Working that gym mirror like you’re Derek Zoolander is one thing, but 7.7% of men and 4.8% of women go on to develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder during their lifetime, says research in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Worse still, the authors of The Narcissism Epidemic, psychologists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, believe that incidences of narcissistic personality traits – such as exhibitionism, vanity and self-entitlement – have risen as fast as obesity rates in the last 10 years.
Social media might be fuelling our self(ie) absorbedness faster than you can say “Snapchat filter”, but full-blown NPD is more serious than a love of reflective surfaces. It’s been linked to unstable and intense emotions (often anger and irritation), an obsession with feeling adequate, plus a pretty savage lack of interest in the feelings of others. It’s also not the kind of thing that someone admits to in their Tinder bio.
Here’s how to see the truth beyond the charm – because narcissists also have that by the date load. Read on…
You’re Taken In By Name-Dropping
Let’s face it, everyone’s got a celebrity story that they love to brazenly flaunt in conversations. The time you “met” (stood behind) Alessandra Ambrosio in Starbucks. What a nice guy Lewis Hamilton was when you “chatted” (said hi) at that glitzy work function.
But a narcissist drops names like Beyoncé drops hits. “If there is frequent celebrity name-dropping, endless stories littered with examples of just how wonderful this person is, or they speak of the stream of high-profile things that they are involved with, then you are in the company of someone with a high degree of narcissistic self-interest,” reveals psychotherapist Toby Ingham.
It’s what some experts call the Trophy Complex – where a narcissist dominates conversation… and, in doing so, hides their own inner insecurities
Perhaps the most obvious sign is that conversation becomes more one-sided than a football match between the Dallas Cowboys and your college team. “A narcissist does not engage with you in a mutual way. They don’t share the conversational oxygen equally,” he confirms.
It’s what some experts call the Trophy Complex – where a narcissist dominates conversation, using status, material possessions and envy-worthy accomplishments to represent ‘them’, and, in doing so, hides their own inner insecurities.
“The first impression may be of charm, but this will quickly wear off,” warns Toby. “This charm isn’t genuine – it’s used to capture attention.”
You Fall For Selfie Validation
It’s not so much that she posts selfies, because don’t we all – *projects arm and clicks*.
What’s important is the language that accompanies said selfies, believes clinical psychologist Dr Tony Ortega, author of the self-help dating guide, #IsHeHereYet: Being The Person You Want To Be With.
Red alert no.1 are outfit shots accompanied by a caption asking, ‘What do you all think?’
“It’s hard, as a mental health professional, not to spot potential mental health issues with certain posts on Instagram,” he admits. Red alert no.1 are outfit shots accompanied by a caption asking, ‘What do you all think?’ “This shows validation-seeking behavior,” he continues.
“Many clients come to me saying that they suspect the person they are interested in is very insecure. As we go through their social media and find multiple posts of this nature, one can easily extrapolate that they are either insecure and/or validation junkies.
There’s nothing wrong with showing off a new outfit, but I caution folks on what they actually write about it. It’s better to see, ‘I am really feeling this outfit’ which is a validation-free zone.”
Your Mother Tongue Is Flattery
You could have Jamie Oliver’s entire back catalog, but it’s food of the ego-nourishing variety – “an endless supply of good quality narcissistic feedback,” says Toby – that makes a narcissist feel satiated.
Narcissists need more and more attention, often through flattery, to fuel their self-interest.
He compares your relationship role to that of the magic mirror in Sleeping Beauty, constantly telling the wicked Queen how beautiful she is.
“Narcissists need more and more attention, often through flattery, to fuel their self-interest. You will be expected to listen and remain interested in their stories – that’s the way their relationships work.”
This need for attention doesn’t just come from a craving for compliments though. “It can equally be expressed as moods that quickly become anxious and perhaps paranoid, as the narcissist shows their fragile personality and high need for attention,” he adds.
Some examples: in Fatal Attraction, Michael Douglas has an affair with Glen Close who becomes obsessed with having his attention. In Gone Girl, the wife is a manipulative narcissist, while The Devil Wears Prada shows office drama driven by a powerful, narcissistic boss.
You Hear From Them Again, Post-Split
A technique that mental health counsellor Dr Stephanie Sarkis calls ‘hoovering’.
Their best remedy? To suck you back in again
After a break-up, when the narcissist no longer has your undivided attention on speed-dial, they start to feel abandoned and helpless.
Their best remedy? To suck you back in again – hence the vacuum analogy. Expect their reappearance to be accompanied by them laying it on thick: admitting that they made a mistake, that they’re sorry, sending you sad selfies, and assuring you that they won’t behave that way again.
Fall for it and, like the spider approaching your Dyson nozzle, you’ll soon be down a one-way tunnel.
You’re Sceptical If Everything They Say Is True
Granted, they’ll probably be more refined with their fibs than the cast of the The Big Bang Theory, but if you get a sneaky suspicion that it’s all a bit too good to be true – it probably is.
Narcissists put self-inflation above reality and truth, both of which are boring to them
“It’s often very hard to get a sense of the truth with a narcissist,” seconds Toby. “A narcissist will be cavalier with the truth – all that counts is that they are getting enough of the limelight.”
If your gut starts to feel there’s something suspect going on, take note rather than dismissing it as nothing (or blaming it on last night’s burrito).
“Narcissists put self-inflation above reality and truth, both of which are boring to them. They are driven to use this distorted reflection of themselves to cover up profound insecurities.”
Your Life Feels As Dramatic As A Netflix Plot
Feel knackered? Equivalent to a post-gym, mid-Norovirus, utterly hungover state of ‘meh’?
You’ll feel drained and worn down by their constant, high maintenance demands
One of the most obvious physical signs of dating narcissists is that they’ll leave you spent – and not in a smug, up-all-night-doing-naked-stuff way.
“You’ll feel drained and worn down by their constant, high maintenance demands,” warns Toby. “Your role is to provide the other person with all the treats and attention they need. This might be OK to start with, but it can become exhausting and demoralising, like you’re second best.”
Anyone else need a nap now?
You’re An empathetic Person
Here’s the real kicker: the main social group drawn to narcissists is their polar opposite – the kind, nice-guy, empathetic types who end up trampled all over like some gruesome stampede scene from Jurassic Park. Empaths are pretty understanding people, and have a lot of time for others. Narcissists like lots and lots and lots of time from others. And therein likes the crutch – it’s toxic.
Narcissists know exactly what to do and say to pull your heartstrings, and your natural reaction is to help them fix their issues. Dr Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, agrees that the most reliable sign of meeting a sociopath is someone who appeals to your sympathy (i.e. mentioning how badly they’ve been treated in the past).
So, be kind, but be wary – remember how cute that tiny Velociprator looked as it hatched out of the egg? Less so when it’s going for your delicate parts.
You Feel Like You’re Being Timed
A relationship isn’t an episode of Jeopardy!, but according to Preston Ni, author of Are You Too Nice?, narcissists frequently want things done immediately. That could be replying to a text – leave them hanging with a ‘…’ at your peril – or doing things exactly as per their instructions.
He suggests saying “no” or “let me think about it” to gauge their reaction. If you’re met with persuasion, impatience, anger, ridicule, a personal attack or a passive-aggressive cold shoulder, you’re likely dealing with a narcissist. And they do not deal well with not getting what they want. Beware, Uber Eats drivers.