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Narcissistic Abuse: How to spot a Narcissist

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

If you suspect you may be involved with a narcissist then knowledge really becomes a powerful tool. Arming yourself with as much information as possible can be really helpful in identifying and spotting abuse and an important first step in recovery from narcissistic abuse.

Narcissists can be found anywhere and everywhere. Male or Female. Young or Old.

The signs:

Typically, overt narcissists are the easiest to learn to spot. They are the classic view of the narcissist, often charismatic, confident, charming and seductive. They demonstrate many of the identifiable traits and characteristics listed below. Covert narcissists on the other hand, are more subtle in their actions and will usually make attempts to manipulate and control in a variety of ways that may make them look more like a victim, for example, claiming or exaggerating illness, weaknesses or vulnerabilities.

When you first meet a narcissist they will be looking to see if you are somebody that can satisfy their need for narcissistic supply. In other words… can you offer and sustain the level of attention and admiration a narcissist will so desperately need in order to support their fragile ego state and for them to maintain enough of a sense of esteem to survive. It is absolutely vital a narcissist receives constant attention and adoration and they will go to any lengths to charm or bully to get this.

So how do I learn to spot these traits and become a narcissist-spotting expert?

First of all, learning to recognise narcissist and the potential for narcissistic abuse requires being able to have a grounded, honest and objective appraisal. Be realistic about a persons words and actions. Not getting lost in what you ideally wish that other person to be, or your fantasy of what they might be like, if they changed, if you were able to help them, and so on. It helps to take some time to honestly reflect on the actions and words of the other person, in an objective a way as possible.

Recognising Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Cluster B psychiatric condition defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; (2013). This particular personality is identified by long-term actions and attitudes that centre around a pathological need for admiration, a distinct lack of empathy, sense of self-importance and disregard for others. Narcissists tend to have a preoccupation with money, power, achievement and success. They are highly sophisticated in their manipulation and do not think twice about using or taking advantage of people for their own selfish gains.

The key features of Narcissistic Personality Disorder include:

  • Grandiosity. Expectation of ‘special’ treatment from others or institutions.

  • A display of selfish and self-seeking actions and behaviours.

  • A grandiose and exaggerated sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements, importance, abilities and so on).

  • Arrogance and aloofness.

  • Pathological need for admiration and attention.

  • A deep sense of poor self-esteem and insecurity that is hidden and covered in compensation with haughty, belittling, arrogant and judgemental comments or behaviour.

  • Preoccupation with ideas and fantasies about success, power, finance, love, brilliance or looks and image.

  • Sense or belief that he/she is ‘special’, ‘different’ or ‘unique’.

  • Strong sense of entitlement.

  • Distinct lack of empathy. They may come across sometimes as caring or attuned to others feelings, however this is usually with the ultimate aim of having their own needs met.

  • Inability of taking personal responsibility.

  • Addictions - often Narcissists have issues with excess and addiction including obsessive-compulsive tendencies, drug abuse, alcoholism, sex addiction, porn, food, gambling, etc.

  • Inability to form and maintain meaningful relationships.

  • Fear of and/or inability for real emotional intimacy and/or commitment.

  • Aggression / aggressive behaviours. Difficulty controlling anger and rage.

Below is a further list of traits and behaviours synonymous with narcissism you may identify.

  • Extreme self-interest. Narcissists will easily talk about themselves and their interests all day long. They will rarely ask you any meaningful questions about you or your life. A good indicator you have met a narcissist is if you notice that they don't often even ask how you are. They will though however, happily and easily talk about themselves and their interests and successes all day long.

  • Thanks to social media, it’s now easier to spot attention seeking narcissists as indicated by endless selfies and attention-seeking posts. Especially easy to spot when they are often the only person in the shot. Overtly sexually provocative, purposely intriguing shots or posts, or posts highlighting wealth or power are also usually a reliable indicator.

  • Name dropping and ‘topping’. If you’ve met or know somebody famous, or been to a great restaurant, you can guarantee your narcissist friend has met somebody even more famous and frequents even better eateries than you could ever find.

  • They will boast of their own talents and achievements and belittle, criticise and judge others, pointing out others flaws or weaknesses in a bid to exaggerate their own accomplishments and actually to feel better about themselves.

  • When you first meet a narcissist they are often highly complimentary, charming, friendly, may even buy you gifts and take you to exciting and interesting places. This will make you feel very ‘special’, however, their aim is really to manipulate a response that ultimately caters to their need for narcissistic supply.

  • If and when anybody does not offer them or maintain the level of constant adoration, admiration or attention they require they will quickly turn hostile, punishing and abusive, cutting the victim off from the social group, finding ways to sack or dump them, spread rumours about them, be cutting to them, give them the silent treatment, etc.

Learning to recognise the warning signs can be an important first step in avoiding toxic relationship dynamics as well as overcoming and recovering from narcissistic abuse. The next step is learning how to disengage from unhealthy relationships with abusive narcissists…

Dr. Sarah Davies is a Counselling Psychologist and Therapist based in London who specialises in helping people recover from narcissistic abuse.

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