Signs of a narcissist

Updated July 20, 2017

Narcissistic personality disorder is a psychological disorder that, while not common, can be very destructive to people in relationships. It is estimated that about 1 per cent of the population has this disorder. It is thought to be rooted in childhood experiences and in poor parenting, although some researchers believe it is highly heritable.

Arrogance and Sense of Entitlement

The most obvious sign of narcissism in a person is a tendency to be arrogant. A narcissist feels that he is special, better than other people and entitled to special treatment as a result. He may feel as if he should be able to go to the front of a line rather than waiting in line like everybody else. He may brag a lot and exaggerate about his own accomplishments. He has an insatiable need for attention, otherwise known as "narcissistic supply." Others must be constantly adoring and admiring of him and his brilliance and talent. He must be the centre of attention at any gathering, and any person who does not hang on his every word will be rejected, criticised or even attacked. If someone talks about themselves incessantly and is not interested in hearing about you at all, then you can suspect that the person may be a narcissist.


A narcissist does not see other people as being as fully human as he sees himself. As far as he's concerned, he's the only person who really exists; other people exist as sources of narcissistic supply and to do his bidding and help him get ahead. For this reason, the narcissist frequently exploits people at work and in the family. He may expect others to do all the boring parts of his work for him, and he won't give them any credit for it. He may expect family members to work for him for free. Some narcissists prey on others sexually, seducing and abandoning lovers in rapid succession. A sociopathic narcissist may turn into an outright criminal.

Lack of Empathy

It is impossible for narcissists to have healthy relationships with others because of their arrogance and exploitative behaviour. But perhaps the most destructive quality of a narcissist is her lack of empathy. Narcissists prey on, exploit and devalue other people around them with little or no remorse. It becomes obvious after a while that they don't believe other people's feelings matter at all compared to their own. They don't seem able to notice or care about the inner lives of other people. There is a stunning lack of imagination in their ability to ignore the pain of the people that they hurt.

Bad Boundaries

Narcissists exhibit what psychologists call "bad boundaries." What this means is that they disregard normal limits on social behaviour: They may borrow things without permission; make rude comments about other people's appearance; touch people inappropriately and generally disregard other people's rightful "boundaries," boundaries that normal people respect. To them, other people are inconsequential, so why not violate their boundaries? A narcissist becomes enraged, however, if you resist his violation of your boundaries or try to reassert a boundary with him.

Dealing with Narcissists

According to Sandy Hotchkiss, an expert on narcissism, you can protect yourself from narcissists in your life in four ways. First, you must understand yourself and your own vulnerability to the attractions of the charming, charismatic narcissist. Second, you should take off your rose-coloured glasses and admit to yourself that the narcissist is not a normal, empathetic person like you. Third, you must set boundaries with this person, making clear statements about what is and is not all right with you. Finally, you can cultivate reciprocal relationships where both parties give and take equally, and nobody is the "star."

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About the Author

Shannon Stoney holds a B.A. in English and comparative literature from Princeton University, as well as an M.F.A. in visual art from the Maine College of Art. She has been a fiber artist since 1985 and a fine artist since 1998. Stoney is also a writer and editor, with work published in magazines such as "Cite," "Spin-Off" and "Permaculture Activist."