When it comes to the question of – How do you identify a Narcissist – before you get too involved with them, invest too much of yourself in them and your relationship with them, before you get into a relationship and figure it out the hard way later on, my go-to answer is – pay attention to yourself and how you react to another person.
Before you try to figure out someone else – figure yourself out. Knowing yourself is far more important than knowing someone else as it will guide you when you’re getting to know someone else.
As pointed out by both the querent who asked – Why do I seem to attract men who are narcissistic? What do I need to change? – and the various people who replied to that question on Quora. All the answers are worth reading as they’re thoughtful, thought-provoking, insightful and interesting – my favourite one is this one:
Why do I like this one the most? While it is a tad condescending which is never likeable (but if you’re going to ask difficult questions don’t expect easy answers), and it is antagonistic in its approach (perhaps because the person speaking expects what they’re saying to be rejected or reacted to with aggression) it ultimately says – get to know yourself before you try to change yourself.
If there’s one positive to come out of a relationship with a Narcissist – it’s that it forces us to reassess who we think we are, and really get to know ourselves as we are… but only if we’re willing to go there and do that.
I realise that this isn’t the sort of answer most people want when they ask about methods for identifying Narcissists. Most people want a list of specifics with bullet points to look out for, obvious signals, traits and behaviours which will immediately and clearly warn you in the initial meeting that you’re in the presence of a Narcissist. They want something difficult made into something easy. A quick tip guide along the lines of those which tell you how to identify dangerous animals or poisonous plants while out in the wild. But even those guides are complicated because not all dangerous animals want you to know that they’re dangerous, some don’t want you to see them until it’s too late, and some harmless animals pretend to be dangerous to keep predators away. And poisonous plants can be very similar to edible ones.
Figuring out who is safe and who is scary, who is friend and who is foe, can be difficult and may require taking risks (how do you think humans figured out which animals or plants were dangerous…) or playing it so safe that you avoid all forms of socialising, deciding that it’s better to be alone than in bad company.
Even if you decide to go it alone… you may be setting yourself up to be a prime target for a Narcissist. Certain Narcissists admire those who can go it alone because they hate people and would like to live without them but they can’t live without the feedback and input of others (they need us for the mirror we provide so they can see themselves and know themselves through us), they feel weakened by this need (which is partly why they hate people – their worldview starts and ends with themselves, thus how they feel about others is based on how they feel about themselves), and will be drawn to you, to the secret you have, the treasure you’re hiding which they want for themselves.
Her story is peppered with ‘red flags’, with things which might appear on a – How to Identify a Narcissist – list, and it also shows how hard it is to see these when you’re on the inside of life living it moment to moment rather than looking at it from the outside with hindsight dissecting those moments retrospectively (from a position of pain, anger and things gone wrong).
The reason I prefer to focus on personal reaction to others to identify a Narcissist is because it’s a more reliable method than trying to figure out if someone is a Narcissist based on external, superficial (as in what a person shows of themselves on the surface), observed traits and behaviours.
In initial meetings and interactions with people we don’t know – they don’t know us either, which means they may be ‘faking it’, pretending to be who they are not (not for the purpose of deceiving us but because they’re afraid, nervous, unsure… just as we probably are), trying to be ‘socially acceptable’, polite, politically correct, leave you with a good impression, and all those other things which most of us do when in a new situation meeting new people.
We can all come across as Narcissistic, and display the traits and behaviours which are often listed in – How to Identify a Narcissist – lists, when we’re in a new and uncertain situation.
If we want the other person to like us, to find us attractive and interesting, we may try too hard, dress ourselves up in what we think is an attractive form (perhaps based on reading countless – How to be Attractive, Interesting and Likeable – articles), boast about our lives, exaggerate our accomplishments, bluffing about our knowledge, wanting to appear better than we’ve decided that we are, talk incessantly about ourselves (maybe while wishing we’d shut up, but anxiety has taken over and our anxiety is verbose), and try to cover up all our weaknesses with false confidence smoke screens and heaps of steaming hot self-esteem jargon.
Even if we don’t do any of that, we may still be ‘faking it’ in a different way, pretending we’re interested when we’re not, putting on our listening face when we’ve spaced out, laughing at a joke we don’t find funny, nodding in agreement with something we don’t agree with at all and would argue with if we were with someone we knew well, drinking and eating things we want to spit out, dressing up in clothes which make us hate our bodies and which we’ll rip off the moment we’re alone, and generally being so nice and not ourselves that the day after we may wonder who on earth was possessing us… but we’ll do it all again if it means who we were being is someone someone else wants to see again.
If someone else used a – How to identify a Narcissist – list on us, we could end up being suspected of being a Narcissist… and if we did that with everyone we met, we’d probably come to a similar conclusion.
Strangely enough, a real Narcissist might not get flagged by the bullet points on one of those lists helping you to identify Narcissists… especially these days with those lists being everywhere and everyone being so consciously aware of them, talking about them – real Narcissists always notice what is trending, popular, a hot topic. Narcissists are also aware of those lists, more so than your average Jane or Joe, Narcissists absolutely love lists like that… they’re very useful and informative, and they use that information in typically Narcissist ways.
They will study those lists to make sure that they do none of the things listed, and do all of those things which theoretically point to someone NOT being a Narcissist. They also like studying the lists compiled of traits and behaviours which are considered to be signs of a person not being a Narcissist – things like empathy are high on that list. A real Narcissist will make sure to underline how empathic they are and how much empathy they have because they know (thanks to everyone discussing this at length and thus advertising it as a deciding factor for identifying Narcissists) that a Narcissist has no empathy – so, they need to make sure to do their own discussing and advertising about themselves having loads of empathy.
Usually they’ll do this with talk rather than action (talking for them is akin to doing, if they said they did it , and said they did it enough times, then as far as they are concerned they actually did it, so if they say they do it it must mean that they do it even if they never do). They’ll tell you about how they cry when watching movies – I’ve seen this stated by quite a few people online as ‘proof’ that they couldn’t possibly be a Narcissist. The fact that many filmmakers deliberately manipulate their audience to have a tear-jerk reaction tends to go unmentioned (how many times while watching a film have you felt the urge to cry when there was no logical reason for you to do so). The fact that crying while watching a movie does not = empathy also goes unmentioned. Narcissists have strong nostalgia, which is far more likely to cause crying in a Movie than empathy.
The Narcissist’s propensity for nostalgia will be a prevalent factor in their lives and in your life if you get involved with one. They love the past, especially the past which never was.
They love the you they once knew, the one you once were (which you never were but why let facts get in the way of fantasy), but you’ve changed… if only you were who you once were once again, they cry over that movie they play in their heads all the time all over you, feeling sorry for themselves for the loss of someone (who is still right there beside them, in front of them, but…) they once had… it’s all your fault things between the two of you have gone awry, but you could fix it, fix your broken self by becoming the person they will tell you that you once were, the you they compare you to and find you lacking in comparison… you were so beautiful, intelligent, talented, caring, and so much more. What happened to you!?
Do not try to explain to them that THEY happened to you and that’s why you are no longer who you once were. On that you can agree with them even if the person they think you once were was never actually who you once were, you have changed… bit by bit they inspired that change.
How do they inspire change in you?
It usually starts with tiny, almost imperceptible prompts, remarks here and there, about something you do which bothers them. Maybe you’re a bit too honest for their sensitive ego, something you said injured their pride, self-esteem, knocked their confidence (their faith in themselves), and maybe you decide to tone down your straight talk a bit because you do empathy and empathy understands what it’s like to be on both sides of an equation (yours and the other person, you can put yourself in their shoes and experience yourself from the outside, from their side of the relationship fence). Once you’ve toned it down a bit, you start doing it more because they still have an issue with it, until eventually you’ve turned it off and lie all the time to them.
They like that for awhile, they feel better around you (while you feel worse around them, feel bad about yourself around them, you don’t like lying, even little white lies… one or two of those every now and then to be polite is one thing, but all the time and the whitewash washes you out and away)… but something else is bothering them, so now that needs to be turned down.
Maybe you’re too intelligent, you make them look stupid in front of their friends when you say things, stop saying things or say things which make you look stupid and them look smart by comparison (with a Narcissist comparison between them and others is a constant, a constant competition). Suddenly the bright spark in your mind which made you zing and made conversations which you were involved with become awesome brainstorming sessions goes out, and you start to feel braindead, the weather inside your brain is fog with a chance of doom and gloom.
Perhaps you’re too attractive and they don’t like how other people look at you, it’s for your own protection, you don’t want just anyone finding you attractive, you don’t want other people judging you by your looks do you. What they really don’t like is that they suspect other people are wondering how someone as ugly as them is with someone as beautiful as you… because that’s what they wonder. While they quite like the fact that you’re a beautiful accessory, a trophy, which improves their status and social standing… they also find it annoying. And they don’t like the attention you’re stealing from them, people should be looking at them not at you, if they look at you it should only be because the Narcissist told them to do it or wanted them to do it. So you tone your looks done… until you disappear into the background, a ghost who is surprised when people can see it.
While all of these – signs that you’re with a Narcissist – tend to be things you figure out over time, and are a long agonising lesson in unhealthy Narcissism, a fable about how your once Prince or Princess Charming changed into a really mean Narcissist frog, and they only become eye-bleeding obvious once you’ve hit rock bottom and can no longer remain blind to it… they can be found in your earliest interactions and meetings with a Narcissist, and the best place to look for them is within yourself.
Recently I was chatting with someone. I met them in a casual social setting. They approached me and asked me an intriguing question. I was a bit bored and their question woke me up out of my lethargy. I felt a surge of energy and was filled with the potential of a fun interaction to be had…
these days for me this is a warning sign that I might be in the company of a Narcissist. The ones I attract and to whom I’m attracted tend to be great fun at first meeting. They ask unusual questions and my mind loves that kind of question… my mind can be a bit of an idiot, so the rest of me has to keep an eye on it.
The initial rush of fun and energy wore off quite quickly as the conversation progressed. This person was an ‘interrogator’ – someone who loves asking questions, especially personal ones (which may be phrased differently from the way people usually ask them). Their goal is to ask questions (this nourishes them) rather than get answers to those questions.
Narcissists tend to be ‘interrogators’, particularly in the initial stages of a relationship – this is easily mistaken as interest, as them being interested in you, who you are, what you think, how you feel, etc, as them wanting to know more about you. If you pause in your rush to answer the endless stream of questions, and in your excitement to have found someone this interested in you, and pay attention to what they do with your answers… you’ll notice that your answers are hitting them as though they were a wall and falling into a discard pile on the floor. If you listen carefully to the questions you may find that it’s the same question asked over and over again using a variety of words to make them sound different.
If you listen even more carefully with all of your senses on the alert for information about your interaction, you may notice that there isn’t much sensory interaction happening at all. You’re doing all the work, thinking, feeling, moving, being, doing, for the both of you – you’re filling in the blanks while their are a void. Sure they’re sitting there asking questions… but that’s about all they’re doing.
The feeling I get when talking with a Narcissist is similar to the feeling I got when I tried out Cleverbot.
excerpt from a post on my blog – Artificially Intelligent Conversations
There’s an emptiness, a loneliness, a dreariness, a boredom of being which seeps in when you’re having a conversation with someone who offers no feedback… except maybe to point out a flaw they’ve found in your system – which Narcissists will do from the moment they start interacting with you, but you might not notice it consciously, you will however notice it subconsciously, something will ping you within, drain you a bit, a tiny pin prick here and there.
Narcissist do not participate in an interaction, they don’t share anything of themselves… although they may give the appearance of doing so, but if you analyse what they’ve shared you’ll find it hard to pin down any substance to it. It’s like ersatz cream, it makes a big whoosh when it comes out of the container, and looks impressive especially if you like cream, but if you leave it for awhile… all you’re left with is dry, slightly sticky powder.
With this person I found myself tiring of their endless questions which went nowhere. This was never going to evolve into a brainstorming session between two people interested in a subject, sharing themselves and their views, or anything remotely satisfying, it was just going to keep being what it always was from the start. It was just going to keep droning on.
When I tried to get them to answer their own questions it was like listening to Cleverbot extract an answer from the answers of others stored in its database.
Along the path of them asking questions, they would censor me with – don’t do this and don’t do that – it was done surreptitiously, hidden by a smile, by a laugh, by humor so I wouldn’t notice that a snake had just dug its fangs into me. When I added up the don’ts the sum I got was – don’t be yourself – as everything that bothered them about me was intrinsic to my being me. If they didn’t like the things which made me myself, why the hell were they still talking to me, asking me questions as though they were interested.
I was bored… but like most people I tend to feel bad about feeling bored when with someone else. I hate myself for it and try to make up for such a crime. There are two ways that can go, but they both end up in the same place. You can either become self-conscious about being the one who is boring, worry about boring them, therefore taking what they are being for you upon yourself and making yourself a beast of their burden or you can make the effort to make them more interesting. Both of those end up getting you into heaps of trouble when the other person is a Narcissist as you’ve just turned yourself into the magic mirror who makes a boring person really interesting… and for a Narcissist that kind of mirror is valuable, they can give it all their ugliness and it will make it beautiful for them.
That point when a Narcissist becomes boring after their initial promise to be interesting can be the moment when you make a decision about how things will go for you and them.
another one of the excellent answers given in reply to Why do I seem to attract men who are narcissistic? What do I need to change?
It began to feel as though the only way to survive more interaction with this person was to become a zombie… I’ve been there and done that, and therefore know how that story ends, so I decided to end the conversation.
It was time to go…