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The 10 Harmful Traits of a Narcissist

Abstract depiction: Two figures face off, one fragmented and exploding with narcissism, while the other absorbs and integrates those shattered pieces into their being, a poignant portrayal of the traits of narcissism and how it impacts mental health.

Narcissism is having a moment. The harmful traits of a narcissist are bantered about on social media to whispered conversations about a possibly covert narcissist someone may be dating over expensive cocktails. Given our propensity to label everyone a narcissist, it's important to know the difference between people who genuinely have the disorder and your common jerk. Let's dive in.

Narcissistic personality disorder NPD stands out for its unique blend of grandiosity, entitlement, and lack of empathy. Those with this disorder often have an extremely high sense of their own importance. In the DMS-5, NPD falls into Cluster B personality disorders, meaning that they often have a dysfunctional pattern of dramatic, overly emotional thinking or unpredictable actions.

Understanding narcissistic traits is crucial not only for identifying the disorder, but also for comprehending how these traits and behaviors can adversely affect the mental well-being and interpersonal relationships of those close to the narcissist. From family members to partners to colleagues, the impact of narcissistic behaviors leaves invisible scars that can lead to chronic mental illness from major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, PTSD, teenage depression, to anxiety

What you should be looking out for if you believe you are dealing with a narcissist? The DSM-5 recognizes nine key traits to distinguish narcissistic personality disorder and five of the nine aspects listed below must be present to diagnose one with narcissistic personality disorder. 

What are the Ten Traits of a Narcissist?

Understanding the ten traits of a narcissist is essential for recognizing and navigating interactions with individuals who exhibit these characteristics. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) encompasses a range of behaviors and attitudes that can have profound effects on relationships and social dynamics. From an overbearing sense of selfimportance to a lack of empathy, these traits often manifest in various ways, impacting both the narcissist and those around them. By familiarizing ourselves with these traits, we can better understand the motivations and behaviors of narcissists, empowering us to establish healthier boundaries and cultivate more fulfilling relationships. Below, we outline some common traits associated with narcissism, shedding light on this complex and often challenging personality profile.

Traits of a Narcissist #1: Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance 

The hallmark trait of narcissism, a grandiose sense of self-importance, sets the stage for a plethora of damaging behaviors. From exaggerating achievements to demanding admiration, narcissists often leave those around them feeling invalidated and insignificant. Often, they end up deceiving others about their abilities in several areas, making it hard for people around them to trust that they are being honest. Overstating their qualifications and their high sense of self-importance can lead to the narcissist minimizing the achievements of others and damaging their self-esteem. The constant need for validation can exhaust relationships, leaving partners, friends, and family members feeling drained and unappreciated. Read our blog about 10 Ways Growing Up with Narcissists Affects Mental Health to learn more.

Traits of a Narcissist #2: Fantasies of Unlimited Success 

Narcissists indulge in fantasies of limitless success, power, and admiration. These fantasies, while seemingly harmless, often manifest in manipulative behaviors aimed at fulfilling their delusions of grandeur. The inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality can lead to a distorted perception of the world, further exacerbating their narcissistic tendencies. Projecting their delusional fantasies often means they end up dragging those that are close to them into their schemes as well. This can lead to tension and conflict between the narcissist and others as they truly don’t see the world the way the narcissist does.  

Traits of a Narcissist #3: Belief in Being "Special" 

The narcissist's belief in their own superiority breeds a sense of exclusivity, alienating them from those they deem unworthy of their attention. This exclusivity not only isolates the narcissist but leaves others feeling rejected and insignificant as well. They likely force their way into social groups or relationships with others they see as “special” leading to discomfort from others due to the narcissist’s lack of respect for boundaries. The constant pursuit of status and validation perpetuates a cycle of insecurity and discontent, further deteriorating mental well-being. 

Traits of a Narcissist #4: Requires Excessive Admiration 

Demanding unwavering admiration from others leaves little room for genuine connections or meaningful relationships. Genuine connections require honesty, communication, and negotiations when conflicts arise in the relationship. However, narcissists often view any form of criticism as a personal attack, further damaging those around them and forcing them to feel as if they are walking on eggshells to avoid setting the narcissist off. The incessant need for validation can lead to a toxic dynamic where individuals feel obligated to cater to the narcissist's ego, at the expense of their own mental health. This means that it gets very exhausting emotionally to try to maintain a healthy relationship with a narcissist.  

Traits of a Narcissist #5: Sense of Entitlement 

Entitlement lies at the core of narcissistic behavior, leading to manipulative and exploitative tendencies. Narcissists believe they are entitled to special treatment and privileges others can’t have, often disregarding the boundaries and needs of others. They believe that they should get awards, favors, and more without anyone questioning them even if they don’t necessarily deserve it. This disregard for personal boundaries can leave individuals feeling exploited and invalidated, eroding trust and fostering resentment. Narcissists are quick to anger if they don’t get something they think they deserve to have meaning they may lash out as those around them.  

Traits of a Narcissist #6: Interpersonally Exploitative 

Narcissists often exploit others for their own gain, manipulating situations to serve their interests. This exploitative behavior can leave individuals feeling used and undervalued, contributing to feelings of resentment and betrayal. The inability to form genuine connections based on mutual respect and empathy further perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction and emotional distress. Since narcissists manipulate situations to get what they want it is extremely hard to tell when they are being honest with those around them leading to trust issues within relationships.  

Traits of a Narcissist #7: Lack of Empathy 

Central to narcissism is a profound lack of empathy and understanding of others, making it difficult for individuals with NPD to recognize or validate the feelings of others. One study examined the lack of empathy in narcissist individuals and found that they displayed significant impairments of emotional empathy on the Multifaceted Empathy Test but didn’t show defects in cognitive empathy on the test. This emotional disconnect can leave those around the narcissist feeling unseen and unheard, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and isolation. The absence of empathy further erodes trust and intimacy, hindering the development of healthy relationships. This often leads to the narcissist being cold and distant especially when conflict arises in relationships.  

Traits of a Narcissist #8: Envious or Believes Others Envious 

Another key trait of narcissists is how they often harbor feelings of envy towards others, perceiving any success or recognition as a threat to their own sense of superiority. This envy can lead to toxic competitiveness and resentment towards those perceived as rivals. Similarly, narcissists may project their own envy onto others, further fueling mistrust and discord within relationships. If they see others as envious of them the narcissist is likely to get defensive and push people away.  

Traits of a Narcissist #9: Arrogant or Haughty Behaviors 

Arrogance and haughtiness are common traits among narcissists, stemming from their inflated sense of self-importance. These traits of a narcissist can alienate those around them, leaving individuals feeling belittled and undermined especially if the narcissist’s arrogance leads to putting down those around them. The constant need to assert dominance and superiority creates an environment of tension, unhealthy competition, and hostility, further deteriorating mental well-being. 

Traits of a Narcissist #10: Interpersonal Dysfunction 

Beyond the specific traits outlined in the DSM-5, narcissism is characterized by pervasive interpersonal dysfunction. Between dramatic changes in mood and unpredictable actions, the impact of narcissistic relationships can be profoundly damaging. One study I found investigated four main ways people felt they were being negatively impacted by a narcissistic individual in their personal life. The four main behaviors that were the most common among 436 participants in the study included abusive behaviors, financial problems, sexual behaviors, and idealization and devaluation. Clearly traits of narcissists can manifest themselves in several ways and lead to a wide variety of harmful behaviors that impact those around them.  

What are Narcissist Red Flags?

Chances are likely you're reading this not for yourself, but because you suspect that someone in your life is a narcissist. Take our quick quiz to see. While not a diagonostic tool, this quiz may help you assess the impact that this person may have on your life and get support.

What to Do If You're Impacted by a Narcissist

If you find yourself impacted by a narcissist, it's important to prioritize your own well-being and take proactive steps to protect yourself. Here are some pieces of advice to consider:

  1. Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with the narcissist to protect your emotional and mental health. Clearly communicate your limits and enforce consequences if they are violated.
  2. Practice Self-Care: Focus on self-care activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and fulfillment.
  3. Seek Support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support groups who can offer validation, empathy, and guidance. Talking to others who have experienced similar situations can provide valuable insights and support.
  4. Educate Yourself: Learn more about narcissism and how it manifests in relationships. Understanding the dynamics at play can empower you to navigate interactions with the narcissist more effectively.
  5. Avoid Engaging in Power Struggles: Narcissists thrive on power and control. Refrain from getting drawn into power struggles or arguments with them. Instead, focus on maintaining your own sense of autonomy and inner peace.
  6. Practice Assertiveness: Assert yourself confidently and calmly when communicating with the narcissist. Clearly express your thoughts, feelings, and needs without succumbing to manipulation or gaslighting.
  7. Consider Professional Help: If the impact of the narcissist is significantly affecting your mental health or well-being, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor who specializes in narcissistic abuse. They can provide tailored strategies and support to help you navigate the situation.

Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect, empathy, and kindness in your relationships. It's okay to prioritize your own needs and take steps to protect yourself from toxic dynamics.

Resources to Help You Deal with a Narcissist

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Offering support and resources for individuals enduring domestic abuse, including narcissistic manipulation. Contact: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) | Visit: www.thehotline.org
  • Psychology Today Therapist Finder: A comprehensive directory of licensed therapists specializing in trauma, abuse, and family dynamics. Find therapists in your area and filter by specialty. Explore at: www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
  • Support Groups for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents: Connect with others who share similar experiences and access coping strategies and resources through online support groups on platforms like Reddit or Facebook.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): Providing resources, support, and information on anxiety and depression. Access articles, self-help tools, and a directory of mental health professionals. Learn more at: www.adaa.org
  • Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Organizations: Organizations like Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Alliance (NAAA) or Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program (NARP) offer tailored resources, support groups, and educational materials for survivors of narcissistic abuse.

Knowing the Traits of a Narcissist Can Help You Put a Name to Your Pain

In conclusion, understanding the narcissism is a crucial step towards fostering healthier relationships and personal growth. Whether you've discovered traits of narcissism within yourself or someone you know, it's important to remember that recognizing these behaviors is just the first step towards change. By acknowledging and addressing these traits, individuals can engage in self-reflection, empathy cultivation, and boundary setting. Additionally, seeking support from mental health professionals or support groups can provide valuable resources and guidance on navigating the complexities of narcissistic tendencies. Remember, growth and change are possible, and by taking proactive steps towards self-awareness and improvement, we can create more fulfilling and harmonious connections in our lives.

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