A Real Life Narcissist Checklist

Much of your effort to manage life well with a narcissist hinges upon your knowledge and understanding of the behaviors involved, which is why I created The Narcissist Checklist. 

Let’s remember that narcissism is a pattern of life on a spectrum, and any person can be susceptible to it in some degree. Healthy, growth-oriented people seek insight and wisdom so they can contain their narcissistic inclinations.  Unhealthy people persist with non-productive tendencies, seemingly unable to incorporate insight or to make adjustments. These are the people who become full-blown narcissists since their troublesome patterns take over their identity.  

Among the Narcissist Checklist, here are some defining traits that usually indicate you are dealing with a narcissist:

  • Being self-enamored, self-absorbed
  • A strong need for control
  • Demonstrating low levels of empathy
  • An attitude of entitlement
  • Chronically mismanaged anger
  • Manipulative or exploitive behavior
  • Feeling superiority over others
  • Living in an alternate reality
  • Being pathologically defensive.

As I work in the counseling office with people tormented by narcissistic relationships, it becomes my task to get down into the weeds with my patients, helping them to understand their predicament on a very pragmatic level.  That means we have to take the definition of narcissism with its known indicators and translate it into real life, which in turn, points us to the Narcissist Checklist.

Beyond these primary ingredients of narcissism are many other behaviors and attitudes.  The more sophisticated you are in identifying them, the better you will be capable of disentangling from the frustrations they naturally produce.  Identifying the every-day, common manifestations of narcissism can prompt you to make adjustments in your own life patterns, and it can also alert you to the behaviors in others that are toxic.  

Knowledge and insight are power.  So let’s add to your understanding of narcissism with a narcissist checklist that you can apply to real life situations. 

This Narcissist Checklist is certainly not exhaustive, but it can give you an idea of the many ways narcissists can disrupt your quality of life:

1) Public self and private self do not match.  While narcissists can seem charming in public, behind the scenes you can witness many traits that do not put them in a complimentary light.  Public image is strongly important to a narcissist, so it is common that they display a phony or inaccurate portrait of themselves toward people they hope to impress.  What others see on the outside is often inconsistent with what you see in that person’s private world.

2) Loyalty toward you is superficial at best.  Being enamored with Self, narcissists insist that you are supposed to show loyalty toward them.  But that trait is not reciprocated. You represent narcissistic supply. In other words, you exist to prop up their egos and it is your job to illustrate how appreciative you are to have them as an ally.  If and only if you are utile, satisfying their demands, they might demonstrate a form of loyalty toward you.

3) They cannot admit mistakes at all.  The longer you remain in any relationship, mistakes, miscalculations, flaws, and weaknesses will become known.  That is to be expected. Narcissists, however, have such a need to be “better than” that they cannot admit their humanity.  They will blame, make excuses, or offer an alternate set of facts. But they have great difficulty simply saying, “Yeah, I blew it.”  What is worse, this sets them up to repeat those same mistakes over and over.

4) Lots of unsolicited advice.  Being smug and over-confident, narcissists are not shy about “suggesting” how you might act, think, prioritize, and manage life.  They may veil their motives by saying they are just trying to help, but their impatience and intolerance indicates otherwise. Narcissists can be overeager to assist, and when the recipient of their efforts is hesitant, they predictably accuse that person of ingratitude.

5) Introspective thinking is virtually non-existent.  Because narcissists are so image conscious, they put much more emphasis upon looking right than being right.  Narcissists assume that the mere appearance of success or confidence is sufficient. They rarely examine the deeper “why’s” that drive their decisions, and they do not want to be challenged to examine their rationale for living.  They do what they do so they can gain an advantage over others. That’s enough soul searching for them.

6) They make many comments to remind you of your obligations toward them.  Narcissists have a strong agenda for you, readily telling you what you should or should not do to satisfy that agenda.  Favorite words are “must,” “had better,” and “supposed to.” Lacking a team spirit, they unilaterally require you to know their specifications and follow them correctly.  If you do not, you will be reprimanded. Narcissists believe you have a duty to filter your life through their mandates.

7) They will “other” people who do not fit their mold.  In a narcissist’s world you are either in or out.  You are with them or against them. You are in the club or you are not.  Narcissists categorize people based on many criteria such as gender, race, political persuasions, lifestyle practices, religion, group memberships, hobbies, appearance, and interests.   They hold strong prejudicial standards and are non-apologetic if others deem them to be judgmental or unfair. Because of the belief in their superiority, they look lowly upon “those people” who seem too different or distinct.

8) Idealized fantasies are routinely pursued.  Being enamored with oneself and feeling entitled, narcissists nurse idealized notions of how they can or should be treated.  They are drawn toward themes of materialism, fame, and prestige. Sensual desires can commonly occupy their attention in the forms of sexually explicit entertainment.  They greatly prefer the company of “the beautiful people.” They dream of being adored and associated with those who are acclaimed.  

9) They are attracted toward people, themes, and activities implying power.  Narcissists have a strong desire to be dominant wherever they engage with others.  They can admire bullies who always seem to find ways to impose their will. Their entertainment interests may include narratives of overwhelming intimidation and influence.  They can especially admire people who have proven to be a force with few equals. Being insensitive toward tender matters, narcissists applaud the aggressor.  

10) Emotional vulnerability is awkward.  Narcissists can feel “out of their element” when required to show tenderness, compassion, or servitude.  When pressed, they might pretend to care about others’ unique needs, but over the passage of time, they illustrate a very low interest in touching others at the heart level.  Emotional sensitivity requires empathy, a trait they have little use for. They prefer relationships that are functional, not emotionally connected.

11) Willingness to lie or leave out important facts.  With narcissists, honesty is fluid.  Yesterday’s truth can become today’s falsehood.  When wrong or inappropriate, they are prone to rationalize why they should not be held accountable.  Narcissists look at their engagements with others, not as relationships in need of nurturance, but as transactions.  They are in constant search of ways to stay dominant, so if truth has to be altered, so be it. They lie easily, keep secrets, and distort their depiction of events to suit their immediate purposes.

12) The use of veiled threats.  Narcissists do not see you as an equal.  Rather, they deem themselves as superior.  So if you act or think differently, they interpret you as challenging their lofty status.  Fearful that you might not acquiesce to their superiority, they can issue threats. For instance, you might hear:  “You’d better think twice before you do that,” or “Do you really want to challenge me?” They presume you’re supposed to filter your decisions through their grid, and you will be punished if you do not.

13)  Extremes in managing money.  Two things matter most to a narcissist, power or pleasure.  And money can lead to either or both. In some instances, narcissists can be very exacting in their management of money, especially as it relates to group expenses.  They can micromanage or withhold funds from others. At other times, narcissists can spend frivolously (especially on oneself) even if common sense has to be suspended.  They believe that the one holding the purse strings is the winner.

14) Responds to confrontation with irrational anger.  Not many people enjoy being confronted, yet it is necessary for thriving relationships to have an open door policy about discussing differences, needs, and priorities.  Instead of welcoming input, though, narcissists react to confrontation with fear. But that fear is inevitably expressed as anger. With harshness, narcissists can nurse the thought:  “How dare you come against me.” They can respond then with openly aggressive intimidation or passive aggressive non-cooperation.

15) Being persistently dismissive of others’ feelings.  Narcissists are known as black/white, all/nothing thinkers.  They want exchanges with others to be predictable and self-serving.  When others preferences do not match with the narcissist’s, binary thinking is applied.  To them, if you do not feel the correct way, you are wrong, period. It does not occur to them that your emotion may be legitimate or that they can learn from you.  Instead, you are expected to alter your mindset to feel and behave in ways that keep the narcissist comfortable. They cannot make room for nuance, nor do they care to know why you perceive differently.

16) Stealing affirmation from others.  Narcissists insist that others are supposed to think highly of them.  It is part of their natural entitlement, and it also an indication of hidden insecurity.  When another person is regaled, narcissists interpret that person’s good fortune as a threat.  To them, praise given to someone else means there is less praise for the narcissist. Narcissists must be The Best, so if another person is held in esteem, they might say something like:  “Her accomplishment was made possible by me,” or “That was okay, but it doesn’t equal what I have done.”

17) Chronic undertow of frustration and annoyance.  Narcissists can barely conceal the tension residing within oneself.  Being chronically in need of supply, they are intolerant when others do not do their bidding.  The slightest hint of dissension or insubordination can generate feelings of agitation and judgment within the narcissist.  People living and working with narcissists regularly report a “walking on eggshells” feeling. They know it is only a matter of time before a narcissist gripes, complains, or sulks.

18) Many double standards.  Because narcissists begin with the presumption of their unique superiority, the standards that apply to others (so they believe) do not necessarily apply to them.  For instance, they greatly dislike when others feel angry toward them, yet they feel fully justified when the reverse occurs. Or if you waste money it is far more egregious than if they do.  “My understanding of life is so much better than yours,” is their rationale.  

19) A very poor comprehension of love.  Simply put, narcissists do not know how to love.  They like the high of feeling enamored because it allows them to perpetuate the fantasy that they can and should achieve ideal perfection.  But when confronted with the reality that love requires traits like patience and tolerance, disillusionment quickly occurs. Wanting little more than compliance, their shallow approach to relationships indicates they are simply needy people looking for someone to fill the craving for narcissistic supply.

20) No real appreciation for your boundaries.  When you have personal boundaries, it begins with a definition of who you want to be and how you want to prioritize life.  Ever impressed with Self, though, narcissists genuinely believe they should determine how your life will unfold. So when you act upon your well-conceived plans, rather than appreciating your privilege to define yourself, they feel offended.  This propels them to shame you, become bossy, and coerce. Diversity is not a trait narcissists fully appreciate.

As your understanding of these Narcissist Checklist traits increase, you can be poised to be more forthcoming about how to respond to the narcissist’s predictable efforts to fit you into a mold.  Realize that narcissists have a warped understanding of the meaning of a good life. Their primary goal is self-gratification. So when you determine to be your best version of yourself, rather than being encouraging or curious, narcissists are offended.  Anything that detracts from their self-seeking agenda is deemed unacceptable. 

Even as narcissists feel threatened by your privilege to choose how you will live, proceed anyway.  Learn from your experiences with them so you can be a living illustration of the healthier manner of living.  Practice self-care. Stay true to who you really need to be.

Les Carter, Ph.D.

After reading the Narcissist Checklist, do you think you might be in a relationship with a Narcissist? Find out here:

While Dr. Carter does not conduct online counseling, he has vetted a group who can assist, they are a trusted sponsor: