The following list is inspired by the research of Otto Kernberg, famed psychoanalyst from the twentieth century; it describes narcissists as possessing the following characteristics:

  • Primary source of satisfaction in life is sought through narcissistic supply. This is the adulation and attention supplied by other people. In addition, narcissistic supply can be seen as any emotional energy narcissists can extract from others including negative as well as positive.

  • Since there is never enough adulation and attention to be obtained from others, narcissists will also gain supply from delusional or fantasy thinking, such as self-aggrandizement fantasies or the idealizing of a new partner.

  • Are frequently bored or dissatisfied. In fact, supply seems to be the only way to get away from this chronic sense of boredom.

  • Have a high degree of self-reference in interactions with others. This means they think of everything in terms of the self. Oftentimes, people in relationships with narcissists become other-referenced, where they end up making all decisions based on how they perceive the narcissist will react.

  • Often, on the surface, narcissists do not appear to be seriously disturbed, and appear to be quite warm, friendly, and socially affable. The more intelligent narcissists tend to be extremely talented with people and often serve in leadership positions, with great influence on others.

  • Interestingly, narcissists have a contradictorily high sense of self-importance, while simultaneously requiring a high need for praise from other people. This apparent contradiction can be confusing to others because, why would someone with such high degree of confidence need so much reassurance of their worth from others? This is an example of the need for narcissistic supply.

  • Shallow emotions narcissists are unable to tolerate feelings of true sadness or guilt, or the strong emotions of others. Their comfort level is on the emotional surface.

  • Do not care about the feelings of other people. While narcissists may love their objects of obsession (their narcissistic supply sources), they could not care less about their feelings. The only feelings that matter to narcissists are their own.

  • Frequent feelings of envy. Narcissists often feel envious of other people. Their chronic sense of emptiness is reinforced by the belief that they deserve what others have.

  • Along with constant feelings of envy their also exists a strong sense of entitlement. This sense of entitlement is the self-belief that they should not have any problems or roadblocks. When presented with difficulties narcissists sense of entitlement causes them to feel angry, resentful, and contemptuous. This sense of entitlement causes them to believe something is wrong if they dont get their way.

  • Will idolize those people they believe will provide good narcissistic supply and will depreciate those they deem incapable of providing good supply. One reason a person may be depreciated is because the narcissist already extracted all the supply he/she could from the relationship and sees no further benefits from remaining tied to this person. Hence, the discard.

  • They demonstrate rapid emotional expression. Narcissists can switch rapidly from calm to quick anger and back to expression of complete emotional void. This contributes to the Jekyll, Mr. Hyde syndrome.

  • Appear to be extremely independent and seem to be utterly self-sufficient. They often present as detached, aloof, and above others.

  • Narcissists are predictably unpredictable and may or may not display responses as expected by others.

  • Narcissists possess many different defense mechanisms, such as splitting, projective identification, apparent omnipotence, idealization of self and others, denial, orally-aggressive behaviors (rage attacks, yelling), blame, projection, gas lighting

  • Master manipulators. Narcissists have a knack for fooling others by coming across as experts; arguing their points very convincingly; using implication to cause others to doubt themselves; chronic gas-lighting; being dishonest. Narcissists are experts at smoke and mirror presentations.

  • They lie. Never accept what a narcissist says at face value. They many or may not be telling the truth.

  • Extreme self-centeredness and selfishness. People can only be satisfied in their relationships with narcissists as long as the narcissists needs are being met.

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist then you are best served to understand the reality of these traits and what they mean to you. Realize that these personality traits are hard wired and there is nothing you can do to affect change. Your best bet is to focus on your own emotional and mental well-being, and make sure these are not connected to your relationship with a narcissist.

(For free monthly newsletter on the psychology of abuse, please send your email address to:


Kernberg, O. (1992). Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. Northvale, New Jersey, London: Jason Aronson Inc.