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15 Signs You're Dealing With A Narcissist, From A Therapist

Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT
Author: Medical reviewer:
October 03, 2023
Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
By Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Margalis Fjelstad received her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling from Oregon State University. Her work specializes in clients with narcissistic parents or partners and has authored two books on the subject.
Darja Djordjevic, M.D., Ph.D.
Medical review by
Darja Djordjevic, M.D., Ph.D.
Psychiatrist
Darja Djordjevic holds an MD PhD from Harvard Medical School and She is a Clinical Fellow in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Nassau University Medical Center in New York.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a clinically diagnosed personality disorder characterized by grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy toward other people.

When determining whether someone is a narcissist, most people make it more complicated than it needs to be.

I use the duck test—that is, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

There are no physical blood tests, MRIs, or exact determinations that can identify narcissism. There are, however, inventories/scales that can be used to aid in making the diagnosis (more on this below).

Even therapists have to go on just observations of the behavior and attitudes that a person presents. So below are all the traits and behaviors that are signs of a narcissist.

Not all of these traits have to be present to make a determination of narcissism: According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which therapists use as a guide, a person needs to exhibit only 55% of the identified characteristics to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have also been studying narcissistic personality for decades and have validated the use of certain inventory questionnaires1 and scales to diagnose traits as well as the disorder.

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What is a narcissist?

If you aren't exactly sure what the term narcissist means, it's someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a clinically diagnosed personality disorder characterized by grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy toward other people.

In short, it's someone who believes they're better than everyone else.

Individuals can also display narcissistic personality traits which collectively don’t reach the level of severity to meet a diagnosis of full-on NPD, but nonetheless are important for any therapist and a person’s social entourage to recognize, as they too impact how an individual relates to others and operates in daily life.

It's been shown that individuals who have NPD often require constant admiration, show arrogance, entitlement, envy, exploitativeness, lack empathy, self-importance, and more.

Read on for an in-depth look at the signs that you're dealing with a narcissist.

Summary

A narcissist is someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a clinically diagnosed personality disorder characterized by grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy toward other people.

Signs you're dealing with a narcissist

  1. Narcissists have to be the best, the most right, and the most competent; do everything their way; own everything; and control everyone.
  2. Narcissists constantly need attention—even just by following you around the house, asking you to find things, or constantly saying something to grab your attention. And validation for a narcissist counts only if it comes from others.
  3. Narcissists need everything to be perfect. They believe they should be perfect, you should be perfect, events should happen exactly as expected, and life should play out precisely as they envision it.
  4. Narcissists want and demand to be in control, and their sense of entitlement makes it seem logical to them that they should be in control of everything.
  5. Narcissists never want to be responsible unless everything goes their way. They often place all the blame and responsibility on someone else to maintain their own façade of perfection.
  6. Narcissists lack boundaries. They believe that everything belongs to them and everyone thinks and feels the same as they do.
  7. Narcissists have very little ability to empathize with others and often lack an understanding of the nature of feelings.
  8. Narcissists perceive everything as a threat. They frequently misread subtle facial expressions and are typically biased toward interpreting facial expressions as negative.
  9. Narcissists make most of their decisions based on how they feel about something. They always look to something or someone outside themselves to solve their feelings and needs.
  10. A narcissist's personality is split into good and bad parts. Any negative thoughts or behaviors are blamed on you or others, whereas they take credit for everything that is positive and good.
  11. Narcissists are constantly afraid of being ridiculed, rejected, or wrong and often struggle to trust other people.
  12. Narcissists typically deal with anxiety, and typically project their anxiety onto their closest loved ones, accusing them of being negative or unsupportive.
  13. Narcissists don't feel much guilt because they think they are always right, and they harbor a lot of shame and often bury their insecurities, fears, and rejected traits that they are constantly on guard to hide from everyone, including themselves.
  14. Narcissists can't truly love or connect emotionally with other people because of their inability to understand feelings, their lack of empathy, and their constant need for self-protection.
  15. Narcissists don't have the capacity or the motivation to communicate or work as part of a team.

Causes

Narcissistic personality disorder is a complex condition and its exact causes aren't fully known. Here are some potential causes and contributing factors associated with narcissistic personality disorder:

  • Genetics: There may be a genetic predisposition to developing NPD. Research has suggested that individuals with a family history of personality disorders2, including narcissism, may be at a higher risk.
  • Childhood: It's been shown that one's experiences during childhood, such as excessive overprotection3 or criticism, can contribute to the development of narcissistic traits. 
  • Society: Societal and cultural norms4 that emphasize competitiveness and what "success" looks like may encourage narcissistic traits.
  • Trauma: Experiencing trauma or emotional abuse5 can lead some individuals to develop narcissistic traits as a way to shield themselves from emotional pain.
  • Psychological factors: A fragile self-esteem6, insecurities, or a lack of empathy may contribute to the development of narcissistic traits as a defense mechanism.

The takeaway

There are many types of narcissists, but these are some qualities they all have in common.

Keep in mind, this article is intended to outline the common signs you may be dealing with a narcissist, and is not meant to treat or diagnose anyone.

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