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29 Subtle Signs to Spot a Narcissist & Read NPD Traits in a Relationship

Learn how to spot a narcissist in your life, and read the signs of narcissism — from having overly high self-esteem to lacking of empathy — with these Narcissistic Personality Disorder traits. Then, save yourself!

how to spot a narcissist

Do you know how to spot a narcissist? It’s not as though they walk around with a flashing red light on their heads. So how can you be sure that you’ve met one or not?

The troublesome thing is that the truth won’t become clear until a short while after they’ve become a permanent fixture in your life!

Narcissists are often on their best behavior when they first meet you, but they slowly show their true colors over time. The issue is that by that time, you’ve fallen for their charm and you’re in love with an illusion.

So, while learning how to spot a narcissist isn’t easy, you can be on the lookout for signs to help you steer clear of someone who is going to give you a world of emotional pain. [Read: What causes narcissism? The facts and theories to read a narcissist]

What is a narcissist?

The world seems to be full of narcissists. That in itself is surprising. True narcissism, i.e. someone who has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), is actually very rare.

Instead, we have a whole host of people walking around with narcissistic traits, some severe, and causing plenty of pain to those who attempt to love them and support them.

Of course, they’re also causing themselves a world of pain. They can’t see it though, because they’re never wrong in their own eyes. [Read: How to set boundaries with a narcissist and weaken their hold over you]

The sad thing is that a narcissist never will be truly happy or have a normal, loving relationship. It is impossible, because they do not love and trust their partner in a regular way. Instead, they use a whole host of manipulation tactics and misery to control their lover.

Boastful, arrogant, manipulative, deceitful, and nothing short of cruel at times, narcissists are not people you want to spend time with; let alone fall in love with.

Of course, you might wonder why anyone would fall in love with a person like this. Good question, but it’s really not that simple. The charm and illusion a narcissist may use causes you to fall in love with a version of them that isn’t real.

Then, when they start to show their true colors, you’re left pining for the version you fell in love with. They show up occasionally, but only to stop you from moving on! [Read: Loving a narcissist – How to tell if you’ve fallen for a narcissist]

Types of narcissists to spot— grandiose and vulnerable

There are several types of narcissists out there, with malignant narcissists being the most severe. These are thankfully rare, but being within close proximity of someone with this type of narcissism might leave you scarred for life!

Two other narcissistic types are far more common. These are grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists.

Grandiose narcissism is the type you’re probably aware of. This is someone who has to have the best of everything, seems to have overly high self-esteem, acts boastful, and always believes they’re right. They’re the world’s worst show-offs.

Vulnerable narcissists tend to fly under the radar a little, because they come over as lacking in confidence and even shy – but that’s just an act. They use this to get your attention, keep you there, and then, when they’re confident you’re not leaving, they’ll unleash their true selves. [Read: What types of narcissism should you be on the lookout for?]

The common childhood experiences of a narcissist

The general consensus is that narcissists are developed and not born. Their childhood experiences may play a role. Narcissists are often raised by parents who:

1. Acted as though their child was better than everyone else

2. Neglected them in some way, usually physically and/or emotionally

3. Were overly pushy and made them adhere to unrealistic standards

4. Abandoned them

5. Abused them

While it’s easy to look at that situation and feel sorry for the narcissist, none of this excuses their behavior around other people from that point on.

Despite being diagnosed (or having and not being diagnosed) with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, most narcissists don’t believe there’s anything wrong with them – in their eyes, you’re the one in the wrong. [Read: Helicopter parents – 30 ways they ruin their children’s lives]

Who is likely to have narcissistic behavior?

Anyone can be a narcissist. It’s easy to think it’s always men, but that’s not the truth. There are just as many female narcissists as male.

While we can all be guilty of acting in a slightly narcissistic way occasionally, people with NPD are often unaware of it, and actually can’t help it.

While they can enlist the help of a therapist and go through a lengthy period of cognitive behavioral therapy to overcome the disorder, it often doesn’t work, and most narcissists refuse help anyway. [Read: 27 secret signs of narcissism people overlook until it’s too late]

Why you need to know the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

When in a relationship with a narcissist, even the most self-assured individuals are prone to feelings of hopelessness and depression.

Constantly trying to reach out to someone who doesn’t reach back creates a situation where one person gives all of themselves, all the time. It leaves the narcissist’s partner feeling as if they aren’t good enough, or that they’re lacking in some way.

If you don’t understand that loving someone back is an impossibility for someone who has narcissistic tendencies, you may begin to believe that you are doing something wrong or that it is all your fault.

For these reasons, you need to know how to spot people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the get-go, especially if you think you’re in a relationship with one. [Check out: The subtle signs you’re being manipulated by your lover]

How to spot a narcissist in a few not-so-easy steps

Let’s check out a few of the most common narcissistic traits, helping you know how to spot a narcissist. If you do spot one, run a mile!

Some of these traits are subtle, while others are very obvious. Either way, keep a close eye on these and take action if you see them displayed regularly.

1. They’re never wrong

If you know someone who is incapable of ever admitting they may be at fault or wrong about something, this is a classic narcissist warning sign.

Narcissists believe they are never at fault; they’re always right. Basically, everyone else is wrong. [Read: What causes narcissism? The facts and theories to read a narcissist]

2. They make you question yourself constantly

There is a commonly used technique called ‘gaslighting’, which narcissists use on a regular basis. In the worst cases, it makes you question your own sanity. You second-guess yourself and wonder whether it’s you that’s thinking something bad, or it’s them making you think it. In the end, you’ll be so confused that you’ll believe you’re going insane.

This is no exaggeration. If you notice this happening and you know you’re not wrong – but they’re trying to force you to think that you are – it’s time to get away. [Read: Been gaslighted? The signs a narcissist is playing mind games with you]

3. They control you much of the time

If you spend less and less time with friends and family, and it’s usually down to your partner or the potential narcissist in your life, then they’re subtly controlling you.

Second-guessing what to wear when you’re normally very confident in your fashion identity? That is another sign of subtle narcissistic control.

They are control freaks, and that is one of the hallmark traits of how to spot a narcissist. They will only treat you as someone who’s there to serve their needs. [Read: 23 subtle signs of a controlling boyfriend most girls don’t notice]

4. They’re surprisingly needy

Narcissists are deeply insecure at their core, but their bravado and fake confidence cover it up.

If you find the potential narcissist in your life surprisingly needy, but they cover it with gaslighting or control methods – wake up and realize what is happening! This neediness is driving their manipulative behavior, and it’s not your cross to bear. [Read: Do narcissists know they are narcissists or do they just lie to themselves?]

5. Their opinions are always “more valid” than yours

The opinions of a narcissist are always “fact,” and any opinion you offer up will be met with derision. This is because they truly believe that your opinion is always wrong, deep in their very soul.

A narcissist isn’t knocking your opinion to one side out of spite, they’re doing it because they actually believe they’re always right, and you’re always wrong! [Read: Toxic people – 48 warning signs and the best ways to deal with them]

6. They often put you down, to raise themselves up

Remember, they have low self-esteem. So, to make them feel better about themselves, narcissists often put down the people around them. This can be very difficult if you’re in a romantic relationship with a narcissist.

In this case, you will go into the relationship feeling wonderful and sexy, excelling in your job, and enjoying your hobbies and friends. Soon you find yourself in a place where everything you do is laughed at or belittled, and you start to believe it yourself. Of course, don’t take it personally, as the problem is never you.

You might notice comments like, “But we both know you’re terrible at your job. Thankfully, I’m doing well in mine.” Cruel? Yes. Narcissistic? Totally. [Read: Why do narcissists do the selfish, hurtful things they do?]

7. They don’t seem to have a very positive dating history

If you enquire a little about their past dating history, you’re probably told that every ex was a terrible person: they all did only bad things, cheated, lied, and lacked excitement. The truth is that these exes left because they came to understand and learn how to spot a narcissist.

A narcissist is incapable of love in the regular way. This means that, unfortunately, everyone they form a connection with leaves in the end, out of self-preservation. Anyone who does stay is likely to suffer emotionally. [Read: A relationship with a narcissist and what it means to love one]

8. They have very few friends

A narcissist is likely to have very few friends, if any. The friends they do have tend to understand the narcissist’s nature and limit their exposure, but most people outright leave.

A narcissist isn’t only unable to love in the regular way; they’re unable to form emotional connections of any sort. This means that friends feel belittled, unsupported, and unimportant, and spend less and less time around the person in question because they can’t bear their over-the-top sense of superiority and entitlement.

9. They must have the best of everything

If you notice they must always have the best shoes, the most up-to-date cell phone, the most revolutionary laptop, it’s likely because of narcissism. A narcissist won’t make do with what they can afford and be happy about it.

They must have the best of everything to be better than everyone else. Not only that, but they also go to great lengths and use other people if they have to. Again, this is all down to their lack of self-confidence. [Read: 18 emotions you shouldn’t feel in a healthy relationship]

10. They do not like you having your own life

A narcissist is highly unlikely to be OK with you going off and enjoying time with friends, family, and colleagues. Instead, they will want to be ingrained in every single aspect of your life. This can lead to a feeling of suffocation.

When you start to question it, the gaslighting will make another appearance.

This is down to them feeling insecure and worrying that you will leave them if you have the freedom to go off and meet other people. They worry that you will find someone who treats you better. [Read: What is vulnerable narcissism and what makes this one so dangerous?]

11. You’re never sure which version of them is going to show up

One minute they’re loving *albeit fake*, and the next they’re telling you that you’re bad at your job and nobody loves you. You’re never really sure which version of them they’ll show from day to day. As a result, you’re confused and walking on eggshells all the time. 

It’s not a happy environment to be in, and you’ll soon start to feel under pressure to be pleasing to them all the time. The problem? Nothing you do will ever be enough for them. 

12. They react very badly to anything they deem to be criticism

One way how to spot a narcissist is to see how they react to comments that could be taken as criticism. Narcissists will likely be hypersensitive and react very badly. They’ll either fly into a rage, or start the cold-shoulder passive-aggressive treatment.

A narcissist sees everything as a slight on them, and they want nothing but praise all the time. If someone dares say one thing which could be taken as critical, they react extremely negatively.

They’re someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else, so they expect people to tell them how great they are – and not to criticize them. [Read: Narcissistic rage – How to handle the angry backlash of a narcissist]

13. People warn you about them

It’s very likely that people have warned you that this person is no good. They might tell you things about them, or simply say that they get a bad vibe from them. Whether you believe them or not depends upon how far down the gaslit road you are!

If the narcissist has gaslit you heavily, you’re probably so far into their grasp that you’ll believe them over anyone else.

But, knowing how to spot the narcissist also comes down to being able to open your eyes and see things for what they really are. If people are telling you things like this – believe them. [Read: My friends don’t like my boyfriend]

14. You simply don’t feel truly loved

If it’s a romantic relationship, you probably won’t feel truly loved. Sometimes you might get that special treatment, because that’s when the narcissist is putting out the charm offensive.

But, most of the time, you just think and feel you’re a burden, as though you’re failing at everything, and that at the end of it all, they don’t love you how you want them to. That’s because they can’t. They don’t have the capacity or the required empathy to love someone. [Read: What does true love feel like? 22 signs of love to know if yours is real]

15. Lack of empathy

People who are narcissistic are missing the essential social skill of empathizing with others. Empathy is when you can view the world from another’s perspective. That old saying “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is completely lost on a narcissist.

No amount of explanation or outpouring of feeling is going to change the fact that they are incapable of seeing the world through the eyes of someone else.

16. They bully

Narcissists frequently exhibit bully-type behavior. Anyone who doesn’t treat them as special and unique angers them quickly, making them react in a self-preserving way. Cruelty is common for the narcissist.

They aren’t able to think in the same way that other people do. Because narcissists lack empathy, they often can’t “feel” things. [Check out: 16 abusive relationship signs of a devious lover]

Therefore, when you say something, they misunderstand the meaning and only hear individual words. They react to those words instead of comprehending the entirety of what you say. Not being able to feel for others, they also don’t refrain from saying things that are hurtful and abusive.

17. They contradict themselves

People who have narcissistic traits will often contradict themselves. Because they always have a need for admiration, they will say whatever it takes to win. Often denying what they say mere minutes after they have spoken, they have no problem switching sides to make themselves look right, moral, or smarter than other people.

18. They lack a sense of right and wrong

Lacking a sense of right and wrong, the narcissist isn’t guided by conscience or acceptance. The only thing that a narcissist responds to is the fear of punishment or consequences.

They aren’t concerned about whether you like them or what you think of them, as long as they feel power over you. Because they do not fear not being accepted, they have no conscience about hurting others or mistreating people in their life. [Try: How to stop selfish people from hurting you]

19. They’re envious and competitive

A narcissist is often envious and competitive. They want to have what everyone else has. Once they have it, they aren’t interested in it anymore.

Not only are they envious of others, but they are also only happy when other people are jealous of what they have. The competitive nature of the narcissistic person drives them to compete for just about everything.

With narcissists needing to have it all, they are overly ambitious in their personal and professional relationships. If someone you know thinks they should only be associated with other “special” or high-status people, that could be an obvious sign of a person with narcissism or NPD. [Read: Jealousy in a relationship – How to accept, deal, and overcome it in love]

20. They’re extremely entitled

The narcissist has a sense of entitlement and self-importance as if they deserve things even when they have done nothing to earn them. To them, they are “special” people who believe they deserve “special” treatment. They live with pathological grandiosity about what life should be.

Believing that they deserve everything that life has to offer, they are often involved in “get rich quick” schemes and things that don’t require true initiative. [Read: 9 real ways to get rid of that sense of entitlement]

21. They’re often gloomy and sullen

A narcissist is often sullen and gloomy, because nothing is ever good enough. They also rarely possess a sense of humor—though they can be charming and charismatic when they want something from you. They have a tendency to be harsh and authoritative, because they believe that they are the only ones who know what is right.

How to spot someone with NPD online

Of course, we’ve living in the world of online dating and social media, so it’s very likely you’ll come across a narcissist online. The good news is you can figure out how to spot a narcissist hiding behind a social media profile too.

1. They’ll wear flashy clothes and jewelry in photos

When you see their photos, you can easily see there’s a huge amount of preparation taken place. They’ll wear flashy, expensive clothes, and the angle of the photo will be optimized to show everything to the max. [Read: What is peacocking? The many types and why guys show off around girls]

2. Multiple daily selfies

They don’t just love a selfie, they live for them! If someone is posting constant pouting or brooding selfies, there is a reason for that. It’s likely they’re a narcissist (with duck lips).

3. Their photos are edited

Not only do narcissists post constant solo selfies, but you can easily see they’ve been edited beyond the point of normalcy.

4. Their travel photos are overabundant

If they go away on vacation, you basically feel you’re with them because they post so many photos! Narcissists want you to think that they’re having the most luxurious and wonderful time, even if they’re not. [Read: The dangers of social media – Why it makes you feel insecure]

A narcissist is hard to walk away from for a reason …

The worst part about a relationship with a narcissist is that they are very hard to let go of or get over. The minute you have had enough, they turn on the charm and promise you that they will change—and they do. Sadly, it usually doesn’t last.

The minute they have you back and trying your hardest to please them, they will be back to their old behavior.

Masters of manipulating people to do what they want, the end always justifies the means. Most narcissists exhibit a set of behaviors which they are likely not conscious of; they do things that work for them only, without conscience.

The best thing to do when you sense that you are with a narcissist is to proceed with caution. At the beginning of the relationship, there will be subtle signs as they charm you to get close to you. [Read: How to say goodbye to someone you love and find closure and happiness]

There will likely be things that will send up an emotional red flag that you may want to ignore. Don’t. Those little things that hurt you upfront become worse with time.

Most people in relationships with narcissists believe they can change them. If there is one thing we all need to know about relationships, it is that we can’t change the people we love. We have to either learn to recognize and accept them or spend a lifetime trying to achieve a goal that isn’t attainable.

How to leave a narcissist

The likely outcome is that at some point, you’ll choose to walk away. Trust us, it’s the best option. It will hurt, but it’s best for your future emotional welfare.

Leaving isn’t easy, but here are a few things you need to bear in mind. [Read: 26 honest steps to let go of someone you love and move on and find peace]

1. Educate yourself about the signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The more you know about narcissism, the more you’ll be able to spot. That doesn’t mean you understand to let them get away with it, it means you are able to recognize that none of this is your fault and it’s all down to them.

2. Write down the reasons you’re leaving

There will be times when you question your decision, especially when they turn on the charm. By writing your reasons down, you can look back over them and reassure yourself that you’re doing the right thing.

3. Seek support

If you found yourself isolated from your loved ones during the relationship, it’s time to reacquaint yourself. You will need to look for support system around you when you leave the narcissist. They’re unlikely to let you get away with a clean break.

You’ll also need people to lean upon when you unpack the emotional fallout of the experience. Don’t also hesitate if you feel like you need to seek help.

A mental health professional can help you deal with mental health conditions that might’ve developed from having a relationship with someone who displays these behaviors discussed above. [Read: How to get your life back on track after a big change]

4. When you say you’re leaving, make sure you do it

Don’t make empty threats and say you’re going to leave, but then don’t. The narcissist won’t take you seriously and you’ll end up getting dragged back into the relationship. If you say you’re leaving, make sure you do. [Read: 12 signs of a narcissist and 5 ways to break up with them]

Now you’ve learned how to spot and deal with a narcissist, what are you going to do?

If you spot a narcissist, then you have to get away from them. You might think you love them – but you love a fake version of someone who isn’t real. In the end, you deserve to be loved for who you are and to find someone who is genuinely with you for the right reasons.

You have to be strong. Cut all contact, rely heavily upon those around you for support, and keep telling yourself that you deserve so much better than this. Because, at the end of the day, you do!

[Read: How to leave a narcissist and free yourself from their web of control]

These are some of the most common signs to look for when understanding how to spot a narcissist. Regardless of the signs, if you’re unhappy and question your sanity in any way, it’s time to open your eyes and break away from the situation. 

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The editorial team of LovePanky comprises relationship experts and real-life experts that share their experiences and life lessons. If you want the best love ad...