7 ways to spot a narcissist, according to psychology

Dealing with a narcissist is no walk in the park.

They are prone to sudden shifts between charm and rage, affection and disdain.

For anyone who interacts with them, it can feel like being on an emotional rollercoaster, with detrimental effects on their mental health.

Yet, people who show signs of narcissism can be incredibly charismatic, so their more energy-sucking attributes aren’t obvious at first glance.

The more you hang out with them, however, the more you’ll notice that something is not quite right.  

Here are 7 ways to spot a narcissist, according to psychology. Trusting your gut is paramount if you want to protect your sanity.

1) They believe the world revolves around them

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.

Narcissists have an overblown sense of self-importance, according to psychology. They generally overestimate their abilities, achievements, and importance.

This makes them believe they are superior to others, and they often act like it.

While I was lucky enough never to get caught in a full-on narcissist’s web, during my early 20s I did have a friend who fit some of the characteristics.

She was at the periphery of my friend circle, but interacting with her was always tiresome.

If I told her about a problem I was struggling with, she would start to complain about how difficult her life was.

If I was celebrating something, she felt the need to minimize my accomplishment and boast about something she had recently achieved.

She couldn’t stand the spotlight landing on someone else, and she made sure to redirect it back to her whenever possible.

Narcissists crave admiration and validation from others to fuel their sense of self-worth. They seek attention to maintain their inflated self-image. This takes a toll on everyone around.

2) They are obsessed with how they are perceived

Narcissists are frequently preoccupied with managing and controlling their public image.

They meticulously craft a persona meant to garner admiration and respect, which they diligently project to get their fill of external validation.

According to psychology, they are consumed with perfecting their appearance and achieving wealth and fame – usually to the detriment of self-reflection and growth.

Positive feedback fuels their ego, and narcissists are known to constantly compare themselves to others, hoping to come out on top.

Here are some tell-tale signs that a person might be a little too obsessed with how others perceive them:

  • They fish for compliments and become upset if they don’t receive them
  • They regularly check their reflection to make sure they look on point
  • They maintain a strong social presence and post a lot of selfies or brag about their accomplishments
  • They alter their behavior and personality based on who they hang out with in an effort to dazzle the group
  • They engage in attention-seeking behavior in public
  • They appear envious or resentful towards those they believe to be more successful or attractive.

Far for me to empathize too much, but investing such a staggering amount of energy into pretending to be someone you’re not must be exhausting.

3) They can’t put themselves in others’ shoes

Speaking of empathy, narcissists don’t have the ability to feel how another person is feeling.

Lack of empathy is one of the main narcissistic characteristics, according to psychology.

This means that it’s challenging if not impossible for them to make others feel accepted or understood.  

Since they can’t put themselves in your shoes, they can’t figure out why their behavior is hurtful.

Granted, like all mental health conditions, narcissism exists on a spectrum, and some narcissists may be more skilled at compassion than others.

But if you hear someone saying they don’t understand why another person is sad even though they have all the information required to figure it out, consider it a warning sign.

4) They are entitled

phrases theyre probably a narcissist 7 ways to spot a narcissist, according to psychology

Due to their inflated ego, most narcissists boast a sense of entitlement, according to psychology.

They expect special treatment and privileges. Additionally, they are baffled when others don’t cater to their desires and whims.

This entitlement pushes them to disregard the boundaries of others, putting their own needs above all else.

A narcissist might:

  • Jump to the front of a line because their time is more valuable
  • Claim sole credit for the success of a project others also contributed to
  • Interrupt others and dominate discussions during social events
  • Rummage through someone else’s belongings without permission or invade their personal space in some other way
  • Expect their partner to pay attention to them 24/7, regardless of what they may have going on
  • Expect their partner to offer unwavering support without returning the favor

Their entitlement makes them particularly difficult to tolerate for long periods of time.

Which brings me to my next point.

5) They don’t have close relationships

Narcissists struggle to maintain relationships because of their personality and behavior.

Their apparent charm can mean they have a large social circle. But if you look closer, you’ll notice they don’t cling to a significant other for too long and don’t have many old friends.

According to psychology, anecdotal evidence suggests that the average length of a narcissistic relationship is around six months.

Their self-centeredness and lack of empathy leave their partners feeling neglected and dissatisfied.

Moreover, narcissists don’t excel at intimacy.

They fear that showing their true selves or expressing genuine emotions will make them appear weak, so vulnerability is hardly their strong suit.

The same goes for other loved ones like relatives and friends. After all, no one wants to invest time and emotional resources in someone who can’t reciprocate.

A narcissist’s relationships will usually be of a shallow and transactional nature.

Does that seem like anyone you know?

6) They are controlling

One of the worst traits of narcissism is manipulative behavior.

While narcissists appear alluring at first, their controlling tendencies show their ugly heads sooner rather than later.

It’s why dating a narcissist is so draining, according to psychology. They are prone to gaslight, manipulate, and neglect their significant other.

Narcissists like to move quickly, so they can easily sweep you off your feet.

Once you’re hooked, though, they begin to undermine you and make sure that the focus is perpetually on them.

While the extent of their manipulation varies from individual to individual, narcissists are known to lie to get what they want or to criticize their partners to the point where they slowly lose their confidence.

Their behavior can escalate to downright abusive, with devastating effects on their better half.

“I left him going on 8 years ago and still picking up the pieces of my fractured being,” someone who married a narcissist confessed on Reddit.

Don’t ignore the red flags.

7) They can’t stand being criticized

Another way to spot a narcissist? Pay attention to how they handle feedback.

Psychologists say that even mild negative remarks can trigger a narcissist, leading to emotional meltdowns or rage.

Instead of seeing feedback as an opportunity to learn, narcissists confronted with criticism react defensively.

They become argumentative, dismissive, and hostile, deflecting blame onto others or making excuses for their behavior.

Alternatively, they can become verbally or even physically aggressive towards their critics and immediately go searching for validation elsewhere.

Another reason why it’s incredibly taxing to date them.

Healthy couples are meant to encourage each other to grow, but you can’t really tell a narcissist they are falling short in a certain area without suffering the consequences.

I’m guessing that giving them a less-than-flattering performance review is no picnic either.  

Bottom line

If you notice the patterns above in anyone you know, it’s time to create some distance. Otherwise, you risk getting sucked into their toxicity.

Dealing with a narcissist requires setting clear boundaries and maintaining self-awareness at all times to resist their manipulative behavior.

Once you recognize them for what they are, you’ll be better equipped to stand up for yourself.

Picture of Alexandra Plesa

Alexandra Plesa

Alexandra Pleșa is a freelance writer obsessed with television, self-development, and thriller books. Former journalist, current pop culture junkie. Follow her on Twitter: @alexandraplesa

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