Spotting a Narcissist In The Wild

Marissa Newby

Let’s divorce ourselves from the social media trend of accusational narcissism and get down to spotting actual narcissists before you end up love-bombed and miserable.
Narcissists can hide in plain sightSammy Williams/Unsplash

What Is An Actual, Textbook Narcissist?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is classified as having at least 5 of the following characteristics

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

However, don’t take this as a way to diagnose your Tinder date. There are other qualifications that focus on impairment of personality or self-functioning, empathy, interpersonal issues, and intimacy. Evaluating people for these warning signs might be a little more difficult. Some narcissists are covert and behavioral patterns that help them secure stable sources of admiration can feel a lot like relationship butterflies.

Identifying Red Flags

Finding a narcissist in the early social and romantic stages might feel like you’ve landed on an expansion pack with all kinds of great qualities like loyalty and expressions of interest. Not everyone who is intense early on is a narcissist, but not everyone who is intense early on is your soul mate either, no matter how they might paint the picture.

  • Look for grandiose gestures
  • Fact check assertions about wealth, success, employment, and financial stability. If the math in their story doesn't add up, be wary. Feeling insecure about wealth is not a cardinal indicator, but persistent falsehoods in this area could be indicative of someone who truly believes they are worthy of undue admiration and respect based on material qualities
  • Look for signs of genuine empathy rather than gestures that indicate empathy but are empty — do they want to give money to charity but blast on their social media about what a saint they are? Cause for concern.
  • Compliance without question is the preferred method of interaction — look for this in those they would naturally think owe them like children, pets, people who perceivably have less money, or a different job
  • Do their achievements add up? Do they stretch a bit when recounting stories about academic work, professional accomplishments, or have a series of hero stories?
  • Is there a tedious amount of personal insecurity that can usually be exposed through failure or small explorations into their faults that would be normal parts of the “getting to know you” phase? Do they guard those insecurities at your expense or make excuses?
  • Are their goals in life grandiose and something they obsess about without really doing genuine work to achieve those goals?

What To Do?

Cautious observation is important. You can give of yourself to a level of your comfort but be aware of these signs and see what the bigger picture is. If the bigger picture truly is not that of someone who will eventually drag your identity into this amorphous blob of self-loathing pride then maybe continue forward. If you look forward and see their needs replacing yours entirely, it is probably time to bow out safely.

If you or someone you know is enduring abuse, there are resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available by phone, text, secure connections, and the internet. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is also available in these same avenues. Friends and loved ones often still remain, even when you have been separated from them due to abuse, reach out safely.

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Marissa, a graduate safety practitioner and paramedic, has been writing and editing fiction and non-fiction work for 15 years. She delivers researched and sourced news concerning world events, public health, public safety and emergency management.


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