How To Spot and Deal with a Narcissist: 8 Signs To Look Out For
What is a 'Narcissist?'
A narcissist is someone who is overly focused on themselves and thinks they are better than others. They tend to be egocentric, manipulative, and have little regard for others. It is important to note that narcissism exists on a spectrum. Some people have high levels of narcissistic traits and engage in this sort of behaviour more regularly. While others may have less narcissistic traits. Think of it as in a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means no narcissistic traits, and 10 is a person that is wholly narcissistic. All of us can be placed somewhere within this spectrum, and those that we consider narcissists are on the highest numbers of this spectrum (for example, 8-10).
While it may sound like narcissists are mean people that are out to get us, this is not the case. More often than not, narcissists have poor self-esteem and this is often expressed through arrogance or even self-deprivation. In addition, some have a great need for approval as a result of inadequacies they see in themselves.
Types of Narcissists
According to psychologists and researchers, narcissism can come in two forms. Both types of narcissists are equally problematic, however their narcissism is expressed differently.
Overt (Arrogant Narcissists)
An overt narcissist is easier to spot. This is the type we are most familiar with. They tend to be demanding, get offended easily, and like to show off. If you ever tried to offer an overt narcissist some feedback, it is highly likely they got offended and became emotionally reactive.
There is quite an emphasis on success and competition with overt narcissists. They have high ambitions and are willing to step over others to get what they want. They also tend to brag about such successes, and continuously aim for praise and approval from others.
Such narcissists have shallow relationships, and see themselves as better than others. At times, they view other people as a means to get what they want.
Covert (Shy Narcissists)
On the other hand, a covert narcissist is more subtle. While they are still narcissistic, they show characteristic traits of lacking confidence. They are envious of other people: whether it be their success or talents. There is a general feeling of not being worthy and not trusting others.
A covert narcissist will minimise their success and put themselves down. Instead, they will praise you, with the intention of receiving the same reassurance of their competency in kind. In a way, it is a very subtle way of getting praise and approval from you.
Something you may hear a covert narcissist say is: “I wish I was that smart. You do it so much better.”
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
While we do throw the word “narcissist” around a lot, in its true form, a narcissist is someone who has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Those not diagnosed tend to show narcissistic tendencies, and fall lower on the scale of narcissism.
Someone with NPD believes that they are special and different, and expects others to treat them as such. There is a lack of recognising the needs of others, and are quite dismissive of the people around them. As a psychological disorder, they tend to be much more problematic than individuals that simply have high narcissistic traits; displaying a range of dysfunctional behaviours that can be harmful to their relationships, those around them, and themselves.
How To Spot a Narcissist: 8 Signs To Look Out For
Most signs of a narcissist revolve around their tendency to focus on their own needs, rather than those of others. On an appropriate dose, focusing on yourself can be quite healthy. However, narcissists are more likely to engage in this behaviour more often and intensely; often to the point where it can cause harm to those around them.
1. Lack of Empathy
A narcissist lacks the ability to feel how someone else is feeling. They are also often unable to understand other people’s perspectives. They lack the ability to make you feel understood and validated. In addition, they have a lack of remorse, compassion and understanding of others.
They think they are more important than others, more superior. They believe the 'world revolves around them.' This can often show itself as confidence. A sense of grandiosity often leads them to seek admiration by others. Narcissists love compliments and need a lot of attention. It adds to their sense of self-worth and esteem.
Being arrogant and having a “holier than thou” attitude is characteristic of a narcissist. There is no way of compromising with a narcissist because to them, they are always right and unapologetically so. They think they are never wrong, and therefore never apologise—unless they see it is a way to manipulate you for their gain.
4. Sensitivity / Overreaction to Criticism
Narcissists explode at the slightest criticism. Anything that puts their reputation or self-esteem in harm's way will result in an overreaction. Instead of accepting blame, they will deflect and blame others.
Narcissists are often smart and observant. A narcissist can be very skilled at finding your weak points and push at the most vulnerable parts of yourselves. In a relationship, for example, a narcissist will view love as conditional because they want control over you.
A specific form of manipulation that a narcissist will use is gaslighting. A narcissist will lie, accuse others (falsely), adapt the truth and cause you to doubt your reality and your truth. This can lead you to feel more anxious in yourself, feel like you are always wrong and less like the person you used to be.
A narcissist has an inflated sense of self. They believe they are superior to others, and expect others to know this. They like to talk about themselves and their accomplishments because it makes them feel better than others. They will spend a lot of time talking about themselves, and less time listening to you.
7. Preoccupation with Outward Appearance
Appearance, wealth, fame, and success are at the forefront of a narcissist's mind. Paired with their self-centredness, how they appear to others is extremely important. A narcissist often lacks integrity and ethics that others would find natural and acceptable. Traits including vanity, pridefulness and self-righteousness are also some that you would find in a narcissist.
8. Poor Emotional Regulation
Narcissists are sensitive to anything that can harm their self-esteem. They can be vindictive, lash out, and be explosive. This includes aggressive impulses and being fragile psychologically.
7 Ways to Handle a Narcissist
If you are reading this article, chances are that there is someone in your life that displays (some of) the signs we discuss above. Dealing with a narcissist can be challenging, but there are some strategies that we can use in order to protect ourselves and our mental wellbeing.
1. Set boundaries
This is one of the most important ways to handle a narcissist. Setting clear boundaries is not only important for a narcissist, but also for yourself. It shows the narcissist what you are willing to accept and what you are not. It also is important for your sense of self and comfort. It will most likely upset the narcissist, but remember it’s not on you to handle a person’s emotions.
2. Foster awareness
Find out more about narcissists. Be aware of their behaviours. Understand their strengths and their weaknesses. In doing so, you will be more aware of their triggers, their intentions and how to handle them. This will also help you have realistic expectations about them and how they behave.
3. Be aware of your use of language
Narcissists are not keen on feedback—especially any criticism—even if it is constructive. Try to reword comments in a positive way. Keep in mind that what you say can result in an overreaction on the part of the narcissist.
4. Hold them accountable
Stay calm and stand your ground. If there is something you need to address or are uncomfortable with, make it known. Be clear and concise. Try not to argue or be too confronting though. You want them to understand what you are saying, but not at the risk of having conflict. Most likely, they will not accept the accountability, but paired with the setting of your boundaries and an awareness of your use of language, you will make your position known.
5. Remind them of your boundaries
Keep reinforcing those boundaries. Avoid letting those boundaries slip. If a narcissist can see a crack in the wall, they may try to break through. Remember your values, your morals, and your beliefs.
6. Stay calm
Being reactive will only lead to an escalation. Try to stay calm if they try to get a rise out of you or gaslight you. If they become aggressive—whether it be passive or not—take a deep breath and stay calm. Try practising mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing regularly to help you. Or, try some ABC’s to keep a level-head.
7. Get some support
Interacting with a narcissist can lead to a lot of self-doubt and insecurity. You will need the support from those around you to help you through those low moments. Make sure to share how you are feeling with your support network and ask for help if you need it. Also, do not hesitate to contact a mental health professional or coach if you need an extra hand dealing with the situation.
Being around someone with narcissism or narcissistic traits takes a lot of work and requires a certain set of emotional skills. It can be frustrating and emotionally challenging. You may feel as though your whole life revolves around them, and thereby exhausted by their demands. It may take quite some time and effort, but keep going at it. Practice those tips and keep strong. Protect yourself, set boundaries and stick to them. If you feel like it is going out of hand, take a step back. Your wellbeing is important too. Take care and, remember, you are not alone.
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