How to spot a narcissist - and what to do about it

Suspect someone you know may be a narcissist? Here's how to identify Narcissistic Personality Disorder and address narcissistic personality traits.

Narcissism - it's a term that's often bandied around to describe someone we view as irritating, full of themselves, or just plain selfish.

But the real definition is actually far more complex.

What is a narcissist?

According to Marianne Vicelich, who has penned the ultimate book on narcissism, it's far from a blanket term that can be used to refers to anyone who annoys you. In her book, Destruction:Free Yourself from the Narcissist, she says, "The synonyms of narcissism include conceit, egoism, self-admiration, self-obsession, vanity, and self, self, self; an obvious recurring theme."

Marianne also explains that, "narcissism fuels the confidence to take risks, like seeking a promotion or asking out an attractive stranger". This means that while we might view narcissism negatively - some of the traits of a narcissist are actually needed, to help us push ourselves.

However, unlike many controversial personality traits, actually identifying a narcissist can be a difficult thing to do, given that many of them simply appear ambitious, confident and charismatic. So how can you spot one - and what should you do if you find that it's a close friend, or even someone you're in a relationship with?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Luckily, Marianne has provided some helpful pointers on identifying someone with over-arching narcissist tendencies. In her book, she revealed that there's often four types of narcissist - the dark one, the vulnerable narcissist, the controlling, and the neglectful narcissist.

But perhaps the most defining feature of all narcissists, is a lack of empathy. Marianne writes, "It is the inability to identify with or recognise the experiences or feelings of other people. Everything is about them or belongs to them. They do not care or understand how other people feeling and rarely consider other people's feelings in their actions or words. They tune out when you start talking about yourself."

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Sound familiar? This trait can be seen most easily in romantic relationships. Marianne writes, "The lack of empathy experienced when in a relationship with a narcissist results in feeling unseen, unheard, untouched and unappreciated. They are the hunter, and you are their prey. It is almost as though you only exist when you are useful."

Signs of a narcissist

If someone is manipulative, it's a key indicator. The books reveals, "Narcissists are masterful at twisting the situation and working the rules to get what they want. Even more frustrating, they will turn things around in such a way that you may ultimately give them what they want and exhaust yourself in the process."

Rage, lack of guilt, and feeling entitled to "special treatment" are all further narcissist traits. And if you know someone who is constantly exaggerating everything, you may also know a narcissist. Grandiosity means someone is creating over-the-top "fantasy" worlds. But, as Marianne has revealed, it can also manifest as a "sense of self-importance - a belief that their existence if bigger and more important than anyone else's and certainly more important than yours".

There are a whole host of other traits that a narcissist may hold, including being paranoid and jealous, and, going hand-in-hand with that, needing constant validation and admiration. Although narcissists appear to be confident, getting validation from the world around them is actually key.

According to Marianne, this is also where the troubles with social media and narcissism can be found. Sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are, according to her, like their "mother ship" - a place where they can receive admiration "without having to return it". Being greedy, controlling, and vain, can all also be other traits to help you uncover a narcissist, and someone who is emotionally cold, never takes responsibility, is unpredictable, and takes advantage of others, are also key signs.

The narcissist test

Destruction: Free Yourself from the Narcissist offers a personality test that will distinguish whether you - or someone you know - has narcissistic qualities. You can buy a copy here.

Narcissism in relationships

Narcissists can be tricky to deal with at the best of times - especially if they're the person you're currently in a relationship with. Marianne reveals how being alone is a "challenge" for narcissists, which she says, "can lead to a strain in your relationship when a narcissist partner may seek out your company even when you need down time."

Cheating is also something narcissists are well-known for. According to Destruction: Free Yourself from the Narcissist, they are "wired" to be unfaithful, due in part to their inability to negotiate boundaries and their constant need for attention.

So if you're involved with a narcissist, what can you do?

Marianne suggests that no matter what, you shouldn't hesitate to to break things off. She says, "Don't be afraid to walk away from a relationship this is destructive to your self-esteem. Remind yourself that you are moving forward, away from this self-hurting tendency, and towards a better, brighter future".

She also recommends that you don't expect an apology moving forward, but instead surround yourself with happy, positive people who can help you to rebuild.

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But what if you're still trying to manage someone else, such as a friend or a relative, with narcissism? First, Marianne suggests acknowledging your own narcissist tendencies, before tackling the toxic person in your life. It can be tricky, to recognise selfish or manipulative parts of yourself - but it seem that it's all part of the process.

Dealing with a narcissist

And going forward, it's key to protect yourself from the damaging traits a narcissist exhibits. The book says, "The key is to limit the frequency, duration and intensity of the abuse you face and feel." In other words, keep your distance to protect yourself".

And as hard as it may be, part of dealing with a narcissist also involves understanding that many of their feelings come from deep insecurities. Whenever they try to belittle or manipulate you, try and keep this in mind. Try and detach yourself from the feelings the narcissist evokes in you. Marianne advises, "Sometimes it helps to think of this person as being two years old on the inside."

She also advises setting boundaries, and learning how to say no. In a series of steps, Marianne writes, "Clearly state your refusal and communicate your intentions. Acknowledge the other person's needs or wishes. People like to know they have been understood. State the reason for your refusal. Be as clear as possible. Cultivate reciprocal relationships."

Another intriguing technique is what Marianne Vicelich calles 'The Mirror Technique'. Essentially, what it means is to mirror the narcissists behaviour back to them. She says, "This technique forces the narcissist to see their behaviour up close and personal as the toxic behaviour is reflected back at them This means if they yell, yell back. Most of the time they will be shocked at your behaviour and wonder why you are acting to horribly towards them."

While it might be tricky, and may involve a fierce battle of wills - dealing with a narcissist is possible, and in the end, can help you come out the other side stronger than before.

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on