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Illustration by Brittany England

One too many Snapchat selfies and a few too many hours spent pouting and boom, the word “narcissist” starts falling out of everyone’s mouth. But a true narcissist has a lot more going on than just a devoted relationship with their phone camera.

It’s a diagnosable personality disorder that forms early in life.

“We often think narcissism means vanity, but being a narcissist is quite different,” explains Hannah Martin, psychotherapist. “Occasionally, we all might do something you could say is a bit narcissistic. But to be an actual narcissist, you’d need to demonstrate a cluster of these behaviors on a consistent basis.”

Telltale signs of a narcissist

Previously, the American Psychiatric Association stated Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is diagnosed when a person shows five or more of the traits below. But many in the medical community aren’t satisfied with this criteria and find, in practice, diagnosing NPD is much more nuanced.

  • a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty and/or love
  • believe they are special and unique
  • require excessive admiration
  • possess a very strong sense of entitlement
  • exploit others
  • lack empathy
  • have a habit of envying others, or believe others are envious of them
  • regularly display arrogant or haughty behavior or attitudes
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So, does this condition spring from birth or is it a learned behavior? The jury’s still out — though most experts point to a person’s upbringing, rather than their biology.

But one thing is certain: spending time around a narcissist can do a number on your mental health. If you recognize many of the harmful behaviors on this list, it’s possible you’re dealing with a narcissist.

NPD is one of the least studied personality disorders. Because of this, there’s quite a bit of debate over diagnosis and treatment. The following signs are commonly seen in narcissists but this is by no means an exhaustive explanation.

And with that in mind, this information shouldn’t be used to self-diagnose or impose a diagnosis on another. Only a licensed mental health professional can give a formal diagnosis.

1. They’ll do and say anything to prove they’re the best

When it comes to OTT, narcissists have exaggerating down to, well, a T. They believe they’re superior to those around them and will lie to build up the grand image they have of themselves.

A narcissist might claim to be the driver behind that recent multi-million dollar deal, even though they only typed up the meeting minutes.

At the same time, their grand sense of self-importance drives them to dream big. They might fantasize about rubbing elbows with the CEO of Google or dating a celebrity. To rationalize these dreams, they spin a web of stories with little ties to reality.

It can be maddening to live or work alongside a person who willfully distorts the facts like this. You might feel overshadowed by their self-importance or frustrated that people actually believe some of the lies they spout.

How to cope

If their lies are really starting to get to you, do what you can to put distance — physical and emotional — between the two of you. And remember, it’s likely you’re not the only one who’s noticed they’re exaggerating.

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2. They’re desperate for your affirmation

One of the most important things to understand about a narcissist is that they feed off of other people’s attention.

“Narcissists require something called ‘narcissistic supply,’ which is basically attention,” explains Martin. You might compliment their new bag. But they’ll push for more. “Isn’t the color amazing? Guess which designer it’s by?”

Needless to say, conversations can become very one-sided — and tiring.

Since offering reassurance around their so-called greatness can be truly exasperating, the best advice here is to recognize why they act this way and try to feed into it as little as possible. You’re not a machine, after all!

3. They’re entitled AF

They show up for work late, leave early, and miss deadlines. But they definitely deserve that pay raise, right?

A narcissist believes they’re entitled to the best with very little effort. Unfortunately, when this doesn’t come to fruition, the result is often drama and tantrums, a lá toddler-style.

A narcissist might also believe they’re too special to carry out certain tasks. Think about that housemate who refuses to clean the toilets or take out the bins because that’s “beneath them,” or a sibling who refuses to come to your party because the bar you’ve chosen isn’t exclusive enough.

It can feel downright unfair to coexist with a person who moves through the world with such a haughty sense of self. You may be working extra hard for what you have, while they skate along on so little.

4. Sneering is their preferred form of congratulations

Narcissists are perpetually envious of others, while also believing, (usually without good cause) that others are envious of them. They deserve the very best, and woe betide if you have something they don’t.

If you achieve something, it’s common to be put down instead of congratulated. The offhand snide remark or negative comment can sting, and when it’s a regular part of the relationship it can become a form of emotional abuse.

How to cope

If this kind of behavior has you down, talk to your friends and family. They’ll be able to fill the void of support left by this person’s selfishness. You may also want to talk to a mental health professional, they can help you process your experience — especially if the narcissistic person is family.

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5. You always seem to hear from them when they need something

A narcissist will do anything to get what they want — even if it means using you for their own gain.

Does that friend suddenly get in touch when they need a favor, drop you like a hot stone once they’ve got what they need, then call again the next time they require a hand? They’re not afraid to scroll through their contacts and turn on the charm.

It can hurt to feel exploited or used, especially when you believed there was genuine interest and friendship. It’s important not to let it impact your trust in other friendships, though. Remember, this isn’t regular “friendship behavior.”

6. Somehow it’s always your fault

Narcissists are skilled at turning around the facts to portray themselves as the victim. They might constantly tell you you’re being too sensitive to make their own selfish actions seem less impactful.

Because of narcissists’ lack of empathy, they’re also prone to gaslighting. This essentially means they lie, manipulate, and twist the facts in order to make the people around them doubt their perception of reality.

Being manipulated like this can be incredibly destabilizing and confusing. You may feel less confident than you once did or like everything you do is wrong.

7. When you call them out, they lose their s***

Nobody loves to be called out — but narcissists tend to react with what Martin describes as “unexpected and uncontrollable anger and desire for revenge.”

“Narcissists love to be in control, especially of their public image,” explains Martin. “Remember, this is carefully contrived to preserve their fragile self-esteem. If they are challenged or exposed, it can trigger narcissist rage.”

It can be scary to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper. Remember: a screaming match is exactly what they want so try to keep calm and not engage.

Being around a narcissist can be emotionally draining and destabilizing. You may be desperately in search of a fix or cure for their behavior, especially if they’re a loved one of otherwise close to you.

“Narcissists are very, very hard to treat,” says Sarah Davies, counseling psychologist and author of “Never Again — Moving On from Narcissistic Abuse and Other Toxic Relationships.”

“As far as they’re concerned, there’s nothing wrong with them, and it’s everyone else’s fault, problem, and responsibility. For that reason, they’re very unlikely to ever go to therapy. If they do, it’s usually to continue finger pointing and remain in the victim mentality.”

Which means, for your own sake, cut out that individual out.

“You need to gently remove yourself from the relationship,” Martin shares. “It doesn’t have to involve lots of drama — but move them to the farthest, most outer part of your life as possible.”

If you’re dealing with a narcissistic sibling, for example, do what you can to keep interactions at a minimum. Make alternative plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and explain the situation to your parents to avoid further upset.

“Say, ‘I love seeing you, but I need to limit the time I spend with my sibling’,” Martin suggests. “It’s about damage limitation.”

But we all know cancelling someone IRL is easier said than done.

If they’re not going to change, and cutting them out isn’t in the cards, what can you do to keep from sinking under the weight of their load? These slices of advice will help put daylight between you and them.

Know what you’re dealing with

“Once you can recognize their behaviors, it can take the power out of getting pulled into an abusive relationship with a narcissist,” states Davies. “See it and label it in your own mind: ‘Ah, that’s what they’re doing.’”

Don’t feed the me-me-me

“Narcissists love positive attention, but also thrive on negative attention — even if someone is criticizing them and talking about them negatively,” Martin reveals. “They don’t really care what the attention is, as long as they’re getting it. So, in dealing with a narcissist, you have to minimize attention.”

Set firm boundaries

If a narcissistic friend keeps putting you down, say to them, “If you insult me again, I’m going to leave” — and stick to your guns. “If you’re consistent, those boundaries will act as a repellent and they’ll move onto somebody else,” Davies says.

Use flattery when necessary

“You’ll rarely win by challenging,” says Martin. “Manage them in a way where you get what you want, but allow that person to still feel special.”

For example, if a narcissistic sibling insists on pushing their way to the center of a family photograph, you could say, “Oh, but your top would be accentuated if you stand by this vase over here.”

Reflect their behavior back on them

Try a phrase such as, “I can see you’re trying to guilt trip me.” Essentially, this pulls the rug out from under their ploy and pulls some of your power back. But Davies does caution that, if you get too confrontational, you could be hit with point blank denial and finger pointing.

Let go of trying to fix them

We’ve all seen — and maybe even been — the partner who stays in a relationship because they’re in love and thinks they’ll be able to fix what’s wrong.

With a narcissist, this kind of thinking will only bring more pain. “You’ll never change a narcissist,” says Martin. “They can be very charming and display vulnerability — but it’s all an act.”

If you’re feeling worn down, frustrated, or even hopeless about the situation, we hear you. It’s a lot to go through.

It’s vital to remember the way a narcissist behaves and makes you feel is not your fault. “They will work to diminish your self-confidence and devalue you, in order to raise themselves up,” says Martin. “Accept that, but never internalize it. It’s their problem.”

To counter their negativity, make sure to take extra good care of yourself. Call your friends, take a vacation, splurge on some new underwear — do all those little things that bring you joy.

If your relationship with a narcissist is having severe impacts on your life, it’s a good idea to seek the help of a mental health professional. They’ll be able to help you process your feelings and steer you toward the right resources.

Chantelle Pattemore is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She focuses on lifestyle, travel, food, health and fitness.