What are signs of a narcissist? The 9 criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) explained

The terms narcissism, narcissist and narcissistic personality disorder are used quite a lot. Some people are very confident or self-absorbed and could be called a narcissist because of that. This might make it complicated to distinguish between someone self-absorbed, showing manipulative behaviour or having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). A true narcissist is something else than a person occasionally being arrogant, self-absorbed, manipulative or telling small lies.

Clearly, everyone shows manipulative behaviour to some extent. This could be done both consciously and unconsciously. In this article, I will hopefully help you in order to better recognize the intention and reasons behind someone showing manipulative behaviour.

A true narcissist with NPD has a mental health disorder characterized by an exaggerated sense of importance, an unending need for attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy. A narcissist will constantly show abusive behaviour and drain the energy of their victims by doing so.

In this article, I will go into the criteria of NPD and try to explain how to recognize narcissistic behaviour.

Narcissistic behaviour and being a ‘narcissist’

On this website, I mainly focus on narcissistic/manipulative behaviour and how to deal with it. If you focus on recognizing behaviour it’s not that relevant whether someone actually is a narcissist or not. Narcissism is a spectrum and therefore it’s arbitrary whether someone is a ‘narcissist’ or simply shows narcissistic behaviour to some extent.

In the end, in my opinion, it’s about yourself and how you want to deal with the manipulative behaviour of others. It comes down to a choice whether you think this person drains your energy too much by (constant) manipulation or trying to control you. By learning about and protecting your boundaries and by working on self-worth, you will naturally learn how to better deal with manipulative behaviour.

I use the term narcissist or narcissism to describe someone showing narcissistic (manipulative) behaviour in a constant manner for abusive reasons. You can read more about the nature of narcissistic abuse in my article explaining the narcissistic abuse cycle. Due to the nature of narcissism, there mostly won’t be an official diagnosis of someone having a narcissistic personality disorder.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The criteria of NPD can be helpful in order to recognize narcissistic behaviour. It can help you recognize whether you’re dealing with someone constantly showing narcissistic behaviour without any self-reflection, or someone showing manipulative behaviour temporarily due to for example their emotional state, insecurity or a lack of healthy communication skills.

The difference is the intention, the extent and intensity of using manipulative behaviour.

NPD is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM, fifth edition, 2013) as comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. In a study named ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges’ (Caligor, Levy, e.a. 2015) two subtypes of narcissism have been distinguished: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism.

Grandiose narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, arrogance, and boldness, whereas vulnerable narcissism is characterized by personality traits of hypersensitivity and defensiveness. These types illustrate that there can be varying sorts of manipulative behaviour used by different kinds of narcissists.

The 9 criteria of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) indicates that someone with NPD fits at least five of nine criteria. I will now walk you through these criteria and explain them.

1. Grandiose sense of self-importance

An important and quite obvious criterion is having a grandiose sense of self-importance. This grandiosity brings with it an expectation of superior treatment from other people. This expectation can be linked to a sense of entitlement, which is another criterion.

Grandiosity goes further than arrogance and is really someone having an unrealistic view upon themselves (identity). A grandiose narcissist believes they are unique and special and will share how great they are. They love to exaggerate, tell stories and lie about achievements, talents and so forth. Other people are supposed to feel lucky to have them in their environment. Being ordinary, normal, plain, or average is thus a great fear for a grandiose narcissist.

2. Fixation on fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, attractiveness or ideal love

Narcissists are fully involved in the world of ego and appearance. The real world doesn’t align with a narcissist’s view and therefore they have a fixation on fantasies of, for example, unlimited success, attractiveness and power.

This created world and their created identity are required to protect them from inner feelings of emptiness, shame and insecurity. When their fantasy bubble (denial of reality) is challenged, they can respond with for example defensiveness, rage, or simply fully ignore/deny whatever would break their bubble.

3. Need for continual admiration from others

A narcissist has an unending need for attention, appreciation and ego-boosting. They seek for narcissistic supply in order to fulfil their unending needs.

A narcissist in a way is thus self-destructive as they will never be able to fulfil their unending need for narcissistic supply. A narcissist wants to be admired by others and this can be very exhausting for their environment. It can be a warning signal if you feel like your energy is being drained because of this person’s hunger for attention, compliments and validation.

4. Self-perception of being special, unique, superior, and to be only understood by or be associated with people/institutions of high-status

A narcissist can act as if they can only be understood or to be associated with people/institutions of high-status. It’s a form of idealization of things that are great of appearance (status). A narcissist seeks the same greatness of appearance and therefore wants/needs to be associated with these people/institutions.

This could be seen as the positive opposite of criterion 9, which is continually demeaning, bullying and belittling others. They simply want what this other person has and will praise and compliment them in order to feel the same status and treatment. If they are rejected or threatened by this person, it’s more likely to see the negative response that is described in criterion 9.

5. Sense of entitlement

One criterion is having a sense of entitlement to special treatment and obedience from others. They believe they should get whatever they want and that others should value only their needs. A narcissist doesn’t care for the needs or wishes of others, except when it serves a purpose to them.

A narcissist can thus be very offended when, for example, you don’t help them when they ask, when you state a boundary, or disagree with them. It’s like they can’t even begin to comprehend that you don’t believe they deserve this special treatment or obedience.

This sense of entitlement can be linked to showing black and white behaviour (splitting), such as idealizing you when you go along with them and devaluing you when you don’t do what is expected by them. You could then experience many possible responses such as rage, silent treatment, the cold shoulders, or verbal aggression.

It’s a form of trying to gain control. When you do what they want, a narcissist will reward you with idealizing behaviour (compliments, being great, etc.) and when you don’t, you will be devalued or discarded in some way. Idealizing behaviour is thus a form of conditional love.

6. Lack of empathy

One of the criteria is a lack of (emotional) empathy. It means a narcissist feels no empathy for the feelings, wishes, and needs of others. It results in not acknowledging others as individuals with their own needs and feelings.

Due to this lack of empathy, empaths are very attractive to narcissists. Empaths and narcissists are opposites of each other and seem to be drawn towards each other. The relationship can grow into very unhealthy relationship dynamics, in which a narcissist (ab)uses the beautiful characteristics and qualities of an empath. You can read more about this in my in-depth article about the toxic attraction and relationship between an empath and a narcissist.

7. Envy of others or believing others are envious of them

There could be intense envy of others and similarly the belief that others are envious of them. A narcissist can be very envious of your close relationships with others and towards others with wealth or power.

A narcissist can be stuck in an ongoing comparison with others involving a lot of frustration, believing others are envious of them, and a lot of negative thoughts about others. This comparing can feel very intense and shows how threatened they feel.

8. Exploitative behaviour in order to achieve personal gain

This criterion can be linked to a lack of empathy. As a narcissist doesn’t develop the ability to identify or care about the needs and feelings of others, they view upon people as objects. These objects are there to serve their needs. A narcissist, therefore, doesn’t care about taking advantage of others in order to fulfil their own needs.

They simply don’t consider the needs and feelings of others and how their behaviour might impact others. It results in playing a manipulative game in which they have no boundaries. It’s essential not to play the game in order to protect your energy.

9. Continually demeaning, bullying and belittling others

A narcissist could be threatened when others appear to have something they lack or want to achieve. This could be someone confident, popular, beautiful, wealthy, and so forth. As mentioned in the part about criterion 4, the response on the positive side could be praise, trying to be around this person and be seen with them.

If this doesn’t work they could use defense mechanisms on the negative side. This would be trying to neutralize these threats by putting these people down. This can play out in a patronizing or dismissive way in order to show others how little this person means to them. They could as well go in full-attack and use insults, smearing, name-calling, bullying and thus use force to smear this person. This is very brutal behaviour.

How do you recognize a narcissist?

The above criteria give some insight into narcissism and how to recognize it but it doesn’t show all the different kinds of possible manipulative behaviour by narcissists. My article going deeper into 9 manipulation tactics of narcissists might be useful if you want to learn more about how these criteria translate into manipulative behaviour.

Narcissistic behaviour exists in varying ways and it’s important to learn how to recognize real narcissistic abuse. Awareness of the criteria and behaviour that follows from it will help you to decide how to respond and deal with it.

So how do you recognize a narcissist? To me, the most important distinguishing factors are:

1.   No boundaries in the extent of manipulative behaviour. This clearly shows a lack of emotional empathy.
2.   The use of manipulative behaviour in a constant manner to gain control (or for other abusive purposes).
3.   Not showing any self-reflection or introspection. A clear signal of this is someone never apologizing or taking responsibility for negative behaviour or consequences. The blame is thus always left with others.
4.   Being fully involved in the world of ego and appearance. The addiction to narcissistic supply shows when you recognize this person has an unending need to gain attention, validation and ego-boosting. A narcissist is essentially a slave to outside messages of praise. If interested, you can read more about ego and narcissism in my article exploring Taoism and narcissism.
5.   The use of more brutal narcissistic behaviour such as gaslighting, silent treatment (in a constant manner) and smear campaigning. A narcissist has the ability to deny and lie without blinking and even believing their lies themselves. You can read more about the truth of a narcissist in my article about cognitive dissonance.

Are you being pushed in the wrong direction?

To conclude, a narcissist will push your self-worth and your energy in the wrong direction. They will emphasize negative thoughts and emotions, create dependency and an environment in which you have increasing self-doubts and less self-worth. It’s therefore essential to recognize if the intention of this person is good and to observe actions instead of words.

You could ask yourself simple questions such as whether this person wants you to develop as a person and wants you to have a solid support system. Does this person stimulate you to think positive about others and do they value you maintaining a good relationship with family and friends?

You can do a simple analysis of intention by writing down how certain aspects of your life developed during this relationship:
– Self-doubt.
– Relationships with family and friends (support system).
– Emotional stability.
– Amount of fear, tension, and stress experienced.
– Your energy in general.
– Kindness/compassion towards yourself (the tone of your inner critic).

Writing these things down might help you in order to recognize if you’re being pushed into the wrong direction. You can read more questions to ask yourself when having doubts in my article about the narcissist’s web of control. If you think you could be in a relationship with a narcissist I recommend reading my article about 12 warnings you might be in a relationship with a narcissist.

Self-reflection and observing are key when trying to recognize and deal with the manipulative behaviour of others. Methods that could help you emotionally detach from a narcissist and create space to think more clearly are the grey rock method and practicing conscious breathing.

I hope this article can help you in order to better recognize the intention and reasons behind someone showing manipulative behaviour. If you sadly seem to have a narcissist in your environment, I hope my website can be useful to you. It’s a very draining and painful experience. Know that any small step in the right direction is something great!

I wish you kindness and strength.

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