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How to Tell if Someone is a Narcissist

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Is your ex a narcissist?  Your parents? You?

It seems social media is exploding the last few years with stories of narcissists, that sound very familiar.

But with anything on social media, it’s hard to know if these are facts or just something a random blogger assumed was true.

But here are some surprising truths that are buried beneath the loud outcries of “My ex was a narcissist!” that I will be talking about:

  1. Your ex may not have been a “narcissist” in the way you think.
  2. Narcissism isn’t always a bad thing.
  3. You are probably a narcissist.

Hear me out on this before the anger messages start pouring in, telling me I should never be allowed to be behind a keyboard, or I have no idea what I am talking about, or other insults that are said when things are said that people don’t want to hear.  (Which ironically, is a sign of narcissism).

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Narcissistic Personality Disorder

When people talk about their exes or parents being narcissists, they are usually talking about self-diagnosing someone with NPD, which is an actual psychological disorder that affects about 1-3% of the population.

Here is the thing:  1-3% of the population means that chances are, your self-diagnosis of someone is probably incorrect.  Because it isn’t that common.

Even less common is psychopaths.  All psychopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are psychopaths, which makes psychopaths even less common.

Diagnosing someone with NPD is serious.  The person with NPD would have to go through a lot of psychological testing to even confirm this diagnosis.

People with NPD have no empathy or compassion for anyone else.  This isn’t a “behind closed doors” type of thing like I see a lot of memes say.

Most people who are around this person will see something is off with them.

The NPD person will generally only do things in his or her life that gives off an illusion or feeds into the fact that they are special.

They will generally treat other people as “mere mortals” and only think of people as their servants.  Only there to serve him/her.  They are usually impulsive people, and being around them can be exciting and adventurous.  They will never admit to feeling sadness or hurt, or disappointment.  They usually only have two emotions:  Anger and happy.

People with NPD can be liars like the internet memes say, but they only tend to lie when it comes to them looking special.  They aren’t going to lie about regular stuff that most people do.  Their lies would be more about them giving themselves a better job title than they really have,  showing off how much money they have or how important they are.  Something that they think will impress other people.

They will typically feel entitled and they knock you down so they can feel superior.  You will usually find them in management or leadership positions, or not able to hold a job at all because they feel they are better than everyone they ever work with.

What Causes a Narcissist?

Narcissism is a mostly learned behavior.

When we are born, the genes passed down to us give us a “range” to work with.  Which is why some babies can have different personalities than others.  As we grow, our environment and what we are taught determines which end of the spectrum of our “range” we will go.

Narcissists will most likely have a parent that is a narcissist themselves, so can learn to be that way by modeling their parent’s behavior.

They will usually grow up in a household that praises them a lot, but only when they do things perfectly.  The parent needs the child to be special.

And it isn’t just praising them that does it, otherwise there would be more occurrences of NPD than there is.  Kids don’t become narcissistic just by getting “participation trophies”.

The parents, while praising their child, also teaches them to hide their feelings of disappointment, sadness, etc.  They make them feel shame for feeling such negative emotions and are dismissive of them.

So basically, the child learns to feel a high from being perfect (special), and pushes any other emotion away.

This is where most narcissists are born.

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The Narcissist vs the Psychopath

It’s possible you might meet a Narcissist or Psychopath among the millions of people you come across in your life.  So there are some traits to watch out for.

The Narcissist:

  • Believes they are more special than anyone else
  • NEEDS admiration
  • Shows off
  • Lies to make themselves appear bigger and better than they are
  • Has no compassion or empathy (towards everyone, not just their partner). You will typically only see them acting loving towards someone else if it somehow serves them.
  • Devalues everyone else
  • Doesn’t believe they have to follow the same rules as everyone else
  • Will typically take credit for others ideas
  • Will react with anger to anyone who dares criticize them or make them feel like they aren’t special
  • Will cancel plans they didn’t make and then turn around and only do things they suggested
  • May have a compulsion for others to understand them
  • Feels everyone loves them
  • Will never apologize or admit wrongdoing
  • Is the best at everything
  • Feels you should appreciate everything they do, because they say they do it for you (including stealing)
  • Only does things they want to do
  • Treats others as servants
  • Will typically turn things around on you if you call them out, and accuse you of something
  • Is typically a bully
  • Their way is always the right way

The Psychopath

Has all these qualities, but to another extreme.  They are the ones you will find being rapists and killers.  They not only refuse to live by any rules, but may go out of their way to hurt people for the fun of it, because they feel they are so much better than everyone else.  They are special and everyone else is beneath them.  They are the ones who will pretend to be a pilot, a cop, or a celebrity without actually being one.

They are smart and will know your biggest weakness and strike when you don’t expect it.  The difference between them and regular narcissists is psychopaths are more private.  If anyone is a “behind closed doors personality”, it is the psychopath, not the narcissists.

People with NPD, there isn’t a lot of hope for improvement, but there might be some.  With a psychopath, there is usually no hope at all.  So if you encounter one, run.

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What if They Display Some or A Lot of These Qualities But Not All?

This brings me to the big question. Does your parent or ex have NPD?

Chances are: Maybe not.

But what if they have some of these signs, but not all?

That brings me to my next point.

Most of us have narcissistic qualities.  Think of narcissism as a scale, where 10 is NPD, and 1 is someone who spends their life serving others and never does anything self indulgent or fun for themselves.

We should all fall somewhere in the middle.  We need a little narcissism in order to have self esteem, confidence, to become leaders, to do anything in our life that makes us happy.

As long as you still take other people’s feelings into consideration, you can have a healthy amount of narcissism and it won’t hurt anything and is actually good for you.

But some people can be on the higher end of the scale.  Those are the people teetering towards NPD, and may seem to display more of these signs than others.

It doesn’t mean they should be labeled as a “narcissist” (please leave that to the professionals), it just means they have more narcissistic tendencies than many other people.

Do You Have Narcissistic Tendencies?

Unless you are like Ghandi and only spend your life serving others and do nothing for yourself or have nothing for yourself, yes you do.

And that’s okay.  It’s even a good thing.

There is definitely such a thing as healthy narcissism.  This is how you can live your best life, doing what makes you passionate, what gives you confidence, and what allows you to love, all while still caring about others feelings.  It is a happy medium.  You understand that you can be amazing and exist in a world where other people are amazing too.

Many people don’t realize that when they insist their problems are worse than everyone else’s, when they attack people who don’t believe what they do,  make comments that brings another person down, when they have a constant need for others to understand them, or when they think someone else is stupid for doing something they don’t agree with, this is pushing them towards the higher end of the scale of unhealthy narcissism.

And most of us have done this, unfortunately.  Luckily most of us can come back down from it to the middle of the scale again, to the healthy range.

Hopefully, though, now that you know this is considered unhealthy narcissism, it can help you become a little more self aware and catch yourself from sliding up that scale again.

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Labeling Narcissism

As you can tell by now, labeling someone as a narcissist isn’t as black and white as you think.

And labeling them with the disorder is just something we shouldn’t do at all unless we are qualified, because as you can see, there are a lot of criteria they need to fit into to get that diagnosis.

It all boils down to a narcissist feels they are better than everyone else and everyone else is meant to serve them because they are that important.  And that they don’t have compassion for ANYBODY.

It’s not a label that is slapped on to name jerks or people who take a lot of selfies.

Abusers can be narcissistic, but they can also not be. Having anger issues is NOT always the same thing as being a narcissist.  An emotionally or physically abusive ex is NOT the same thing as narcissism.

For instance:  I believe that the first long term relationship I had with a man who physically abused me was not a narcissist.  He only was a jerk behind closed doors, had anger and control issues, but also didn’t seem to need excessive admiration and had tons of compassion for other people (just not for me).

So like I said, this isn’t something you can label just by them having a couple of qualities that look like narcissism.

The Truth About Narcissists

The truth about it all, is that when you see the stuff out there on narcissists, it isn’t as cut and dry as it seems.

And honestly, half of it on social media isn’t even fully correct.

Just because someone displays narcissistic tendencies, doesn’t mean they have the personality disorder.  It could just mean some things push them into the higher end of the scale.

Or maybe they are just a jerk.

And the important thing to remember is narcissism isn’t all bad.  In fact, it can even be healthy!

And most of us have some form of narcissism and even dipped our toe into the higher end of the scale at some point.

So the moral of the story here is labeling someone as a narcissist isn’t really as simple as you might think. Because we can all be a little narcissistic sometimes.

And a lot of the time, it can be a good and healthy thing as long as we know to reign ourselves in if it gets out of control.

Want to hear more about narcissism, and how to handle them from an expert?

I highly recommend to check out the book Rethinking Narcissism by Dr. Craig Malkin


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