Earlier today I wrote that I thought my daughter may have NPD because she had taken my phone when she lost hers, and seemed uncaring that I had no way of contacting her or anyone else. About an hour ago, she returned with my phone, and seemed very apologetic and remorseful.
Granted, my daughter does have some narcissistic traits, but she is also Borderline, and most Borderlines do have some narcissistic behaviors–after all, they’re still in the Cluster B group of personality disorders (Cluster B disorders are those characterized by excessive dramatic behavior and/or lack empathy). But she’s not a Narcissist. She does have a conscience and can show empathy, and she’s also self-critical, something true Narcs are not.
My point here is this. I think we survivors have a problem with lack of trust. Having been hurt too often by those with malevolent character, sometimes even by our own parents, we tend to be hypervigilant and quick to label people as NPD if they show even the slightest self-centered behaviors. Since we all can be self-centered and narcissistic at times, then we can falsely pin the NPD label on almost anyone.
Hypervigilance and paranoia is a huge problem for survivors. We have learned not to trust anyone, or even trust our own instincts (since all too often we seem to be attracted to those who are narcissists). Many if not most of us suffer from C-PTSD (PTSD resulting from having been the victim in an abusive relationship). We are quick to jump to conclusions and overreact to behaviors that trigger us, even if no malevolent intent is involved, and even imagining narcissistic behavior where none actually exists. This can cause misunderstandings and result in an inability to become close to anyone and sometimes even make it impossible for us to allow anyone to be our friend. We don’t believe anyone has our best interests at heart.
Here I am going to attempt to describe some behaviors that really are narcissistic, and also differentiate other disorders that may be mistaken for NPD. This list is not exhaustive; there are many other symptoms of NPD I may have neglected to list, but here are the ones I am most familiar with from my own relationships with narcissists. For convenience, I am using the masculine pronoun, but of course all of these could apply to females as well.
How to Spot a Narcissist.
1. Does he come on strong in the beginning, love-bombing you with gifts and words, giving you his undivided attention, but does he also try to rush the relationship toward commitment? If he does, he wants the “courtship” phase over with quickly, because once he knows you’re his, he can revert to his true narcissistic self and you become his narcissistic supply. A huge red flag is if he talks about past relationships in a way where he paints himself as blameless and the ex as a blackhearted villain.
2. Is his “teasing” sadistic and cruel? Does he keep doing it after you’ve told him to stop, and even after you’re no longer laughing?
3. Does he like to put you down in front of others, and then call you “too sensitive” or “lacking a sense of humor” if you rightfully object?
4. Does he play mind games? These can include any of the following: gaslighting (trying to make you believe you are crazy or are losing your memory by denying actual incidents you have called to his attention); triangulating (creating drama between two other people by telling each person lies about the other one–example: he tells a friend of yours you were saying bad things about them even though you were not, and then tells you your friend said they really don’t like you). This is crazymaking stuff.
5. Does he lie even when there’s no reason to lie? Does he deny any wrongdoing even when the evidence is in his face?
6. If he cannot deny the wrongdoing, does he make excuses as to why it wasn’t wrong? True narcissists can never apologize.
7. Does he have one or more “flying monkeys” (people he has won over to his side in his campaign against you)? If he can get other people to side with him (sometimes other family members) and ALL of them are saying YOU’RE the crazy one, that’s the cruelest form of bullying and gaslighting imaginable. RUN! Narcs are very glib and have a lot of charm, and it’s easy for them to make others believe YOU are the one with the problem, and they are just blameless victims. If they’ve read up on narcissism, they may even say YOU are the narcissist.
8. He has a black and white view of the world. If you’re the least bit critical, he concludes you’re against him. If you’re not 100% in agreement, that’s reason to attack.
9. Is he condescending, sarcastic, talks down to you, or otherwise make you feel belittled and diminished, especially when others are present?
10. Does he bring up your most personal matters in front of others, in an effort to embarrass you?
11. Does he trash you behind your back, and then deny he ever said anything (perhaps “gaslighting”–telling you you are imagining things?)
12. Does he steal from you, and then deny it?
13. Does he make you engage in behaviors that are illegal or go against your morals?
14. Does he seem to never have anything nice to say about anything or anyone? Narcissists are excessively negative, unless they are in the “love bombing” phase (when they’re trying to woo you, or when they feel there’s a threat you may leave and they may be deprived of their “narcissistic supply”)
15. Not all, but many narcissists have co-existing addictions to alcohol, drugs, or gambling. This can be a red flag, but not all Narcs have substance abuse problems (and certainly not all those with addictions are Narcs).
16. Does he act entitled, expecting to be given things and treated in a special way, without doing anything to deserve the special treatment, and never giving anything back in return?
17. Does he lack empathy or become upset or enraged of he believes someone else is getting more (attention, material goods, love, etc.) than he is?
18. Does he seem to be nice to everyone but you? Narcs are chamelions who can change masks at the drop of a hat.
19. Do you ever get the odd feeling there is “nothing there” or even get a sense of evil from the person? I saw this black void in both my mother and my ex husband, and it scared the daylights out of me both times. If you get this sense, or see the solid black eyes, RUN as fast as you can. People who are HSPs or empaths are more likely to “see through” a psychopath this way, and HSPs are also most at danger of becoming their victims, not just because of their vulnerability, but also because the narcissist envies and hates the quality of high sensitivity because of the potential it has to “out” them for what they really are, and that terrifies them.*
20. Does he blame-shift, that is, projecting things that go wrong onto you? For example, if he loses his wallet, he finds a way to blame you for it. If your kid becomes sick, it’s because you were “careless” in allowing them to be exposed to others who were sick.
21. Does he project his own character flaws onto you? For example, telling you (and anyone else he wants on his side) that YOU are selfish and lack empathy? My ex actually did this to me, making ME the narcissist. It’s enough to make you batshit crazy.
22. They overreact and are hypersensitive to insults. The poor things are so easily hurt *bring out the tiny violins* Actually, for them it’s just hurt pride. Insult their pride and they’re likely to fly into a narcissistic rage.
23. They have no respect for boundaries. They’ll rummage through your personal belongings, invade your space, blast their music (and get mad at YOU if you ask them to turn it down), talk loudly when you are trying to sleep, and generally just be in your face all the time.
24. Finally, is your psychopath attracted to “dark” or “evil” things? I noticed my NPD ex-husband liked a lot of things that gave me the heebie jeebies: images of demons, zombies, vampires, slasher movies, and he was also attracted to the occult. His taste in music was also very dark: he listened to a lot of death metal. I’m not judgmental about music and can appreciate all genres (even if it’s not something I would listen to), but much of the music he listened to just gave me bad vibes. Granted, some narcissists are “paragons of virtue” and they can often be found in churches, schools, and unfortunately, government. Our current government and the top echelons of large corporations are filled with narcissists, and this is why the United States is in such sorry shape today. Be that as it may, many people with NPD are attracted to the dark underbelly of things.
There are other behaviors typical of NPDs and psychopaths, but the ones I listed are the ones my psychopaths used most frequently in my victimization. After being subjected to these crazymaking behaviors for so long, it’s not surprising survivors can become hypervigilant and automatically label any triggering behavior from anyone as being psychopathic. We have to be careful not to jump to conclusions.
Look for Patterns.
It helps to look for a pattern–if the behavior happens over and over again, and is combined with other narcissistic behaviors I have listed, that’s a red flag. If it’s an isolated incident, and it isn’t part of a regular pattern, chances are that person is not narcissistic. It’s hard for a survivor of abuse to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, but observation before judging is important to avoid the problem of false labeling and possibly rejecting a person who may actually be good for us.
Other disorders that can mimic Narcissism and Psychopathy.
Antisocial Personality Disorder (sociopathy): This is similar to NPD/psychopathy, except the person with APD is far more likely to engage in criminal behavior (narcissists like to maintain their blameless image, although they may break the law too in more subtle ways), and although they too show no remorse or empathy, their behavior tends to be more impulsive and there is some evidence that people with APD have difficulty telling the difference between right and wrong.
Borderline Personality Disorder: These are people whose personalities have never “come together.” Like the narcissist they can be very charming and attractive at first, but they tend to be emotionally intense and overreact to everything, especially slights. Borderlines are the true “drama queens.” Their relationships are unstable and stormy, and they are high-maintenance and very demanding. Many people with BPD have issues with addiction. They are likely to have narcissistic traits, but unlike someone with NPD, they are capable of empathy and remorse. They act impulsively, think later.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Some people with OCD are very controlling and get very upset if their routines or rituals are disrupted. People with severe OCD can seem unempathic and self centered, but they act the way they do because of the overwhelming anxiety that underlies their control freak appearance.
Schizoid Personality Disorder: People with this disorder are not narcissistic or psychopathic, but are asocial and live very much inside their own heads. Their behavior may be odd or eccentric. They seem to lack empathy, but are really just not very aware of what other people may be feeling or how their odd or aloof behavior may upset those close to them.
Aspergers/autism: People on the autism spectrum, like the schizoid personity type, are likely to be asocial and keep to themselves–or when forced to socialize, their behavior can seem awkward. Because they cannot read social cues, they may say or do hurtful or inappropriate things, which can make them seem narcissistic. But if their hurtful behavior is called out to them, most of these people do feel shame and remorse.
* My next article will be about HSPs and why they’re so often targeted and bullied by psychopaths,