How to Spot a Narcissist

How to Spot a Narcissist

The first hand impression of a narcissist: charming, friendly and seemingly empathic. Beneath the surface: indifferent, arrogant, dominant, self-centered and manipulative.

An epidemic of narcissism?

Some will say that we are in an emerging epidemic of narcissism. A study of over 30,000 people has shown a small and consistent increase in narcissism over the years (Twenge & Campell, 2009). People might have become more narcissistic with the modern tendency to “self-promote”.

Everyone simply wants to be heard. However, not everyone agrees that this increase reflects an epidemic of narcissism. In fact, the increase of narcissists during the years is rather small, even below the conventional threshold for a “small” effect, some researchers say (Donnellan et al. 2009). Nevertheless, the tendency is interesting to note.

A description of a narcissist

So what is characteristic of a narcissist? A great definition is provided in a paper by Ashton-James & Levordashka (2013). In this paper, people with subclinical narcissistic traits are characterized by a desire to be liked in the absence of genuine liking.

Narcissists may have hostile feelings toward people who have more success than themselves such as intelligence or popularity because it threatens their own feelings of personal superiority.

Narcissists are often indifferent toward other people, and at worst they are characterized by arrogance, dominance, self-centeredness, manipulation of others for self-promotion, and they lack (true or emotional) empathy.

They have a strong desire to be liked by people whom they perceive to be inferior to them, but especially by higher status others. If people reveal that they admire the narcissist, the narcissist’s feelings of superiority (or grandiosity) are likely to bloom.

The authors state that narcissists are like wolves in sheep’s clothing because of their chronic desire to be liked by others, which motivates them to hide their feelings of indifference toward others under a cloak of charm, friendliness, and interpersonal warmth.

Often, narcissists will use social interactions to create positive feedback about themselves, and they will do so via manipulative strategies, e.g. they will provide inflated descriptions about themselves and their accomplishments.

Therefore, social interactions are not used to establish friendships or connections, they merely provide an opportunity for the narcissist to be put in a favourable light.

The narcissist is often popular at first hand, and words like charismatic, attractive, competent, affable, and good humoured, are often used to the describe the narcissist.

People who are successful, intelligent, attractive, or popular will often receive the most attention from the narcissist because the narcissist seeks to sustain an inflated self-image.

The narcissist’s self-image is especially sustained by positive feedback from people who are perceived to be successful, but also by positive feedback from people who are perceived to be inferior.

Image: Gwenaël Piaser