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7 ways to tell if you’re talking to a psychopath or a narcissist

Image credit: Shutterstock - By Evgeniy Kalinovskiy

First thing’s first: telling your coworkers or friends that they may be narcissists or psychopaths isn’t the best way to keep your relationships going.

Even if you slightly suspect that they may have something going on in their head, chances are they’re just having a strange day, not a mental condition.

But there’s a difference between a single day of observation and a certain long-term pattern of strange behavior.

If someone you are regularly in contact with is exhibiting certain signs, you may be able to tell whether or not they have narcissism or psychopathy.

How can you be certain? Here are 7 ways to tell if your friend is a psychopath and/or a narcissist.

1) Psychopaths Talk In The Past

According to a review of studies on psychopathy from 2016, psychopaths have a tendency to lean towards past-tense words.

Even actions or events that are currently happening will be referred to in the past tense by psychopaths; they will have always done, but are never doing, and they always were, but never was.

Why is this?

Researchers believe that this is because psychopaths find themselves constantly struggling with detachment; they do not feel emotionally or psychologically connected to the here and now that normal people do, and they always have a barrier between them and their current predicament.

2) Narcissists Exaggerate Facial Expressions and Body Language

Know anyone who acts like a stage actor, with loud laughs, rambunctious movements, and overly-dramatic smiles and frowns?

There’s a high chance that person is either a theater performer or a narcissist (or both).

A 1990 study from the Communication Monographs journal on the topic of “conversational narcissism” was the first to highlight this behavior in known narcissists.


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Wide-swinging hand gestures, exaggerated facial expressions, and louder-than-normal voices are key indicators of narcissism.

3) Psychopaths Rarely Display Emotion While Using Emotional Language

The same 2016 review from above also highlighted another strange dimension of the average psychopath: they regularly use emotional language without any of the tone or feeling behind it that the rest of us have.

For a psychopath, “I love you” is as meaningless and banal as ordering food on a menu. Psychologists believe this is due to their missing “emotional dimension”; they have an inability to feel the purpose of emotional language, and use these phrases merely out of social norms.

4) Narcissists Don’t Like Listening To Others Talk

One clear sign of the average narcissist is their inability to sit down and listen to what other people have to say.

When involved in an average conversation, narcissists become impatient, annoyed, and fidgety when they are forced to listen to other people.

One behavioral manifestation of narcissistic impatience is looking over the shoulders of the person that is speaking, seemingly to find a way to get out of the conversation.

5) Psychopaths Speak In A Soft and Slow Voice

Familiar with a friend or acquaintance who finds it difficult to raise their voice or talk faster? There may be a chance that he or she is a psychopath. The 2016 review of psychopathy studies from the Aggression and Violent Behavior Journal highlighted the psychopathic need to control the volume and speed of their speech at a level unfamiliar to non-psychopaths. They also stick to tangible words and concepts, staying away from abstract or emotional language.

6) Narcissists Cuss More

Unlike your average person, narcissists don’t have a self-guided monitor stopping them from saying the worst things that come to their mind. The Personality and Individual Differences journal published a study in 2014 that found that narcissists have a much easier time sharing curses and cuss words than non-narcissists. Researchers believe this is due to two reasons: they aren’t easily offended and are thus more insensitive, and they like the attention that curses give them.

7) Both Narcissists and Psychopaths Are Repeat Liars

Here’s one aspect that both psychopaths and narcissists share to their cores: they lie with the same stories, over and over again. They like to trick people into believing that they are being told confidential information, even though all of their information is made up or fabricated.

The reason? Both narcissists and psychopaths have the inability to see people as people; instead, they view others as tools they can manipulate, objects that they have no real interest in. Lies come so easily to them because they see no damage in telling the lies to people they don’t consider as actual people, to the extent that they even forget how far and wide they have spread the lie.

Spotting the Psychopath or Narcissist

Having trouble figuring out if someone is a psychopath or a narcissist, or if they’re just slightly weird? Keep your eyes peeled. Observe their smallest actions, the stuff they do when they think no one else is looking, and you might find yourself fully convinced that something is wrong with them.

NOW READ: Narcissistic sociopath: 26 things they do and how to deal with them

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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