10 Signs of a Narcissist

There's more to narcissism than just high self-esteem.

In today's world, "narcissistic" means little more than just being vain. But narcissism is far more complex than that. It exists in many shades, from extra-healthy ego to pathological grandiosity.

Still, at its core, narcissism is a disguise for a deep-seated sense of shame that you may not even realize is there. Here's what you should know about the 10 most common narcissistic traits.

You Like To Be the Center of Attention

"Narcissists dominate conversations," said psychotherapist Joseph Burgo, PhD, the author of The Narcissist You Know. "They feel compelled to talk about themselves, and they exaggerate their accomplishments."

You might embellish your stories, spinning them to impress your audience. You may paint yourself as the boss's most trusted advisor, the most flexible yogi in your class, or the most popular neighbor on the block.

Fabricating or embellishing your achievements is one of the signs of narcissistic personality disorder, per the National Library of Medicine, referencing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Those fabrications are easy to excuse as little white lies help you tell a better tale. But really, they serve a riskier purpose: To present an idealized version of yourself that distracts you from the fear of not being good enough.

You Have a Habit of Giving Unsolicited Advice

You might attempt to be helpful by recommending the best restaurants in Portland or sharing your wisdom on parenting through the terrible twos. But you are also seizing an opportunity to demonstrate your superior knowledge and insight, explained Dr. Burgo.

"Narcissists are always a little more in the know," added Dr. Burgo. "They seem to have the inside info on everything." 

In a study published in 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers described narcissists having an obvious superiority complex. By acting more sophisticated than everyone in the room, you are bolstering your inflated sense of self—unfortunately, at the expense of those you are supposedly helping.

You Detest Waiting in Line

On top of that, you might get frustrated if someone doesn't respond to your voicemail right away. On some level, you feel you deserve special treatment, whether among friends and family or at the DMV.

"Whatever a narcissist's needs are, they need to be met now," said marriage and family therapist Karyl McBride, PhD, author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? and Will I Ever Be Free of You? "They want automatic compliance because they are that important."

Whether conscious of it or not, you live your life with a sense of entitlement and, for better or worse, expect the world to revolve around you, per the National Library of Medicine.

Your Ambition Knows No Bounds

It's one thing to shoot for the stars and then work hard to get there. 

It's quite another to believe you are destined for greatness. That type of grandiose assumption is a classic symptom of narcissism.

Narcissists believe they are naturally unique and part of an elite class that deserves only the best. 

"They fantasize about how much more powerful they will be, how much more beautiful, how much richer," explained Dr. McBride.

They also prefer to associate with other "high-status" people. They may obsess over status symbols (from the right shoes to the right stroller) and even belittle anyone they don't perceive to be part of the same exclusive club.

The need to be admired by or receive special treatment from your peers may influence those grandiose feelings of superiority above others, according to one study published in 2017 in the journal Behavioral Medicine.

You Know How To Turn on the Charm

You've got a knack for making other people feel important. Your relationships probably move quickly like the intoxicating, whirlwind romances of storybooks.

But all the admiration you shower on that person is part of an unspoken deal: You expect them to make you feel just as attractive and intelligent. Per the National Library of Medicine, that pompous behavior is a textbook trait of narcissistic personality disorder.

But the minute they question or criticize you, the jig is up, and they are sent swiftly "from the pedestal to the trash heap," as Dr. Burgo put it.

You Are Competitive

In a narcissist's worldview, there are winners and losers, said Dr. Burgo. And the narcissist must win in virtually every domain—on the tennis court, at the office, and in the community garden.

"They have to make themselves out to be superior to somebody else," explained Dr. Burgo. 

The opponent could be a stranger or someone you love. In a relentless quest to prove your dominance, that compulsive drive to come out on top makes it difficult to celebrate other people's successes.

Take for example: Your college pal's beautiful new house. Because at that moment, someone else is the "winner."

You're Famous for Holding Grudges

To everyone else, you probably seem highly confident—the kind of person who doesn't care what other people think. But for narcissists, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Dr. Burgo explained that they care deeply about maintaining their idealized image of themselves and have trouble tolerating any sort of disapproval or insult.

In fact, authors of a chapter from the Handbook of Trait Narcissism, published in 2018, suggested that narcissists might see others like them as being confident (as opposed to egotistical).

"If they feel slighted or abandoned, they don't get over it," added Dr. McBride. Rather than deal with their hurt feelings, they get angry and seek revenge in one form or another.

It's Never Your Fault

Do you own your mistakes? And do you apologize for them and try to fix them?

Or do you immediately flip the script and say things like, "It's because of how you were treating me that I did XYZ," directly blaming others?

According to the National Library of Medicine, a lack of empathy is another hallmark trait among people with narcissistic personality disorder.

Dr. McBride said that narcissists refuse to be held accountable for their mistakes and bad behavior and instead shift the blame to someone else. Even within their close personal relationships, narcissists believe there is always a winner and a loser, and they'll do whatever it takes to win.

You Take Advantage of People

Similarly, it may not be intentional, but it happens because you view situations in terms of what they mean for you and you only. The reason? It's that lack of empathy, explained Dr. McBride.

"[The] inability to turn into the emotional world of others" is a cornerstone of narcissism, making it dangerous, said Dr. McBride. "Narcissists expect others to revolve around their needs, but they refuse to do the same for anyone else." 

That means to get what you want, you aren't afraid to manipulate or bully whoever is in your way. Because, in the end, it's always all about you.

You Crave High Levels of Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

The author of a study published in 2018 in the Journal of Addiction Research noted that narcissists want to satisfy their need for what's called narcissistic supply. That consists of attention and an ideal life mixed with excitement and anxiety.

Additionally, just as individuals with an addiction may feel untouchable or on top of the world while experiencing something they crave, narcissists desire to share that same sense of grandiosity. 

"When I finally made this connection, it made so much sense within my practice," said Dr. Burgo.

Without those aspects, narcissists can fall apart. They may engage in dangerous living, reckless behaviors, or substance abuse.

Summary

Ultimately, if you find that you (or someone you know) have experienced more than a few of those traits, talk with a mental health professional to discuss options that may be helpful.

Per the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, narcissism is a personality disorder, and it's treatable. Treatment might include cognitive behavioral therapy, or medicine to help reduce mood symptoms that may be associated with the disorder.

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