Have you ever met someone who seems to think the world revolves around them?
Someone who always needs to be the center of attention, craves admiration, and maybe even acts like they’re better than everyone else?
If this sounds familiar, you might be dealing with a narcissist.
In the simplest terms, a narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for excessive attention and admiration.
But it’s not as straightforward as it sounds. Narcissism isn’t just about being self-centered or vain. It’s a complex personality trait, and it can make relationships and interactions tricky.
In this article, we’re going to explore what psychologists have identified as the seven main signs of narcissism.
1. An Unhealthy Obsession with Self-Image
Ever notice how some people just can’t resist admiring themselves in every reflective surface they pass? That’s not vanity alone—it can be a sign of narcissism.
Narcissists will often go to great lengths to maintain a picture-perfect appearance or project an idealized image to others.
They may even alter their physical appearance, careers, relationships, and other personal characteristics just to match the image they want to portray.
They’re determined to maintain this facade at all costs, and they’re incredibly adept at making adjustments to ensure their self-image remains unblemished.
Don’t mistake this for simple self-care or grooming. While everyone takes pride in their appearance to some extent, narcissists take it to another level. For them, it’s all about standing out from the crowd and getting noticed.
Their confidence might initially draw you in, but soon you’ll see it’s more about feeding their ego than genuine self-esteem.
This obsession with self-image doesn’t just extend to their physical appearance. Narcissists also strive to portray a successful social and professional image.
They’ll name-drop, exaggerate achievements, or showcase expensive possessions—all in an attempt to convince others (and perhaps themselves) of their superior status.
The downside? This focus on image can make them superficial and judgmental. They’ll likely dismiss or belittle people who don’t meet their high standards or contribute to the image they’re trying to project.
This disregard for others’ feelings or worth reveals the deep-seated insecurity that often underlies narcissism.
[Related: 6 Signs Someone is a Narcissist]
2. A Lack of Empathy for Others
As Craig Malkin, Harvard Medical School psychologist, explained in his book, Rethinking Narcissism,
Individuals high in narcissism lack empathy, feel entitled, take more resources, and give less to others.
While narcissists expect others to be endlessly interested in their lives and issues, they rarely extend the same courtesy.
In conversations, they’re quick to shift the focus back to themselves, often disregarding the feelings, needs, or experiences of others.
Their inability to recognize or understand the feelings of others can lead to callous behavior. For instance, a friend’s heartache might be met with indifference.
A colleague’s success could be dismissed or downplayed. Narcissists typically don’t “get” why they should congratulate someone else or offer comfort—it’s simply not in their playbook.
However, it’s not that they can’t empathize. Rather, they choose not to. Narcissists have the capacity for empathy but often reserve it for situations where they stand to gain.
For instance, they might show empathy if they believe it will make them appear kind or compassionate to others. But when it doesn’t benefit them directly, that empathetic side tends to disappear.
3. A Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance
As Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, psychologist and researcher noted in his study, Narcissism as Addiction to Esteem,
Grandiosity is the defining characteristic of narcissism. More than just arrogance or vanity, grandiosity is an unrealistic sense of superiority.
Narcissists believe they’re exceptional, unique, and superior to others. They expect to be recognized as superior without accomplishments that warrant it.
They’ll often exaggerate their talents or achievements and believe that they’re entitled to special treatment because of their perceived superiority.
Imagine someone who always assumes they’re the smartest person in the room, regardless of who else is present. They’ll dismiss others’ ideas and perspectives without consideration, simply because they believe their thoughts are superior.
This often results in an overbearing attitude and a propensity to dominate conversations.
And their inflated sense of self-importance isn’t just annoying—it’s damaging. Narcissists’ dismissive attitudes can belittle or alienate those around them.
But let’s not forget, this grandiosity is often a front for deep-seated insecurities. Narcissists crave validation and fear being seen as ordinary or average. So, they construct a facade of superiority to shield themselves from these fears.
[Interesting: 15 Signs a Narcissist Is Using You]
4. A Strong Sense of Entitlement
In the world according to a narcissist, the universe revolves around them. They often have a strong sense of entitlement and expect others to cater to their desires without question.
For them, rules are meant for others, not for them. They see no issue in taking what they want, whenever they want it—be it a physical item, a social privilege, or even someone’s time or attention.
Think of a colleague who takes credit for others’ work without batting an eye, or a friend who expects you to drop everything when they need something.
In their mind, they’re entitled to these things because of their self-perceived superiority or special status.
This sense of entitlement can lead to exploitative behavior. Narcissists are often willing to take advantage of others to get what they want, without any regard for the impact on those they use.
It’s not unusual for them to manipulate situations or people to their advantage, making others feel used or disregarded.
5. Frequent Envy of Others or Belief that Others are Envious of Them
Despite their grandiose self-image, narcissists often harbor intense envy for others.
They may resent anyone who has something they want—whether it’s tangible, like a flashy car or an enviable career, or intangible, like popularity or a happy relationship. Why?
Well, as Dr. Joseph Burgo, psychologist and author of “The Narcissist You Know” explained, narcissists harbor a constant need to be the best, the most right, and the most competent, which feeds their sense of entitlement.
They tend to view life as a competition, with winners and losers, and they desperately want to come out on top.
At the same time, they believe others are envious of them. In their world, they’re the object of everyone’s admiration and desire, and they can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be them.
This skewed perception allows them to maintain their inflated self-image and ignore any evidence that they’re not as perfect or desirable as they believe.
These twin beliefs can create a vicious cycle. Narcissists often project their own feelings of envy onto others, which further cements their belief in their superiority.
And when they encounter someone who challenges their self-image, they respond with defensiveness or hostility, further isolating themselves from meaningful connections with others.
[Also read: How To Make A Narcissist Miserable]
6. Unreasonable Expectations of Special Treatment
Narcissists not only believe they’re superior to others, but they also expect others to recognize and cater to their superiority.
They have an unquenchable thirst for admiration and often have unreasonable expectations for special treatment.
Perhaps you’ve encountered someone who always insists on having the best of everything—the best table at a restaurant, the first slice of cake at a party, or the prime parking spot at work.
Narcissists believe they’re entitled to these things because they see themselves as more important than everyone else.
But it goes beyond material things. Narcissists also expect to be treated with deference in social interactions.
They expect others to automatically agree with their opinions, defer to their preferences, and admire their accomplishments—no matter how small or trivial.
When they don’t receive this special treatment, they may react with indignation or even rage.
Such high expectations can be exhausting for those around them. Friends, family, and colleagues often find themselves walking on eggshells, trying to avoid the narcissist’s wrath. And over time, these demands can strain relationships and lead to social isolation for the narcissist.
7. Manipulative or Controlling Behavior
Narcissists use manipulative tactics to maintain their self-image, secure their status, and ensure their needs are met—often at the expense of others.
For instance, they might use flattery to win people over or guilt to keep them in line. Or they may gaslight others—manipulating them into doubting their own perceptions or feelings—in order to maintain control.
They’re adept at exploiting others’ weaknesses and are not above using deceit or coercion to achieve their ends.
According to Dr. Preston Ni in his book, How to Successfully Handle Narcissists, narcissists can even use their romantic partner, child, family, friend, or colleague to meet unreasonable self-serving needs, fulfill unrealized dreams, or cover-up weaknesses and shortcomings
But remember, these manipulations are often subtle and can be hard to detect. Narcissists are skilled at presenting themselves in a positive light and may use charm or charisma to win people over.
But beneath the surface, they’re often scheming to use others for their own gain.
How to Deal with a Narcissist
Dealing with a narcissist can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. The key is setting firm boundaries and not letting them undermine your self-esteem.
You may need to limit your interactions or adjust your expectations around them. Remember that their behavior is a reflection of their issues, not your worth.
Try not to take their actions personally or let their comments affect your self-image.
It’s also important to look after your mental health. Surround yourself with supportive people who value and respect you.
How Can I Tell If I’m Narcissistic?
Recognizing narcissistic tendencies in oneself can be tricky, mainly because one of the hallmarks of narcissism is a lack of self-awareness.
However, if you often find yourself craving admiration, struggle to empathize with others, or believe you’re entitled to special treatment, you might have some narcissistic traits. It’s also worth noting if you have a habit of exploiting others or disregarding their feelings and needs.
Keep in mind that having some narcissistic traits doesn’t necessarily mean you have narcissistic personality disorder. This is a severe condition diagnosed by a mental health professional.
If you’re concerned about your behavior or how it’s affecting your relationships, it could be helpful to seek professional advice. A therapist can provide insights into your behavior and suggest ways to make positive changes.
Example of Narcissistic Behavior
Narcissistic behavior can take many forms, but a typical example might look like this:
A colleague, let’s call him John, consistently dominates team meetings, disregarding others’ input and making every discussion about his ideas.
He boasts about his achievements and expects constant praise, even for routine tasks.
When he doesn’t get the recognition he feels he deserves, he becomes sulky or defensive. John never admits when he’s wrong and blames others when things don’t go his way.
This is just one example. Narcissistic behavior can also include exploiting others, a lack of empathy, a sense of entitlement, and a constant need for admiration. Narcissists often manipulate others to maintain their self-esteem and status.
Can a Narcissist Change?
Change is possible for a narcissist, but it’s often a long and challenging process.
First and foremost, the narcissist must recognize their behavior as a problem and be willing to make a change. This can be a significant hurdle, as many narcissists don’t see their behavior as problematic. They might need to face severe consequences—like the loss of a relationship or job—before they’re willing to acknowledge their issues.
Once they’ve accepted the need for change, therapy can be a helpful tool. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, for example, can help narcissists challenge their beliefs and develop healthier ways of relating to others.
However, it requires commitment and patience. While it’s important to maintain hope, it’s also crucial to be realistic about the pace of change and the challenges involved.
Identifying narcissism can be challenging, given the complexity of the condition and its overlap with other personality traits.
But understanding these seven signs—obsession with self-image, lack of empathy, grandiosity, entitlement, envy, unreasonable expectations, and manipulative behavior—can provide a useful starting point.
Being aware of these signs can help you navigate relationships with potential narcissists more effectively and protect your own wellbeing.
- All photos from freepik.com