How do you know if you met a narcissist? What are the first signs?

By Sarah Bowman

Based on the reading I’ve done, as well as my personal experience, narcissists do not carry warning signs up front. They do their best to fit in, and believe me, they’re good at it. Until you live with the person and encounter them on a day-to-day basis, you may never meet their dark side. The first answer to this question—that they seem like wonderful, amiable people—made me think. It fits the literature and my own experience. That is why I say you won’t notice it up front.

The charm is what draws people in. I would go so far as to say that family members, even children, of a narcissist may not all be aware of the dark side. The narc needs most of the family on his or her side and will manage to keep it so. The kids against the spouse, the spouse and kids against one kid, or any combination.

Those who are treated well are made to think the abuse of the odd one out is the victim’s fault, that somehow the victim is not measuring up quite right and deserves the treatment. In extreme cases, e.g. where a child is imprisoned in a cellar or beaten repeatedly within an inch of life, the others might realize that something is wrong. But talking to people outside the family is strictly forbidden.

So how can you know what you’re walking into? Here are some things that occur to me.

First of all, be wary of the very charming.

Secondly, insist on understanding inconsistencies in their speech, thought, and behaviour. Inconsistencies will appear as you get to know them casually or slightly better. Watch for:

Outright lies

Claims to believe one thing while clearly practising something else, e.g. I don’t believe in being late (person arrived five minutes late last time with no apology or explanation); No one but me drives this car (but you had seen his teenage son driving it a few weeks ago, when you mention it he discounts the incident); If it weren’t for me, the towels in this house would never get changed (no acknowledgement that the last three weeks it was you who changed them). These inconsistencies are weird and they accumulate. Take them seriously unless you are satisfied with the proffered explanations. In my experience, they presage a narc or other nonviolent psychopath of some stripe. Normal people don’t behave like this. I don’t think narcs do it intentionally but they can’t help it.

Accuses you of things you’d never think of doing but it (alarmingly) takes no stretch of the imagination to apply the behaviour to them

DISCLAIMER: These are “red flags” taken from my own life to help me notice people with whom I should not share confidences. I am somewhat unsure about posting them as signs for a narcissist. Credentials: I have some training in counselling but not enough for a certificate or license. You can Google narcissist and read the online literature, like I did.