Narcissists: What Are They And How Do You Spot Them?
People throw around the term ‘narcissist’ a lot, both in the media and online. Prominent figures, from celebrities to world leaders, can fall prey to accusations they’re a narcissist.
Make no mistake, true narcissists are dangerous and predatory individuals. They do not wish for good things for anyone but themselves. No good comes from associating with them.
Yet you might wonder what makes someone a narcissist. How can you spot one, and what should you do if you do?
Let’s start with the word ‘narcissist’. The name comes from the medical term for the condition – narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It came from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a young man who fell in love with his own reflection. Unwilling to engage with the world around him, he wasted away and died.
This lives on in the extreme focus narcissists place on themselves. They often centre themselves in the lives of anyone around them.
But narcissism goes much deeper than simple vanity. Someone might be self-centred or self-absorbed without being a narcissist. That’s because there’s a difference between NPD, or pathological narcissism, and narcissism.
NPD is rare, and experts believe it affects less than 1% of the population.
But narcissism happens when people display narcissistic traits without having the full disorder. Both men and women can be narcissists, though it’s more often diagnosed in men.
Let’s find out what they are.
What is a narcissist?
Narcissism, like other personality disorders, comes on a spectrum. Robert Raskin and Calvin S. Hall devised the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) in 1979. It scores people between 0 to 40, with most people falling in the low to mid-teens.
Those who score higher fall under the umbrella term of ‘narcissist’. Though the test can’t diagnose a narcissist—only a trained professional can.
But you can start to recognise the following behaviours:
• Belief in their own importance or being ‘special’,
• Lack of emotional empathy for others,
• Using others for their own ends,
• Need for attention and admiration,
• Unreasonable sense of entitlement,
• Wanting to seem superior with nothing to back it up,
• Exaggerating how talented they are,
• Belittling behaviours,
• Expecting people to do what they want without question, and
A narcissist hides behind a false self. They project how they want you to see them. This apparent abundance of self-esteem looks attractive at first. But when you try to get to know them, you’ll find they’ve got as much depth as a puddle.
Narcissists pretend they’re better than those around them, but they have fragile egos. They can’t take criticism and turn it back on their perceived attacker.
This might sound familiar if you’ve argued with a narcissist. If you accuse one of selfish behaviour, they’ll project it back to you so you’re the selfish one.
You can’t win with a narcissist. If they mistreat you and you speak up, they’ll act like you’re crazy or you’re upsetting them by thinking that way of them.
Yet if they treat you badly, and you say nothing, hoping to keep the peace? You let them know they can get away with whatever they want.
Narcissists and Gaslighting
One of the major problems with narcissists is that they lack emotional empathy. Yet they don’t lack cognitive empathy. They can recognise and understand what matters to you on an intellectual level. They just can’t experience how it feels for themselves.
But this cognitive empathy means they can learn what matters to you. They’ll turn this around and use it against you through manipulative tactics like gaslighting.
Gaslighting got its name from the 1938 stage play, Gaslight, which became a famous film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman. In it, a callous thief convinces his new wife that she’s going mad so he can look for lost jewels in the attic.
It’s also a similar tactic to those used by cult leaders and even dictators.
With narcissists, they use the same manipulation to control how you see the world. They’ll lead you to question your own reality and doubt your sanity. If you question what you’re being told, the narcissist might accuse you of lying. You may end up feeling like you’re walking on eggshells, not sure what you’ll do or say next to trigger them.
It’s designed to grind the victim down so they submit to the narcissist’s will. As long as you’re confused, you’ll believe their version of reality – not yours. It destroys your trust in yourself and others, making recovery more difficult.
What makes someone become a narcissist?
Experts still don’t agree on what causes NPD. Theories involve combined factors, including their childhood interactions and personality development.
There’s no cure, though a narcissist may undergo psychotherapy for help in managing it. That said, it’s unlikely that a narcissist will seek help on their own. That’s because they don’t believe there’s anything wrong with them. It’s the world around them that’s wrong!
One thing is for certain—it’s not your job to fix a narcissist, and you can’t ‘love’ someone out of narcissism.
To a narcissist, a relationship is just the means to an end. It might provide them with an ego boost, attention, or pleasure. They might even want a relationship because it fits the image they want to portray.
So how would I know if I’m dating a narcissist?
If your partner makes you feel belittled, devalued, or disrespected, then it doesn’t matter if they’re a narcissist or not. They aren’t prioritising your needs or feelings. Someone with your best interests at heart would not leave you feeling that way.
Other things to watch out for are tactics like love bombing. This is where they come on far too strong in the first month, but then they seem to turn on you at a moment’s notice.
Do they only talk about themselves and never show an interest in anything you’re doing? If you try to introduce something about yourself into the conversation, how do they react?
Remember narcissists love boosting their own ego and exaggerating their accomplishments. They don’t like it if you have any of your own
Has your partner got the ability to empathise with you? If you’ve had a bad day, do they try to make you feel better? Or do they get bored and change the subject? A healthy partner will show support and concern if you’re not happy. A narcissist won’t care.
Do they constantly pick on you? If your partner finds fault with everything you do, say, or wear, then you have a problem. They’re wearing down your self-esteem to make themselves feel better.
Also, watch out if you do something outstanding and your partner doesn’t congratulate you. A narcissist won’t be proud – they’ll be jealous.
What do I do if I think I’m dating a narcissist?
First, recognise that you’ve done nothing wrong. Their behaviour is down to them, and it’s not your fault they act the way they do. (This is why you didn’t ‘manifest’ them)
Second, accept that you can never build a relationship based on love, trust, and respect with a narcissist.
Ask yourself how happy you are. And I mean genuinely happy. If you’ve read this article and found a lot that makes sense? Get out of there. They will not change, no matter how much they might promise they will.
Break it off and leave. Narcissists might try ‘hoovering’, which is love bombing to bring you back. Or they might choose harassment instead, so block them when you break it off.
If you’re not sure how to spot a narcissist, sign up for our Identifying and Disarming Narcissists program. Not only will you learn how to spot them, you’ll also learn how to turn them away so they don’t cause any harm.
This is a useful toolkit to have whether you’re dating, in a toxic work environment, or not sure about people in your social circle. Narcissists will cause havoc no matter where you encounter them. You deserve to have the tools to spot them and then slip under their radar—before they get under yours.