7 signs you’re dealing with a really narcissistic person, according to psychology

Nowadays, the word “narcissistic” gets thrown around like nobody’s business.

All you have to do is be just a little bit selfish and a little bit self-absorbed, and low and behold, you have transformed into a narcissist.

Contrary to what some people might think, though, narcissism isn’t a personality trait. It doesn’t fall under the same umbrella as impatience or stubbornness.

In fact, research shows that narcissists’ brains differ from those of other people – they are more sensitive to ego threat and experience more stressful reactions to it. 

What’s more, brain scans have also detected a lack of empathy in narcissists.

So, how can you tell whether you’re dealing with a true narcissist? Here are the 7 signs, according to psychology.

1) They display an unhealthy sense of entitlement

The first thing you should know about narcissists is that they think they should have it all.

Status, money, romantic success, career opportunities, you name it – a narcissist feels entitled to everything without having done any work.

A narcissistic person thinks of themselves as grandiose and unique. They think they are special and important.

They are the main protagonist of the movie, and we are all just extras. It is their world, and we all just live in it.

But where does this unhealthy sense of entitlement come from?

Well, according to psychologist Leon F Seltzer PhD, this phenomenon could be rooted in childhood.

If you have overprotective parents who spoil you with gifts, solve every single problem for you, and praise you to the heavens on a daily basis, you may grow up thinking you’re entitled to the best things in life simply because you’ve never had to work hard for anything.

However, an opposite parenting style – that of cold detachment, neglect, and strict practices – can have a very similar impact.

A person who grows up being denied love, affection, and basic needs may integrate the belief that they deserve what they didn’t get earlier in life.

And thus, a narcissist is born.

(In simplified terms, of course.)

2) They constantly seek external validation

While a narcissistic person believes they are the main hero in everyone’s story, their own sense of self-worth isn’t enough to fuel that fantasy.

This is why they’re constantly trying to receive ego boosts from other people, reaffirming to themselves just how important they are.

As psychotherapist Elinor Greenberg PhD writes:

“Narcissists cannot pat themselves on the back and say, “Good job!” and actually believe that they did a good job. They need to believe that people outside of themselves believe that they are doing a good job—and not just a good job, but the very best. This means that if narcissists want to feel good about themselves, they require regular doses of external validation from people whom they respect.”

I know one narcissist personally, and during each and every interaction, he mentions his latest athletic feats at least three times.

Wow, he’s run this number of miles in this timeframe! Wow, he’s so fit!

It doesn’t matter whether you ignore him or praise him – he just keeps on bringing it up, thirsty for another chance to receive validation and reassurance.

When he runs up a hill, his own success isn’t enough to make him feel good. He needs the whole world to know that he’s aced another milestone, otherwise it doesn’t really count.

3) They are highly sensitive to criticism

Look, no one likes criticism. It’s uncomfortable as hell. But most emotionally mature people can take it.

A narcissist, on the other hand… well, let’s just say things don’t go as smoothly where they’re concerned.

Remember how I mentioned heightened sensitivity to ego threat? 

Yeah. This is basically why narcissists can’t stand criticism – their egos are inflated yet fragile, and if they can sense any kind of criticism in your tone, they will immediately view it as an attack on their personhood.

It isn’t uncommon for them to flip out, pick fights, nitpick, and take everything way too personally.

(In private, of course. They try to present themselves as perfect in public, so they usually keep their anger to themselves until they are hidden from the public eye.)

4) They struggle to empathize with others

A narcissist’s ability to feel empathy and place themselves in another person’s shoes is quite limited, which means their friendships may be a bit strained and superficial.

When you’re talking to a narcissist, you might notice that they:

  • Don’t ask you any questions about yourself, and when they do, they don’t truly listen to your answer
  • Tend to direct the conversation back to themselves a lot
  • Offer advice grounded in rationale or common wisdom rather than true emotional support (“Look on the bright side”)
  • Perk up when the discussion is about them and lose energy when it isn’t
  • Struggle to understand your point of view

In general, talking to a narcissist sometimes feels like they simply don’t think of you as a complex emotional world of its own.

You are an extra in the story of their life, after all.

5) They aren’t afraid to manipulate others to get their way

outsmart a low level narcissist 7 signs you're dealing with a really narcissistic person, according to psychology

When someone lacks empathy, they may find it easier to manipulate other people simply because they can’t imagine being anyone else but themselves.

They don’t empathize with the party that’s being manipulated – they only think of the benefits that manipulation brings to their own selves.

Gaslighting, guilt-tripping, lying, putting people against each other… these are but a few tools in a manipulative narcissist’s arsenal.

According to the mental health professional Jamie Cannon MS, LPC, narcissists are also experts at projecting blame, they perceive boundaries and limits as wrong, and they are masters at subtlety, which is why many people don’t realize they’re dealing with a narcissist until they’ve already fallen into the trap.

Speaking of which…

6) They can come across as magnetic and charming

Since status and reputation are of the utmost importance to a narcissist, there’s a high chance you won’t immediately recognize them for who they are on the inside.

And that’s because they know how to play the game of appearances.

A narcissist can adjust their behavior to fit your expectations, move through the crowd with the elegance of a social butterfly, compliment you in just the right way, and shower you with affection or a sense of companionship.

It is only when you two grow closer that their true nature bubbles up to the surface, and slowly but surely, they shed the pretense.

That’s usually when the dynamic tips in an unhealthy direction. The more you get to know each other, the more your boundaries get tested and pushed, giving rise to manipulation and chaos.

People say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. What they mean is that an ugly book can contain incredibly amazing stories inside, but the truth is that the opposite applies, too.

A magnetic and charming person might not be what they seem. The moment they display a lack of empathy and disrespect your boundaries… 

Take a step back and re-valuate the relationship.

7) They tend to have fleeting friendships

Here’s another way to recognize whether you’re dealing with a narcissist quite early on: ask to meet their friends.

Even introverted people usually have at least one friend who plays a big role in their lives. If someone’s inner circle is practically non-existent, it could be a red flag.

Why?

Because it signals that the person in question has had all their friendships fall apart or evaporate into thin air.

Sometimes, friendships just end. That’s life. But when someone has no real friendships to speak of, the only common denominator is… drumroll… yep. The person themselves.

Narcissists simply aren’t very good at friendships. Their lack of empathy makes them susceptible to manipulating people, having selfish ulterior motives, and monopolizing conversations.

What’s more, they seek validation rather than connection, making it difficult for them to create a genuine bond with someone.

Counselor Suzanne Degges-White PhD drives the point home: “Narcissists need friendships until friendships get real,” she says.

“To actively engage in an authentic relationship requires that one is able to let down one’s guard and be open and honest. Narcissists are terrified of being seen as imperfect, as that would crack open the image that they try to project as superhuman.”

For a narcissist, every relationship is essentially superficial. And that’s the key. If you dig deep into the conversation you’re having with someone, try to keep that word – “superficiality” – in mind.

Is this person trying to establish a genuine connection with you? Or do they seem to lack depth and authenticity? Do you constantly need to provide them with praise or admiration? And what kind of advice do they give when you’re struggling?

Those are some important questions to ask yourself. Your answers may reveal if you are, in fact, dealing with a really narcissistic person.

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Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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