Signs of narcissism are more than just being self-confident or self-absorbed, the personality trait is complex.
Narcissism refers to being self-centred, boastful and preoccupied with one’s own needs — which is relatively normal and common among people.
Like all personality traits, narcissism exists on a continuum — most people are at least a little narcissistic.
However, at the extreme narcissism can be become a personality disorder.
Typical traits or signs of narcissism in someone with a narcissistic personality disorder include:
- Convinced of their own superiority to others.
- Appear arrogant and conceited.
- Envious: they want power, prestige and adoration.
- Extremely self-absorbed.
- Lacking empathy towards others.
Types of narcissist
Psychologists have suggested different types of narcissists:
- Grandiose narcissists: over-inflated sense of self-importance.
- Vulnerable narcissists: defensive and see others as hostile. Linked to more anxiety and depression.
Here are some of the ways that these traits manifest themselves:
1. Narcissists have brittle self-esteem
One thing everyone notices about the narcissist is that they appear very full of themselves and self-centred.
But, some people are full of themselves because they simply have high self-esteem, and possibly for good reason.
The narcissist, though, feels they are superior to others, but at the same time not very satisfied with themselves.
Their self-esteem is brittle, ready to crack and reveal the uncertainties underneath.
At their core, they can feel a certain lack, which is why criticism makes narcissists aggressive.
2. Narcissists are susceptible to flattery
The narcissist loves nothing better than when others gather round to tell them how great they are.
And narcissists believe every single word of even the most exaggerated flattery.
While others take it with a pinch of salt, the narcissist laps it all up, believing they are only getting their due.
The reason they are so susceptible to flattery is that their ambition knows no bounds.
They really believe they are royalty.
If you don’t offer flattery to the narcissist, they will start to solicit it from you: “What do you think of my hair today, doesn’t it look nice?”
3. Narcissists know how to attract attention
Narcissists love to make a big production out of everything.
They can turn on the charm in an instant.
It’s why they appear so often on reality TV shows, and TV and entertainment in general.
They adore attention and will do anything to get it from others.
This makes them very attractive, at least initially.
Their antics provide a welcome break from the workaday world.
Watching a narcissist is very entertaining…
…until, of course, they turn…
4. Narcissists are envious
Most people experience the odd burst of envy from time-to-time, but for the narcissist envy burns brightly.
Narcissists are deeply involved with how they are doing in comparison to others.
This means they get pleasure from devaluing others and from showing how much better they are themselves.
Naturally, then, they are competitive and likely to be poor losers.
(However, grandiose narcissist do not feel much envy.)
5. Narcissists lack empathy
The narcissist cares little for how others feel, they are only interested in getting their own needs met.
And their own needs are simple enough: to be worshipped as a living God.
Some narcissists can be very manipulative in order to get what they want.
They take advantage and think little of others’ feelings.
Then, when they have satisfied their egos, it is all over as if nothing happened.
6. Narcissists are volatile
Some narcissists fit in reasonably well with society.
‘Successful’ narcissists manage to maintain their jobs and relationships by keeping their tendencies in check.
For the more volatile narcissist, though, their narcissism escapes in most situations.
They immediately blow up at even the slightest criticism — sometimes known as narcissistic rage.
Their envy, insecurity and vanity boils over at every available opportunity.
The effect is to push people away, tired of being used and abused.
So the narcissist ends up continually seeking new friends and a new audience, after the old ones have got fed up with their antics.
Body language signs of narcissism
Beyond the signs of narcissism mentioned above, one can concentrate on their body language.
There are some conversational signs of narcissism to look out for (from Holtzman et al., 2010):
- Narcissists tend to use more sexual language and swearing to grab attention
- Narcissist are overly dramatic in their facial expressions and their hand gestures.
- Narcissists tend to use a loud voice.
- Narcissist look over your shoulder while speaking: they want to see if there is someone else to talk to.
One study even suggests that narcissistic eyebrows are the facial feature that reveals their personalites.
However, narcissists do not use the pronoun “I” more in conversation (Carey et al., 2015).
It might seem odd that people who are so self-focused, self-important and superior do not use the words “I” and “me” more often, but the finding is consistent.
Ms Angela Carey, the study’s first author, said:
“There is a widely assumed association between use of first-person singular pronouns, what we call I-talk, and narcissism, among laypeople and scientists despite the fact that the empirical support for this relation is surprisingly sparse and generally inconsistent.”
Two signs of a narcissistic personality
Many narcissists do not have a personality disorder, but their tendencies towards narcissism can be seen in their personality traits.
Research finds that narcissists are highly extraverted along with being disagreeable (Bradlee & Emmons, 1992; Paulhus, 2001).
The combination of the two personality traits explains how narcissists are both very sociable and also prone to being rude and selfish.
Their extraversion makes them very positive.
Along with their self-confidence and energy, people find them very attractive — at first.
Narcissists try to take control of situations and are happy to manipulate people — even if their strategies are self-defeating over the long-term.
Most people who are around narcissists for a while start to notice how disagreeable they are — they have little or no interest in other people’s feelings.
They can also go into a narcissistic rage.
A narcissist will usually prefer to appear higher status, even at the cost of being much less agreeable:
“…the willingness of narcissists to accept negative judgments of their likability as long as they receive positive judgments of their status gives them high overall scores on the NPI [Narcissistic Personality Inventory].”
The conclusions come from two studies, one that surveyed 102 people and the other that reviewed the research on personality and narcissism.
Professor Delroy L. Paulhus, an expert on dark personalities, explains how high extraversion and being disagreeable make a narcissist:
“…reward-sensitivity as the central component.
Thus, the pursuit of rewarding goals is paramount in the cognitions of extraverts.
They also show high levels of self-confidence, optimism, and promiscuous sexual behavior.
Disagreeable individuals display, at best, a cold disdain for others and aggressive anger, when frustrated.
As a combination, the subset of disagreeable reward seekers constitutes those who actively pursue rewards but react with aggression when frustrated in these attempts.”
The narcissist also has a curious combination of an overly positive view of themselves and overly negative view of others:
“…narcissists’ relationships are characterized by an asymmetric positive view of the self and a negative view of other whereas relationships among those with high self-esteem are characterized by a symmetric positive view of both self and other.”