Narcissistic behavior ruins relationships. Finding out you’re in a relationship with a narcissist is like discovering you’re on a dead-end street — eventually, you’ll have to turn around and start over.
Until the end, the narcissist in your life keeps taking and taking while you keep giving. It could be a professional relationship, it could be a friendship, or it could be an intimate relationship. Narcissists have no problem engaging people in any of these.
The dead-end street of narcissism is the extreme version. Each narcissist is part of a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe — severe narcissism is pathological, a disorder that, if it goes unchecked, will rage out of control for the majority of a person’s life. Mild narcissism is the kind we come across most often.
Examples of Narcissistic Behaviors
This disorder can be hard to spot; if you’re concerned that someone you know is a narcissist — or you may be wondering if you have narcissistic tendencies — look for these behaviors.
1. They make everything about them.
Here’s the deal with narcissists: they absolutely love talking about themselves. Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist says:
“Narcissistic functioning at core is a disorder of listening.”
When you’re talking to a narcissist, they’re not really listening; they’re waiting to talk about themselves.
Anyone is guilty of this from time to time, but the narcissist will take the conversation and steer it in their direction consistently.
The narcissist could ask you about your day, but it’s more of a way to start a conversation in which they will become the subject. They also tend to interrupt and change the subject.
On the extreme end, a narcissist will get angry when you try to assert your opinion. The narcissist is always right even if their conclusion is illogical.
2. They want control and power, and they want to lead.
Narcissistic behavior often lands the narcissist in leadership positions because it looks like confidence.
But be careful before you label your boss or your congress person a narcissist. Charisma and the ability to lead are not necessarily signs of narcissism. According to Rutgers University:
“A politician’s leadership skills often come across as narcissism.”
But statistically speaking, politicians don’t possess other narcissistic traits more than anyone else.
To spot whether your boss or representative is a narcissist, look out for overtly controlling behavior and grandiose statements.
3. They make grandiose statements all the time.
You know a grandiose statement when you hear one. Narcissistic behavior is about using these statements to attract attention and earn other people’s confidence and admiration.
The grandiose narcissist feels entitled. Instead of saying, ‘I still have a lot to learn, but I’m fairly confident I can succeed,’ the narcissist will say something like, ‘I honestly feel I deserve to get a raise more than the other people in my department.”
On the severe side, narcissists who make grandiose statements are prone to delusions of grandeur. They are the ‘best.’ A pathological narcissist believes they can become the most famous person in America (they’ll drop a famous person’s name and compare themselves to that person, or assert they have a personal connection to a celebrity), they are well-suited to rule the world, and other delusions of this nature.
4. They manipulate you until they get what they want.
There are two faces of narcissism::
- The extraverted, egotistical, and charming type we’ve been discussing so far.
- And a type that seems completely the opposite — the vulnerable, hypersensitive, anxiety prone narcissist displays a lack of confidence, and may seem introverted, but is actually harboring grandiose fantasies, and will use their vulnerability to exploit others.
Both types of narcissists share the tendency to exploit others by manipulating their emotions.
The extraverted narcissist will charm you and flatter you until he gets what he wants (the pronoun “he” is intentional — psychologist Fred Stinson found that males are more likely to be narcissists. The introverted narcissist will evoke your empathy and pity.
Both types of narcissists will exploit you to gain emotional, sexual, social, and physical validation. One manipulative narcissist tactic is to tell you they have other options but they still choose you; watch out for that one.
5. They swear at you a lot and use sexually gratuitous language.
No joke — narcissists are more likely than others to be verbally aggressive and confrontational.
Profanity and sexually explicit language tend to draw attention to the narcissist and shock people. They’ll swear more than normal on a regular basis, they’ll cuss profusely when they argue with you, and they’ll use exaggerated gestures to emphasize their point.
In very heated moments, a narcissist will say just about anything to maintain power.
6. They argue with you constantly.
Severe narcissists are always right — always. As your relationship with a narcissist progresses, the veil drops, and he or she begins to stop saying what they think you want to hear. Then, arguments grow more frequent and more intense.
There’s no winning the argument because, again, narcissists do not respond to logic. The only time they do is when it serves their purposes.
7. They are in and out of relationships frequently.
While studying narcissists in relationships, psychologist W. Keith Campbell noticed a trend:
Their relationships peak after about four months, then they’re typically over. People in relationships with narcissists report a high level of satisfaction for the first four months, and then a quick decline. This reflects the narcissistic tendency to exploit people until the good times are gone.
After four months, the argumentative tendencies, the prevailing need for control, the infidelity, the exploitation, and overall shallowness spell the end of the relationship.
8. They pay too much attention to physical appearance.
Simine Vazier and other researchers note that:
“Narcissists are more likely to wear expensive, flashy clothing, have an organized, neat appearance requiring a lot of preparation, and (in females) wear makeup and show cleavage.”
Narcissists typically score higher in evaluations of physical attractiveness, and narcissistic men tend to go for women who are considered good-looking.
Narcissistic men spend more time working on their muscular definition, while narcissistic women spend more time preening. This explains the short-term nature of romantic encounters with narcissists. The immediate attraction is there, but the emotional aspect proves frustrating.
9. They change the subject when emotions come up.
In particular, grandiose and extraverted narcissists do not want to discuss their emotions with you because it puts them in a position of vulnerability and weakens their power over you.
If a narcissist does bring up their emotions, it’s disingenuous. They’re using an emotional appeal to get closer to you. The emotion they identify could not be farther from how they’re actually feeling.
10. Their eyes glaze over and become distant when you’re talking.
They might nod, say “uh-huh,” and “yeah,” and act like they’re listening, but you can tell by their eyes that they’re not. You’ll notice the glaze, the distance, when you’re talking about your own experience or about anything not related to the narcissist.
The narcissist glazes over because they are indeed not listening to you. They’re thinking about what they’re going to say. To listen to you is to give you a modicum of control.
11. They are a terrible sport.
No one likes to lose, but when the narcissist loses, they’re unable to accept it and walk away. If they win, they rub it in.
You’ll know the difference between a normal person’s competitive impulse and that of a narcissist by just how excruciating it is to compete with the narcissist, no matter what the outcome. Once you tally the score, you’ll understand that the narcissist is more in it for domination than fun.
12. They love to cross your boundaries and break rules.
This is a certain sign of narcissistic behavior:
When you assert a boundary, they break it.
You ask them not to have anyone over while you’re out of town and they throw a party. You tell them not to touch your hair — they touch it. They may make unwelcome sexual advances that count as harassment. They also look for social norms and rules to break, almost as if it’s a game. They don’t tip, they run red lights late at night, they make fun of a handicapped person behind their back.
This is about building an image of superiority and autonomy.
13. They collect trophies and status symbols.
Even if it’s a story about a celebrity, a rock star, or an absolutely perfect party (at which the narcissist was the star), the narcissist dwells in a world of status symbols.
Sleek, cherry-red sports cars, guitars on walls with autographs on them, selfies in stunning locations, gorgeous, scantily clad women hanging on the arm — these are the stereotypical hallmarks of the narcissist, but watch out for more subtle ways in which the narcissist converts everything they do into a trophy.
14. They absolutely worship that perfect person in their life.
Although the narcissist will paint themselves as superior to others — which can come off as pretentious — they will also find a person to worship.
The narcissist’s idol represents perfection in their eyes. This is someone they want to emulate and it has a lot to do with their childhood. Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) can be a cause of narcissism. It’s not uncommon for the narcissist’s idol to be a status or sex symbol.
How to deal with the narcissist in your life
Don’t put up with it. If you play games with the narcissist, or expect that you can change this person by appealing to their humanity and emotional intelligence, you’re playing right into the narcissist’s plan. Rather, be calm and firm and call them out; assert yourself, your autonomy, and the validity of your emotions.
Here’s a detailed guide on how to deal with a narcissist:
Access the resources at your disposal. There are some useful books to help you learn to deal with narcissists:
The narcissist needs professional psychological help, which includes a diagnosis. If you’re in a relationship with this person, offer to attend couple’s therapy with them, but not before they’ve taken the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Even if they manipulate the Inventory, it’s important that they see a counselor.
If they don’t work on changing, their relationships will continue to fail. Even the narcissist can change, but they must step away from the mirror and face who they truly are inside.
|Psychology Today: Are You a Narcissist? 6 Sure signs of Narcissism
|Personnel Psychology: Narcissism and Leadership: A Meta‐Analytic Review of Linear and Nonlinear Relationships
|Rutgers University: Is a Career in Politics Right for Me?
|Paul Wink, Institute of Personality Assessment and Research, University of California, Berkeley: Two Faces of Narcissism
|Psychology Today: How to Spot a Narcissist
|Psychology Today: What do Narcissists Sound Like?
|Psychology Today: How to Spot a Narcissist
|Journal of Research in Personality: Portrait of a narcissist: Manifestations of narcissism in physical appearance
|PsychCentral: A Surprising Cause of Narcissism
|Open Psychometrics: Narcissistic Personality Inventory