Author Lisa E. Scott recalls a former partner openly referring to himself as a narcissist while they were together. It was a term she wasn’t initially familiar with until she started reading about the topic. Once she did, it was hard to pull away.
The patterns of behavior seemed to explain issues within their relationship. After they separated she began dating another man, who she describes as an artist who was usually quiet. Despite her boyfriend being different in personality than her other partner, she said during an interview with Oxygen.com he turned out to have traits aligned with covert narcissism. Scott, who uses a pen name and false names for her former partners to protect their identities, went on to write three books of her own on the topic of narcissism.
“What is unsettling is that so many of us that have fallen for narcissists once and then are determined we’re never gonna fall for another one, we look for signs,” Scott said. “Very extroverted, life of the party, wants to be the center of attention and I didn’t realize until later that there’s this covert type that hides their narcissism.”
Narcissistic traits causing problems in her relationships was an issue she found she did not face alone. After starting a web forum for survivors of narcissistic abuse, she took her support group to a Facebook page, which has grown to more than 50 thousand members.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder applies to about one percent of the population, according to Psychology Today. Rather than an actual diagnosis of NPD, when people use the term narcissist or narcissism, they are often referring to someone who exhibits a substantial amount of traits or pattern of behavior associated with narcissism. Individuals actually being diagnosed with NPD continue to be a narrow band of people, according to Clinical Psychologist and Narcissism Expert Dr. Ramani Durvasula.
She gets about 50 emails a week for help just on the topic of dating a so-called narcissist, Durvasula said in an interview with Oxygen.com.
“People are underestimating how much devastation this is bringing into people’s lives,” Durvasula said. “It leaves them doubting themselves, it leaves them feeling less than, it makes them feel that they’re not enough, it is clipping the wings of so many people who from a loving space enter a relationship with someone and the narcissistic person doesn’t even stop to consider the body count that they’re leaving behind them.”
Understanding if a partner is exhibiting a pattern of narcissism or simply has one or two traits can be difficult. Emotional abuse from a relationship can also have long-lasting effects on survivors, according to Durvasula.
She warns if people start seeing red flags early on in a relationship to pay attention.
“This is your chance to sort of gracefully exit before you’re so deep into this that this becomes really, really messy,” Durvasula added.
Here are five things to look out for if you think you’re dealing with someone who has narcissistic traits.
Despite the person’s personality being disruptive in some personal relationships, they are probably thriving in their career
Durvasula said a key difference between the diagnosis and the broader term narcissism is it has to be causing issues in the person’s life. She noted people who simply have narcissistic traits and not the disorder, tend to be thriving personally and even in the workplace.
“One of the problems with narcissism is these people seem to be more successful than anybody else,” Durvasula said. “They always seem to get the girl, they seem to get the promotion. They tend to do better at work.”
They persistently exhibit a lack of empathy
The person may cancel plans at the last minute and is often dismissive of your schedule or needs, Durvasula said.
“They may make comments that are inconsiderate or unkind,” said Durvasula. “It’ll almost take them a beat to say oh gosh did that make you uncomfortable and you’ll be shocked that it takes them that long.”
On the other hand, if you need to cancel plans to meet a work deadline or for a personal emergency, the person will not be understanding.
“You will be really facing their wrath and rage, they don’t deal with frustration well,” Durvasula explained. “If you do anything to frustrate them, you have to cancel something, you can’t be someplace on time, whatever it may be, that might be one of the first times you really do sort of full frontal experience their rage.”
Scott said she believes narcissists lack the ability to truly love someone else.
“The compassion, the empathy, and the ability to be intimate it’s all missing,” Scott said.
The person is entitled or shows a heightened sense of self
If you pick up on a sense of entitlement or are uncomfortable with how they treat others it can be a red flag. Durvasula said it’s important to pay attention to how a person treats others like waiters at a restaurant or a valet parker.
“One common pattern we see in people who are narcissistic: they have no problem talking about themselves they can go on and on,” Durvasula said. “Once it’s your turn to start sharing about yourself, they’re distracted, they’re looking around the room.”
Scott said she sometimes saw her ex-boyfriend judge others after they left a social setting where he mostly stayed quiet.
“It’s really because he’s observing and taking it all in, and later will tell me how everyone misbehaved and you know make judgements about everybody that they’ve observed,” Scott said.
They have a constant need for admiration
People with narcissistic traits thrive on attention from other people. Scott said the partners or other people narcissists feed off of are sometimes referred to as “supply.”
“Without attention from other people they feel dead inside,” Scott said. “That’s because they disconnected from themselves long ago as a child that they need other people to validate their existence.”
Although Durvasula noted biological temperament may also play a role, like a person being born highly sensitive or is tightly wound up as a child, she said the way parents raise their children can cause narcissistic traits to develop.
For example, parents might give the child a lot of attention when they get on a sports team or get good grades. They might even compliment their looks at times.
“However when that child has an emotional need, they’re anxious, they’re sad, there’s no adults to be found anywhere,” Durvasula said. “That combination of having their superficial world chronically validated, but their emotional world never validated is one of the real sure fire ways to create a narcissist.”
The person is a reckless driver
Durvasula said if a person drives aggressively or with little regard to you as a passenger and others on the road this could be a marker for narcissism.
“It almost feels like they’re playing out all their inner anger on the road,” Durvasula said. “That’s something you might notice one of the first times you get in a car with them or even as you watch them drive up or drive away. Don’t minimize that one.”
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