How to recognize a narcissist? It's a big question, and an important one.
It's as if most people have blinkers (blinders) on them - Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not at all in the public consciousness (although that's changing slowly) and so people don't even consider it as an option. Also, people don't like to think that others can be so soulless and horrible. So there's a bit of denial going on.
The good news is that once your Narcissist-antennae are attuned, so to speak, you recognise them immediately. You get a kind of N-dar!
Diagnosing Narcissism clinically is a huge issue, and a difficult one even for professionals, and is beyond the scope of this website.
What we're talking about here is how to recognize a narcissist for your own satisfaction and above all your own well-being.
How To Recognize A Narcissist
It's not to learn how to recognize a narcissist. They are masters of disguise. They are able to observe the behaviour of normal people and copy that behaviour in order to fit in.
But if you're careful, you can spot how they give themselves away. If there's somebody you suspect might suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder you can observe them and see which, if any (and how many!) Narcissistic Traits they manifest.
- Do they talk constantly about themselves? This might include talking about their children/grandchildren. I remember complaining to my father that my mother was never interested in me, and he said, "Nonsense, she talks about you at the Tennis Club all the time". Of course, now I realise that didn't mean she was interested in me. It meant she was interested in getting Narcissistic Supply by talking about me. When she was talking to me it was a different story though.
- Do they have a sense of superiority? Do they believe that their opinions are automatically right? That's a classic Narcissist trait. My mother always gets personally offended whenever somebody disagrees with her or does anything she doesn't approve of. As if they're doing it to her.
- How do they react to being challenged or disagreed with? If they get affronted at you even daring to do this, it's a red flag.
- How long do their relationships last? Narcissists can be superficially popular, but people tend to see through them after a while. A flag would be that nobody is in their life long-term. (Ironically, an exception to this might be daughters of narcissistic mothers, or other victims of narcissists. We often end up with only toxic people in our circle because of this, and sometimes when we realise the truth and come to healthy boundaries and self-care, there has to be a huge house-cleaning of these toxic people.)
- Are they always bad-mouthing others? Narcissists rarely have good things to say about other people. The exception to this is someone higher status than themselves they might be trying to impress.
- How do they take to being teased? This is a big one! Narcissists take themselves very seriously, and don't take to teasing at all.
- How do they treat people who they might consider to be inferior to them in status, e.g. shop assistants or waiters?
- Are they always telling you how wonderful they are? This might be subtle - Narcissists aren't stupid, and they can moderate their behaviour to fit in with convention. But they'll always be the star of the stories they tell.
- Do they name-drop? Not every Narcissist does, and lots of non-Narcissists do - but it's still a warning sign.
- How do they react to others' tragedies? They'll express the same sentiments as everybody else, e.g. "That was awful. Poor them." But if you listen carefully, there'll be a false note about this. It's very subtle but real. The words just won't ring true. There may be an air of suppressed excitement about them as they feed off the excitement of the tragedy.
- Is your relationship with them very one-sided, with you doing most or all of the giving, and them doing most or all of the taking?
I repeat that you are probably not qualified to make an official diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As indeed, no more am I.
But this, and the narcissistic traits page, will give you enough information to know how to recognize a narcissist in order to protect yourself by avoiding them or by dealing with them carefully. And if you're wrong, well ... if they are that toxic that you came to the conclusion they're a narcissist, then there's a good argument for avoiding them even if they're not strictly narcissistic.