In this article, we’re going to discuss the 10 unlikeable characteristics of a narcissist and how that relates to likability.

Would you consider yourself a likeable person?  Does that even matter?

As I contemplate a life well-lived, at the top of my list is the ability to connect in relationships.  Ideally we seek people who can share love, encouragement, and respect. Our deepest yearning is to feel that we belong, that life has meaning.  Achievement and pleasure are worthy pursuits, but they pale in comparison as we consider the supremacy of affirmation, goodness, dignity, and civility.

So, yes, in my world, likability (and all that goes with it) indeed matters.  

As you and I engage with each other (whether consciously or not), we are assessing each other’s guiding attitudes.  We’d like answers to questions like:

“Do you care about my needs or my opinions?”

“Are we going to be able to get along with each other?”

“Are you someone I’d like to spend more time with?”

“Can I trust that you would be a positive presence in my life?”

“If I expose my thoughts and feelings, would you be a safe person?”

“Are you an open-minded thinker?”

It is essential to underscore the significance of likability in our exchanges with each other.  Since we each are more than mere robotic entities with zero concern about personal dynamics, we need to maintain an ongoing awareness of every person’s need for some sort of assurance that others like us.  We all like knowing that we fit in.

Being a likable person is a learned skill-set requiring intentionality in the ways we conduct ourselves with each other.  Likable people prioritize:

# Authenticity.  They are not phony.  There are no hidden agendas.  They do not hide behind false pretenses.  They have a reputation as steady and reliable.

# Being tuned in.  They genuinely like knowing about others…their uniqueness, their history, what motivates them.  Likable people see you as more than just a temporary transaction, but as a real person with a real back-story.

# Projecting friendliness in general.  Likable people give priority to traits like pleasantness, availability, and encouragement.  They choose to comment on what is good. Even in disagreements, they can maintain an overall agreeable nature.

# Being “us” oriented.  They know that no person lives inside a complete vacuum, but we are each connected.  They make decisions with the larger group in mind. They prioritize courtesy and conscientiousness.

Sounds good, doesn’t it!  

Unfortunately, when you begin to see the characteristics of a narcissist, you eventually learn that they do not prize likability, at least not in the way that is trustworthy.  A defining feature of narcissism is the ability to appear likable for a while.  But over time, it is revealed that they are truly concerned about one person…and that person is not you. 

There are many characteristics of a narcissist that makes them unlikeable, and while we can’t list them all, let’s highlight some very common evidences that can repel you from them.  My purpose is not to create a judgmental attitude toward unlikeable, narcissistic people. Rather, I want to highlight common themes you will encounter in these people so you can understand that despite their proclamations, you are not the reason they behave as they do.  They will have these traits no matter whom they engage with. You happen to be a player on their stage in your moments with them.

1) Poor listening skills.  

People want to be heard.  As they engage in relationships, they want ongoing confirmation that their words and intentions are understood.  Narcissists, though, bring a very low capacity for empathy into their relationships. They truly do not care about digging into another person’s feelings, nor do they want to know others’ motives or unique perspectives.  They deem themselves as special, and that prompts them to conclude that they do not need to listen to you, but that you are supposed to hear all they offer.

2) A judgmental, critical mindset.

During your exchanges with narcissists, their minds operate with a filter that assesses whether you measure up to their standards.  One characteristic is that they keep mental scorecards, and they have determined that they are uniquely qualified to determine if you should be deemed acceptable or not.  They speak words of criticism easily and over time, you realize you will hardly ever meet their criteria.  

3) Being dodgy.

Another characteristic of a narcissist is that they do not want to be accountable.  They fear others having power over them, so they carefully calculate what others can and cannot know about them.  They can be emotionally unavailable. They are known as “two-faced.” To them, truth is relative, depending on what they need it to be in the moment.  Wanting no one to tell them what to do, they are constantly vying for an advantage over you.

4) Being argumentative, even when it is unnecessary.

Because they think of themselves as enlightened, narcissists feel a need to set you straight when they consider you to be errant in your attitudes, beliefs, priorities, and interpretations.  When you attempt to explain your perspectives, instead of being collegial, they discount. They are pushy with opinions. They are contrarian. They ask loaded questions. They seek to find the holes in your reasoning.  They highlight your miscalculations. To them, relationships are a contest and they must be victorious.

5) An inability to admit mistakes.

Clearly no one is immune from mistakes.  Each person blunders or manages issues poorly at times.  Yet, despite the common sense of simply admitting wrongs, another characteristic of narcissists is that they have such fragile egos that they cannot say what everyone else knows.  Their tight defenses prevent them from saying: “I blew it,” or “That didn’t work out well,” or “I’m not sure how I should proceed from here.”  They cannot be honest about their humanity because they live behind a shield of fear that was erected in their formative years. They have longstanding tendencies of making excuses, blame-shifting, and generating false narratives.

6) A lack of gratitude.

No person is so self-sufficient that he or she needs no input or assistance from others.  Humans are inter-connected and at our best we can assist each other along the way as we attempt to make life run smoothly.  When others are helpful toward a narcissist, they may say “thank you,” but their words do not emanate from a heart of gratitude.  Instead, they receive others’ goodwill with a “you owe me” mindset. An attitude of entitlement prevents them from feeling truly thankful.  Fearing that a grateful spirit might be perceived as weakness borne of subordination, they cannot give heart-felt messages of appreciation.

7) Disrespectful of your time.

Narcissists tend to approach time management from one of two extremes.  Sometimes they insist that others should conform to tight time parameters with little or no flexibility.  When you are unable to conform, they can be abrupt, annoyed, or rejecting. On the other extreme, some narcissists are completely oblivious of the need to be considerate of time.  This can prompt them to be predictably tardy or unreliable. Either way, the characteristics of a narcissist show a low appreciation for the ways that timeliness can contribute to smooth relationship exchanges.

8) High focus on their preferences, low focus on your preferences.

Each person brings separate preferences to the ways they navigate within relationships.  Whether the topic is how to manage a work project or how to maneuver through social settings, narcissists begin with an attitude that says:  “It’s all about me.” Your separate preferences, to them, are a nuisance. Instead of choosing coordination and pliability, they press forward in the attempt to satisfy their desire of the moment.  Since they are naturally self-indulgent, they have little curiosity about your separate desires. Compromise is anathema to them.  

9) Being unsafe.

As we get to know each other (in families, work settings, social circles, etc.) unique and sometimes delicate facts become known.  As this happens, safe people like to communicate trustworthiness when discernment and discretion are required. When narcissists, however, learn of others’ delicate issues, they seize upon the opportunity to establish dominance.  They can use personal information against you, disseminating unflattering notions about you, no matter how inappropriate it might be. Then to your face, they can speak shame or guilt. They leave you feeling insecure that personal matters will be managed with diplomacy.  

10) Extremes in cleanliness and organization.

A clear indicator of likability is the willingness to be respectful of order and consistency.  Since we share space and manage projects with each other daily, consideration is an essential ingredient in successful relationships.  Narcissists, however, are not known as considerate. They tend to operate with extremes, perhaps being rigid and exacting, or perhaps being frivolous and sloppy.  Either way, they show little thoughtfulness toward their counterparts, implying that their needs are much less important than the narcissist’s.

More unlikable characteristics of a narcissist

The list of unlikeable characteristics of a narcissist (unfortunately) does not end here.  In addition to the ingredients listed, many other unlikeable trends could be identified.  Narcissists can be haughty. They may be truly oblivious to the ways they perpetuate conflict or tension.  They can be detached. Some are quite vain. Perhaps they will “disappear” unexpectedly.  

Certainly you could add many other examples.

As you witness the characteristics of a narcissist that are unlikeable in nature, you will inevitably conclude that these are people you cannot be close to.  In fact, you may either have to eliminate them from your life or greatly minimize your time with them. Knowing how they think and operate, you will certainly need to stay assertive regarding your needs and feelings, maintaining proper relationship boundaries and stipulations.  

Let’s summarize by recognizing that likable people enjoy being a positive presence in others’ lives.  They want to be known as beacons of comfort and safety. So each time a narcissist displays one of these unlikeable qualities, you can determine:  “I know I can do better. Someone needs to practice positive people skills here, and I’m pleased to be one who will do that.”

Les Carter, Ph.D.

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