Identification & characteristics of a narcissist

The identification & characteristics of the pathological narcissist

There is a huge difference between having narcissistic traits and having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Most of us have moments where we feel that we should be at the centre of everything or that we are the most important person in a particular moment. Therefore, we all have narcissistic traits to a greater or lesser degree.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is something entirely different.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders(DSM-V, 2013) indicates that a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder possesses at least five of the following nine criteria, typically without possessing the commensurate personal qualities or accomplishments for which they demand respect and status:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements).
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  • Believes that he/she/they is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  • Requires excessive admiration.
  • Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
  • Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him/her/them.
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes.

Here are these essential characteristics in a little more detail:

Lack of empathy

Narcissists lack emotional empathy for others. Research has shown that they do not actually see the humanity in people for they are not able to. They lack this essential ability that robs them of their own humanity. People are just objects to be used and discarded. Just interchangeable units. People are not special in any way to them. This is one of the most difficult things for people who love narcissists and psychopaths to understand. People perform only a utilitarian service. Nothing more and nothing less.

Think of a flat battery as an example. Do you look at this battery and think about how much you love it and how much you are going to miss it when you throw it away? Of course not. You just go out and buy a new one. This is how narcissists view people as they are not able to care about or love – their partners, family, friends or their children. No emotional empathy means no remorse. They are children in adult bodies that do real harm to others. Psychological and emotional abuse is guaranteed. Some narcissists at the higher end of the spectrum are also physically and sexually abusive. Some of these kill in fits of narcissistic rage, revenge, jealousy and for being exposed.

Interpersonally exploitative

Narcissists are highly exploitative of others and use others as a means to an end. People are the pawns and the prey in this game of narcissism. And its a game that must be won. At all costs. The closer the person is to the narcissist the higher the price.


They have an all pervasive sense of entitlement. As they perceive themselves as being God like, they believe that they are entitled to special treatment and lash out viciously when they perceive that they do not get it. As an example in being in a relationship with a narcissist, they hold the belief that their own money is theirs and their partner’s money is theirs too. Narcissists have very unreasonable expectations of how they should be treated and its difficult, confusing and infuriating for whoever is on the receiving end of it. 


Narcissists have an unrealistic sense of grandiosity and self importance. They believe that they are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. They are God and that the rest are all their grateful and fortunate subjects. They are the creators of all. Of the external world and of their internal landscape. The overt narcissist will make this obvious and makes little to no attempt to conceal it. The covert narcissist hides it. Underneath all of this is an all pervasive sense of shame, self hatred and fear. 

The false self, a fake personality

Narcissists are deserted and unoccupied and therefore have no authentic personality. There is no core identity. Their original and true selves were discarded in the first few years of their life. A false of self is created and this is what is shown to the world. It is only the false self that interacts with the world. It is fragmented, distorted, dissociative and highly maladaptive. A very skilled chameleon if you like. 

For example, they store emotions that they see people experiencing in a type of emotional resonance table, an Excel spreadsheet, and mirror them back when they feel that it is appropriate to do so. Everything in the narcissist is merely a reflective surface – it is our own idealised reflection that we see in the beginning. 

Covert narcissists work hard at creating an image to the public of how good they are and this is very important to them. It’s all part of the illusion in getting people to like and admire them. 

A neat costume for the false sense of self. It’s all about external validation and this is how they regulate their self-esteem. Remember that it’s all a show. It’s about the carefully cultivated image. They do not and are not able to care for anyone except themselves.

Pathological lying

Narcissists are pathological liars and they do this constantly. They lie to themselves and therefore to others. They are constantly reinventing, reframing and distorting whatever comes into their fragmented minds and its done in order to buttress and maintain the false self. In other words, their delusional state is because they have to maintain the grandiose image that they have created of themselves. Any input from the outside that challenges this is rapidly retrofitted and reconstructed to fit in with how they must see themselves. It is a haunted house full of false narratives and fabrication.

Power, rage, envy and cruelty

Narcissists have a never-ending wellspring of fury, cruelty, envy and hunger for power. These are the very limited range of negative emotions that narcissists feel and the feelings relate only to themselves. They are not able to experience true joy, contentment, happiness for themselves or for others. The effect of even the slightest perceived criticism will result in what is known as a narcissistic injury which, in turn, leads to narcissistic rage. These merciless displays will always be disproportionate to the event concerned. 

All narcissistic behaviour is directed towards being in control of their victims and, if they are in control, they will have the power. Narcissists live for fuel, power and narcissistic supply as they have no strength of their own. Alone, they are powerless, diminished and weakened. This also makes them bullies and all bullies are cowards.

The false self is created in order to, amongst other reasons, be indefensible and in control. I believe that this is so because of how powerless and vulnerable they felt when in the formative years.

Lack of responsibility and projection

Narcissists project all of their behaviour outwards as they are not able to own it. They do not take responsibility for anything and this makes them the ultimate victims. Blame and accountability, according to narcissists, lie outside of themselves. These are known as an alloplastic defences. As all narcissists have a victim mentality, they are very successful at manipulating others to feel pity for them.  They will intentionally antagonise people and then blame them for the explosive outcome. This reinforces their perceived sense of how badly they are treated by the world.

The narcissist is always either the hero or the victim in the stories that they tell themselves and others. Projection also conveniently deflects away from the narcissist in order to hide the real issue at hand. The narcissist’s abuse towards the real victim.


A technique that all narcissists use is called gaslighting. The aim of this devastating and self esteem destroying technique is to assume control over the victim by making them doubt their sense of reality, memory and perception. Through the ongoing use of persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilise the victim and delegitimise the victim’s beliefs. Gaslighting is an extremely subtle form of abuse as gaslighters deflect blame and pass it on to their victims. 

The gaslighter needs a gaslightee to complete this twisted tango. The abuser wants to fully control the victim’s thoughts, feelings and actions and emotionally abuses the victim in very discreet but hostile ways.

Typically the three stages of gaslighting are:

  1. What is wrong with her/him?
  2. What is wrong with me?
  3. Its all my fault

Narcissistic supply

As narcissists are hollow and empty inside, they cannot exist without having constant sources of narcissistic supply or fuel. Think of them as being like an alcoholic or a drug addict constantly in need of the next fix. They are insatiable and they compulsively direct their whole behaviour, every waking minute, to obtain attention, adulation and proof of their existence. Narcissists must have narcissistic supply to carry out the most basic ego functions. Without this supply, they crumble and become dysfunctional. They collapse into a state of what is known as narcissistic decompensation as their infinitely fragile sense of the false self depends on a constant source of fuel. Very much like a hot air balloon that is suddenly punctured. It collapses, shrivels up and falls to the ground. Narcissistic decompensation is literally a matter of psychological death for the narcissist. Narcissists cannot be without fuel for, if they were, they would be confronted with their emptiness, desolation, terror, lies, accumulated collateral damage and shame. 

Sources of supply include: a so called intimate partner, friends, social media, family members, fame, infamy, sex, being successful at work and so on. It is all about external validation, admiration, adulation and existential existence. Healthy people enjoy all of these things but not to the pathological extent that their very psychological survival and existence depends on them.  As narcissists have no empathy and emotional connection to their partners, they are able to discard their current partners whilst already grooming a new supply source or sources. The partner is left reeling with no closure or reason for the sudden cold and callous disappearance. Invariably, the partner discovers that the narcissist has had a new person in their life already.

Narcissists tend to get bored with their supply as they no longer deem them to be perfect and because they fear intimacy. Intimacy means being vulnerable and the exposure of the self and this they are not able do. The false self has been created in order to defend against vulnerability, shame and imperfection. A narcissist is not able to hold onto their positive feelings about someone, once they see that the other person has imperfections. The other goes from being golden, flawless and put on a pedestal to being callously devalued as worthless and therefore abused.

This is as a result of a psychological defence mechanism called splitting. It is this inability of the narcissist to see people and situations in shades of grey. Everything is seen as black and white, good or bad. 

Narcissists will engage in active smear campaigns with mutual friends and on social media. They are known to call their partners’ employers or employees and say untruthful things about them. They are known to engage in lengthy and vindictive court battles and, if there are children, they will involve them in it too, use them and hurt them. If there is a marriage, they will want every last penny out of it. They are known to stalk ex lovers on social media, call, text, and arrive at the parters’ home with gifts. They will want their ex partner to know that they have someone new in their life and that they are very happy with them.

Narcissists are not so much human beings but rather more like mere machines that appear to be human.

These are just some of the essential characteristics of a narcissist.

There are also different types and sub types of pathological narcissists:

Overt or grandiose narcissists

Overt narcissists are relatively easy to spot as they are so obviously self centred, grandiose, entitled, lack empathy and remorse, pathological liars, extremely sensitive to criticism whether it be real or perceived and lash out with rage disproportionate to the event concerned.

Covert or introverted narcissists

As overt narcissists are easier to identify, this gives us some, but not all of the idea of their make up. Covert narcissists are extremely difficult to identify which makes them so much more dangerous. It takes quite a while to see them for who they really are. In fact, the only time that I believe that anyone will know if the other is a covert narcissist, is to be in an intimate relationship with them. The mask cannot help but slip off over time. Covert narcissists have to hide who they in order to get their self-serving needs met.

They will often come across as kind, empathic, altruistic, authentic and highly sensitive to others. I call them the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

They appear often in the role of teachers, psychotherapists, doctors, parents, philanthropists, environmentalists, activists, clergymen and eco-warriors. All of these professions or activities lend and add to the mask of their alleged humanity and being seen as good human beings. They feign compassion and emotion which they have seen and noted in others. It is all just mirroring, an act performed when the narcissist feels that it is appropriate to do so. In reality, covert (and overt) narcissists wreak havoc, destruction and pain on all those that they come into contact with.

Remember that all narcissists share the same traits. They are all highly dangerous and the ultimate endgame is always destruction. Of a country, of a people, an organisation or a person. Everything is a game to the narcissist and a game that must be won. At any cost. Think of it in this way, a person who has no empathy and therefore no remorse, is capable of anything. Narcissists don’t care, they are not able to and this is what makes them so terribly dangerous.

Cerebral narcissists

Cerebral narcissists derive their source of narcissistic supply from using their intellect. They tend to excel greatly in their careers and therefore extract admiration, adoration and recognition as narcissistic supply. This can be in the form of intellectual and or creative achievements.

Somatic narcissists

Somatic narcissists use their bodies and sex as their means of garnering narcissistic supply.

They are usually hyper sexual and are fixated on their personal appearance. They will often have many sexual partners and they dress to accentuate their bodies. They tend to be very health conscious and hypochondriacs at the same time. They are frequently highly promiscuous and unfaithful in committed relationships and they have lots of practice. They will often have surgery done in order to ensure that their bodies are well primed to attract their prey. They have an aura of heightened sexuality and will quickly seduce the unknowing victim with their heroin like drugs of dopamine and oxytocin. Like the female praying mantis callously ripping off her lover’s head during mating and devouring the lifeless corpse for nourishment. This is the somatic narcissist and the love that is supposed to nurture and nourish, will destroy you. It may take time, but destroy you it will.

All of these types and sub types are not mutually exclusive and a pathological narcissist can be a mixture of all of these.

The most important thing to remember is that, regardless of whatever type they may be, they are all the same underneath and have the same behaviour and dynamics.

The Dark Triad

The Dark Triad in psychology refers to personality traits of Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy. It is aptly named dark as these traits are extremely malevolent. Interestingly, the Light Triad is its antithesis and is characterised by faith in humanity, humanism and Kantianism.

Here is a brief overview:


grandiosity, pride, egotism, a lack of empathy and interpersonal exploitation.


manipulation and exploitation of others, an absence of morality and a focus on self-interest and deception.


ongoing anti-social behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness and remorselessness.

As one can see, there are overlapping qualities that all of these share. For example, the ongoing manipulation and exploitation of others without regard or remorse. Another would be the absolute self-centeredness. It is widely believed that psychopaths are born and not made. Research has shown that there are structural and functional differences in the brains that are responsible for empathy, guilt and fear. In other words, they are able to, for example, kill without remorse or fear. 

Research indicates that narcissists and sociopaths are made. All psychopaths and sociopaths are narcissists but not all narcissists are psychopaths or sociopaths. It’s all on a continuum with narcissism on the extreme left-hand side and psychopathy on the extreme right-hand side. Narcissism itself lies on a continuum as well.

Its sometimes difficult to make clear distinctions between the three as they have overlapping characteristics. A psychopathic narcissist will kill without remorse or fear.  A more garden-variety narcissist will attempt to destroy and psychologically and emotionally abuse all of whom they come into contact with. This is especially so with their nearest and dearest.

Research has shown that treatment success for narcissistic personality disorder is virtually hopeless. The belief is that some progress can be made with limited behaviour modification but not in the sense of restoring or creating a true, authentic and emotional ability to feel empathy for others. Narcissists have what Sam Vaknin, a self-proclaimed and self-aware psychopathic narcissist, describes as ‘cold or cognitive empathy’. This is the ability of the narcissist to intellectually and cognitively recognise what the other is feeling but there is no emotional affect. In other words, they do not feel the pain of the other at all. The false self is completely emotionally dissociated. They will use this ‘cold empathy’ to read people and they are very, very good at this. It’s how they read our specific ‘user manual’ and then use it in order to manipulate.

A thirty-point check list of the characteristics of narcissists:

■       Lack of Empathy

■       Grandiose

■       Entitled

■       Manipulative

■       Angry and Rageful

■       Paranoid

■       Hypersensitive

■       Jealous

■       Lack of Guilt/Lack of Insight

■       Needs Constant Admiration and Validation

■       Lying

■       Everything is a Show

■       Projection

■       Greedy

■       Emotionally Cold

■       Gaslighting

■       Cheap

■       Never Takes Responsibility

■       Vain

■       Controlling

■       Unpredictable

■       Takes Advantage of Others (or you) on a Regular Basis

■       Engages in Schadenfreude (Reveling in Others’ Misery)

■       Does Not Like to Be Alone

■       Poor Boundaries

■       Infidelity

■       Doesn’t Listen

■       Fragile

■       Careless

■       Seductive

Pin It on Pinterest