While you are unlikely to know for sure if a friend or someone you meet has narcissistic personality disorder, there are some useful red flags that a person has narcissistic traits and may not be a good friendship match for you. There is also a huge range among people with narcissistic traits, some people may have other wonderful qualities, whereas other people may be far more draining, toxic, and/or difficult to deal with. In addition, some of these traits may be more obvious at first, and others may not be as observable until you know the person better.
Red Flags That A Potential Friend Has Narcissistic Traits:
- The person only wants to talk about themselves or what is interesting to them.
- When the person is willing to talk about you or your situation, it is only to give to you advice, tell you what to do differently, or they more subtly make you feel badly about yourself and your choices.
- Even when they are “asking a question” about something that has to do with their life, they do not actually want your advice or opinion, only that you should mirror their feelings back to them and be in constant agreement with whatever they say.
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- They are often insensitive to your feelings, but they feel ACUTELY sensitive to any slights, criticisms, of even subtle negative behaviours towards them.
- The person expects everyone else to cater to their needs, where they want to go, what they want to do, their schedule, etc.
- They often discuss people in terms of comparisons – for example, “she is so much better looking than her husband” or “you’re so much more fun than my friend, Sara”
- The person is very status conscious and will rank people, places and things in terms of a status hierarchy, where their goal is to always be at the top. The higher a person’s status ranking, the more they like them. They may define status in terms of things like: wealth, beauty, intelligence, a person’s social network, connections, career, or any other status category that matters to them.
- They are almost constantly seeking the approval and validation of others, and care tremendously about what people think of them (whether they will admit this or not).
- They are acutely sensitive to feelings of embarrassment or humiliation.
- They are likely to be competitive with you, either openly or more subtly, leaving you feeling more self-conscious than usual about yourself in ways that you do not experience around other types of people.
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- It is very important to them to be the best at everything, or be attached to the person, place or thing that is the best.
- They may tell long in depth stories about themselves over and over again, without realizing that you’ve heard it already, they haven’t asked anything about you, engaged with you, or noticed that they’ve offended or hurt someone’s feelings, and may seem as if they could simply go on and on forever.
- They externalize all blame for any situation, and are very unlikely to ever admit any kind of wrong doing or responsibility for something negative.
- They can be extremely critical, degrading, or even mean, the moment they feel narcissistically injured. In these moments they will demonstrate a lack of object constancy, where they are unable to maintain any positive feelings towards someone the moment they are hurt or upset with them. They will also expect you to immediately take their side in these situations.
- They have very little emotional empathy for others, and when they do demonstrate empathy, it is very specifically geared towards only the small group of people or topics that feel important to them when it is convenient for them.
The point is…
While you are unlikely to know for sure if someone has narcissistic personality disorder, there are certainly observable red flags that a person has narcissistic traits. Some of these traits may bother some people more than others, and it does not mean a person does not have other wonderful traits that might be appealing to you. It’s important to notice for yourself, how you feel around this person, how sensitive you may or may not feel in relation to their narcissistic behaviors, and whether or not this feels like a friendship worth pursuing.
Karen Arluck is a psychotherapist in private practice in NYC and Long Island.