Identifying Narcissistic Personality Traits


Spring 2024

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We often hear the term narcissist thrown around in heated conversation, be it in real-life scenarios or in the media. And yet, the Cleveland Clinic estimates that only around 0.5% of the population actually has a narcissistic personality disorder. 

So, what exactly is a narcissist, how can you tell who has this disorder, and why is it important to know if there’s a narcissistic person currently in your life? 

Let’s shine a spotlight on the narcissistic personality traits all of us need to be aware of.

What Is a Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

The Joker, Batman’s iconic nemesis, and Adolf Hitler can both be called narcissists. 

But what about your boss? Your high school rivals? Or even your spouse? 

Narcissists don’t need to be larger than life characters; they simply must meet at least 5 out of 9 criteria to be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder. A narcissistic personality disorder, as defined by the DSM-5 is a “pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.” 

Narcissists are different from psychopaths, sociopaths, and people diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. To be a clinically diagnosed narcissist, an individual must demonstrate 5 or more of the following characteristics: 

  1. Grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. Constantly fantasizes about perfect love, appearance, success, or power
  3. Defines themselves as “special” and not like the majority of society
  4. Needs extreme admiration
  5. Has unrealistic expectations due to entitlement
  6. Exploits others for their own gain
  7. Lack of empathy
  8. Easily jealous or believes others are jealous of them
  9. Behaves arrogantly

Many of these characteristics aren’t uncommon in our everyday lives, or so it may seem. So, what’s the difference between a coworker or friend being rude, inconsiderate, and hurtful, and a bona fide narcissist?

Comorbid Conditions to Consider

Mental health is such a spectrum and even the DSM changes their definitions of disorders as new research is evaluated. According to both the National Institutes of Health and the American Journal of Psychiatry, individuals diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder often have comorbidities: other diagnosable mental health issues.

These may include substance use and abuse disorders, bipolar disorder, histrionic personality disorders, antisocial personality disorders, paranoia, and borderline personality disorder. Typically, someone with NPD will have a second diagnosable disorder, but it’s important to understand that someone with either of the above disorders does not necessarily have a narcissistic personality disorder. 

For example, a narcissist may not believe that they are getting what they believe they’re entitled to. This may cause them to fall into depression and abuse substances. In contrast, an individual may be unhappy with their lifestyle, fall into depression, begin abusing substances, but they will not develop a narcissistic personality disorder. 

Remember, narcissists only account for a small percentage of the population. And since the majority are assigned male at birth, it’s very possible that you don’t know many male narcissists or even a single female narcissist. 

How to Identify Narcissistic Personality Traits in People You Know

We all hope that our relationships in life are genuine, but sometimes that isn’t the case. For instance, take a closer look at relationships with friends or colleagues that may not be as transparent as they should be. 

If you get the sense that a person may be exploiting you for their own benefit (such as a coworker trying to get a promotion through your hard work, or an acquaintance who only ever calls to talk about themselves and their problems but is never willing to reciprocate the gesture), they might have narcissistic traits.

If you think you might be dating a narcissist, it may be hard to know for sure. Some partners are just not mentally equipped to manage a relationship in a healthy way. A narcissist, though, will be more than a “flawed” partner. They’re often charming, but can turn cold and calculating in an instant. A narcissist partner may:

  • Only want to talk about their goals, successes, and importance
  • Disregard your needs and minimize you via criticism, jokes, or cruel words
  • They do not understand, validate, or try to empathize with your feelings
  • Gaslighting is common, particularly when they feel their position in your life is challenged by another person or situation
  • They think they’re right always and never apologize when they’re wrong

Narcissism is a word we often use synonymously with “selfish,” “rude,” and “inconsiderate,” but it’s a much deeper issue than someone simply choosing to be self-centered. Narcissists cannot psychologically stop themselves from obsessing over their perceived greatness, and rarely will any amount of therapy instill empathy in their minds. 

Although it’s not likely that you’ll find yourself surrounded by narcissists, it’s important to know how to spot narcissistic personality traits and separate yourselves from these people who lack empathy, goodwill, and sincerity. 

Nick Dauk | Contributing Writer

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