6 Personality Traits Found In All Narcissists, According To Science
The word "narcissist" gets thrown around quite a bit, but the traits that make up a narcissistic personality are actually pretty misunderstood. While you might picture a narcissist as someone who is totally in love with themselves, that's not the whole story. While personality traits of narcissists include being conceited and self absorbed, Preston Ni wrote on Psychology Today that psychologist Stephen Johnson defines a narcissist as "someone who has 'buried [their] true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.'"
Psychology Today also noted narcissism is actually a spectrum, like autism. "At one end of the self-loving spectrum is the charismatic leader with an excess of charm, whose only vice may be his or her inflated amour-propre. At the far end of the spectrum reside individuals with narcissistic personality disorder, whose grandiosity soars to such heights that they are manipulative and easily angered."
What's more is that pathological narcissists only make up one percent of the population, which means that a lot of people who are labeled as narcissistic are likely those who have toxic personalities, other undesirable qualities, or an abundance of narcissistic qualities but don't warrant a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (which can only be diagnosed by a mental health professional.
"The disorder can be diagnosed only by a mental health professional and is suspected when a person's narcissistic traits impair his or her daily functioning," developmental psychologist Eddie Brummelman said in an article by Rebecca Webber on Psychology Today. "The dysfunction might be related to identity or self-direction or cause friction in relationships due to problems with empathy and intimacy. It might also arise from pathological antagonism characterized by grandiosity and attention-seeking."
Additionally, there are many different types of narcissists, and here are six traits to be aware of if you suspect you're involved with a narcissist.
1. Constant Lies & Exaggeration
A narcissist tends to present everything as "so amazing" or "so awful," depending on the situation. The "amazing" behavior usually paints a picture of them as the best at everything, the most successful, the most dedicated, the most beautiful, the hardest working, etc.
The "awful" routine is designed to inspire attention and sympathy. Medical News Today reported that narcissists "commonly exaggerate their achievements, talents, and importance." They also "tend to seek out praise and positive reinforcement from others."
What's more, Lenora Thompson, who writes the blog Narcissism Meets Normalcy on Psych Central, noted: "Narcissists are the heroes (and/or the victims) of their own mental fairytale. They live in a false narrative of their own fabrication. This is the foundation of their pathological lying."
She goes on to say that by definition pathological liars might not even be aware they are lying so they don't define their behavior as either lying or exaggeration. If you're involved with someone who constantly displays this type of grandiose behavior, and they also exhibit other narcissistic traits, you might be dealing with a narcissist.
2. They Are Never, Ever Wrong
Everyone is wrong sometimes. After all, no one is a robot (that we know of). No one likes being called out for being wrong. However, a true narcissist will never, ever admit they're wrong or have made a mistake. Like, ever. They're likely react very poorly to being questioned or challenged. Now, we can all get like this sometimes, but a true narcissist will behave this way all of the time.
"Many narcissists and gaslighters have thin skin and can react poorly when called to account for their negative behavior," Ni noted on Psychology Today. "When challenged, the narcissist is likely to either fight (e.g., temper tantrum, excuse-making, denial, blame, hypersensitivity, etc.) or take flight (bolt out the door, avoidance, silent treatment, sulking resentment, or other forms of passive-aggression)."
3. They Can Rationalize Anything
"Rationalizing, I would argue, is simply another word for a narcissist employing pathological lying to make their wrong behavior seem like right behavior in their own eyes … and ours," Thompson noted on Psych Central.
If things go sideways, a true narcissist will likely make every effort to explain how everything is actually exactly what they intended. Additionally, they often rationalize questionable behavior if it serves their end goal. You can usually tell when this is happening because your bullshit meter will go off. A narcissist will try their best to get you to ignore your intuition and come around to their way of thinking, because they are always right.
"Anything weird, anything that doesn’t feel right, doesn’t ring true, is too good to be true, or is bad masquerading as good, takes a lot of words to rationalize … all signs of pathological lying," Thompson explained.
4. They Project A False Image
A true narcissist wants you to think they are beautiful, wonderful, successful, and killing it at life at all times, even if it isn't true. Narcissists spend a great deal of time and energy pointing out their "successes" to others, even if everything behind the scenes is a sham and can be proven false. Hmm, sound familiar?
"This 'trophy complex' can exhibit itself physically, romantically, sexually, socially, religiously, financially, materially, professionally, academically, or culturally," Ni explained on Psychology Today. 'The underlying message of this display is: 'I’m better than you!' or 'Look at how special I am — I’m worthy of everyone’s love, admiration, and acceptance!'"
5. They Use or Control Others
Generally, a narcissist tries to control others to compensate for feeling inadequate in some way. Thus, the narcissist may use those closest to them to achieve goals, realize ideas, and make statements regardless of what the other person wants or needs. It's all about them all of the time, and other people are simply props they can use for their own agenda.
According to Ni, "Both narcissists and gaslighters have a tendency to make decisions for others to suit their own agenda. Narcissists may use their romantic partner, child, family, friend, or colleague to meet unreasonable self-serving needs, fulfill unrealized dreams, or cover-up weaknesses and shortcomings. Narcissists are also fond of using guilt, blame, and victimhood as manipulative devices."
6. They're Constantly Creating Drama
Dramatic moments can be fun once in a while, but constant drama every single day is exhausting. Narcissists are notorious for purposefully causing unnecessary drama by pitting people against each other, provoking people, spreading rumors, you name it.
"Many narcissists have unpredictable mood swings and are prone to emotional drama — you never know what might displease them and set them off," Ni noted.
This could mean you might spend most of your time walking on egg shells so you don't set off the narcissist, which could force you into another cycle of useless drama that you're not set up to win because, the narcissist thinks they are always right. Rinse and repeat.
Do you sense a theme here? Detaching yourself from a true narcissist is difficult, and if you think you're involved with one, it's best to talk with a therapist about how to move forward to reclaim your life. Psychology Today has a Find A Therapist feature that can help you locate someone. Because, you deserve better, today, and everyday.