Narcissism: How to Spot Narcissistic Traits in People

Medically reviewed by: Ilbey Ucar – PhD (Psychology)

Last updated date : December 17, 2022

Narcissism is the behavior where people are very self-centered and angry towards others. People with narcissistic traits are usually hungry for power or money. Most often, they have low self-esteem and confidence. They can be very negative and drain you out of energy. This is a toxic personality trait that affects their daily life and the people around them. Narcissistic traits are very common and can be present in people of any age.

Being very self-centered doesn’t always mean a person is practicing self-love. Self-love is positive. It is mindful of yourself. However, narcissism means a person is in love with what they think they are; in other words, the idealized self. These people pretend they love themselves. They hold themselves in high regard so that others will do the same. Narcissists always have an end goal.

In contrast, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is different from narcissism. Although they have similar names and traits, their seriousness differs.

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Chapter 1:

Narcissism vs NPD

Everyone has narcissistic traits up to a certain extent. These traits are often self-centered and come off as an attitude. They can be triggered in highly competitive environments and therefore are occasional. People become narcissistic to gain something.

NPD, on the other hand, is a mental illness. This is when narcissism is present in an extreme manner. It is usually a result of childhood trauma or matter in the brain. Unlike having mild narcissism, NPD is a long-term pattern that develops in a person. People with NPD are not aware of their narcissism, but regular narcissists are usually aware of their narcissistic traits. There is no clear division between the two. However, a professional psychologist can help to identify the two.

NPD can harm a person’s quality of life. Moreover, it creates problems with one’s relationship with others. People with NPD do not like to take criticism or get help. However, people with narcissistic qualities are quite open to that. Either way, narcissism will make you end up with a poor quality of life and other problems.

As many of us can develop narcissistic traits, it is important to understand narcissism. So, let’s learn how to identify it.

Chapter 2:

Signs of Narcissism

Taking advantage of others
Narcissists do not have empathy for others. If a person takes advantage of others without any guilt, chances are he’s a narcissist. They feel they have a right to act however they want. They put themselves on a pedestal and feel special. For instance, politicians abuse taxpayers’ money without caring about the public. Their hunger for power and money will cloud their judgment, even though he may be a kind and thoughtful soul at home.
If a person is not happy for your success or happiness without any reason, he might be a narcissist. Jealousy in narcissists comes from a lack of fulfillment in their lives. When other people become happy, the narcissist is reminded about his own unhappiness, therefore triggering his insecurity. The narcissist gets jealous of others’ happiness, and he tries to destroy it. In other words, they project their insecurity onto you.
A narcissistic person has a unique set of behaviors, such as getting angry, defensive, or jealous in certain situations. If you can predict someone’s negative behavior beforehand, there is a possibility that the person is a narcissist. Their behavior is often a pattern, and you’ve probably seen it all before.
Narcissists lie a lot even when others can see right through them. People with narcissistic traits try to cover their true selves; they like to appear as their idealized selves to themselves and others. Since they are fooling themselves in the process, they are unaware that people can spot their lies.
Cannot take criticism
Have you ever seen people get offended when someone criticizes their actions? These people are not open to negative feedback, and if there is any, they label them as hate. This is a narcissistic quality. Since narcissists have such low self-esteem, every negative feedback hurts their ego. They take it as a personal attack rather than a chance to grow. This is because they think they’re perfect.
Need to look perfect
Narcissists try hard to seem perfect, although it’s not always possible. They are only satisfied when they get approval from others. However, they will try to put up an act to look like their idealized self. For example, some celebrities, politicians and leaders live off of validation, and promote a fake image to others. They only highlight the good parts of their lives.
Having anger issues is another sign of being a narcissist. As narcissists think they are allowed to be special, they get mad when not treated as special. Again, this is because they think others also see their idealized self.

Anyone can have narcissistic qualities. Different factors help determine whether someone is narcissistic or not.

Narcissists like to trick others into believing their lies. They try anything to make themselves seem like a good person. So, they turn others against you too. This is because they enjoy putting you down or cornering you. Their act of manipulation includes lies, badmouthing, gossip and slander. If you know people like this, they might be narcissists.

Chapter 3:

Causes of Narcissistic Behavior

Many causes result in narcissistic behavior in people.
Researchers suggest that NPD can manifest in people due to biological conditions. For instance, if someone is hypersensitive by birth, they feel guilt and shame more than others. These could lead to avoiding empathy because they don’t want to feel that way anymore. Making them do bad things to avoid feeling less. However, having narcissism doesn’t always mean it’s in someone’s genetics. Other factors play a role too.
Environmental conditions
Often, narcissism is developed from learned behavior during childhood, as a person’s environment in growing up can play a part. If the parents were manipulative, the kids have a chance to practice the same behavior since they think it is normal to do so. Children who their parents spoiled can also develop narcissism, especially ones who grew up as only children. Over-caring makes them feel entitled to anything. So, only children will arrogantly show high self-esteem as the parents’ attention spoils them. As a result, they will act like narcissists.

In addition, if a person was complimented a lot as a child, they will develop the need for compliments. In other words, they need validation. Some parents may even go the extra mile to give fake compliments to boost a child’s happiness. This might cause a child to fish for compliments even when it is not deserved in the long run. They will lie, cheat or do anything they can so that they get praise from others. They may grow into adults who need to please others and appear perfect.

Complete neglect from parents or caregivers can also help develop narcissistic traits. Because of the isolation in their pasts, these people believe they deserve attention in the present.
Some narcissists often play a victim role. If a person went through a bad experience with a narcissist in the past, he or she might develop similar traits. They will copy the narcissist’s behaviour as a defence mechanism. In addition, they will turn cold and less open to others due to narcissistic abuse. In return, they may develop some narcissistic traits. So without their knowledge, they turn into the people they were traumatized by. This explains that narcissism can affect others and the narcissist at the same time.

Chapter 4:

How Narcissists Affect Others

Drains energy
Narcissists always give negative feedback to other people. They don’t like to be positive for others as they can’t stand others being happy. This can be due to their jealousy. Further, the lack of happiness and positivity in their life makes them insecure. So they project that to others. This behavior can be very toxic especially if it’s coming from someone you know or care for.
Relationship problems
Because of the narcissist’s lack of concern for anything other than themselves, they have many problems in their relationships. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, the relationship will be very toxic as it will be hard to make the narcissist care about you. Secondly, they won’t hear you when you ask for something. You’ll get treated amazing one day but ignored the next day. Narcissists have a lot of insecurities. They will project those onto you and create problems. For example, if he or she has a fear of being dumped, they will assume that you are cheating or going to leave them. This could be a result of trauma from childhood or past relationships. The narcissist will also create problems or assumptions out of thin air, and hence, there will be arguments and trust issues within the relationship.

When it comes to marriages, the victim will have to face emotional, physical, and financial problems. Sometimes the narcissist will turn others against you to prevent you from leaving. However, not letting you go to hurt you purposely is related to NPD. People who have a few narcissistic traits aren’t that extreme. Either way, it is hard for the victim. The victim could even face depression and suicidal thoughts.

Work life
In a professional setting, it’s hard to bear narcissists, especially if the narcissist is your boss. This boss could be very aggressive or negative; he will rarely say anything good to you. However, when he gets praised or promoted, he will show that off and expect you to be happy for him. Another issue could be your co-worker who has narcissistic qualities. He might spread rumors about you to peers, or point at your faults in front of the bosses.
Narcissists love drama. If you know narcissists chances are they are dramatic. It can be annoying because you know it’s all for attention. If there’s an argument or a falling out with them, they will magnify everything. Further, if two people are fighting, a narcissist will love to get involved and turn one against the other or add more fuel to the fire. They will also be dramatic just to get attention. On the other hand, they enjoy talking negatively about themselves to get attention and pity from others.

Chapter 5:

How Narcissism Affects Narcissists

Losing people
Narcissists may try to keep the ones around them for their benefit. However, after seeing the narcissist for who he is, friends, children, and even family could leave. In the longer run, there will be a time when the narcissist will have no real friends. They will also be fake towards him because it’s hard to be friends with him. Children of narcissistic parents will distance themselves from their mental health. So, he will end up alone because of his behavior and mistakes, especially when he needs company and family.
Getting mocked
When people can’t fix or help narcissists, they tend to make fun of them. It’s understandable. People can only tolerate narcissists for so long, especially if the narcissist is a loved one. People can hint at them through jokes aimed at their behavior to make them aware of their habits. For narcissists, this can be very unpleasant. Some may even get confused and hurt. Remember, at the end of the day, narcissists are human too. Getting mocked and made fun of could lead to depression, as they have self-esteem issues.
Intimacy issues
Narcissists’ biggest fear is looking flawed or weak in front of others. This will prevent them from opening up to others. They won’t be able to trust and be close to others. It will be difficult for them to be intimate with other people. People with narcissism will have a hard time making friends, finding love, and getting on with life like normal people.
Mental health problems
Narcissists’ underlying issues like fragile self-esteem, confidence, or years of trauma are enough to trigger mental health issues. However, in addition to that, the above-mentioned issues and many more will add to negative mental health with time. For example, imagine the following.

Here, Tom can’t understand that his own behaviour caused all of this. Therefore, he will go through depression or anxiety thinking he got unlucky or life wasn’t fair for him. This rumination could lead to potential suicide or thoughts about it. So, it is important to know that a person having narcissistic traits is in need of help. If you know someone who has narcissistic traits, reach out to them and help them. Remember, most often, they don’t know they are narcissistic or that they cause trouble to others.

Chapter 6:

How to Help

Since narcissists are rarely self-aware, we must educate them. We need to help them to identify themselves. It’s hard to convince them that there’s something wrong with them, but it needs to be done. Talk in a friendly manner and encourage them to get help. Meeting a counsellor will help them identify their issues and realize the need for therapy. There are several options for therapy.    
  • Dialectic therapy – This is a form of talking therapy, especially for people who feel deep emotions. It’s perfect for people with narcissistic traits, as they have deep feelings set within them.
  • Self-awareness – This is where the narcissist reflects on his behavior and learns to control it. At present, there are many resources available both online and in person.

As adults, it’s important to be aware of the mental health of children. If you suspect that your child has narcissistic traits, get them help. It will save them from years of trauma or mental health issues. Even as an adult, if you identify yourself as a narcissist, it’s possible to improve your behavior for the better. However, if you have NPD, which is worse than a few narcissistic traits, remember to reach out for professional help.

We are always here to help anyone. Contact us to talk to a professional psychologist. If you are on the self-awareness journey, there’s plenty of written material for free on our website. Better late than never.

"Quizzes and recommendations were very uselful" Donna

87 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

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