top of page

How to Spot a Narcissist in 3 Steps

Whether dating , making friends, looking for a job, hiring employees or joining a club or organization, it can be helpful to know some of the warning signs for people with narcissistic personality disorder or significant traits.

In relationships, they usually consider themselves superior to you, are insulting and demeaning, do not reciprocate attention, demand constant admiration, may lose interest in you, may be promiscuous, may spend your money on others, and may humiliate you in public to enhance their own image.

In the workplace, they may spend inordinate amount of time chatting with co-workers to impress them, make promises they don’t keep, and take credit for your hard work. As supervisors, they may bully you alone or in front of others.

As a therapist, I have helped clients learn tools for coping with a narcissistic partner. (It’s not about you, it’s what they do. Don’t bother trying to give them insight into their past behavior, they won’t get it and it creates a power struggle. Focus on what your choices are at that moment, etc.).

The 3-Step Method


Pay attention to their WORDS, your EMOTIONS, and their BEHAVIORS. Watch for extremely positive and negative words. Extremely positive (seductive) words include: I love you, you’re so great and wonderful, I’ve never met someone as great as you. You’re so much better than all the others. No one has treated you as great as I will treat you. The person you were with before was a real loser. I have this great idea that will make me really famous someday.

Extremely negative words include: The person over there is a real loser. The people that rejected my great idea are some of the stupidest people I have ever met. They don’t know brilliance when it is staring them in the face. My boss is treating me unfairly, I think I’ll go over his head and get him fired. I can’t wait to see him totally humiliated.

They frequently use words that lack empathy. You tell them about a bad thing you experienced and they respond with: Well, let me tell you about what happened to me once. There’s often no recognition of your concern – or even your existence sometimes. They lose interest quickly once they think they have you.

Narcissist often use victim words. Narcissists perpetually see themselves as superior, but perpetually as victims. When they are exposed as not being so superior after all, they suffer what is known as a “Narcissistic Injury.” They may go on a long rant: It’s so unfair what they did/said/are. I will show them. They’re punishing me for being better than they will ever be.


Now pay attention to your emotions. How do you feel around this person? Does it feel like he is too good to be true? This person is nice to you, you feel extremely loved and flattered. You may even have a euphoric feeling. He/She almost seems too good to be true: That’s a warning sign, because those people who intensely and endlessly flatter you are often not what they seem. Their charm for you is a warning sign. Sometimes they are simply charming and not a narcissist. But sometimes it means you’re being seduced in the moment with lovely words by a narcissist who will say them just as easily to the next person they meet. They like winning more than having.

Some narcissists are so busy puffing themselves up, that they don’t realize they are putting you down in the process—it’s so automatic for them. You may not even notice it conspicuously at first, but soon you may be filled with self-doubt. I wonder what he/she thinks of me? I’m not really smart or talented, or attractive after all. I’m certainly Not in his/her league, am I?

Feel like you can’t breathe? It’s common for narcissists to “suck up all the oxygen in the room.” Other people start feeling like they can’t breathe, because they can’t get a word in. Whatever someone else says, the conversation gets steered back to the narcissist somehow.


Notice what they do more than what they say. Narcissists have lots of words to distract from and make up for their insensitive behavior. People are constantly frustrated with them. Rather than reflecting on their past behavior, narcissists defend it and attack you for criticizing them. (“How dare you, after all I’ve done for you!”). So just become aware of their behavior and ignore their words excusing or distracting from their insensitive behavior.

For example: Instead of saying: “Why were you late?” You could say: “ I’d prefer if you would let me know ahead of time if you’re going to be late, so I can make other plans.” Then just leave it at that and notice if they fulfill or ignore your request. If they try to fulfill your request, that’s a good sign. But if there’s an unchanging pattern of disregard for you and your requests, then you may consider ending the relationship since you’re not going to change that person. If you feel taken for granted, remember that narcissists like winning relationships.

If a narcissist also has a high conflict personality, that means they will look for a target to blame when something goes wrong for them. They may intensely blame you for something minor or non-existence or done by someone else (perhaps even done by themselves which is called projection). When they mess up, they often look for someone close by to blame. It’s all your fault I didn’t get the promotion. You should have spoken to the boss like I asked you to. Now what are you going to do about it!!

As with all high-conflict personalities, they tend to blame people in close relationships with them (girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, kids, parents, close friends, neighbors, etc.) or people in authority positions (supervisors, business owners, police, government agencies, etc.). They often get stuck in a cycle of attacking a target of blame and defending themselves rather than getting any work done or pay attention to their family: such as making angry phone calls, writing long e-mail rants or engaging in social media meltdowns.

Notice if they have ever done anything 90% of people would never do (The 90% Rule). Something that you would never do. If so, regardless of their excuses, it usually means there’s a pattern of high-conflict behavior. For narcissists this often includes humiliating a partner or child in public, sabotaging a co-worker, or verbally attacking a colleague or employee in a meeting.

In conclusion, think of all these patterns (WORDS, EMOTIONS, BEHAVIOR) as potential warning signs. None of this is a diagnosis but rather hints to help you decide who you want in your relationships at home, work, and in your community. Of course, you may not be able to avoid this kind of person, or you may decide there are benefits that you will get with these traits, in which case think carefully how to manage the relationship.

Whatever you decide to do, it helps to know what you’re getting into. Therefore, be aware of THEIR WORDS, YOUR EMOTIONS, and THEIR BEHAVIOR (Especially the 90% rule).

bottom of page