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How to Spot a Narcissist

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJanuary 30, 2019

Most of us are drawn to shiny, new things. In the social realm, it means meeting new people who are engaging, have interesting things to say, and are exciting. This can make for a fun and captivating conversation, but beware when these traits characterize a new friend. You may have just met a narcissist. While this first conversation might pull you in, future conversations might continue in the same vein – essentially no deeper, no more personal, and no recognition of what you have to offer the relationship.

A narcissist may present themselves as being confident and secure, but inside they feel lesser in significant ways—not that they would admit it, even to themselves. Instead of facing their sense of being flawed or inadequate, they are oriented toward bolstering themselves. They hold an idealized view of themselves and identify with that. So long as they can keep up the image in their own eyes at least, they can feel good – even superior – about who they are.

Of course, narcissism is not all-or-nothing. People can be more or less narcissistic. But the more narcissistic a person is, the more fragile their defense against what they feel underneath; this limits their ability to acknowledge weaknesses or to be vulnerable. Instead of opening themselves up to others, they keep up the image.

So, how can you tell if someone is narcissistic? One clue is in the way they participate in conversations.

Conversations with narcissists:

Can be charming: Narcissists can be very engaging and charismatic – but to meet their own needs. At these times, they can appear interested in you, but this is less because of a true interest and desire to connect and more because of self-interests. When they get what they want, their supposed interest disappears.

Are dominated by them: They are much more interested in what they have to share with the world than what others have to share with them.

Revolve around them: Narcissists have a lot to say about themselves, what they know, or what they have done. They appear grandiose and self-important; and they expect to be recognized for their self-assessed superiority (which may or may not reflect reality). Interestingly, when a weakness is exposed, they also have an exaggerated sense that they are worse than others.

Lack depth: Focused on upholding their image, narcissists cannot be truly open with others about themselves. They also don’t seriously listen to or consider others. So, they don’t empathize or really connect emotionally with them.

Filled with interruptions: Narcissists often feel justified in talking over others, or changing the conversation back to themselves.

Can be antagonistic: They are often condescending, either directly or indirectly letting you know that you are less important than them. Accordingly, they often feel entitled to preferential treatment, breaking rules or social conventions to meet their own interests. They can also feel justified in exploiting others to meet their own needs or desires.

Narcissists are not “bad” people, and you might enjoy spending time with them, but it’s important to curb your expectations. Consider how the person’s narcissism is expressed and their limitations. The truth is, of course, that we all have limitations. But be aware of how their narcissism affects you, and decide from there how involved a relationship you want to have with them.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a well-respected psychologist, who is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of the book Insecure in Love.

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