Narcissism is a distinct personality disorder, which according to Psychology Today, is characterized by “grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration.”
The traits that make narcissists so difficult to hang out with or date — like a willingness to control people and a ruthlessness in getting their needs met — also happen to make them effective at rising up the ranks. Narcissists only make up about 1% of the population, but when you think of the hundreds of people you know, chances are there are may be a few narcissists mixed in.
To help you figure out if you, your family member, or perhaps your boss is a narcissist, we combed through the psychology literature looking for patterns of narcissistic behavior. We also spoke with Joseph Burgo, PhD, a psychologist and the author of “The Narcissist You Know.”
Here are 19 common signs of narcissism, and how to identify them.
This is an update of an article originally written by Vivian Giang, with additional contributions by Drake Baer.
1. You’re a bad sport
Burgo says some narcissists are bullies — and one of their most troublesome traits is their tendency to be a sore loser and a sore winner.
For example, when they lose in a sports match, narcissistic people might try to humiliate the referee. When they win, they might gloat excessively or act abusively to the losing party.
2. You constantly feel under appreciated
The kind of people that Burgo calls “grandiose” narcissists always hold a grievance against the world.
Those with narcissistic behavior will typically feel entitled to something better and think they’re not getting the recognition they deserve from others.
3. If you’re not grandiose, then you’re introverted, hypersensitive, defensive, and anxious
Psychologists talk about the “two faces of narcissism.” On one end there’s the hyper-aggressive, super-loud type. But there’s a softer form of narcissism, too. It’s called “covert narcissism,” which is denoted by introversion, hypersensitivity, defensiveness, and anxiety.
“Both shades of narcissism shared a common core of conceit, arrogance, and the tendency to give in to one’s own needs and disregard others,” Scientific American reports.
4. You think everyone else is stupid
Many narcissists are know-it-alls, and have a hard time getting along with coworkers and friends because they refuse to believe they could possibly be wrong about anything.
Burgo has observed that these narcissists walk around with a marked sense of superiority to others and have a “my way or the highway” approach to decision-making.
5. You really like to swear at people
Psychologists Nicholas Holtzman and Michael Strube from Washington University in St. Louis found in a study that subjects who scored higher in narcissism are argumentative and curse more than their modest counterparts.
They also tend to use more sexually explicit language.
6. You are self-righteous
Narcissists often believe their views are inherently superior to other people’s perspectives. But what they truly value is the attention they receive for holding those views.
For example, Burgo said, a person with narcissism might believe he has a closer connection to God — but it’s more important to him that other people acknowledge this connection and admire his deep sense of spirituality.
7. You feel justified in being mean to people
“Vindictive” narcissists generally know vengeful or antisocial behavior isn’t acceptable. But they feel OK about acting that way because they constantly feel they’ve been wronged, Burgo said.
What’s more, they often take offense where it’s not intended, meaning they’re constantly hearing people say, “That’s not what I meant!”
8. You enjoy leading others and telling them what to do
Narcissists typically enjoy leadership positions since they are able to dominate others and fulfill their need for constant positive reinforcement.
9. You are likely young and male, and maybe an entertainer
“A narcissist monk would not be good, but to be Kanye West and a narcissist is fantastic,” said University of Western Sydney psychologist Peter Jonason, an expert on social psychology.
After 34,653 face-to-face interviews, psychologist Frederick Stinson found that men tend to be more narcissistic than women across their lifespans.
Narcissism is believed to peak during adolescence and decline with age.
10. You hate having to feel emotions
The “very fact of having a feeling in the presence of another person suggests you can be touched emotionally by friends, family, partners, and even the occasional tragedy or failure,” says Harvard Medical School psychologist Craig Malkin.
That’s why narcissists abhor them.
Feeling an emotion “challenges their sense of perfect autonomy,” he continues. “To admit to a feeling of any kind suggests they can be affected by someone or something outside of them.”
As a result, narcissists tend to change the topic of conversation when feelings come up — especially their own.
11. You’re more attractive than other people — or at least you think you are
Narcissists are generally rated as more stylish and physically attractive, according to a study conducted by Simine Vazire, a psychologist at Washington University.
However, this isn’t always the case. According to a 2008 study, narcissists rated themselves highly in both looks and intelligence, but when they took IQ tests, the results were average. When their peers were asked to rate their narcissist friends on looks, the results were lower than what the narcissists gave themselves.
12. Instead of listening, you just wait to speak
Anita Vangelisti, a psychologist at the University of Texas in Austin, found that narcissists typically prefer to keep the conversation centered on themselves, “making exaggerated hand movements, talking loudly, and showing disinterest by ‘glazing over’ when others speak.”
13. You are a serial romantic
Burgo also identifies a group of narcissists he calls “seductive.”
These people with narcissistic traits fall in and out of love quickly and easily, often with people they don’t know very well. They think their partner is absolutely perfect — a complement to their own perfection — until reality sets in, when they realize their partner is flawed and end the relationship.
14. You cheat in relationships, and usually get dumped after dating for about four months
Psychologists Joshua Foster at the University of South Alabama and W. Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia found that narcissists are more likely to cheat once they think their partners are committed.
They also seem to get a rush out of convincing others to engage in promiscuous sexual acts that they normally do not participate in.
Through his research, Campbell also found that the four-month mark — the apparent satisfaction peak in any dating relationship — is typically how long it takes for someone dating a narcissist to see their true colors.
15. You put some people on pedestals
Malkin says the logic goes like this: “If I find someone perfect to be close to, maybe some of their perfection will rub off on me, and I’ll become perfect by association.”
With that ideal in mind, narcissists cozy up to people they find perfect — be it a colleague or a crush — and then get really disappointed when that person isn’t as impeccable as they imagined.
For a narcissist, everything has to be perfect.
16. You like to put other people down
Narcissistic people intentionally put down others in order to maintain a high positive image of themselves.
“Seeking admiration is like a drug for narcissists,” said Mitja D. Back, a psychologist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. “In the long run, it becomes difficult because others won’t applaud them, so they always have to search for new acquaintances from whom they get the next fix.”
This also explains why narcissists typically maintain only weak relationships.
17. Your parents both ignored and adored you
Research suggests a combination of parental rejection and excessive admiration is more strongly linked to adult narcissism than if one childhood experience consistently existed without the other.
The inconsistency and whiplash of the parents’ attitude toward their children will eventually cause a “deep craving for admiration” and lead the narcissist to lead a life searching for fleeting ego boosts, Psychology Today reports.
18. You choose your friends to look cool or take advantage of people
Narcissistic men and women have different ways of choosing friends.
Women choose male friends with high social status so they can feel a sense of worthiness. Guys choose bros who can “wingman” for them when they’re trying to pick up girls, according to Psychology Today.
19. You always have to be in control
Just as narcissists hate to talk about their feelings, “they can’t stand to be at the mercy of other people’s preferences,” Malkin says. “It reminds them that they aren’t invulnerable or completely independent — that, in fact, they might have to ask for what they want — and even worse, people may not feel like meeting the request.”
This is why they can be controlling without getting angry. In the case of romantic relationships, narcissists control people with disapproving glances, calls to change plans, and chronic lateness. This allows narcissists to undermine other people’s ability to make choices. By doing that, narcissists maintain their sense of total autonomy — which they so desperately need.