10 Signs of a Narcissist

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

Photo: jakubzak/Getty Images

In today's world, the term "narcissistic" has come to mean little more than just being vain. But narcissism is far more complex than that: It exists in many shades along a continuum 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. Read on to learn about 10 common narcissistic traits.

01 of 10

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 find yourself embellishing 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.

These fabrications are easy to excuse as little white lies that 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.

02 of 10

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, Burgo explained.

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

03 of 10

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 you're 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, who has written two books about dealing with narcissists, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? and Will I Ever Be Free of You? "They want automatic compliance because they are that important."

Whether you are 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.

04 of 10

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 tend to believe they are naturally special 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," McBride explained.

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

05 of 10

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

06 of 10

You Are Competitive

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

"They have to make themselves out to be superior to somebody else," Burgo explained, in a relentless quest to prove their dominance. The opponent could be a stranger or someone you love. That compulsive drive to come out on top makes it difficult to celebrate other people's successes, like, say, your college pal's beautiful new house—because in that moment, someone else is the "winner."

07 of 10

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.

They care deeply about maintaining their idealized image of themselves and have trouble tolerating any sort of disapproval or insult, Burgo explained. In fact, authors of a chapter from Handbook of Trait Narcissism published in 2018 suggested that narcissists might see others like them as being confident (as opposed to egotistical) as well.

No matter how small a criticism, "it feels like a huge assault, a personal attack," and one they're unlikely to forget. "If they feel slighted, or abandoned, they don't get over it," McBride added. Rather than deal with their hurt feelings, they get angry and seek revenge in one form or another.

08 of 10

It's Never Your Fault

Ask yourself if you admit when you're wrong:

  • Do you own your screw-ups?
  • 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" or "You drove me to [cheat/drink/lash out]"?

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

09 of 10

You Take Advantage of People

It may not be intentional, but it happens because you tend to view situations in terms of what they mean for you, and you only. The reason? A lack of empathy, McBride explained.

The "inability to turn into the emotional world of others" is a cornerstone of narcissism, McBride said—and what makes it so dangerous. "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.

10 of 10

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

The author of an August 2018 article published in the Journal of Addiction Research noted that narcissists want to satisfy their need for what's called narcissistic supply, which consists of attention and leading 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 a high (something they crave), narcissists desire to experience the same sense of grandiosity. "When I finally made this connection, it made so much sense within my practice," Burgo said.

Without those aspects, narcissists can fall apart and may engage in dangerous living, reckless behaviors, or substance abuse, per the Journal of Addiction Research article.

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

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