Most of us know who we are. We know our strengths and our shortcomings. And most of us are relatively satisfied with our personalities. You may wish you were a little more assertive or a bit less susceptible to stress, but for the most part, you know what your personality is. Beyond some minor adjustments, there probably aren’t too many changes you’d like to make. But nobody wants to be a narcissist any more than they want to be a sociopath. Not least because narcissists sound more than a little bit unlikable.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to be a narcissist — or at least to act like one — in an age dominated by social media. When you post on Facebook, you can look like a narcissist by posting selfies. Or by posting too frequently. Or by staying friends with your ex. Even by getting angry when people make negative comments on your online musings. But are you really a narcissist?
You’d think that even extremely self-absorbed people — the ones who could really be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder — wouldn’t want to admit that about themselves. After all, we post selfie after selfie because of our positive body image and our acceptance of our flaws — not because we just like taking pictures of ourselves. Right? Perhaps yes, and perhaps no. Fast Company’s Art Markman reports these types — self-focused people who derive so much of their self-esteem from accolades that it gets in the way of their relationships — typically already know that they’re narcissists. And they’ll even admit it.
So that begs the question. Do you have a creeping suspicion you’re among them? Are you worried a psychologist might tell you you have narcissistic personality disorder? Find out for sure by taking a look at the following signs that you actually are.
1. You’re secretly insecure and shameful
Many behaviors are indicative of a narcissist. As Jane E. Brody reports for The New York Times, they’re highly competitive and portray themselves as winners and others as losers. They shame those who disagree with them, lie for personal gain, blame others for their mistakes, and ignore facts. Most of us have one or more narcissistic trait without having narcissistic personality disorder. (Which also involves an impaired ability to recognize the feelings of others, a sense of entitlement, and excessive attempts to attract attention.) But these behaviors typically conceal secret feelings of insecurity, shame, and vulnerability. Sound familiar? You may be a narcissist.
2. You work (or wish you worked) in politics, professional sports, or entertainment
Another interesting insight into narcissists’ psyches? According to clinical psychologist Joseph Burgo, who spoke to the Times, many extreme narcissists gravitate toward the same fields when choosing a career. Burgo explained many “grandiose narcissists are drawn to politics, professional sports, and the entertainment industry because success in these fields allows them ample opportunity to demonstrate their winner status and to elicit admiration from others, confirming their defensive self-image as a superior being.” Narcissism hasn’t been linked to a specific kind of upbringing or family background, but it typically occurs more often in males than females. It also affects an estimated 0.5% of the general population.
3. You have high, but fragile, self-esteem
In a piece for The Atlantic on spotting a narcissist online, Julie Beck reports researchers have linked some online activities, like posting self-promoting content on social media, to narcissistic personality disorder. But researchers’ ability to figure out people’s motivations for specific activities is limited. So, while those studies are compelling, a clearer sign that gives narcissists away is their self-esteem.
These people typically have very high self esteem. But that self esteem is fragile. If somebody criticizes a narcissist, they need a win to combat that loss. Which makes online activities like role-playing games a pretty attractive activity. Does playing World of Warcraft mean you have a personality disorder? Certainly not. But using your online activities, whether gameplay or social networking, to boost your self-esteem just might.
4. You want to be a winner, which means somebody else needs to be a loser
We compete with each other all the time, whether we’re playing video games or racing toward whatever goalposts are set at work. But as Joseph Burgo reports for The Atlantic, bullies set out to make their rivals feel inferior. And according to Burgo, all bullies are narcissists. The problem is they want to be winners. And specifically, they want to be winners by triumphing over losers and then shaming them about their loss. (The theory applies whether you’re a high school student bullying a classmate, or just an adult hazing a new recruit at the office.)
5. You have a lot of sex
Reporting for New Republic, Jeffrey Kluger writes “successful narcissists have a whole lot of sex.” This seems to mean “evolution favors the manipulative and self-absorbed.” How could that be? Researchers have found men who score high in any of the dark triad of personality traits — narcissism, impulsive thrill-seeking, and Machiavellianism — “tend to exceed other men in number of sexual encounters in any given week, month, or year.”
But what if you’re successful in frequently getting people into bed by being manipulative or exploitative? Or if you simply seem to succeed in spite of your disagreeable traits? You probably think of yourself as a sexual success, but you may want to think about whether or not you’re a narcissist, too.
6. You think that you’re popular — until you’re not
Researchers have hypothesized that narcissists don’t have friends — they have followers. Art Markman writes in Psychology Today that “narcissists feed off the energy of the people around them” in order to achieve status within a group. In the process, they quickly wear out their welcome. They believe behaviors that get them noticed — like being arrogant or pointing out other people’s weaknesses — increases their status. But as Markman explains, they find their popularity dwindles over time.
7. You’re a self-preoccupied introvert — or maybe a covert narcissist
Science of Us says many introverts seem to like thinking about their introversion. Perhaps because introverts like spending time reflecting, sometimes upon themselves. “But at what point does self-reflection cross the line into self-preoccupation?” the story asks. The behavior you typically picture when you think narcissist is overt narcissism. Covert narcissists, on the other hand, exhibit fewer outward signs, because they keep their high opinions of themselves, well, to themselves. A diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder may require behavior that intrudes into your home or work life. But don’t think that you can’t be a narcissist just because you’re an introvert.
8. You’re afraid of being a narcissist
After tracing the fascinating history of the word “narcissist” and the diagnosis of the associated personality disorder, The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino shares an even more interesting hypothesis. That the “fear of appearing narcissistic — of being narcissistic, deep down — is where a particularly elusive form of the disorder may live.” She explains, “I am disturbed by the idea of being narcissistic, and yet I find other people’s self-absorption merely embarrassing. If that disturbance stems from an abiding suspicion that I can’t see myself clearly, well, what greater proof of overwhelming self-concern could there be?”
9. You make other people unhappy
Arthur C. Brooks reports for The New York Times that as more of us become narcissists, we have a big problem because “they create havoc and misery around them.” Brooks advocates a three-part strategy for each of us to “shed the traits of the narcissist.” First, take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory test. Then, divest yourself of “the emotional junk food that is feeding any unhealthy self-obsession.” (Stop trying to impress others, for example. Instead, treat them with kindness.) Then, go on a social media fast. And learn to post in order to communicate, to praise, and to learn — not to self-promote.