12 Traits of a Narcissist | A Clinician’s Concise Overview
Written By Kobi Nathan, Pharm.D., M.Ed., CDP, BCGP, AGSF
Sleep Disorders
January 20, 2024

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a complex mental health condition that is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

Characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others, narcissism significantly impacts all forms of relationships.

Understanding the 12 traits of a narcissist can not only provide clarity and insight into this condition, but also equip individuals with the necessary tools to navigate relationships with those exhibiting these traits.

As we unpack each characteristic in this discussion, we will highlight the subtle nuances, often overlooked, that reveal the profound depth of this condition, thereby setting the stage for a more informed and empathetic interaction with those affected by NPD.

Key Takeaways

  • Narcissists have a strong sense of superiority and entitlement, constantly seeking to be the best and control others.
  • They have an exaggerated need for attention and validation, constantly craving praise and approval.
  • Narcissists lack responsibility and often blame others for their actions and outcomes.
  • They struggle with boundaries, disregarding the needs and feelings of others.

12 signs of narcissism

Recognizing the signs of narcissism can be the first step toward understanding and addressing this complex personality disorder.

Key indicators include:

  • A pronounced sense of superiority and entitlement
  • A heightened need for attention and validation
  • A tendency to blame others while deflecting personal responsibility
  • A disregard for boundaries
  • A striking lack of empathy

Each of these traits presents unique challenges, yet they all contribute to the overarching narcissistic pattern of self-centered behavior and disregard for others’ needs and feelings.

Let’s explore each trait in detail.

1. Superiority and Self-importance

At the core of narcissism lies a profound sense of superiority and entitlement, with narcissists often perceiving themselves as being at the pinnacle of a hierarchical world.

This inflated sense of self-worth leads them to believe they’re superior to others and deserving of special treatment.

  • They exhibit a grandiose sense of self-importance, often exaggerating achievements and expecting to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements.
  • Narcissists harbor an unrealistic sense of superiority, viewing themselves as unique and only understood by or associating with high-status people.
  • They possess an inflated sense of entitlement, unreasonably expecting favorable treatment or compliance with their expectations.
  • They’re exploitative in nature, using others to achieve their own ends.
  • Narcissists are often envious of others or believe others are envious of them.

2. Exaggerated need for admiration and validation

Central to the narcissistic personality is a voracious appetite for attention and validation, a trait that manifests in their constant search for praise and approval from others.

This exaggerated need for attention and validation is a defining characteristic among the many traits of a narcissist.

They often engage in narcissistic behavior, such as dramatic gestures or outlandish stories, designed to place them at the center of attention.

Their conversation style is frequently self-centered and focused on their own achievements and experiences.

They expect others to pay complete and unhindered attention to them.

Constantly seeking affirmation, they crave recognition and often react poorly to criticism, which they perceive as a personal attack.

Understanding this need for constant validation provides insight into the complexities of narcissistic behavior.

3. Not taking responsibility and blaming others/deflecting

In addition to their need for constant validation, narcissists often exhibit a marked lack of personal responsibility, frequently blaming others and deflecting accountability for their own actions and outcomes.

This lack of responsibility—blaming and deflecting—is one of the notable traits of narcissists and a clear sign of narcissism.

  • Narcissists rarely take responsibility for their mistakes, often shifting the blame to others.
  • They construct narratives that portray them as victims, not culprits.
  • External factors are their go-to scapegoats when things do not go their way.
  • When a narcissist blames others, it serves to protect their inflated self-image.
  • They are adept at deflecting criticism, turning the tables so that others are at fault.

Understanding these patterns can help those affected by a narcissist’s behavior to set boundaries and seek supportive interventions.

4. Not respecting boundaries

Building upon the aforementioned trait of deflecting responsibility, another distinguishing characteristic of narcissists is their profound lack of boundaries.

This trait often manifests as an inability to respect or even recognize the personal space, privacy, and rights of others.

Narcissists often blur the lines, ignoring or overriding the attempts of others to set boundaries.

This is primarily driven by their sense of entitlement and lack of empathy, two fundamental narcissistic traits.

They perceive the needs and feelings of others as insignificant, often leading to narcissistic abuse.

The narcissist’s lack of boundaries can create a distressing environment for those around them, reinforcing the cycle of narcissistic behavior.

Understanding this trait is crucial for those seeking to navigate relationships with narcissists.

5. Lack of empathy

Perhaps one of the most damaging traits of a narcissist, manifesting in a multitude of harmful ways, is their stark lack of empathy.

This narcissistic trait undermines the emotional well-being of those around them, as they are unable to recognize and validate the feelings and needs of others.

They often disregard others’ emotional experiences, focusing solely on their own.

Narcissists lack empathy to the point where they can be dismissive or belittling of others’ feelings.

They find it challenging to share in another person’s joy or sorrow.

Narcissists often exploit others without feeling guilt or remorse.

This trait of narcissism often leads to dysfunctional relationships or the destruction of healthy relationships, as they are not capable of genuine emotional connection.

6. Reasoning with their emotions

Frequently, a distinguishing feature of narcissism is emotional reasoning, which is the tendency to make decisions and form beliefs based on their emotional states rather than objective reality.

This characteristic is a prominent trait of individuals with narcissistic personality disorder.

Emotional reasoning leads narcissists to interpret situations in a way that aligns with their feelings, often disregarding factual evidence.

This contributes to a common trait of narcissists: a skewed perception of reality guided by their emotions rather than logic.

They may react with intense disdain or anger when their emotional state is threatened.

Understanding emotional reasoning is crucial in comprehending the complex mindset of a narcissist.

7. Splitting

Another significant trait of narcissists is the psychological mechanism known as ‘splitting,’ a simplistic categorization of people and situations into all good or all bad, which often contributes to their volatile relationships and erratic behavior.

This is one of the more prominent signs of narcissism.

Splitting manifests in the following ways:

  • Narcissists often switch abruptly between idealizing and devaluing others, causing emotional whiplash.
  • They view disagreements as personal attacks, resulting in explosive reactions.
  • Inability to hold conflicting thoughts or feelings about a person or situation is common.
  • They tend to label people as either ‘for’ or ‘against’ them, leading to unnecessary conflicts.
  • This extreme black-and-white thinking is a hallmark of narcissistic tendencies, reinforcing their distorted self-perception and perpetuating their destructive personality traits.

8. Fear of being rejected

Underlying the grandiose demeanor of narcissists lies a pervasive fear that significantly influences their behaviors and interactions.

This fear, a common trait among narcissists, often manifests in their constant need for assurance, validation, and control.

Identifying narcissistic traits may often lead one to observe their fear of being seen as inadequate, inferior, or unimportant.

This fear, though deeply concealed, is often betrayed in their overreactions to criticism, their excessive need for admiration, and their inability to handle any form of rejection.

This understanding of fear as a sign of narcissism can be instrumental in navigating interactions with narcissists, providing a more empathetic lens through which their behaviors can be viewed and understood.

9. Anxiety

In the complex psychological landscape of narcissism, anxiety plays a significant role, often manifesting in behaviors that project these feelings onto others.

Recognizing narcissistic traits, particularly those related to anxiety, can be vital in understanding the behavior patterns of a narcissist.

Narcissists may exhibit excessive worry, often about their own prestige or power.

They may overreact to perceived threats to their superiority.

Anxiety can lead to defensive behaviors, including blame-shifting or gaslighting.

They may seek constant reassurance to alleviate their anxieties.

Narcissists often project their anxieties onto others, effectively masking their own insecurities.

10. Feelings of shame

Frequently masked by a facade of superiority and control, shame is a profound emotion that narcissists often grapple with internally.

This trait is often seen in individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Shame in narcissistic individuals is intricately linked to their feelings and needs for constant validation and superiority.

Understanding the characteristics of NPD can provide insights into this complex emotional state.

Narcissists often externalize their shame, blaming others to deflect attention away from their own perceived inadequacies.

Internally, however, the shame they feel is intensely painful.

It reinforces their internal narrative of worthlessness and fear of exposure, perpetuating a cycle of narcissistic behaviors designed to protect their fragile self-image.

11. Lack of ability to be vulnerable to others

Building on the profound internal shame that narcissists harbor, their inability to be truly vulnerable further complicates their interpersonal relationships and self-perception.

  • Their self-centered behavior often results in superficial relationships as they struggle to form deep, meaningful connections.
  • Narcissists deeply hate the vulnerability of others as it mirrors their own hidden insecurities.
  • This inability to understand and empathize with others’ feelings exacerbates their emotional isolation.
  • Narcissists are often seen as cold and unfeeling, not because they lack emotions but because they fear the perceived weakness that comes with revealing them.
  • Despite their outward confidence, narcissists are constantly battling an internal war against perceived threats to their self-esteem and worth, making genuine vulnerability almost impossible for them.

12. Inability to be a team member or communicate accordingly

One significant trait of narcissism lies in their notable inability to communicate effectively or function cohesively within a team.

Narcissists tend to prioritize personal gain over team objectives, often leading to conflict and lowered productivity.

As narcissistic people hold an inflated sense of self-importance, they may struggle to accept or integrate feedback, which is crucial for teamwork.

It is vital to remember that such traits can cause significant distress to the individual and those around them, necessitating the need for a mental health professional for management and treatment.

How to deal with a narcissist

Dealing with a narcissist can be very challenging.

To get some tips on how to manage the narcissist in your life effectively, read my article here.

In addition, I have written about how to identify the signs exhibited by a cerebral narcissist and recommend reading it.


In conclusion, narcissistic personality disorder is a complex mental health condition characterized by grandiosity, entitlement, and a lack of empathy.

These traits can profoundly impact interpersonal relationships, but with professional help and treatment, those affected can manage their symptoms.

A deeper understanding of this disorder can facilitate more supportive and healthy interactions, promoting overall mental well-being for both the individuals with NPD and their loved ones.

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