emotional wellbeing

Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW


How to Identify Signs of Narcissism

PUBLISHED Nov 17th, 2020 & UPDATED ON Feb 6th, 2023

You’ve probably heard of narcissism before. A lot of the time, it’s used to describe someone who is full of themselves and cares way too much about their appearance. And those ideas aren’t totally off-base, actually! But as you’re about to see, signs of narcissism will go further than that. The word ‘narcissism’ actually comes from the Greek myth about Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work out!

This condition goes a lot deeper than just being obsessed with looks, though. You might have dealt with a coworker, partner, close friend, or family member who shows signs of narcissism without even realizing it! If you do know someone in your life who has some narcissistic traits, chances are your relationship with them is… complicated. But don’t worry, we’ll get into it!

First of all, how do you know what narcissism looks like? Let’s get into what narcissism really is, how to spot it, and ways to deal with a narcissist in your life.

What Does ‘Narcissism’ Mean?

Sooo what is narcissism and what does it look like? No, it’s not just a term to describe someone who thinks they’re the shit… Well, there’s some truth there. Basically, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a diagnosable mental condition that shows an inflated sense of importance, lack of empathy for others and a need for excessive attention and admiration. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people with NPD show five or more of these traits right here:

  • Lacks empathy
  • Needs for excessive attention/admiration
  • Acts entitled to special treatment
  • Arrogant behaviour/attitude
  • Inflated sense of self-importance
  • Exploits others for their own gain
  • Jealous or believes others should be jealous of them
  • Fantasizes about unlimited success, power, beauty or ideal love
  • Believe they’re special and can only be understood by others equally as special

…but wait, there’s more!

Research also distinguishes two types of narcissists, overt and covert:

  • Overt narcissism: arrogant, aggressive, lacks empathy, exploits others.
  • Covert narcissism: hypersensitive, defensive, low self-esteem, seeks approval and withdraws socially if it’s not given.

Okay, that was a lot. Now you might be wondering, what exactly causes NPD? Experts aren’t totally sure, but these factors can play a role (along with genetics, biology, you get the picture):

  • Abuse
  • Trauma
  • Excessive praise or pampering
  • Unreliable or negligent parenting
  • Extremely high expectations

Treatment for people with NPD can be really tough since narcissists are usually defensive and don’t like to hear criticism (same tbh). This makes it unlikely for them to seek treatment in the first place. It might take some convincing from friends and family before a narcissist decides to get help. If they decide to accept treatment, psychotherapy can be a great option to help adjust their behaviors and improve how they behave in personal relationships.

Righttt, so back to relationships. Because of the behaviors above, people with narcissistic personality disorder usually have troubled relationships with others. Let’s look into the different types of relationships with narcissists and how they affect the people in their lives.

Narcissism in Romantic Relationships

“I never trust a narcissist, but they love me.” – Taylor Swift

Being in a romantic relationship with a narcissist is a recipe for heartbreak. Actually, it’s next to impossible for narcissists to really fall in love and have lasting, healthy relationships. Ouch. But since narcissists lack empathy and are super self-absorbed, they just don’t make ideal partners. What other reasons make them a match made in hell? Ohh, let us count the ways…

At the start, falling for someone with NPD can feel super exciting. It happens so fast, it gives you whiplash. They’ll tell you all of the reasons you’re meant to be. Their attention and displays of affection will make you swooooon. They’ll shower you with compliments. Gifts. Dates. Maybe leave you love notes! You’ll feel like the star of a romance movie.

But news flash: it’s not. The overwhelming gestures are actually a manipulation tactic, and they won’t ever last. It’s called love bombing and it’s how a narcissist gains your trust and controls you. They’ll try to do it fast before you notice any relationship red flags. ‘Cause by the time you do, you’ve already fallen deep, making it 1000x harder to end it.

Another way a narcissist will control you is by making you isolate yourself from friends and family. They’ll guilt trip you for spending time with anyone else instead of giving them alllll of your attention. Maybe they’ll even pit you against other people: “Sarah said she hates how you treat me.” Sarah probably didn’t say that. It’s just another way to mess with your head.

Being in a relationship with a narcissistic person means you’re always wrong, and they’re always right. They won’t take responsibility for their actions or admit to any mistakes. And if you stand up to them or don’t play by their rules, look out! They won’t back down easily. There’s a blowup, or you get the silent treatment. Either way it’s gonna end up as an Error: No Healthy Communication Found.

Since narcissists are obsessed with being perfect, they will likely project that on you too. They might make degrading comments about your looks or criticize your smarts. Narcissists are also more likely to cheat, but they will gaslight you into believing it’s your fault: “I cheated because you aren’t fun anymore.” FYI, it is not your fault if someone cheats. But again, a narcissist loves to place the blame on their partners.

Narcissism in Parents

Growing up with a narcissistic parent can have a huge impact on your wellbeing and how you cope with challenges in your life. They will compete with their children, marginalize them, and place over the top expectations on them. Basically, kids of a narcissistic parent will always try to measure up but can never live up to their parents standards. Cue low self-esteem and anxiety.

Since narcissists love being admired and the centre of attention, you best believe they want their kids to outshine the rest, too. Stage parents are a prime example of narcissism in parents. Any parent who lives through their child’s success for their own satisfaction will probably not give a shit if their kid expresses how unhappy they are. All the parent cares about is using their child to make themselves look good.

On the flip side, narcissistic parents can act super jealous or feel threatened by their children’s success. Kind of a catch-22, huh? If their child gets more attention or praise than them, the narcissistic parent will go out of their way to criticize or invalidate their child. Like a playground bully, putting their child down makes them feel better about themselves. So messed up, right?

Anddd of course, manipulation. See a pattern here? Yep, manipulation by a narcissistic parent will look like guilt tripping you for not meeting their expectations, comparing you to your siblings or other kids, shaming you into thinking you’re not good enough, and blaming you for things that aren’t your fault. Oh yeah, and don’t forget putting crazy amounts of pressure on you to be perfect! The list goes on and on.

Another sad thing about narcissism in parents is that they use their love towards their kids as a reward. Wait, come again? You read that right. If you upset your narcissistic parent, they withhold their love and attention, causing you to freak out and try to please them so that you get on their good side again. Yikes.

Narcissism at Work

Having a narcissistic co-worker or boss can make coming into work a total nightmare. Just because it’s a professional environment, doesn’t mean their behavior will be any better. Narcissists are competitive and want to be the best, so you can imagine how that looks in the workplace. Let’s spell it out: U-G-L-Y.

A narcissistic boss or co-worker will be super competitive. When they want something, they will sure as hell go after it and don’t care about your feelings. They just want to win. Maybe they’ll give you back-handed compliments to mess with your head. Or they’ll try to exploit your weaknesses once they figure them out. Anything to get ahead and leave you in the dust. 

They might spread rumours about you at work to make you look bad. Maybe they put you down in front of your peers in the lunchroom. If a mistake is made, guess whose fault it is? Yours. If they’re pretty ruthless, they can try to ruin your hard work. Worst case scenario, they try to get you demoted or fired.

Dealing with a boss or co-worker who’s a narcissist might give you tons of anxiety and extra stress around your work. It could feel like you’re questioning your abilities and wondering if you’re not cut out for your job anymore. But this is exactly how a narcissist in the workplace wants you to feel. They’re trying to weed out any threats, and you’re a target!

You’re probably thinking: whoa, this is all a tad extreme. Yep, it sure is! But this is what you’re potentially up against when you’re working with a narcissist.

How to Deal with Narcissism When You Come Across It

Dealing with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder is… a lot. How do you handle it if it’s a problem in your life?

1. Recognize the Red Flags

Learning more about narcissistic personality disorder will give you a better idea of what you’re up against. You’ll start to notice the patterns and it’ll help you predict their behaviours and real intentions. They’ll try to charm you and win you over in the beginning, but keep in mind: it’s a facade. It’s harder to manipulate you when you take off the rose-colored glasses!

2. Stand Your Ground

Yeppp, there will be pushback. And don’t expect an apology anytime soon! But when a narcissist is playing games with you or putting you down, they want to make you feel small. Speak up for yourself and draw a line with their behavior.

3. Set Boundaries

Piggy-backing off the last point: you gotta set boundaries with everyone, especially narcissists. Since they are so self-absorbed, they’ll walk all over you if you don’t set clear boundaries about your feelings, time and space. Make sure you follow through when you set those boundaries. If you threaten to stop talking to them because they’re not respecting you, do it. Actually stop talking to them or they won’t take you seriously. And if you need to learn how to set boundaries with friends, we’ve got you covered.

4. Find Your Support Group

Keep those strong and healthy relationships close. You’re gonna need them to have your back when you’re up against a narcissist. It can really take a toll on your wellbeing! They’ll be there for you when you need to vent and talk through an issue with this person. Don’t underestimate the power of a great support group, or a therapist. You’re not alone.

5. Remember This Person Needs Help Too

Getting help for the narcissist in your life is NOT your responsibility. At all. But keeping in mind that someone with narcissistic personality disorder needs professional help will remind you to not take their behavior personally. This doesn’t excuse their actions or how they make you feel, though. You can suggest that they get professional help, but they might not want to. Either way, it is not up to you to fix this person. That is 100 percent their choice.

No matter what, dealing with someone with narcissistic personality disorder is gonna be a challenge. But by knowing the signs and how to handle their behavior, you can avoid a lot of heartache and pain. And remember: you are not responsible for someone else. You gotta take care of yourself.

Read More: 7 Helpful Ways to Take a Social Media Break, 5 Signs of Emotional Abuse & What to Do Next,