You might want to recognize signs of narcissism so you know how to respond in the moment or long-term in a relationship.
You may have met a new friend or love interest, but something seems different. Maybe they’re really charismatic and fun, but they never seem to care about what interests you. Or maybe they’ve even ghosted you a few times and come back with a good excuse.
Are you dealing with someone who has narcissistic behaviors, or are they just distracted? What are the red flags of narcissistic behavior?
It’s natural to want to know whether someone has narcissistic traits before you develop feelings for them or get too attached. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of manipulative behavior.
It’s also important not to label someone before you even get to know them — especially since someone can have a few narcissistic traits (many people do) but not have narcissistic personality disorder.
Let’s dive into some of the more obvious signs, so you can get a good idea of what to look for.
Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition describes nine overarching characteristics:
- Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others. They seem to have no desire for real connection. They don’t feel empathy for people in trouble.
- Has an overblown sense of self-importance. They might mentally check out when you start talking, even when you’re trying to relate to something they just said.
- Behaves as if they are exceptionally “special” and can only be understood by or associate with other special people (or institutions). They might be indifferent or even rude to people they think are “below” them. They may care more about making a good impression than anything else.
- Needs to be admired. They may go to great lengths to make sure everyone is aware of their successes and accomplishments. They may get unreasonably angry if they feel humiliated or criticized.
- Has an unrealistic sense of entitlement and expects others to give them special treatment. They may come undone when corrected, put out, or treated as if they are “common.”
- Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve their own goals. They may frequently use other people for their own gain. They might add others on social media for the sole purpose of getting more “likes” but never return the favor.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them. They may disparage people they are envious of and point out reasons why those people shouldn’t be admired. They can’t seem to accept that others are genuinely more successful.
- Displays arrogant behaviors and attitudes. They may constantly talk about their success, influence, or attractiveness. For instance, they might brag about how much they get hit on but then “complain” about it.
- Regularly talks about their fantasies of success, power, or recognition for their brilliance. Conversations may primarily revolve around the kind of luxury car they want or other material or shallow desires.
Research shows that a person with narcissism is likely to have been raised by parents who:
- believed and acted like their child was more special or entitled than others
- neglected them emotionally or physically (according to
- abandoned them
- abused them
For instance, perhaps their parents cared more about achievements than their child’s emotional health.
While growing up, a person with narcissism may often have had to shut down emotionally to protect themselves. This may have been due to either an ongoing situation or one traumatic event.
A person with narcissism may take over the conversation and not seem interested in what you have to say — unless it’s a compliment or something positive about them.
Other hallmarks to listen for:
- They frequently interrupt you and never seem to genuinely listen.
- They speak in superlatives: Every vendor or service provider they work with is “the best,” all others are “the worst.”
Research from 2017explores superlative self-talk, which is also called “aggrandizement.”
- They might also flatter others insincerely for some type of gain.
You will rarely see genuine thoughtfulness or empathy. For instance, if you’re supposed to go shopping with this person, but you get seriously ill, they might get annoyed that their plans were ruined rather than feel bad that you’re sick.
If they see a news story about a murder, they might comment on the killer’s stupidity for getting caught rather than having empathy for the victim.
If they do show interest in you or attraction to you, you might notice that they are “coming on strong” without really knowing you yet. This is called love bombing.
A person with narcissism might frequently remind you of their accomplishments and successes. At the core of narcissism is insecurity. The person needs constant validation to fill that void.
Or you might be perplexed by the opposite: Someone might speak excessively negatively of themselves, seeming introverted and self-focused but not in a grandiose way. They might sound like they have low self-esteem or lack confidence but speak very defensively if you agree.
If you hear them talk about themselves in a way that essentially says “No one can talk badly about me but me!” you might be observing covert narcissism.
When a person with narcissism feels slighted or humiliated, they might lash out in anger.
A review of 437 studies found that narcissism is a strong risk factor for violent and aggressive behavior across the board. Narcissism was linked to all types of aggression, whether it’s verbal or physical, direct or indirect, bullying, or displaced onto innocent targets. The findings were consistent, whether the subject was a college student or a member of the general population.
If you recognize some of these traits in someone you know, it can be difficult to know how to handle it. If the person is new to you and they make you feel badly, you have the option of moving away from the friendship.
It’s a little trickier if they are a family member, co-worker or long-term friend or partner. One important tip is to avoid the temptation to think you can change them. Assume that the way they make you feel now is the way they will always make you feel. Then you can make your decision based on that.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who displays these behaviors, you may want to read more about how to deal with your partner’s narcissistic behavior.