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Spotting a narcissist


According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), there are nine specific symptoms or traits to look out for if you suspect that you are in a relationship with a person who has NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

These are the consistent traits that one would expect to find:

  • Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people
  • Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  • Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions

  • Needing continual admiration from others

  • Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  • Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  • Unwilling to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
  • Intensely envious of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  • Pompous and arrogant demeanor

These patterns of behavior have to be general and have shown themselves in childhood and continuing into adulthood in order for these characteristics to point towards a narcissistic personality disorder.

To understand what drives a narcissist, it is important to remember that they are not what they are trying so hard to appear to be (i.e. superior, special, perfect..etc.). In reality people with NPD are so insecure, that they need to cover this perceived weakness up with as much attention and admiration as they can get. Their only means of ataining self-esteem, is by having it reflected back by others, which is why achieving some sort of high status, is imperitive to a narcissist.

People who have NPD have no accountability and will not take ownership or responsibility for any wrong-doing or for the harm and suffering that they have caused others. This is an unconscious pattern that was cemented in early life. They can't let themselves think for a moment that they may have made a mistake or done anything wrong. They are unable to acknowledge even one little flaw because maintaining a perfect facade is a matter of life and death for them. Letting go of this rigidity and superficial appearance, is equal to holding on to power and there is nothing more important to a narcissist.

Danger! There are two main areas in which being involved with a narcissist is particularly damaging; if you have one or two narcissistic parents or if you are in a romantic relationship with a narcissist. In many ways having narcissistic parents is the worse of the two, a child is developing its psyche and, apart from not having the means of knowing what it is being subjected to, it is also unable to escape the parent.

In love with a narcissist?

Whereas a healthy romantic relationship involves mutual emotional vulnerability, this will not be possible if you are involved with a narcissist, as their main concern about achieving power and they can often see the relationship as a battleground for power.

One of the effects of being in a long-lasting relationship with a narcissist is 'learn helplessness' – you learn that nothing you do or say makes a difference, nothing you do is ever good enough and after time, you just give up believing in your self and your ability to create any change. If you have not experienced having stable, positive and emotionally healthy people in your life, you are much more vulnerable to be taken in by a narcissist, you will slowly but surely be manipulated into believing that you are worthless and useless. The narcissist will surround him or herself with allies (and yes, narcissists are very good at getting allies, due to their ability to project an charming and alluring picture of themselves), who will reinforce that you are lucky to be close to the narcissist.

To be the victim of a narcissist is not only very painful but also destroying for your self-esteem and mental health, it is also (due to the constant stress of being in a toxic atmosphere) it is very likely that your physical health will suffer. If you recognize 5 or more of the above mentioned patterns in your relationship - get help! the sooner the better.

Child of a narcissist?

For those who have grown up with one or more narcissistic parents, the consequences are damaging and long-lasting unless you get help and treatment. Perhaps you recognize some of these tell-tale signs:

  • A feeling of never being good enough
  • Finding it difficult to trust yourself and you question your own feelings, values and often even your perception of reality (often experienced by those who have been subjected to 'gas-lighting')
  • Having a pattern of falling in love with people who are unhealthy for you and perhaps even damaging for your health- did you learn that 'love hurts'.
  • Chronic sense of guilt or shame
  • You have lost your sense of personal boundaries
  • You take no pride in your acomplishments - in fact you may try to tone them down, in order to avoid the jealousy of your narcissistic parent. Your narcissistic parent may also divert the accomplishment to themselves saying things like 'she gets her talent from me', 'of course he was inspired by me'.
  • Find it difficult to trust other people. You may be so used to lies, that it comes as a shock to you, when others are truthful and trustworthy.
  • You automatically put your parents wishes and needs above your own. In fact you may have completly lost the ability to be in touch with your own needs as any hint of these, create great anxiety and guilt in you.
  • You don't even consider your own feelings or well-being, when you take decissions. You have been trained to only think and act in accordance to what others want.

The children of narcissistic parents learn conditional love only. Hence, they are loved for their performance but not for who they are in and of themselves.

Whilst the narcissistic parent may applaud every achievement of the child and support them fullheartedly in achieving something that will shine positively on themselves ('my child just won a medal/ got a prize/ is the most beautiful of her class/ is the lead actor of the play...), they will be completely absent when the child needs feeling understood, care for or any other type of emotional support that does not benefit the parent directly.

This is because to the narcissist, status and image is everything and therefore the child, who is viewed as an extension of the narcissist only – not a separate person with his or her own personality, talents and needs, is valued only when she or he achieves something that will make the parent look good. If the child does not achieve some kind of 'greatness', it will very likely be ignored, disregarded or even punished in some way. It is therefore not unusual for them to either become high achivers when they grow into adulthood, or the complete opposite having given up on even trying to create a good stable life for themselves as they been brought up with the belief that they are simply 'not good enough'.

Either way a child raised this way will have difficulty in creating healthy relationships in later life.

If you learned early on that 'love hurts', you will continue to suffer in your most important relationships. My conviction is that “if it hurts, it isn't love” - in fact if it hurts and you still want to stay in that painful relationship, I will encourage you to seek support and start the process of loving yourself out of abuse and into the new you, a you who knows that you deserve a loving, honest and caring relationship.

Wishing you well

Brigitte Escobar

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About Brigitte

I am a certified Organic Psychotherapist (MPF), specializing in narcissism and personal development.

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