13 Traits to Help You Spot a Narcissist Early On — and How You Can Defend Yourself Against One

The term “narcissism” has become more widely known and understood than ever before.

Many people are relieved to finally have a description that fits their self-centered, egotistical partner, friend, colleague, boss, or family member.

They can understand now why narcissists have always made them feel frustrated, angry, and helpless over the almost total lack of sensitivity and empathy the narcissist shows for their needs and feelings.

This article contains 13 traits of a narcissist and strategies on how to defend yourself against their abuse.

Ready? Let’s get started!

13 Traits of a Narcissist

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM-5 that therapists use as a guide, the person needs to have only 55 percent of the following characteristics to be considered narcissistic.

#1. They Act Superior and Entitled

In the world of the narcissists there is a hierarchy for people, with the narcissists at the top.

The narcissists consider themselves to be the best, the most right, and the most competent. They believe that they own everything and control everyone.

They can also get that superior feeling by being the worst, the most ill, upset, or injured. This makes them feel entitled to receive soothing concern, and even the right to hurt you or demand apologies.

#2. They Have a High Need for Attention and Validation

Narcissists need constant attentions and validation from others to shore up their egos.

However, no matter how much you tell narcissists you love them, or approve of them, they never feel that it’s enough – deep down they don’t believe anyone can ever love them.

Despite grandiose bragging, narcissists are very insecure and afraid they’re not going to measure up.

#3. They Believe Everything Should Be Perfect

Narcissists believe they should be perfect, you should be perfect, and events should happen exactly as they envision them.

Their excruciating demands lead the narcissist to complain and be constantly dissatisfied.

#4. They Have a High Need for Control

The narcissists need for everything to be perfect along with their sense of entitlement, makes it seem logical to them that they should be in control—of everything.

Narcissists always have a story line in mind about how their life and each “character” in their life should be. So When you don’t behave as expected, or when things don’t go as they envisioned, they become quite upset and unsatisfied.

Related: Healing From a Narcissistic Parent: 7 Ways to Heal After Surviving a Narcissistic Parent

#5. They Don’t Take Responsibility For Themselves or Their Lives

Despite their need to be in control, narcissists never want to be responsible for the results, especially when things don’t go exactly their way or when they feel criticized and less than perfect.

To maintain their façade of perfection, they would place all the blame and responsibility on you – it has to be someone else’s fault. Other times, the blame is generalized (police, bosses, teachers, politicians, laws, and so on.)

#6. They Lack Understanding of Boundaries

Narcissists are a lot like a child who believes that everything belongs to them, everyone thinks, feels and wants the same things they do.

Narcissists can’t see where they end and you begin. They are shocked and feel insulted when they’re told no and would go to great lengths to get what they want through persistence, cajoling, demanding, etc.

Related: Recovering From a Narcissistic Relationship: 21 Steps to Heal After a Narcissistic Relationship

#7. They Lack Empathy

Lack of empathy is one of the main characteristics of narcissism.

Narcissists are unable to understand what other people are feeling and would expect others to think and feel the same as they do.

They rarely are apologetic or feel remorseful or guilty.

However, narcissists are highly attuned to perceived threats and rejection from others and frequently misread subtle facial expressions and interpret them as negative.

Their lack of ability to correctly read body language and facial expressions make narcissists deficiently empathetic to your feelings and lead them to misinterpret sarcasm or joking as a personal attack.

Narcissists also lack an understanding about the nature of feelings. They believe that their feelings are caused by someone or something outside of themselves – not by their own thoughts, and interpretations.

Related: 5 Traits That Make Empaths Perfect Targets For A Narcissist

#8. They’re Unable to Be Truly Intimate

Their lack of empathy and their constant need for self-protection, makes narcissists emotionally blind and alone.

They can’t truly love or connect emotionally with other people.

This also makes them emotionally needy. While they can’t respond to your pain or fear or even your need for care and sympathy, they desperately want others to feel their pain, to sympathize with them.

Related: Living With a Narcissistic Parent: How to Cope With Your Narcissistic Parent?

#9. They Think Emotionally

Your logical explanation of how hurtful the narcissists’ behaviors are to you won’t make sense to them. They are only able to be aware of their own thoughts and feelings.

Even when they say they understand, they really don’t.

As a result, narcissists make most of their decisions based on how they feel about something – not on whether it is a good choice to make for the family or for the budget.

#10. They Spilt Everything Into Either Good or Bad

In the narcissist world everything is split into good and bad parts.

Narcissists would blame any negative thoughts or behaviors on you or others, while taking credit for everything that is positive.

They also tend to remember things as either completely wonderful or completely horrible – they aren’t able to remember both the positive and the negative in a situation.

#11. Their Fear Motivates and Energizes Their Lives

Fear is the main emotions that motivates and energizes the narcissist’s life. Most of this fear is deeply buried and repressed.

Narcissists are afraid of being rejected, ridiculed, or just plain wrong. They might also fear losing all their money, being seen as bad, or being abandoned, which makes it difficult for the narcissist to trust other people.

Narcissists fear intimacy or vulnerability because they’re afraid you’ll see their flaws and imperfections and judge or reject them. This is why, the more intimate your relationship becomes, the less he’ll trust you.

Narcissists never seem to develop trust in the love of others, no matter how much reassurance they would get – Their fear of being “found out” and abandoned never seems to dissipate.

#12. They Project Their Anxiety Onto Others

Narcissists have an ongoing anxious feeling that something bad is happening or about to happen.

Some narcissists would hide and repress their anxiety, but others would constantly talk about the doom that is going to happen.

Whether they choose to repress it or openly talk about it, most narcissists project their anxiety onto their loved ones.

They might accuse you of being unsupportive, negative, not responding to their needs, or being selfish.

As you start feeling worse and worse, narcissists feel stronger, more superior and less anxious.

Related: Healing From A Codependent Relationship: 4 Ways to Conquer Codependency

#13. They Harbor a Lot of Shame

Narcissists believe they are always right and don’t believe their behaviors affect anyone else, so they don’t really feel guilt.

However, they harbor a lot of shame buried in a deeply repressed part. They believe that there is something deeply and permanently wrong or bad about who they are.

They are constantly on guard to hide insecurities, fears, and rejected traits from everyone, including themselves. This is essential in order to maintain their façade or False Self.


The term “gaslighting” refers to a form of emotional abuse that came into popular consciousness in a 1938 thriller play, “Gas Light.” The play was then adapted into a movie in 1944.

The movie was about a husband who tried to convince his wife that she was mentally unstable; in order to send her away to a mental asylum take her inheritance.

In “Gaslighting” situations, the goal is to isolate and control the victim’s version of reality.

An example of gaslighting may involve a partner doing something abusive and then blatantly denying that it happened, leaving the victim doubting their perceptions or memories.

Narcissist can use gaslighting to gain authority over a victim’s life.

What Living With a Narcissist Looks Like

Types of Narcissism

While most narcissists share the traits presented above, there is more than one type of narcissism.

A narcissist may be a mix of the various types but there is always a dominant type mixed with another.

1. Cerebral Narcissism

A cerebral narcissist is intelligent and uses his intellect (real or perceived) to impress others and get admiration and attention.

But they don’t just use their intellect to impress, they also use it to ruthlessly obliterate anyone standing in their way.

For this type of narcissist, the body and its maintenance can be a burden.

2. Somatic Narcissism

A somatic narcissist uses her body and looks to charm, and seduce – her assets are all external.

The values of this narcissist typically revolve around image, glamour, and beauty.

While it’s usually easy for this narcissist to attract people, the emptiness of their inner world can make it hard for them to sustain a relationship.

Somatic narcissists also have a pronounced intolerance for any imperfection in their partner, which only adds to a growing instability in relationships.

3. Overt Narcissism

Overt narcissists are extrovert in their behavior, loud and working hard to be noticeable.

They have an immense sense of grandiosity and are usually preoccupied about having outstanding success in different areas, like attractiveness, sense of power, ideal love, etc.

They can be very exploitative and manipulative in their quest for success.

4. Covert Narcissism

This is a shy form of narcissism.

Covert narcissists may have fantasies similar to other types of narcissists, but he lacks self-confidence and motivation to pull it off successfully.

They usually play the victim, refusing to take responsibility for themselves, feel worthless and self-loathing, and seek someone to take care of them.

They could be described as parasites, living off other people.

5. Aggressive or Malignant Narcissism

This type of narcissism has displays both symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder.

They can become violent and psychopathic.

How to Protect Yourself From Narcissistic Abuse?

Following are some tips to help you deal with the narcissist in your life:

#1. Set Healthy Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries are the protective emotional limits that we use to define how we regulate our acceptance of how others treat us.

Narcissists do not manipulate everyone. They only manipulate you because they know they can.

It is your responsibility to show others how to treat you and you do that by first acknowledging and honoring your own needs.

The only way to stop a narcissist, and anyone for that matter, from walking all over you, is through the establishment and maintenance of healthy boundaries.

Here are some tips for setting boundaries with narcissists:

1. Clearly Communicate Your Boundaries

Clearly tell the narcissist what you will and will not tolerate, and what the consequences for violating these limits will be.

It might feel uncomfortable at first, so you can do it over the phone, or by email, or whatever feels the least stressful to you.

2. Let Them Face The Consequences

Stand firm and show the narcissist that you’re serious. If they violate these boundaries let them face the consequences.

This might include leaving the situation if they start getting abusive, or hanging up the phone.

Do not allow yourself to be pulled into the narcissist’s rage, manipulation or drama.

Related: 11 Emotional Boundaries You Should Set From The First Date

Nice Ways to Say “No”

#2. Stay Emotionally Distant

Do share any of your feelings or personal thoughts with the narcissist. Do not try to rationalize with them or let them see you get upset. They see these emotions as weaknesses and will use them against you.

When talking with the narcissist, keep your voice monotone and if you can, don’t make eye contact.

1. Do not offer advice or tips

They will take it as criticisms and lash out against you.

2. Do not joke with them

Narcissists cannot laugh at themselves and they get easily offended.

3. Postpone and delay rather than confront

If the conversation isn’t going well, make excuses to buy you time and delay the conversation so they can cool down.

4. Be direct and concise when you speak to them

Say what you have to say and leave. Don’t try to rationalize, or elaborate, or fill in uncomfortable silences. Don’t negotiate with them, you’ll lose.

Related: How to Firmly Establish and Enforce Healthy Emotional Boundaries?

#3. Manage Your Expectations of The Narcissist

1. Accept that what you see is what you get

Accept that the narcissist will never consider your feelings or take responsibility for anything they do and apologize for hurting you.

Accept also that the narcissist will never change into the person you want them to be. They might go through a period when he becomes vulnerable, but don’t let that fool you into believing they are changing.

2. Do not take it personally

The narcissist abuse is not about you. It is a symptom of their insecurities.

So don’t let their drama side track you and distract you from reaching your goals.

Be discerning with everything they tell you and don’t take it at face value to avoid falling into the trap of their lies and manipulation.

This doesn’t mean that you should instead accuse or blame the narcissist. You need to take responsibility for all your feelings and exercise self-control.

#4. Be Compassionate and Forgiving With Yourself When You Falter

Setting boundaries with the narcissist for the first time might not come easily and might make you feel uncomfortable

You’re bound to make mistakes and you are likely to slip back into old patterns for a while. That is perfectly fine. It is part of the learning process, just keep practicing.

Related: Learning To Love Yourself : 21 Day Self-Love Challenge


Narcissists create a charming façade to show the world how superior they are, but hidden under that False Self are a multitude of limitations and dysfunctional emotional responses.

Related: 25 Signs You Are Dating a Psychopath (And How to Heal From Psychopathic Abuse)

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  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book Healing from a Narcissistic Relationship, © 2017 by Margalis Fjelstad. All rights reserved.
  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book The object of my affection is in my reflection, © 2008 by Rokelle Lerner. All rights reserved.
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