Are You a Narcissist? How to Tell

Updated on January 15, 2018
SinDelle profile image

I am a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders who has worked with people with disabilities and mental illnesses for over 10 years.

As a general rule, it's usually said that if you think you might be a narcissist, you're probably not one—and this is true, for the most part. People who are pathologically narcissistic are usually not capable of the insight and self-awareness that is required to make this type of assessment of themselves or come to that conclusion. They may know, intellectually, that they are a narcissist if someone tells them they are, or if they are diagnosed, but that is usually as far as the information really goes. It is not connected to any definition of themselves or their behavior. It has no real meaning for them as it relates to themselves. It's information with no meaning.

Denial plays a huge factor here as well. People who are pathologically narcissistic usually practice some seriously hardcore denial, so it would be unusual for them to come to the conclusion that they are in fact doing all of the things that we talk about narcissists doing, such as manipulating others, attacking them for no reason, misperceiving things, and believing things that aren't true. It is more likely that they would deny any culpability whatsoever, instead, seeing themselves as victims who are being acted against, rather than as attackers or predators who are acting on others.

Because of their problems with projection, narcissists would be more likely to hear the things said on this show and claim others are doing that to them, rather than see it in themselves. This is the way their disorder is set up. It's basically a malfunctioning defense mechanism designed to keep them from ever having to hear anything bad about themselves, so coming to the conclusion that they have a disorder and have been the so-called "perpetrator" or villain this entire time is pretty unlikely.

That's not to say it can't happen, though. Anything is possible, and everybody is different. But for the most part, it's more likely that people who feel they see these behaviors in themselves have narcissistic traits, rather than that they are pathologically narcissistic. Pathological narcissism is inflexible. It cannot bend or adapt, regardless of new information. This is why a narcissist will continue to argue or deny something even when they are demonstrably proven wrong or caught red-handed. It's all they know how to do. It's also why they seem to be unable to learn from mistakes or consequences. Regardless of how many times a certain behavior has backfired or ended up badly for them, they will continue to repeat it as if they are stuck on a loop. Again, this is because it's all they know how to do. Their narcissistic traits are inflexible and not able to adapt. They cannot change them. Some can change their behavior if the behavior is no longer working for them, but their disordered thought process and flawed perception remains the same.

Narcissism is a spectrum and the good news is that having narcissistic traits is not the end of the world. Lots of people have some, and if you recognize them and really apply yourself, you can change that. Narcissism doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing thing if it's not pathological. Practicing gratitude, using CBT techniques or getting with a good therapist can help you figure things out.

Now, just to be thorough I'll give a few things that may be red flags for narcissism in yourself but really, pathological narcissists probably would not recognize these things in themselves anyway. They don't believe they are accusing people of things they didn't do, or that they are unable to admit they are wrong. Most true narcissists would probably need to be told by somebody else. Of course, none of this is set in stone but some things a person could ask themselves—or ask someone else about themselves—would be:

  1. Do I overreact to things most people would not? Am I paranoid or oversensitive to criticism?
  2. Do I often feel that people are attacking me, mocking me or that they have ulterior motives that they are hiding from me?
  3. Do I feel that I need to remind others of my worth so that they don't forget, or make sure my needs are not forgotten?
  4. Do I have a lot of issues with self-hatred? Do I believe I am worthless, useless or unlovable?
  5. Do I believe my feelings are facts? Do I have trouble accepting or controlling my emotions?
  6. Do I enjoy hurting others or believe they deserve it when I'm upset or if they have hurt me first?
  7. Do I think it is unforgivable or unacceptable to be wrong? Am I unable to admit I am wrong, even when it's proven?
  8. Do I consistently believe people have done—or accuse people of—things they did not do?
  9. Do I believe that my needs should always come before anything else and that others should sacrifice themselves for me? Will I do anything to get what I want?
  10. Do I believe it's OK to take advantage of someone if I need something? Do I feel that people owe me because I've had a hard life?

Again, these things are not set in stone; there's a hundred more we could add but truthfully, a pathologically narcissistic person most likely will not recognize most of these things in themselves anyway. The thought process, the insight and the honesty that is required to answer many these questions is generally beyond someone who is pathologically narcissistic. They don't believe they are overreacting, for example; they think the situation is a huge problem deserving of that reaction. They don't think their feelings are facts, they just think these things are facts, period. They don't think they're unable to admit they're wrong because they don't think they're wrong. They think they're right. Any things they did recognize, they may deny—to themselves and out loud—because they can't admit to being that kind of person.

This is a hard subject to address, mostly because of the denial factor involved with narcissism in general. It's built into the disorder, which is why we say that if you think you could be one, you're probably not. However, if you do notice problem behaviors related to narcissistic traits, you can work on them and you can change them. A good CBT or DBT therapist can work wonders, as can working on your self-esteem and developing more realistic thinking. Many of you may be thinking that some of the things listed here are the types of behaviors that abuse victims display. That's right, they are. Narcissists were often victims of abuse, too. That's how many of them became what they are.

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