12 Clues to Spot a Narcissist

Updated: Jan. 26, 2021

Experts say we're in an epidemic of narcissism. Do you know the telltale signs?

Man wearing a sweater looking at a woman wearing a cap.

He has zero patience for other people’s problems

The defining feature of narcissism is an excessive interest in oneself, which means they generally care very little about other people’s experiences. “Narcissists tend to have a diminished sense of empathy, meaning that it is difficult for them to attend and relate to the thoughts, feelings, and suffering of others,” explains Sander van der Linden, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge who has done extensive research on narcissistic personality. (Here’s what you should know about sociopaths vs. narcissists.)

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She is charming and magnetic

Narcissists make an incredible first impression, appearing to others to be confident, sexy, attractive, competent, warm, and funny. This means they’re often the most popular or most interesting person in the room as people feel drawn to their overwhelming charisma even without really knowing them, says research published in Frontiers in Psychology. However, the sparkly social veneer quickly wears thin as the more time you spend with them, the more the negative aspects of narcissism begin to take over. Here are some tell-tale signs of narcissistic abuse.

Man with gray hair sitting at a boardroom table holding a tablet surrounded by his co-workers.
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He’s a take-charge leader

Because of the ego boost and power they provide, leadership roles are a natural draw for people with a narcissistic personality, according to a study published in Personnel Psychology. And, the researchers found, narcissists can make very good leaders—up to a point. That’s because eventually, people under them may begin to tire of them being exploitative, arrogant, and even tyrannical. Watch out for these signs you’re dating a narcissist.

Woman sitting at a coffee table with a laptop surrounded by friends.
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She goes through friends fast

It’s the narcissist’s paradox: They constantly denigrate and disparage others, yet they desperately need their admiration. This means they are constantly finding new friends who will praise and adore them, only to ditch them the second they start to get too real. “Seeking admiration is like a drug for narcissists,” explains Mitja Back, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Munster and author of a paper on narcissism. “In the long run, it becomes difficult because others won’t applaud them, so they always have to search for new acquaintances from whom they get the next fix.” Here’s what a narcissist does at the end of a relationship.

Woman and man kissing behind a sunset.

He’s a master manipulator

Manipulation and exploitation are the narcissist’s modus operandi in relationships, Dr. Van der Linden says. Friends, family, and lovers are only good for what they can provide to the narcissist, whether it’s through feeding their ego or providing them with money, sex, advanced social standing or other things they want. Master manipulators can often sabotage a healthy relationship and transform it into a toxic relationship. Don’t miss these signs that you’re the toxic one ruining your relationship.

Two women and one man sitting in a coffee shop as they talk and work on a laptop.

She can’t stop talking about how great she is

Narcissists love nothing more than to talk about themselves and their own achievements, Dr. Van der Linden says, and the tendency to be overly braggy and arrogant is often one of the first tip-offs as to their true nature. But they don’t just say they’re the best, the genuinely believe they are better than others. “Delusions of grandiosity and a strongly inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement are hallmarks of narcissism,” he adds. Don’t miss how to tell if you have a narcissistic mother.

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He can’t handle criticism

“Although some narcissists are more introverted, many narcissists react defensively and even aggressively, to personal criticism or failures,” Dr. Van der Linden explains. When confronted with a weakness, even in a neutral way, they can react with sudden and surprising outbursts of yelling, crying, anger, or other aggressive behaviors. Here are some narcissist quotes that will help you deal with the narcissist in your life.

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She’s obsessed with the latest fashions

The intense absorption with oneself often manifests in being very particular about appearance and wanting to be known as the hottest, most desired person in the group, according to research published in the Journal of Research in Personality. Narcissists put a great deal of time and energy into “creating a physically attractive veneer” through exercise, expensive clothing, makeup, hairstyles, cars, accessories, and other public displays of power and status. Find out if being around this person is leading to narcissistic abuse syndrome.

Woman wearing a coat and colorful scarf walking through a park as a man in a coat walks behind her.

He won’t take no for an answer

Because of their feeling of entitlement and lack of empathy, narcissists are more likely to push for what they want and refuse to accept a negative or alternate response. And this tendency can even cross over into the criminal. A study done by the University of Georgia found that narcissistic men were far more likely to rape or sexually assault another person. Look out for these signs that your social media account is feeding your narcissistic habits.

Woman in a yellow shirt standing in a park and looking depressed.
iStock/Martin Dimitrov

She’s very insecure

Insecure narcissism may seem like an oxymoron but the two go together more than you’d think, says Zlatan Krizan, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University. “These individuals still think they’re special, entitled, and they want to be great, but they just can’t do it,” he says. “As a result they’re vulnerable, their self-esteem fluctuates a lot, they tend to be self-conscious and not very proactive, but passive, shy, and introverted.” (Find out: can a narcissist change?)

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He’s sexually promiscuous

People with a narcissistic personality are more likely to sleep with many partners and to cheat in a relationship because they’re always looking for something (er, someone) better, according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. And because of their desire to control other people and their inability to empathize with them, they may also get a perverse pleasure from convincing others to do sexual acts they wouldn’t otherwise. Try these things that all good listeners do to avoid becoming a narcissist.

Group of young people talking and laughing.

They’ll tell you straight out

While most of us see a narcissistic personality as a bad thing, narcissists themselves may not—and may actually take some pride in it. “This will, of course, depend on the person and the situation, but in general, there’s a good chance that they might just tell you. Our research, as well as that of our colleagues’, shows that people are surprisingly willing to self-identify as narcissists,” Dr. Van der Linden says. “The ‘narcissist’ label seems to provide an opportunity for narcissists to differentiate themselves from other people because it signifies a unique status, which likely makes them feel even more ‘special.'” Once you’ve confirmed you’re dealing with a narcissist, use these 7 ways to deal with a toxic narcissist.