Common Characteristics of Narcissistic Personalities
- 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 certain traits that are associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NPD is generally recognized as a psychological issue by the scientific community, although there are many different views regarding contributing factors and treatments. There are many classic signs associated with narcissism, including some that have profound negative effects on friends, family members, and coworkers.
Movies like “Mommie Dearest,” “American Psycho,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” have given audiences glimpses of the narcissist in society. True enough, narcissists make for an interesting theater-going experience. However, spotting a narcissist in the movies may be a very different proposition than spotting one in life. The markers of narcissism aren’t always as clear cut in the real world, at least not at first.
Psychologists have a number of theories about how and why narcissism 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 the narcissist to create a false self. Many of the classic signs of narcissism arise from the narcissist’s need to protect this self at all costs. While there is a multitude of different signs that point toward Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the following 10 count among the most common.
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1. Monopoly on Conversation
Many narcissists talk over or interrupt other people during conversations in order 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.
This habit comes partly from the narcissist’s excessive need for praise and partly from the narcissist’s sense of entitlement. It also stems from the fact that narcissists tend to be short on empathy. That others might also need to feel seen and heard strikes the narcissist as irrelevant. For a narcissist, being the center of attention at all times is his or her right.
2. Flaunting Rules or Social Conventions
One of the more disruptive signs of narcissism is a desire to flout rules or traditions, sometimes with dramatic consequences. A person with a narcissistic personality is more likely to seek out special treatment in various scenarios and feels wronged when they are unable to circumvent the system. Violating traffic laws, stealing supplies at work, and getting in front of people in lines are just a few ways this mentality can manifest, according to Psychology Today. 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
Much like the mythological Narcissus, people with NPD often develop a strong fixation on outward appearances. Some spend hours in front of a mirror every day and feel compelled to fix or adjust their appearance constantly. Narcissists are also more apt to discuss the appearances of others or directly belittle them regarding their clothes, body type, or facial features. In addition to their physical appearance, people with narcissism also focus on creating grand impressions on other people. This can lead them to inflate or even fabricate stories that increase their perceived value.
It is also sometimes the case that narcissists expect their family to be good looking. They can’t be as good looking as the narcissist – think the evil queen in Snow White – but they must still make the narcissist look good by being good looking. Those who don’t measure up get abused and bullied for failing the narcissistic parent. The narcissistic parent believes these feelings to be reasonable because he or she believes that a child is an extension of the parent. Children of narcissists exist to make their parents look good. 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. 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
A jealous mind is another classic symptom of narcissism. 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, or maintain a strong belief that other people are envious of them. Some narcissists use this drive to get closer to wealthy or famous 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 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, he or she thinks nothing of using the skilled person. If the narcissist can’t use someone to get what he or she wants, then the narcissist may try to drive that person out of the workplace. This lessens the competition the narcissist faces at least for a time.
5. Disregard for Other People
Narcissists often display manipulative tendencies, using their interactions with others to further their own goals. People with the disorder often cultivate intense emotional relationships with friends or family members and use the connection to benefit themselves. This type of manipulation varies extensively but can include pronounced mood swings, fierce arguments, and a need to assign blame to other people.
In the extreme, this attitude even causes the narcissist to become angry at others if the narcissist perceives a slight. For example, if someone in the narcissist’s family gets sick, the narcissist may be neglectful at best and mean at worst. Because the narcissist lacks empathy, it’s difficult for him or her to imagine the suffering of others.
6. Praise, Praise and More Praise
Narcissists are the movie star in the group. They expect adoration everywhere they go. Narcissists also expect constant praise 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 Healthline.com 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 his or her appearance, cooking, career, or life. Although they seem confident on the surface, self-doubt consumes them. 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 the narcissist on a pedestal. Early on, their superficial charm makes them a crowd favorite, so compliments come to them more easily. However, the adoration phase never lasts long because a bottomless pit couldn’t contain the narcissist’s need for praise. Unfortunately, if the narcissist doesn’t receive the amount of praise he or she expects, the narcissist resorts to rage. For the narcissists who actually become physically abusive, this rage often represents the first step in the cycle of abuse.
Narcissists will get adoration and praise by charm if they can. If they cannot, they resort to other, often very harmful and sometimes even dangerous, tactics in order 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.
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 in order 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 count as two very important tools in the narcissist’s manipulation toolbox, according to Very Well Mind. With these toxic twins, the narcissist exerts control over his or her victims. In the narcissist’s mind, making someone feel shame allows the narcissist to have an elevated position in a relationship. It’s always a one-up situation for the victim. If the victim somehow upsets this balance of power, the narcissist pulls out all the stops to reset the power differential so that it favors the narcissist once again.
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 the narcissist may forego the joke and just be blunt.
However, 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 really 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, which, unfortunately, opens the victim up for even more abuse. What’s additionally disturbing about some of these incidences is that 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 the narcissist’s behavior and shortcomings. The child that gets a “B” on his or her report card gets blamed for making the parent look bad. A victim of physical abuse gets blamed for making the narcissist behave that way. If the narcissist has a neglectful spouse, it’s the child’s fault for taking the spouse’s attention away from the narcissist.
In these scenarios, it is never the narcissist’s fault. Everything that others do wrong, whether the slight is real or imagined, reflects poorly on the narcissist. Blaming others also relieves the narcissist of any responsibility for their lives and their actions. It is rare for a narcissist to see the role that he or she played in a negative situation. People who don’t play by the narcissist’s internal, well-orchestrated script mean to intentionally cause harm to the narcissist. This is what the narcissist believes.
However, most of the time, this internal script is unknown to those around the narcissist 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. The people around the narcissist must constantly walk on eggshells. 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
Most things a narcissist does is done to ensure that the narcissist never gets abandoned. Being abandoned is the narcissist’s greatest fear. However, as weird as it sounds, the abandonment often comes at the hand of the narcissist, who will break things off with people, often out of the blue. In the narcissist’s mind, it’s often a matter of leaving before they can be 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 in order 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 creates these feelings of dependency in the victim by coming on very strong at first. This is called “love bombing.” It’s 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 for the narcissist. Basically, 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. For the narcissist, the fear of abandonment never really goes away. Over time, the narcissist begins to devalue his or her object of devotion. By doing this, the narcissist is trying to mitigate the effects of the abandonment that the narcissist perceives to be around the corner. Again, the narcissist may break things off with the victim in order to avoid being abandoned by the victim. 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 because 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
Because the narcissist often possesses delusions of grandeur, the narcissist will create elaborate fantasies about his or her great life. They’re fantasies the narcissist expects others to participate in and to confirm to be true. The narcissist’s delusions run the gamut. According to the narcissist, he or she may be more beautiful and talented than anyone else, as well as being smarter and richer, and certainly, more important.
Often to support these fantasies, narcissists will make up stories about events that never took place, or if the event took place, they’ll change the details of it to make it seem bigger, better, brighter than it actually 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 that the fantasy is a lie, this unleashes a tirade from the narcissist. This comes from a need to protect the false self that the narcissist created so long ago.
While their behavior often damages the people around them, the real damage began a long time ago when the narcissists originally received their narcissistic wound. That wounding forced the narcissists to create a new, more acceptable self in order to survive whatever trauma the narcissist experienced. The fantasy life the narcissist creates supports this false self. If the support for the fantasy erodes, then the narcissist’s false self crumbles. This doesn’t excuse the narcissist’s often poor behavior. However, it does provide an explanation for why the narcissist’s fantasy is so important.
10. There Are Always Strings Attached
Victims who have wised up about the narcissist’s ways know that no gift comes without strings attached. The uninitiated find this fact out the hard way. Unsolicited gifts from the narcissist are later used to manipulate the victim into doing what the narcissist wants. The narcissist never gives a gift just to give a gift. Gifts, whether tangible or intangible, are given with the intention of getting something in return. The narcissist always makes sure that the receiver knows that the gift is from the narcissist. There is also an unspoken agreement with the narcissist, which is that the narcissist will collect 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 the narcissist. At times, the narcissist gives so much that it makes some people dependent on the narcissist. This suits the narcissist because it means that he or she always has multiple sources of narcissistic supply.
Unfortunately for the victim of this narcissistic tactic, it becomes difficult to accept gifts from anyone. The fear that those gifts come with strings always lurks at the back of the victim’s mind. This makes it difficult for the narcissist’s victims to trust the intentions of others even when the intentions come from a good place.
Concluding Thoughts on Characteristics of Narcissism
Despite its status as a recognized psychological disorder, there are still many uncertainties and unknowns about the condition. Unfortunately, those with NPD are defensive about their character and often resist attempts at intervention or treatment. Even so, recognizing the signs of narcissism is the first step towards finding a resolution to an unhealthy and potentially life-changing disorder.
Additionally, those who are impacted by the narcissist’s behavior must also take steps to mitigate the damage the narcissist causes. First, for those who have been victimized by the narcissist, it’s important 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. In order to survive this, those around them must put down solid and clear boundaries and be willing to enforce them.
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.
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 person being victimized by the narcissist 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.