While it’s easy to assume that narcissists simply have an innate inflated sense of self-worth and entitlement, there is usually a deep-seated trigger.
“They have often been a victim of chronic relational trauma in childhood, and now lack empathy because their caregivers – for whatever reason and circumstance – did not meet their emotional needs when they were children,” explains Dr Paglia. “Hence they developed their narcissism as a defence against loss and feeling vulnerable.”
Some forms of psychological abuse can be so dangerously subtle and insidious that you aren’t even aware it’s happening.
Being able to recognise the signs early on is key to getting out safely and protecting your own mental health. But that’s not always easy – particularly when it comes to narcissistic abuse (or narc abuse).
“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder where a person has a heightened sense of his or her importance and self-admiration,” says Dr Martina Paglia, psychologist and founder of Expat Therapy 4U. “People who have this disorder believe that they are superior to others and they seldom care for anyone else’s feelings.”
If you’re concerned that your friend or partner is a narcissist and potentially subjecting you to narc abuse, here are Dr Paglia’s 10 warning signs to look out for..
1. Charming, but for their own good
At the start, they will come across incredibly charming with their charismatic personality. They will try their best to win you over with their charm. They will make you feel special.
While there is nothing wrong with being an attentive friend or partner, it soon starts to wear off with narcissists. Or worse, they will keep using their charm to use and manipulate you. They extract whatever they want from you and be done with it.
2. Instant gratification required
You will find them self-absorbed and self-centred all the time and they expect you to fulfil their needs instantly. They might fight with you if you don’t do what they want, answer their call and texts immediately or you don’t do the things their way. Just try to say ‘no’ for once, and if they go off the rails, then that’s a strong narcissistic trait.
3. Entitlement is their go-to
They often expect exceptional treatment from others. In their minds, the world revolves just around them. To spot this, try and observe their behaviour when they visit a restaurant with you – see how they behave with the waiters and other staff members. If they are all about picking mistakes and making them embarrassed, then that’s a sign of narcissism.
4. Love to talk about themselves
One of the easiest ways to track a narcissistic personality? See if they want to talk or listen. A narcissist loves to talk about themselves exaggeratedly and excitedly. If they dominate the conversation every time you talk about something, then that’s a strong sign of narcissism. They always focus and give extra value to their issues and life more than yours.
5. They’re unreliable
Another way to spot a narcissist is to see how much they act according to their words. Many of them don’t follow through on what they say they’ll do. They will break promises, not stick to appointments, and fail in fulfilling any agreements. This can also mean that they are emotionally available one time and are gone the next.
6. They manipulate and feel no guilt at all
Some narcissists use their partners, friends and co-workers to fulfil their personal needs, fulfil their ambitions and cover up their flaws. For example, they might say things like: “I can’t wait for you to meet my friends so that they can be jealous”, or “I get to live with my girlfriend rent-free and use her car”. They don’t see anything wrong with this, since they lack empathy, and some narcissists even have what we call ‘cognitive empathy’ – they understand at an intellectual level how others feel and use this to manipulate them.
7. There are consequences when their demands are not met
They can’t stand disappointments or rejection at any stake. If they want you to do things their way, you must. Otherwise, there are consequences. They become rude, fight with you, or worse, might torture you emotionally. These are all the tactics they use to make you do whatever they want.
8. They don’t ‘do’ commitment
You might have fallen in love with their charming and charismatic personality, but you won’t get a serious relationship out of it. They often have commitment issues. They often take advantage of their relationship with you but keep an eye on the options outside, and you might catch them looking at other people intimately.
They want to keep you, use you and then ditch you for someone else. But because they can’t handle rejection, they’re afraid it might not work with you, and that’s why they never make serious commitments.
9. Always breaking the rules
Narcissists tend to believe that they make their own rules. They seldom care about what the regulations and boundaries are around them, and believe everyone should follow their rules instead.
Signs to look out for: cutting a queue, stealing office supplies, disobeying traffic rules, and breaking multiple appointments. And, above all, they will feel pride in it, and don’t care if their behaviour is affecting society or others in any way. If something goes wrong, it’s always somebody else’s fault – they never take the blame.
10. Constantly putting others down
Their gratitude and superiority come from putting others down constantly, making jokes or comments to make you feel embarrassed or inferior. Consider if there have been any changes in your personality – your confidence has slipped, you don’t think you deserve anything good – as these thoughts and feelings are likely a result of the narcissist putting you down.