Americans love throwing around the word “narcissist.” But many are unclear on how to spot one. People with real-life experiences dealing with individuals with narcissistic personalities share red flags to look out for.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
1: False Pedestal
A person who’s dealt with more than one narcissist in their life says there’s a clear pattern of narcissists putting a person on a pedestal when they first meet them before taking it away. “I think this is a way of making their opinion important to you,” they say. “So when they criticize you, it is so much more hurtful/ damaging.”
2: Me and Me
The key to spotting a narcissist is to observe how a person reacts when the attention is naturally on someone else, says a savvy individual. Birthdays or a hospitalization are examples they give. “A narcissist will compete for attention, usually by causing distractions and drama.”
Another commenter wholeheartedly agrees about narcissists making everything about them. “Your child is sick in the hospital? Oh, they’re triggered. They’re unable to go to work because they were so worried about it [that] they were up all night, and now they feel unwell.”
4: Chronic Gaslighter
Gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse that causes someone to question reality, is a classic narcissistic tactic. If you hear phrases like “I never said that” or “you’re making it up for attention” when the narcissistic person clearly said the thing in question, that’s gaslighting.
5: Here’s a List
One person who clearly has had their fair share of experience dealing with narcissistic personalities includes a laundry list of red flag traits to look out for. Among them include “Poor employment history, multiple divorces, doesn’t see their kids if they have any, financial problems, doesn’t speak to a parent or both, thinks lawsuits are ‘normal’ in business, overly flirtatious, and says inappropriate things in public.” So much for the charming personality they had when you first met them!
6: Ultra Helpful
The same commenter says that some narcissists compete for attention by trying to be over-the-top helpful. “The way to tell the difference between that and normal helpfulness is that the narcissist takes credit for help they didn’t do, or dumps on somebody else who’s also being helpful, or tries to take over someone else’s gig.” When you’re on the fence about whether someone’s helpfulness leans towards narcissism, observe if they’re “abnormally hungry for gratitude.”
7: Friend Roster
From one person’s experience, narcissists tend to be bad at maintaining long-term relationships. So, if someone doesn’t have a lot of old friends and has “flavor of the month” friends, that could be a red flag you’re dealing with a narcissist.
8: I’m Perfect
A narcissist “can dish out criticism, but they can’t take it,” says the same commenter, who lists several red flags to watch out for. “Likewise, they will usually make jokes at others’ expense but cannot handle jokes about them. They put others down to build themselves up.”
9: High Status Life
A commenter whose husband’s friend has “the classic symptoms” of narcissism says a red flag is if someone is drawn to high-status people and name-drops those high-status folks constantly.
10: Peachy to Rotten
One person who was in a relationship with a narcissist says the biggest red flag to them “was how quickly things went from peachy to awful and back to peachy again.” They noticed, “Putting a toe out of line meant they could unload whatever they wanted while I didn’t have that same right.”
11: Telephone Game
A commenter whose mother was a covert narcissist says that triangulation was one of the major players in her mom’s behavior, along with insecurity. “They will tell you something they heard from person A. You, person B, respond. They tell person A, but you and A never actually talk to each other.” The problem? “Usually this is bad stuff.”
12: Totally Unreasonable
Having unreasonable reactions to anything they don’t want to hear is a classic sign of a narcissist, says one commenter. “They can say whatever they want to you (often without tact), but you really have to parse your words with them.”
13: Keeping Score
The child of a narcissistic dad says a narcissist red flag is when someone keeps a score of favors. “When they do something nice, it’s usually to score points in their favor. They’ll then hold that favor over your head in order to manipulate you into doing whatever they want.”
14: Unequivocally Right
“You could literally show them [a narcissist] all the info in the world refuting their claims, and they will still say they are right without any further answer or explanation,” says a commenter.
15: Not Sorry
Sincere apologies go out the window when dealing with a narcissistic person. One commenter describes the line people usually hear instead: “‘I’m sorry if what I did makes you feel bad.'”
16: A Test
Do you have a hunch there’s a narcissistic person in your life? “Criticize something they did or said in a casual way,” suggests one person. “The more negatively they react, the more likely you are dealing with a narcissistic person.” To be fair, a non-narcissist may react negatively to such criticism too.
17: Talk, Talk, Talk
A red flag that you’re dealing with a narcissist is when they constantly talk about themselves. “Even if you are talking about something else, they will find a way to make it about themselves and talk about [it] in length,” says one commenter. “Then when you try to change the subject, they will jump into that subject and talk about themselves.”
18: Compulsive Lying
Lying is a cornerstone of narcissistic personalities, says a person who’s experienced it one too many times. If you catch a narcissistic person in a lie, they’ll become enraged before deflecting the blame onto the person who caught them. This becomes a slippery slope for gaslighting.
Narcissists always act like they know everything, and they love giving long-winded explanations about it at that, says a frustrated commenter. “They put down the “general population” as stupid and will talk about how they aren’t like everyone else. If you disagree with their advice, they might angrily say something along the lines of ‘I’ll let you make your own mistakes.'”
The challenging thing about narcissists is that people are drawn to them at first. “They make great first impressions and have magnetic personalities,” says one person, while pointing out that plenty of non-narcissists have these traits, too. It’s not until a bit later into a relationship with the person that their charm turns to someone who is angered easily and puts themself on a pedestal.
21: Boundaries, Says Who?
“Narcissists will never respect boundaries, no matter how small,” offers a commenter as a red flag to watch out for. “If you say something like, ‘Please don’t do that, it makes me uncomfortable,’ they will find a reason to do it more often. They may feign regret and even apologize, but they’ll do it again.”
22: Financial Wreck
A commenter says a person they know who’s narcissistic “rents his life away so he looks like he’s rich.” How does he do this? “He makes good money, but is significantly upside down on his car, tons of debt on his house, [and] has multiple phones on monthly payment plans.” So, what’s in it for this narcissist? “All this to appear better than everyone else.”
23: It’s a Vibe
What’s a red flag you’re dealing with a narcissist? “That vibe of self-importance that’s kind of hard to explain but usually pretty clear,” says a commenter. The challenging part is that the clarity often only comes after someone has experience dealing with a narcissist.
24: An Inward Look
One person with experience dealing with narcissists says when they meet new people, they touch base with themselves to see how the person makes them feel. “Narcissists tend to really drive your emotions more than your thoughts.”
25: Dangerous Secrets
As one commenter puts it, narcissists are great at “buttering you up so you’ll be easier to fry later.” They say a red flag to look out for is when they emphasize communication very early on in getting to know someone. “They want to hear all your secrets, they want you to feel comfortable coming to them with anything, they are so pleased you ‘get’ them.” They’ll then use your secrets against you at a later time.
26: The Test
After a narcissist grooms someone new they met by buttering them up and making them feel special, they’ll often do something that one person calls “The Test.” The Test involves the narcissist being “silent or short or cold or only look at you with a disgusted side eye” when the person does something they don’t like. Assuming the person apologizes, the narcissist will return to being their “great” self. But soon, they’ll repeat the cycle, each time being less kind after the apology.
27: All About Ego
The red flags of a narcissist often come down to ego, according to one person. Narcissists love people who fuel their ego, and they quickly dispose of people who don’t.
28: You’ve Been Caught
If you start a relationship with a narcissist, you’ll notice they “put you on a pedestal when you start dating. From there comes the “casual lies, misdirection, redirecting arguments, [and] gaslighting.” The grande finale? “A sudden change in behavior after they’ve ‘got’ you.”
29: Oddly Enough
From one commenter’s experience, a sign of a narcissist is one that’s among the most difficult to see: Low self-esteem. Many narcissists secretly hate themselves, and their reaction is to have a superiority complex to try to balance it out.
30: Advice From a Survivor
A person who recently got out of a relationship with a narcissist implores people to ask these questions: “Do you find yourself walking on eggshells? Are you hesitant to say what’s on your mind? Even if it’s harmless because you are worried about the unpredictable response?” If the answer is yes, “Get out now,” they say.
31: No Closure
The same commenter advises people leaving a narcissist to “Fight the urge to say your final words. Just dip. Find your own closure. They will never give you theirs.” If you let them say their final words, you will be more abused than ever.”
32: Doctor’s Diagnosis
As one commenter rightly mentions, “Only a doctor can diagnose someone with narcissism.” That said, “someone with narcissistic traits can be almost anyone.”
Many people advise not to fuel a narcissist by refuting what they say. However, you can smile to yourself knowing they’re most likely not in the top 1% club for earnings in their state. It feels good to have an edge on them, if even an internal one.
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