9 warning signs you’re dealing with a narcissist, according to psychology

Although there’s a trend recently to call anyone we don’t like, or who has been slightly selfish a narcissist, real narcissists still exist. I know because I’ve been in a narcissistic relationship and it wasn’t pretty.

The NIH estimates that around 6% of people are narcissists.

Narcissists have a way of hiding their true identities initially. But over time, certain alarming behaviors tend to emerge.

As you try to build connections and healthy bonds with new people, watch out for these 9 red flags that show you may be dealing with a narcissist. 

I want to help you detect these signs earlier than I did. Spotting them swiftly will help you to free yourself, save your self-worth, and enable you to find the friendships and love you deserve.

1) They create (and stick to) a very specific persona

Have you ever heard of the story of Elizabeth Holmes? The mastermind and scammer behind the company Theranos? She claimed that by using a mere pinprick of blood, her company could do over 1000 health tests.

If true, this would have revolutionized medicine forever, and so people invested over $700 million in her company.

Part of what the way she conned others, (and perhaps even herself) was by emulating Steve Jobs, almost to the point of obsession.

She would wear his style with dark turtlenecks, and even lower the pitch of her voice to be more like him. Employees noted that when she got stressed her voice would sometimes slip and become higher in pitch.

When trying to understand if you are dealing with a narcissist, ask yourself: Do they seem hyper-intent on managing how others perceive them?

Do they make up accomplishments or histories to make them sound more important than they are? If so you may be dealing with a grandiose narcissist.

The interesting thing is that they seem to believe their own lies, so they become heavily invested in maintaining a fake persona.

And if you try to call them out – there’s trouble!

2) They vilify you when you expose their lies

When catching them lying, do they refuse accountability and instead target you? Well-known psychologist and narcissist expert Dr. Ramani says “They won’t give up, even when caught red-handed.” 

Unlike genuinely remorseful people who admit mistakes, the narcissist will default to twisting the truth on its head. 

A cheating partner may completely deny their wrongdoing, or even switch the blame onto you, saying that it’s your fault that they cheated. 

And a narcissist will often lie, because it is easier for them to do than it is for other people. And that leads to my next point which is that:

3) They calmly tell outrageous lies

Does your friend or partner tell blatant tall tales without blinking? 

Unlike average people who usually get anxious when lying, according to psychologists, narcissists can tell big fat lies without skipping a beat.

Their relaxed manner makes other people believe what they are saying because most of us could never lie like that.

My ex would insist his frequent business trips involved meeting royalty(!), though his stories kept changing. I’m pretty sure that he never met any royalty. And I’m not really sure why he thought this would impress me.

But now I know that this was part of his desire to cultivate his persona as somebody important. I think he actually believed his own stories.

Narcissists can invent whole worlds trying to impress. If you catch someone you know telling crazy lies without breaking a sweat, this could be a sign that you are dealing with a narcissist.

4) They are suspiciously charming

narcissists take advantage of your kindness 9 warning signs you're dealing with a narcissist, according to psychology

Does their charm strangely unsettle you? 

Acclaimed psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman (who recently passed away) cautioned “The more charming they are, the more terrified you should be.” And as narcissism expert Dr. Ramani confirms: “They use charm to disarm and manipulate.” 

Excessive flattery and magnetism often reveal predators disguised as kind people.

My ex seemed almost too good to be true, at first lavishing me with praise. A few months into our relationship came criticism then chaos, revealing his sweet words as tools, not truth.

If this person knows how to make you feel like the only person in the room, take note. Not all charmers are narcissists, and not all narcissists are charmers, but the two qualities often go hand in hand.

5) They crave endless admiration

Is their self-worth worryingly dependent on constant praise? Regular people appreciate but don’t obsess over compliments.

However, many narcissists anxiously chase validation from others to fight their inner self-doubt. Because for all their boasting and bluffing, secretly the narcissist believes that they are worthless, and fears that you will find out.

Pay attention if someone you know frantically posts perfect selfie shots on Instagram or flirts endlessly at parties, needing to be the center of attention.

Many of us like to get a bit of attention on social media or in real life from time to time. But if it seems compulsive, it could be a sign of something deeper. 

Their desperate addiction to admiration exposes a shakier self-esteem than their impressive facade suggests.

6) They criticize you all the time

Remember how narcissists are secretly afraid you will despise them if you truly see them? Well, they have tactics to stop you from doing that. Mainly, they will distract you from looking too deeply at them by putting a lot of negative attention on you.

The idea is that if they make you feel worthless, you won’t realise that you are too good for them. And you won’t notice how awful they are.

The way you ate your dinner in the restaurant – ill-mannered (yes this one happened to me). The way you randomly looked at someone in the bar – proof of your salacious behavior (again, me).

The fact that you went out and had fun with your friends – harpy! (I think you get that this also happened to me!)

If someone is criticising you all the time then this is a warning sign to consider. 

7) They have short lived friendships

A narcissist’s friendships are often a good clue to spot who they really are. A pattern I’ve noticed over and over is that they will have few long-term friends.

When they meet new people, they may draw them close at first or they may be suspicious and slow to bond.

But what they have in common is that most friendships, (apart from a few old ones), never seem to last. As soon as a person gets too close. Bam! They cause a big argument about nothing and the friendship is off.

I’m sure that the reason for this is the same as why they criticize you – it’s a sign of their inner insecurity.

They fear that when someone gets too close they will see the real them. And so they cut the friendship off over some random thing, rather than risk being seen for who they really are.

The best form of defense is attack! Right? The thing is a friendship should not be about attacking and defense, but the narcissist is broken and can’t handle normal relationships.

8) You second-guess your sanity

mind games narcissists play to control their partner in a relationship 9 warning signs you're dealing with a narcissist, according to psychology

If you spend too long with a narcissist you will probably find yourself questioning everything including which way is up!

Through lies, misdirection, and emotional manipulation, they deliberately condition you to mistrust your own judgments. This insidious technique is called “gaslighting.”

For example, my gaslighting ex-boyfriend would say things like:

“I definitely told you I’d be home at 10 pm, you must have forgotten.” 

“That never happened, you must have dreamt it.”

“I said X? No way, it was definitely Y.”

At first, I’d confidently stand up for what I remembered. But after many months of this chronic reality distortion, I started wondering whether I’d just imagined entire swathes of our life together.

His evil plan was working and I was constantly second-guessing even basic memories, wondering if I was losing my mind. The idea is that they leave you helpless so that you feel you cannot trust yourself, and instead must trust them.

Gaslighting is now illegal in the UK, but there is no law against it as yet in the US or other parts of the world.

9) Things never change

When we are in a relationship that started good but then went sour, we tend to hope for the best. We think that with work, the connection can improve. But it never does.

Why? Because the narcissist’s ego-driven rules of “what’s in it for me?” – are probably never going to include your well-being, even with therapy or maturity.

My friend left his selfish narcissistic wife after 15 years together realizing she’d never change. Because beneath surface charm, narcissists have arrested development keeping them locked in predictable patterns. 

Their coping mechanisms formed as entitled or deprived children. Quite often a narcissist personality occurs when one parent is cruel or unloving, and the other is overly loving and praising, to compensate. These patterns are very hard to break.

So while it’s normal to hope things will improve, you must honor your inner wisdom and experience.

If it’s been months or even years, and things never really improve (or do so for a few weeks but then the same old patterns repeat), ask yourself, do you want a lifetime of drama, pain and never feeling good enough

Because that person is very unlikely to change. Why? Because one of the key things about narcissists is the self-delusion that stops them from seeing who they are, and from admitting fault.

Final thoughts

If you’re reading this and you think you have NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and you really want to change, then psychologist research shows that it is possible, with time and hard work. 

But if you are the partner of someone who displays these traits, do not expect them to change unless they want to, are very self-aware, and commit seriously to therapy. Most narcissists just aren’t interested. Save yourself and walk away.

Louisa Lopez

Louisa Lopez

Louisa is writer, wellbeing coach, and world traveler, with a Masters in Social Anthropology. She is fascinated by people, psychology, spirituality and exploring psychedelics for personal growth and healing. She’s passionate about helping people and has been giving empowering advice professionally for over 10 years using the tarot. Louisa loves magical adventures and can often be found on a remote jungle island with her dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter: @StormJewel

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