How Do I Spot a Narcissist?

Dear Neil:  A while back you wrote about narcissism.  Your article described my ex-husband’s behavior extremely well.  It was the first time I have been able to understand why he was so easily able to let our thirteen year marriage (and the children) go.

My question is…how to I spot a narcissist next time before I fall for him?

Determined in New Zealand

Dear Determined:  Answer these questions about your next potential romantic partner: 

  • Are his needs and desires much more important to him than yours?
  • Is he insensitive to your feelings, requests or what you say you want or need?
  • Is he a taker more than a giver?
  • Does he expect to be nurtured and catered to without giving back something equivalent?
  • When you go against his wishes, or don’t do what he wants, is there a huge emotional price you are forced to pay?  Does he become angry, mean, rageful, belittling, punishing or abusive when he doesn’t get his way?
  • Does he expect or demand empathy and compassion for his emotions, problems, struggles or traumas—but fails to offer you empathy and compassion back?
  •  Is he rude to people he sees as beneath him, such as a waiter/waitress, a cashier, an employee, or a child?
  • Does he have trouble accepting personal responsibility?  Are problems or mistakes typically someone else’s fault, and never his own?
  • Is he manipulative or controlling?
  • Does he take credit for the work of others?
  • Does he belittle or devalue you—or others?
  • Do you have to build him up a lot?
  • Does he have difficulty committing to a long-term monogamous relationship?
  • Is he critical and judgmental of you—or others?
  • Does he have difficulty accepting criticism or disagreement?
  • Does he put a lot of stock into how powerful he is?
  • Does he tend to feel shamed or intensely embarrassed by his failings, shortcomings or mistakes?  If so, does he typically respond with anger, belligerence or turning the tables and faulting you for mistakes you’ve made?
  • Does he have the attitude that if something is good for him, it’s good for you also?
  • Is he envious of others, or does he think others envy him?
  • Does he knowingly use, take advantage of or exploit others?
  • Does he have an underdeveloped—or poor—conscience?
  • Is he very defensive?
  • Would he react poorly to a discussion about these issues and questions?

Scoring:  For every “yes” answer, count one point.  Six or more points, in my experience, suggest that you are in a relationship with someone who is narcissistic, but three or more points means someone leans toward being a narcissist.

Narcissistic behavior is likely to remain no matter what you say or do, so it is ineffective to attempt to negotiate with a narcissist. It typically takes medication, intensive psychotherapy and strong, persistent motivation for a narcissist to begin to change.

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