How to spot narcissistic personality disorder

Do you know someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else and immediately flies off the handle at the tiniest bit of criticism? Chances are, they’ve got narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Here’s a little bit more about the condition and how to spot it in the people around you.

What is narcissistic personality disorder?

In the celebrity-driven and selfie-obsessed culture we live in, the word “narcissistic” gets thrown around a lot to describe people who are full of themselves. But in terms of therapy, someone who is narcissistic isn’t in love with themselves or excessively vain. 

Instead, NPD is used to describe someone who is in love with a grandiose, idealized version of themselves. They’re so in awe of their inflated self-image because it allows them to push their feelings of insecurity deep down where they can be forgotten. Maintaining the delusions about their perfect self takes a lot of work, which is where the harmful behaviors and attitudes come in. 

Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by being self-centered, thinking and behaving arrogantly, lacking empathy for others, and having an excessive need for constant admiration. Someone with NPD often comes across as manipulative, cocky, patronizing, selfish, and demanding. 

One of the biggest issues when it comes to someone with NPD is that they’re incredibly unwilling to admit to their problems and change their behavior. Instead, they prefer to blame their condition or actions on other people. People with NPD are highly sensitive and react negatively to even the smallest criticisms, viewing them as personal attacks. 

If you know someone who behaves narcissistically, you’ll often find it easier to simply go along with their demands to avoid the rages than ensue if you challenge them. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to help them and it’s not going to improve your relationship. If you take the time to understand narcissistic personality disorder, you can help spot the narcissists in your life, help them change their behavior, and improve the connection you have with them. 

How is NPD diagnosed?

For someone to be diagnosed with NDP, they need to meet at least five of the following qualifications: 

  • Frequently thinks about having unlimited success, power, beauty, brilliance, or love. 
  • Has a huge sense of self-importance and regularly exaggerates their achievements.
  • Believes they’re special and can only be understood by other people who are special like them. 
  • Demands excessive admiration to combat their fragile self-esteem.
  • Exploits people intentionally and uses friendships for their own personal gain.
  • Has an over-inflated sense of entitlement that others can’t compete with.
  • Becomes easily envious of others and believes everyone is envious of them. 
  • Lacks any empathy for the people around them.
  • Displays arrogant behavior, such as berating someone for making an understandable mistake. 

Dangers of narcissism

If the person with narcissistic personality disorder is a close friend, family member, or partner, it can be difficult to cut ties with them. But staying in a relationship with a narcissist can be harmful to you. While you may be attracted to their apparent confidence and dreams, they’ll often leave you feeling lonely or bad about yourself.

If you’re romantically involved with a narcissist, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever see you as an equal or prioritize your needs. Narcissists aren’t looking for partners — they’re looking for people to adore and admire them. They only need you to tell them how great they are. Your feelings and thoughts don’t matter to them. 

Make a note of how your partner treats others. If you notice them regularly manipulating, lying, disrespecting, and hurting others, it’s only a matter of time before they start treating you in the same way.

It may be painful, but you’ve got to see the narcissist for who they really are — not the person you want them to be. People with narcissistic personality disorder are reluctant to change. So you need to decide whether you want to continue like this for the rest of your life. 

Taking care of yourself

Whatever you decide to do, you need to take care of yourself and put yourself first. Setting healthy boundaries is one of the first steps to take. Because the narcissist doesn’t acknowledge you as a person who exists beyond their own needs, it’s likely they regularly violate your boundaries. 

  • Make a plan
    Make a specific plan of what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it. Note anything that has and hasn’t worked in the past so you’ve got a foundation to start on.
  • Be gentle
    If you’re going to maintain your relationship, you’ve got to be gentle. If you immediately point out their hurtful behavior, you’ll damage their self-image and they’ll lash out. Try and get them to understand how you feel, instead of the intentions of their actions.
  • Be committed
    It’s likely your partner will be upset at you for taking back control of your life. As a result, they be more demanding in other parts of the relationship or try and charm you to drop the new boundaries. It’s important you stay committed and stand firm.

Reach out

Being in a relationship, whether romantic or platonic, with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder is never easy. Before you make any decisions that could drastically change your life, you may want to consider speaking to a therapist. They’ll be able to help you better understand the narcissist in your life and what you can expect to get from them.

They may even be able to help you persuade the narcissist to start attending therapy themselves. Completely changing your personality and behavior is a monumental task. With your support and the support of a therapist, they may just be able to do it. 

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741