Signs a Person Is a Narcissist and How to Deal With Them

Ever come across someone with a heightened sense of entitlement, who manipulates others and lacks empathy? That person is likely a narcissist—or personality displaying "excessive self-love or egocentrism," in the language of the American Psychological Association.

Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, co-authors of the 2010 book The Narcissism Epidemic, describe it as "a psychocultural affliction rather than a physical disease."

However, "like a disease, narcissism is caused by certain factors, spreads through particular channels, appears as various symptoms, and might be halted by preventive measures and cures," they write.

So, how do you spot a narcissistic person? Here, psychologists explain the telltale markers and how to cope with them.

A man with sunglasses, cigar and champagne.
A man wearing sunglasses and chomping on a cigar raises a glass of champagne. Narcissists have an inflated sense of superiority. iStock/Getty Images Plus

What Is a Narcissist?

A narcissist displays "a pathological inflated sense of self-importance and lack of insight and empathy towards others," said Adam Borland, a psychologist from the Cleveland Clinic.

Ramani Durvasula—a clinical psychologist who has appeared with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith on the Red Table Talk show, as well as with Kendall Jenner on Vogue's YouTube channel—told Newsweek: "Underlying all of this is a fragility and a sense of insecurity or inadequacy."

A narcissistic personality style puts a person at odds with others due to the "hostility, lack of empathy, manipulativeness, entitlement and incapacity for intimacy," she added.

What Are the Traits of a Narcissist?

Borland and Durvasula explain that the key traits are:

  • A sense of entitlement and/or superiority
  • A lack of empathy for others (being selfish/self-centered), or low or inconsistent empathy
  • A lack of insight
  • Arrogance
  • Superficiality
  • Grandiosity
  • A constant need for attention and/or external validation
  • Admiration seeking
  • Manipulative behavior and/or a need for control
  • Blaming others and not taking responsibility for their own actions
  • Perfectionist tendencies for themselves as well as other people and situations
  • Reactive sensitivity to criticism
  • An "all or nothing" way of thinking (people/things are either good or bad, right or wrong)
  • Poor boundaries—difficulty being told "no"
  • Difficulty displaying emotional vulnerability
  • Displays anxiety (worry/a sense of impending doom)
  • An underlying sense of insecurity/self-doubt.
Anxious woman on sofa holding knees up.
A woman sitting on a sofa looking anxious. Narcissists often have underlying insecurity. iStock/Getty Images Plus

How to Deal With a Narcissist

Be Assertive and Know When to Walk Away

These traits can be deeply unpleasant whether you encounter them at work or in your personal life. Borland told Newsweek that it's vital to "display assertiveness rather than passivity."

Speak up for yourself and establish firm relationship boundaries, he advised. "Know it's OK to leave and walk away from the situation if needed."

Borland added: "Think first and react second." Respond to the situation, not the behavior, and avoid unnecessary confrontation.

Don't Personalize the Situation

You must not "personalize their personality," Durvasula said. Narcissists are "like this with everyone" and actually "believe their own narratives, as distorted as they are."

Accept They May Not Change

"You have to have realistic expectations," she said. "It's not easy. You have to remember that this is a rigid personality style and not likely to change."

Waiting around in the belief that change will happen will only make the situation worse, she added.

Choose Your Battles

Keep interactions and conversations with a narcissist "relatively brief," Borland said, choosing your battles and managing your expectations.

Durvasula agreed, pointing to the importance of disengaging and having good boundaries.

Seek Support

Borland also advised educating yourself on the topic of narcissism, maintaining your own support system and seeking professional mental health treatment if needed.

Durvasula said: "Cultivating other sources of support such as therapy or other social relationships is essential to be able to survive."

A woman looking at another woman talking.
A woman talks while another woman listens with eyebrows raised. A narcissist has a lack of empathy towards others. iStock/Getty Images Plus

How to Help a Narcissist Heal

Borland recommended patience, but warned that you should "not enable" their behavior. Maintain the necessary boundaries and encourage them to seek out professional mental health treatment.

Wondering how you can help a narcissist heal is "actually not a safe or healthy question" to ask, according to Durvasula. It's "not your responsibility" and is "a dangerous agenda to take on."

When people believe in helping to heal a narcissist, "it becomes some twisted 'Beauty and the Beast' fantasy," she added.

Narcissism is "a rigid maladaptive personality style that most therapists can't address, let alone someone trying to manage this through hugs and enabling. It's the narcissist's responsibility to heal themselves."

A woman looking at herself in mirror.
A woman looking at herself in a mirror. Narcissists have "perfectionistic" tendencies, for themselves as well as other people. iStock/Getty Images Plus