People use the term “narcissist” frequently today, but not everyone who exhibits these traits has a mental disorder. The absence of diagnosis doesn’t keep these individuals from carving a path of destruction through your life.
One of the factors that makes narcissism so insidious is that such individuals don’t often create problems until you become entangled in a personal or work relationship. Therefore, it benefits you to recognize potential red flags and react accordingly. Here are nine signs someone has a narcissistic personality. While one alone shouldn’t cause you to bolt, identifying several should give you pause:
Everyone has a touch of narcissism — if you were 100% selfless, you’d give the shirt off your back to a stranger even if it meant freezing to death. However, narcissists believe they are the only people in the world who matter. At least, that’s how their behavior makes the people around them feel.
Their grandiose sense of self-importance extends beyond arrogance and vanity to a belief that they are somehow superior. You can recognize this trait through the subtle put-downs they use. If you walk in on a narcissist giggling at something they’ve read and asked them what made them laugh, they may dismiss you with a hand wave and a phrase like, “You wouldn’t understand it.”
Another hallmark of narcissism is an overwhelming need for admiration. This desire stems from the fact that, underneath all the boasting, the narcissist’s extravagant behavior protects a fragile, insecure sense of self.
Narcissists need the praise of others to feel like they are worthy. Unfortunately, they often manifest this desire by unreasonably demanding others to show them respect they haven’t earned. They may expect to win Employee of the Month every month and disparage those who get the honor despite doing less work than the recipient.
Narcissists come in two subtypes — grandiose and vulnerable or covert. The grandiose type may behave more outlandishly but rarely feels negative about themselves. Therefore, they tend to react to criticism like a duck to water — it rolls right off.
Vulnerable or covert narcissists, however, suffer from negative emotionality, and they react defensively to criticism. They may turn the tables back on the speaker. For example, if you point out a minor mathematical error in one of their spreadsheets, they might respond with, “Well, what about that time you messed up the entire department’s budget report?”
Both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists display a lack of empathy toward others. This callousness can take the form of dismissing legitimate concerns or descend into manipulation.
If you tell your narcissistic partner about your rough day at the office, instead of sympathizing, they might respond with, “That’s nothing. Today, I…” and turn the conversation to their woes. More insidiously, they might drink your anniversary bottle of wine themselves — then claim that you consumed it and forgot that this happened when you ask about it.
Narcissists can turn any conversation into an opportunity to show off or brag. They can look at an infectious disease expert like Dr. Fauci and claim he knows nothing about the novel coronavirus — then assert their superior scientific expertise. It doesn’t matter that their degree is in underwater basket weaving.
When conversing with narcissists, you may do best to avoid the toxicity altogether. If one of your colleagues continually boasts that they could run the company better than the founder, quietly exit the discussion. You don’t want your manager to overhear and think you agree.
Remember, narcissism masks a deep-seated core of terrified insecurity. If they perceive that you are useful to them somehow, they will do anything to keep you from leaving. This possessiveness often manifests in extreme jealousy.
If you go on a first date and excuse yourself to use the restroom, you might return to the narcissist looking at your phone. Consider excuses like, “Someone texted, and I thought I recognized the name,” with a grain of salt. Anyone who disrespects socially accepted privacy boundaries so early in a relationship will only increase their intrusion the closer you become.
When you go on a blind date, pay attention to how your partner treats the wait staff. If the service is terrible, appropriate behavior includes discreetly talking to the manager.
However, if they make unreasonable demands and ask for special treatment — the best table in the house or a meal not on the menu — take notice. Consider heading for the door if denial of their request results in a tantrum.
Narcissists think other people exist to serve them. If someone cracks jokes about how they got a free meal or product by lodging a false complaint, keep your distance.
Sometimes, this behavior manifests itself through seemingly innocent requests. If someone you dated a handful of times loses their housing, it’s appropriate for them to ask you if you have any apartment leads. It’s quite another to ask to move in with you after having dinner once or twice.
In a narcissist’s mind, they can do no wrong — so any mistakes must be someone else’s fault. This behavior can become particularly insidious in the workplace. If your team makes a costly error, expect the narc to point fingers at everyone but themselves.
This inability to take blame wreaks havoc on the personal side, as well. When partners fight, both people usually carry their share of fault. However, the narcissist will make their loved one shoulder 100% of the guilt burden unfairly. Eventually, this erodes the other person’s self-esteem.
Narcissists may be insecure children at the core, but their behavior can adversely affect your career and home life. Learn the signs indicating someone may have this personality disorder so you can keep your distance — and sanity.