Narcissistic behavior ruins relationships. Finding out you’re in a relationship with a narcissist is like discovering you’re on a dead-end street — eventually, you’ll have to turn around and start over.
Until the end, the narcissist in your life keeps taking and taking while you keep giving. It could be a professional relationship, it could be a friendship, or it could be an intimate relationship. Narcissists have no problem engaging people in any of these.
The dead-end street of narcissism is the extreme version. Each narcissist is part of a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe — severe narcissism is pathological, a disorder that, if it goes unchecked, will rage out of control for the majority of a person’s life. Mild narcissism is the kind we come across most often.
Signs of narcissistic behavior
This disorder can be hard to spot; if you’re concerned that someone you know is a narcissist — or you may be wondering if you have narcissistic tendencies — look for these behaviors.
1. They make everything about them.
Here’s the deal with narcissists: they absolutely love talking about themselves. Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist says:
“Narcissistic functioning at core is a disorder of listening.”
When you’re talking to a narcissist, they’re not really listening; they’re waiting to talk about themselves.
Anyone is guilty of this from time to time, but the narcissist will take the conversation and steer it in their direction consistently.
The narcissist could ask you about your day, but it’s more of a way to start a conversation in which they will become the subject. They also tend to interrupt and change the subject.
On the extreme end, a narcissist will get angry when you try to assert your opinion. The narcissist is always right even if their conclusion is illogical.
2. They want control and power, and they want to lead.
Narcissistic behavior often lands the narcissist in leadership positions because it looks like confidence.
But be careful before you label your boss or your congress person a narcissist. Charisma and the ability to lead are not necessarily signs of narcissism. According to Rutgers University:
“A politician’s leadership skills often come across as narcissism.”
But statistically speaking, politicians don’t possess other narcissistic traits more than anyone else.
To spot whether your boss or representative is a narcissist, look out for overtly controlling behavior and grandiose statements.
3. They make grandiose statements all the time.
You know a grandiose statement when you hear one. Narcissistic behavior is about using these statements to attract attention and earn other people’s confidence and admiration.
The grandiose narcissist feels entitled. Instead of saying, ‘I still have a lot to learn, but I’m fairly confident I can succeed,’ the narcissist will say something like, ‘I honestly feel I deserve to get a raise more than the other people in my department.”
On the severe side, narcissists who make grandiose statements are prone to delusions of grandeur. They are the ‘best.’ A pathological narcissist believes they can become the most famous person in America (they’ll drop a famous person’s name and compare themselves to that person, or assert they have a personal connection to a celebrity), they are well-suited to rule the world, and other delusions of this nature.
4. They cheat on you.
Narcissists tend to cheat because they get gratification from exploiting others through sexual encounters. Cheating feeds the narcissist’s sense of self-validation and power.
Author Anna Cherry reports that sexual narcissism is directly correlated with cheating.
According to Cherry, researchers did two longitudinal studies and published the results in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Out of 123 married couples, the partners who did the most cheating displayed the highest levels of sexual narcissism, which includes “sexual exploitation, sexual entitlement, lack of sexual empathy, and grandiose sense of sexual skill.”
5. They manipulate you until they get what they want.
There are two faces of narcissism::
- The extraverted, egotistical, and charming type we’ve been discussing so far.
- And a type that seems completely the opposite — the vulnerable, hypersensitive, anxiety prone narcissist displays a lack of confidence, and may seem introverted, but is actually harboring grandiose fantasies, and will use their vulnerability to exploit others.
Both types of narcissists share the tendency to exploit others by manipulating their emotions.
The extraverted narcissist will charm you and flatter you until he gets what he wants (the pronoun “he” is intentional — psychologist Fred Stinson found that males are more likely to be narcissists. The introverted narcissist will evoke your empathy and pity.
Both types of narcissists will exploit you to gain emotional, sexual, social, and physical validation. One manipulative narcissist tactic is to tell you they have other options but they still choose you; watch out for that one.
6. They swear at you a lot and use sexually gratuitous language.
No joke — narcissists are more likely than others to be verbally aggressive and confrontational.
Profanity and sexually explicit language tend to draw attention to the narcissist and shock people. They’ll swear more than normal on a regular basis, they’ll cuss profusely when they argue with you, and they’ll use exaggerated gestures to emphasize their point.
In very heated moments, a narcissist will say just about anything to maintain power.
7. They argue with you constantly.
Severe narcissists are always right — always. As your relationship with a narcissist progresses, the veil drops, and he or she begins to stop saying what they think you want to hear. Then, arguments grow more frequent and more intense.
There’s no winning the argument because, again, narcissists do not respond to logic. The only time they do is when it serves their purposes.
8. They are in and out of relationships frequently.
While studying narcissists in relationships, psychologist W. Keith Campbell noticed a trend:
Their relationships peak after about four months, then they’re typically over. People in relationships with narcissists report a high level of satisfaction for the first four months, and then a quick decline. This reflects the narcissistic tendency to exploit people until the good times are gone.
After four months, the argumentative tendencies, the prevailing need for control, the infidelity, the exploitation, and overall shallowness spell the end of the relationship.
9. They pay too much attention to physical appearance.
Simine Vazier and other researchers note that:
“Narcissists are more likely to wear expensive, flashy clothing, have an organized, neat appearance requiring a lot of preparation, and (in females) wear makeup and show cleavage.”
Narcissists typically score higher in evaluations of physical attractiveness, and narcissistic men tend to go for women who are considered good-looking.
Narcissistic men spend more time working on their muscular definition, while narcissistic women spend more time preening. This explains the short-term nature of romantic encounters with narcissists. The immediate attraction is there, but the emotional aspect proves frustrating.
10. They change the subject when emotions come up.
In particular, grandiose and extraverted narcissists do not want to discuss their emotions with you because it puts them in a position of vulnerability and weakens their power over you.
If a narcissist does bring up their emotions, it’s disingenuous. They’re using an emotional appeal to get closer to you. The emotion they identify could not be farther from how they’re actually feeling.
11. Their eyes glaze over and become distant when you’re talking.
They might nod, say “uh-huh,” and “yeah,” and act like they’re listening, but you can tell by their eyes that they’re not. You’ll notice the glaze, the distance, when you’re talking about your own experience or about anything not related to the narcissist.
The narcissist glazes over because they are indeed not listening to you. They’re thinking about what they’re going to say. To listen to you is to give you a modicum of control.
12. They are a terrible sport.
No one likes to lose, but when the narcissist loses, they’re unable to accept it and walk away. If they win, they rub it in.
You’ll know the difference between a normal person’s competitive impulse and that of a narcissist by just how excruciating it is to compete with the narcissist, no matter what the outcome. Once you tally the score, you’ll understand that the narcissist is more in it for domination than fun.
13. They love to cross your boundaries and break rules.
This is a certain sign of narcissistic behavior:
When you assert a boundary, they break it.
You ask them not to have anyone over while you’re out of town and they throw a party. You tell them not to touch your hair — they touch it. They may make unwelcome sexual advances that count as harassment. They also look for social norms and rules to break, almost as if it’s a game. They don’t tip, they run red lights late at night, they make fun of a handicapped person behind their back.
This is about building an image of superiority and autonomy.
14. They collect trophies and status symbols.
Even if it’s a story about a celebrity, a rock star, or an absolutely perfect party (at which the narcissist was the star), the narcissist dwells in a world of status symbols.
Sleek, cherry-red sports cars, guitars on walls with autographs on them, selfies in stunning locations, gorgeous, scantily clad women hanging on the arm — these are the stereotypical hallmarks of the narcissist, but watch out for more subtle ways in which the narcissist converts everything they do into a trophy.
15. They absolutely worship that perfect person in their life.
Although the narcissist will paint themselves as superior to others — which can come off as pretentious — they will also find a person to worship.
The narcissist’s idol represents perfection in their eyes. This is someone they want to emulate and it has a lot to do with their childhood. Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) can be a cause of narcissism. It’s not uncommon for the narcissist’s idol to be a status or sex symbol.
How to deal with the narcissist in your life
Don’t put up with it. If you play games with the narcissist, or expect that you can change this person by appealing to their humanity and emotional intelligence, you’re playing right into the narcissist’s plan. Rather, be calm and firm and call them out; assert yourself, your autonomy, and the validity of your emotions.
Here’s a detailed guide on how to deal with a narcissist:
Access the resources at your disposal. There are some useful books to help you learn to deal with narcissists:
The narcissist needs professional psychological help, which includes a diagnosis. If you’re in a relationship with this person, offer to attend couple’s therapy with them, but not before they’ve taken the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Even if they manipulate the Inventory, it’s important that they see a counselor.
If they don’t work on changing, their relationships will continue to fail. Even the narcissist can change, but they must step away from the mirror and face who they truly are inside.
No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.
People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.
But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.
If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.
Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.
Pain Is Our Guardian
Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.
In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.
Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.
While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.
Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.
No Pain, No Happiness
You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.
In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy
In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.
This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.
Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering
Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.
This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.
Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.
Allow Room for the Inevitable
Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.
Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,
“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”
Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.
The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?
While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).
Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse
Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.
To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.
You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!