Early Warning Signs Of A Narcissist

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder characterized by a distorted self-image, self-centeredness, a lack of empathy, and an excessive need for admiration. Whilst there is no cure for NPD, it is helpful to be aware of the early warning signs that someone may be a narcissist.

Clinical Definition of NPD

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the clinical definition for NPD is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. The DSM-5 states that individuals with NPD have a sense of entitlement, require constant admiration, have a lack of empathy for others, and are often envious of others.

The DSM-5 further states that those with NPD will often exploit others for their own personal gain and lack the ability to recognize the needs and feelings of others, as their emotional energy is typically focused inward towards maintaining their self-image over other people’s concerns or well-being.

Early Warning Signs of NPD

It is important to note that no one single behavior or trait suggests that someone is a narcissist. However, the following early warning signs may indicate that the person may be struggling with NPD:

Lack of Empathy

One of the core symptoms of NPD is a lack of empathy for others. This can manifest as an inability to recognize or acknowledge the emotions of other people or an unwillingness to take responsibility for causing others distress. Individuals with NPD may display this lack of empathy in conversations with friends or family, describing their own problems or successes while failing to acknowledge or consider the feelings and experiences of others around them.

Sense of Entitlement

Individuals with NPD may believe that they are entitled to special treatment or privileges, often seeing themselves as superior to others. Narcissists may expect special favors or attention, such as always being given the best seat in the house or having their opinions and choices taken more seriously than other people’s perspective. People with NPD may react with anger or sulkiness when they don’t receive this preferential treatment, demonstrating an expectation of obedience that is out of sync with reality.

Belittling Behaviors

Narcissistic people frequently put others down and appear to derive pleasure or satisfaction in causing others embarrassment or humiliation. This behavior may occur in a social setting, they may make snarky comments that undermine someone’s confidence or belittle them in front of others or online. This behavior is often made worse by a sense of competitiveness, which drives the narc’s desire for attention.

Obsessive Desire for Attention & Admiration

Individuals with NPD may crave attention and admiration, often going to extreme lengths to achieve these goals. Narcissists may dress in ways that draw attention to themselves, talk loudly in social situations, or frequently share stories or accomplishments that highlight their talent or achievements. In more extreme cases, they may feel the need to present a false image of themselves through social media or other online platforms, with which they will do anything to gain more likes, followers, or subscribers.

Lack of Boundaries

Narcissists tend to have a fluid approach to personal boundaries, meaning that what’s considered to be one person’s personal space or belongings aren’t considered to have any significance or meaning to the NPD individual. This can manifest as overtly aggressive behaviors, such as trying to dictate what others wear or criticizing their choices, or can be subtler ways of disregarding and overriding others’ choices or boundaries, e.g., sending unsolicited texts or turning up unannounced at an event they’ve not been invited to.

Fragmented Self-Image

Finally, individuals with NPD may have a fragmented self-image, which is often connected to their distorted and self-centered perception of their own value and worthiness. Narcissists may struggle with self-doubt and self-criticism that can lead to moments of hypervigilance or lashing out. They might have a strong need to be seen as or project the image of being, successful, perfect, or excellent in all they do, but any perceived failure or criticism of their actions can cause them to lash out excessively.


If someone you know displays some or all of these behaviors, it does not necessarily mean that they have NPD. It could be worth encouraging them to speak with a licensed mental health professional to explore their behaviors further. However, it is essential to acknowledge that dealing with a narcissistic person or personality disorder can be incredibly challenging both for the person affected and their loved ones.

It’s also critical for the mental health needs of all parties to remain mindful of destructive behaviors resulting from the condition and how they can teach individuals to better manage their behavior, develop more empathy and manage their sense of self-worth in more constructive ways.


FAQs about Early Warning Signs Of A Narcissist

1. What are some common traits of a narcissist?

Some common traits of a narcissist include an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, a lack of empathy for others, and a tendency to belittle or exploit those around them. They might also have a sense of entitlement, be preoccupied with fantasies of power and success, and have difficulty handling criticism or rejection.

2. Can narcissism be diagnosed?

Yes, narcissism can be diagnosed, but it is a complex mental health condition that requires a thorough evaluation by a licensed mental health professional. When assessing someone for narcissism, a psychologist or psychiatrist might use tools such as personality tests, interviews, and observation of behaviours to determine the severity of the disorder.

3. How can I protect myself from a narcissist?

To protect yourself from a narcissist, it’s essential to recognize the early warning signs and avoid getting too involved with them. Trust your instincts and be mindful of red flags such as excessive attention, grandiose behaviour, lack of empathy, or attempts to control or manipulate you. If you suspect someone is a narcissist, consider getting professional help or limiting your contact with them if possible.


1. Campbell, W. K., & Miller, J. D. (2011). The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Theoretical Approaches, Empirical Findings, and Treatments. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

2. Levy, K. N., Ellison, W. D., Reynoso, J., Padilla, M., & Guzman, N. (2015). Narcissistic personality disorder: Early warning signs and consequences of involvement with them. Diseases, Disorders & Syndromes. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876034114008206

3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.