meant for the victim’s own good. To pack a punch, the narcissist may add that the victim is too sensitive. This stops the victim from protecting him- or herself from the narcissist’s abuse.  Unfortunately, this opens the victim up for even more mental health abuse. This kind of public shaming opens up the possibility that others within earshot will jump on the bandwagon. When that happens, the victim doesn’t just face the narcissist’s shaming tactics. He or she faces the shaming tactic of the whole group.

In more covert narcissists, there is also a tendency to blame everyone else for their behavior and shortcomings. If their child gets a “B” on his or her report card, they get blamed for making the parent look bad. A domestic violence victim is blamed for making the narcissist hurt him or her. If the narcissist has a neglectful spouse, they may blame the child for taking the spouse’s attention away from the narcissist.

In these scenarios, it is never the narcissist’s fault.  By blaming others, the narcissist has no responsibility for their lives and their actions. The narcissist rarely sees the role they played in a negative situation. They believe people who don’t play by their internal, well-orchestrated script mean to intentionally cause them harm. 

Most people aren’t aware of the narcissist’s internal script.  Unfortunately, they don’t find out until the narcissist blows up when someone goes off-script. Such an attitude sets the narcissist up to constantly have someone to blame and abuse. It also puts the narcissist in the seat of power. People close to the narcissist find themselves walking on eggshells to preserve their emotional well-being. They never know when the narcissist will dream up an offense to blame them for, which constantly keeps the narcissist’s victims off-guard.

8. They Fear Abandonment

Sign of Narcissism Fear of Abandonment

Mental health professionals believe most narcissists exhibit these maladaptive behaviors out of their fear of abandonment.  However, as weird as it sounds, most of the time it’s the narcissist who abandons people. In the narcissist’s mind, it’s often a matter of leaving before are left.

That being said, these breakups, though initiated by the narcissist, rarely last. Victims of this breakup, then makeup cycle must understand that several factors cause this cycle.

First, the narcissist needs his or her narcissistic supply to feel good. To the narcissist’s way of thinking, it only makes sense to come back to someone he or she has discarded. The narcissist already has that person trained to give them the praise the narcissist requires.

Second, the act of repeatedly leaving and coming back wears the victim down. After a while, the victim’s self-esteem takes a real hit. The cycle of leaving and coming back eventually makes the victim dependent on the narcissist. This ensures that the victim never abandons the narcissist.

The narcissist engages in “love bombing.”  They come onto their victim very strong at first, creating a dependency.  This is the stuff that bad romance novels are made of and one of the most dramatic signs of narcissism. No one loves the victim as much as the narcissist loves the victim. Indeed, narcissists direct such intense attention at their victims that the victims themselves believe that no one will ever love them as much as their narcissist loves them.

Because love bombing creates such a high, the victim comes to crave it. However, for the narcissist, this stage is just part of the valuing, then devaluing phase. The narcissist puts people on a pedestal at first. The object of the narcissist’s attention can do no wrong.

Things go sour very quickly, however. The narcissist’s fear of abandonment hasn’t gone away. Over time, they begin to devalue his or her object of devotion. By doing this, the narcissist mitigates the effects of the abandonment they believe is just around the corner. Again, the narcissist may break things off with the victim to avoid being abandoned. However, the victim may turn the situation on its head by breaking up with the narcissist. This act kicks the narcissist into high gear. More love bombing occurs to keep the victim in the narcissist’s clutches.

In the most severe cases, the narcissist lashes out at the victim for breaking up with him or her. That’s when the narcissist may start a campaign to damage the victim’s reputation or try to steal the victim’s friends. In the worst scenarios, physical abuse can arise when the victim leaves the narcissist.  The narcissist cannot allow anyone to leave. Physical violence or the threat of it often puts a stop to the abandonment, at least temporarily.

9. The Narcissist Lives in a Fantasy

signs of narcissism

A narcissist often has delusions of grandeur. They create elaborate fantasies about their great life and success. They expect others to participate in and confirm these delusions. The narcissist’s delusions run the gamut and might include being:

  • More beautiful and talented than anyone else,
  • Smarter and richer
  • More important

To support these fantasies, covert narcissists will make up stories about events that never happened. If the event did take place, they’ll change the details to make it seem bigger, better, and brighter than it was. In the narcissist’s world, they hobnob with governors, millionaires, and movie stars. Adoring fans fall at their feet. When and if someone points out their unrealistic sense of superiority, the narcissist unleashes a tirade. This comes from their need to protect the false self that they created so long ago.

While their behavior damages the people around them, the real mental health damage began a long time ago with some type of trauma.  The event forced them to create a new, more acceptable self to survive their trauma. They created a fantasy life to support this fragile, false self.  If the narcissist loses support for the fantasy, their false self crumbles. This doesn’t excuse the narcissist’s often poor behavior and inflated sense of self-importance. However, it does explain why the narcissist’s fantasy is so important.

10. There Are Always Strings Attached

Victims who are wise to the narcissist’s ways know that gifts come with strings attached. The narcissist uses unsolicited gifts to manipulate the victim to get what they want. They never give a gift just to give a gift. Gifts, whether tangible or intangible, are used to get something in return. The narcissist always makes sure that the receiver knows who sent the gift. There is also an unspoken agreement with the narcissist. The narcissist will collect their collateral at a later time.

It’s even better if the person on the receiving end is a bit down and out. The narcissist can rescue this victim of dire circumstances. In exchange, the receiver pays and pays and pays. The narcissist gives to create loyalty, which ensures that no one ever leaves them. At times, the narcissist gives so much that it makes some people dependent on them.

Unfortunately for the victim of this narcissistic tactic, it’s difficult to accept gifts from anyone. The victim always fears those gifts come with strings attached, which affects their mental health. The narcissist’s victims have a difficult time trusting the intentions of others even when the intentions come from a good place.

Concluding Thoughts on NPD: How to Tell if Someone is a Narcissist

While NPD is a recognized psychological disorder, there are still many uncertainties and unknowns. People with NPD present many diagnostic and clinical challenges. Unfortunately, those with NPD are often defensive about their character. They may resist attempts at intervention. They fail to seek treatment by a licensed therapist or other mental health professional. Even so, recognizing the signs of NPD (and other personality disorders) is the first step towards improving manipulative behavior.

Victims of the narcissist’s behavior must take steps to mitigate the damage the narcissist causes.

Set Boundaries

First, victims need to set boundaries. By their nature, narcissists exploit people because they feel no empathy toward the plight of others. They seek to get their needs meet, often by unsavory means. To survive this, those around them must put down solid and clear boundaries and be willing to enforce them. Everyone deserves healthy relationships. If you have been affected by domestic violence or abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can provide valuable assistance. Just call 1-800-799-SAFE or

Know Your Worth

Second, the narcissist’s victims should know that what the narcissist does never reflects the victims’ worthiness. While the narcissist may heap on abuse that feels very personal, it isn’t. It arises from the narcissist’s deep sense of inadequacy. This isn’t to say that the person being victimized by the narcissist shouldn’t defend him- or herself. However, this action should arise from a stance of self-care.

Walk Away

Finally, self-care can mean walking away from the narcissist. Sometimes, it’s enough to limit the amount of exposure a person has to the narcissist. However, sometimes it means that the victim decides not to see the narcissist anymore. Walking away becomes a little easier for the person who knows the characteristics of narcissism. The person who truly understands what the narcissist is about sees the signs as the warnings they are.