Are they a narcissist?

Labelling someone as a narcissist has become a popular way of expressing disdain for them. People often refer to someone as narcissistic if they are selfish, full of themselves and have little concern for how they make others feel. I commonly hear the “N” word used to describe cheating exes or nightmare bosses, with varying degrees of evidence to back up this diagnosis.

Given that researchers estimate up to 6.3% of the population have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it is likely we have all had dealings with a narcissist at some stage. So how do you tell if that difficult person in your life really is a narcissist? Diagnostic criteria says they must display five or more of the following eight symptoms, with criteria descriptions thanks to Psych Central (2010):

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements. 

Narcissists have an inflated ego and routinely overestimate their abilities and exaggerate their accomplishments. They typically appear pretentious and arrogant to others. They mistakenly assume that others will be full of praise for them and are surprised when they don’t get the recognition they think they deserve. Whilst they overvalue their own abilities and efforts they will usually devalue the accomplishments and contributions of others.

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.  

Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder fantasise about having unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. They are preoccupied with the idea that they will one day be recognised for being special and will get the “long overdue” admiration and privilege they deserve. Narcissists compare themselves favourably with famous or privileged people.

3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).

They may feel that they can only be understood by other “special” people and should only associate with other people who are of high status. They are likely to insist on having only the “best” person (i.e. doctor, lawyer, hairdresser) or being affiliated with the most highly acclaimed institutions (i.e. sending their children to the most prestigious school).

 4. Requires excessive admiration and expects praise and excessive acknowledgment for achievements.  

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder generally require excessive admiration. They may be preoccupied with how well they are doing and how favourably they are regarded by others. This often takes the form of a need for constant attention and admiration and they can be very charming to garner this attention. They may expect others to make a big fuss of their arrival and will frequently fish for compliments and praise.

5. Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g. unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

They expect to be catered to and are puzzled or furious when this does not happen. For example, they may assume that they do not have to wait in line and that their priorities are so important that others should defer to them, and then get irritated when others fail to assist “in their very important work.”

6. Is exploitative of others, e.g. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends. 

They expect to be given whatever they want or feel they need, no matter what it might mean to others. For example, these individuals may expect great dedication from others and may overwork them without regard for the impact on their lives. They tend to form friendships or romantic relationships only if the other person seems likely to advance their purposes or otherwise enhance their self-esteem.

7. Lacks empathy, e.g. is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. 

Narcissists lack empathy and have difficulty recognizing the desires, subjective experiences, and feelings of others. They often talk at length about their own concerns while not recognising that others also have feelings and needs. They are often contemptuous and impatient with others who talk about their own problems and concerns. When they do notice other’s needs, desires, or feelings these are likely to be viewed disparagingly as signs of weakness or vulnerability. Those who are get close to people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder typically notice an emotional coldness and lack of reciprocal interest.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

These individuals feel intense envy and commonly believe that others are envious of them. They may begrudge others their successes or possessions, and think that they are more deserving of others achievements, admiration, or privileges. Narcissists’ pathological envy may lead them devalue the contributions of others, particularly when those individuals have received acknowledgment or praise for their accomplishments.

Relating to an individual who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be emotionally draining and leave you questioning yourself. If you suspect someone you are having difficulty dealing with is a narcissist it is important you seek support and gain some perspective. Check back in one week for my next blog that will provide tips and strategies for coping with the narcissist in your life.



Psych Central. (2010). Narcissistic Personality Disorder In-Depth. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2014, from

Tom Morley