How to Spot a Narcissist
The “narcissistic personality”—a legend-in-his-own-mind type who assumes that other people exist merely to admire him—is notoriously difficult to tag in the wild. That’s because at first you’re having too much fun with him, romantic or friendly, to notice the signs. Only later will you register the considerable emotional drain of being in his company.
Here are some indicators that you may have a narcissist on your hands. Is he social, charming, and, well, kind of materialistic? Is he rude to waiters? Does he have grandiose plans? Do his eyes glaze over when you try to talk about yourself, and does he steer the conversation back to his favorite subject? (You: “I broke my leg.” Him: “Oh, I broke my leg once when I was skiing the triple black diamond in Vail. You have to see me ski. Everybody said I should go pro.”) Does he blame others when things go wrong?
“A narcissistic person can be really likable and exciting at the beginning,” says W. Keith Campbell, the head of the department of psychology at the University of Georgia, in Athens, and a coauthor of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement ($16, amazon.com). “The problem is that he lacks empathy.” So rather than considering your needs, ever, the narcissist believes that his time and energy are best spent on activities befitting the planet’s most exceptional person (that would be him). This selfishness is wearing, and you are soon tapped dry from constantly reinforcing the charmer’s high opinion of himself.
If your narcissist is a potential romantic partner, you should probably run, says Campbell, no matter how thrilling the ride. “It’s like eating a bunch of chocolate cake,” he says. “It feels really good at first, but later you’re sick.”
If your narcissist is a friend and you want to maintain the relationship, it’s up to you to understand her limitations. “Accept that she’s a lot of fun to have a drink with, and enjoy her on that level,” says Campbell. “But don’t hope for anything further.”