Posted by: RealisticRecovery | August 14, 2009

How to Spot a Narcissist

How to Spot a Narcissist

By Samuel López De Victoria, Ph.D.

At the core of extreme narcissism is egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others. Some amount of basic narcissism is healthy, of course, but this type of narcissism is better termed as responsibly taking care of oneself. It is what I would call “normal” or “healthy” narcissism.

Extreme narcissists tend to be persons who move towards eventually cutting others off and becoming emotionally isolated. There are all types of levels on that road to isolation. Narcissists come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees. I would like to address how a person becomes an extreme narcissist.

Narcissism, in lay terms, basically means that a person is totally absorbed in self. The extreme narcissist is the center of his own universe. To an extreme narcissist, people are things to be used. It usually starts with a significant emotional wound or a series of them culminating in a major trauma of separation/attachment. No matter how socially skilled an extreme narcissist is, he/she has a major attachment dysfunction. The extreme narcissist is frozen in childhood. He/she became emotionally stuck at the time of his/her major trauma of separation/attachment. In my work with extreme narcissist patients I have found that their emotional age and maturity corresponds to the age they experienced their major trauma. This trauma was devastating to the point it almost killed that person emotionally. The pain never was totally gone and the bleeding was continuous. In order to survive, this child had to construct a protective barrier that insulates him/her from the external world of people. He/she generalized that all people are harmful and cannot be trusted. The protective insulation barrier he/she constructed is called a false persona. He/she created a false identity. This identity is not the true person inside. The many types of false personas or identities that an extreme narcissist creates can vary. Some narcissists may have the ability to change into a variety of identities according to the situation. The wounded child inside may choose to present a front as a “bad ass” and tough individual. He/she may look, by appearance, intimidating and scary to the average person. He could also play the “nice guy/person” whom everyone likes. A corporate type version can be one that is diplomatic, proper, and appearing to care but in reality does not. Another very likeable extreme narcissist can be the one that chooses the comedian role. He/she is the life of the party and has everyone in stitches, making them laugh constantly. Everyone wants to include this person because they are a lot of fun. Try to get close or ask personal questions as to how he/she is internally doing and feeling and you will find is that he/she will quickly distract you. They will sidestep the question with another joke, making you suddenly forget what you were asking. Narcissists can be very skilled at dodging and ducking personal questions. If you press them, they will then slot you as “unsafe” and will begin to avoid you and exclude you from their life. There is also the success oriented narcissist. He/she will be your friend and keep you close to him/her as long as you are useful. Once you do not have anything more to offer and he/she has taken all they wanted from you, you are history. You are no longer desired, wanted, or sought.

Is there hope for an extreme narcissist living in an emotional and relational fort of isolation. Is a narcissist able to have a healthy life? Definitely! I’ve seen many extreme narcissists become extremely healthy in their emotional and relational life. The first step is to find competent and safe help that knows how to heal emotional traumas. Just because a counselor may have all kinds of credentials it does not mean they are competent in dealing effectively with trauma issues. Because extreme narcissists tend to have an early history of emotional wounds they are full of distrust. If they can get past this hurdle then they can begin to find help to heal. Second, extreme narcissists have to be willing to enter the realm of their feelings again. They have been the masters of covering and hiding, even to themselves. They now have to start uncovering painful wounds. They have taught themselves to stuff and disconnect their own feelings for years. Because of this, they tend to live inside their heads, in the realm of so called reason. They are likely to live in the world of rational principles, laws, rules, which are all linear. This domain is a realm they feel they can control. It is devoid of feelings. The realm of the heart or feelings is very intimidating and unsafe to them because it is non-linear and there is very little control of the outcomes. If extreme narcissists can overcome these two hurdles then there is much hope for them. They are on their road to healing.

———Take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Quiz – Click Here! ———-

Samuel Lopez De Victoria, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist in private practice. He is also an adjunct psychology professor at the Miami Dade College in Miami, FL. He can be contacted through his web site at



  1. Ouch!

    Q: How do I spot a Narcissist?

    A: After reading this, I guess I just look in the mirror.

    Double Ouch! haha

    • i felt the same way after i read this. ouch. hard to admit, tho. at least for me.

      “He could also play the “nice guy/person” whom everyone likes. A corporate type version can be one that is diplomatic, proper, and appearing to care but in reality does not.”

      That is exactly how I am. I wish I could just be myself. I think I am myself on my blog, but only because everyone is at a safe distance. Sad, really.

      At least there’s hope.

  2. I think all addicts/alcoholics have these traits to some extent. We were wounded in some way, and when the addiction “kicked in,” we just lived for the next fix.

    I had to develop a few different “personas” to be successful in various areas of my life, and to keep everyone happy so no questions would be asked. I didn’t know what I was doing, it was like a survival instinct being controlled by the addiction.

    In recovery, our behaviors change dramatically as we get over the addiction. Alcohol no longer controls my life. And I’m trying to find who I really am, which doesn’t include the traits in the article above. If anything, I have a low opinion of myself (although I am still special haha). That’s the only way I could have participated in the behavior I did for so long.

    When I first read this article, I felt like it was calling me a bad name, because it seemed to be describing me so well. But all addicts/alcoholics are absorbed in the addiction, which can seem like we are absorbed in self. Maybe the symptoms of addiction just manifest in the same way as extreme narcissism. But take away the addiction, and we are not absorbed in self. We just want to learn how to accept ourselves and our places in the world as they are.

  3. Special? You are awesome.

    I think I can see that, yeah, while the traits of an addict or survivor of a dysfunctional family or traumatic situation are very narcissistic, the person is not necessarily a narcissist.
    Big difference.
    Some of us were just in survival mode, and our survival techniques were all self-centered.
    They had to be, out of necessity, at least until we got to this point of our journey.
    Just another thing we need to forgive ourselves for.

    I guess that’s why service is a big part of recovery for us, and has always been a part of healthy peoples lives.
    Helping others takes us out of ourselves.
    It’s anti-narcissistic.

    Here’s a quote from Fred Rogers that quite a few people have been visiting lately on this site.
    It’s another good test to see if your a narcissist, if you read it, and feel something, you can’t possibly be a narcissist:

    At the center of the universe is a
    loving heart that continues to beat
    and that wants the best for every person.

    Anything we can do to help foster
    the intellect and spirit and emotional growth
    of our fellow human beings, that is our job.

    Those of us who have this particular vision
    must continue against all odds.

    Life is for service.

    mister rogers neighborhood – fred rogers – 1928-2003

  4. I think there are definitely some alcoholics who are sober and still narcissistic. I call them “assholes.” I think there are a lot of those in Las Vegas. This town attracts all the crazies.

    Mr. Rogers is pretty cool. I don’t remember him saying things like that when I was little.

    I used to do lots of community service in college … worked at homeless shelters, food banks, animal shelters and stuff like that. But it was always with a group of people. I don’t know what I could do now (and feel comfortable). I’ll ask around work and see what other people do, and hopefully somebody will do something outside of their church.

    I don’t know if I would go so far as to call myself “awesome,” but thanks for saying it! You’re a pretty cool guy yourself.

    • Yeah, Vegas sounds interesting. Strange but interesting.
      I was just in Niagara Falls during the week, and was shocked to see how they are really trying to turn it into a little Las Vegas. Some big new Casinos and Strip Clubs have opened up there. Suckers paradise.

      Mr. Rogers is a much cooler guy than I knew. I always thought , even as a kid, that he was just some nerd that used to change his cardigan every time he went into a new room. Then I saw the guy accept an award. And the way he did it, made him the only non-douchenozzle in the entertainment business back then.
      Best acceptance speech ever. (see on YouTube)

      I volunteered at a homeless shelter and soup kitchen before too.
      I recommend everyone do it once as a real eye-opener.
      I would like to find something I could volunteer at again too,
      but these days I just donate money to things but no time.
      Maybe I need a new job that helps people.

      “I don’t know if I would go so far as to call myself “awesome,””
      And that is just one of the reasons why you are awesome. 😉


      btw: I am pretty cool, gotta go change my cardigan right now.

      • Hey Mike…. like the new digs.

        Mr. Rogers was pretty cool. Thanks for the video. I thought he was just all about hanging up his cardigan.

        Working at the homeless shelters and food banks was definitely eye-opening. Everyone should do that. They always need help around the holidays to put meals together and hand out canned foods to needy families. There are a lot of people out there who need help.

        My job indirectly helps people … I can’t say where I work, but I basically support people who directly help others in need. I just take care of the money. But I’d like to get back to directly helping people someday.

        The thing with Vegas is that it attracts people with a dream — to be rich, to own a big house, to be a professional gambler, to make $80K as a valet, to start a new life, etc. Most of it’s centered around money. They failed where they came from, and think they can make it here. And they still hold on to the dream to escape the reality.

        But they never get what they are looking for. And it’s so easy to indulge your vices here .. sex, drugs, drinking, gambling, whores, money… whatever you are looking for. And the town just eats people alive. Suckers paradise, indeed.

        Most people in Vegas work in the casino industry, which is very fickle. I’ll do anything I can to not work in the casino industry. It destroys people. The whole state is suffering b/c gaming revenues are down, and there’s no back-up. Schools are way under-funded here, but nobody cares. Those who drop out can get decent jobs in the casinos. There’s no state income tax, so everything is reliant on gaming revenues.

        There are gaming machines in most supermarkets, drug stores, convenience stores, all bars, some restuarants with bars… and there are local casinos off the strip… directed at the locals. They’ll bus the senior citizens in to the casinos, and they’re always busy. They’ll even cash paychecks for free. How nice.

        It’s all about the casinos here, not about the residents. Most people who grew up here have a skewed sense of reality. It’s a very strange place to live. I think 75% of those in my AA meetings are also meth addicts. That’s the drug of choice around here. They need it to keep up the pace, 24 hours a day.

        It’s all kind of a big weird power trip. Everyone with a lower-level management job in a casino thinks he runs the whole town. I worked on the financial statement audits of a lot of casinos in town, and having to deal with the big-wigs from the casino industry was the worst. It’s all a big game of “who can screw over who to get at the top”.

        That’s just my opinion, anyways. Sorry for the rant.

        ps — love the use of the term douchenozzle. That’s not one I hear very often.

  5. I just watch my ex pass by and I spot a narcissist.

    • Damn, that’s what my ex-wife used to say about me.
      Problem is, I can’t even argue with that. 😉

  6. Double-R…. where ya been? Taking a blog-break? Check yo email bro.


    • Having a very hard time lately, bit a relapse on a few addictions.
      Getting better tho, and am grateful to have many tools to deal with these situations now..
      Had to take a break from the internet for a while, as it can be triggering for some of my addictive behaviors.
      Also. I don’t want post stuff on this site unless I’m in a totally sober state of mind.

      I’ll check my email this weekend, and if you sent me any emails I didn’t respond to , I apologize and will respond this weekend or maybe sooner.

      Talk to you soon.


  7. Since narcissists believe they are unique and even perfect, and believe that anyone who expresses any sincere emotions to be weak and beneath them, other than by court order, how do you get these folks into counseling and once there, to actually participate as their true selves?

  8. In my experience, you dont.

    Just give up on them. They are not capable of interaction on the level you describe. Not that I have seen anyway.

    They are “constitutionally incapable of being honest”. They are defective in some way. I do not wish to sound judgemental. I have simply exhausted myself trying to get my sociopathic narcissistic ex to come to the table with a neutral third party to help us coparent our kids. She cannot see the sense in it. Her denial screams too loudly.



  9. Chaz: I agree, I have had the same experiences and don’t believe them to be capable of honesty or change. However, the author says they can be helped with therapy so I’m extremely curious to find out how he gets them into therapy and to participate on any meaningful level.

  10. Cyndi…. I would not doubt that a narcisst can be helped. I would suspect that a key ingredient to them getting help is WILLINGNESS to get the help necessary.

    Pre-AA, alcoholism was considered untreatable by most conventional medical practitioners.

    Then along came AA and some alcoholics got sober and remained sober. Much to the surprise of many.

    One overlooked fact is that a lot didnt get sober. And alcoholism was not cured when AA was discovered. In fact, I am guessing most who joined AA back then did not get and stay sober. To me, the dividing line would likely have been willingness to do what it took to get sober.

    Some may not have been able to see the possibility and either gave up or never tried in the first place. Others may have had pride issues. Others may simply have not wanted to. And who knows what other reasons.

    I would have a hard time imagining many narcissists having much willingness to adopt new ideas of others or even wishing to see the problem. The very nature of the condition would probably lend itself toward isolation of thought. Unless of course, like the alcoholic, they suffer sufficient pain as a result of their condition.

    Even if they recognized a problem, I wonder if they would be more apt to solve it themselves given that they are the object of their own worship.

    Having said all of this, I am in fact glad to be an alcoholic! It appears to be a more readily treatable condition than narcissism.



  11. I have heard the A.A. founder Bill W. may have been a narcissist. From what I read of him in the book “Pass It On” I would agree, he was. Often using 12 step service to get his needs met.
    He even said,When he got pat’s on the back all was well,if he didn’t he went back into depression.” (spot it I got it?)

    I truly have personally found many (including myself) that do 12 step service for this same narcissist reason. Catherine Taylor in her book “Inner Child Workbook” says;

    “If you get completely immersed in the program and the program becomes your whole life, you are, most likely, unconsciously tending to the needs of that youngest part of self and are unwilling just yet, to move beyond that infant stage.”

    That statement has made me look at bleeding deacons and 12 step guru’s in a different light, perhaps my terrible two year old was actually picking on infants?

    So actually in some way it is ok to get my needs met through service as long as I realize what needs I am actually meeting and why.

    I heard someone with true NPS is not hard to spot; “They walk around like something is so far stuck up the rear their brains are scrambled.”

    Yet, I look at them and myself differently today.


  12. Reblogged this on U Keep Walking Forward and commented:
    This is a good read. It has me thinking: narcissists and their victims both need help, and seldom seek it. What are your thoughts as you read this over?

  13. Please help me, I recently learned that my ex-boss, a lawyer on the board of trustees,all claim they were in recovery and they desplayed Jeckyl and hyde behavior. They only want to have a mean and nasty director as I was never like that. I crossed the line explaining I am an alcoholic, I kept quiting after my return from rehab. and they would not let me quit,They woul say we have done more than enough for you ,so I would returned back to work twice both directors fired later their is such a coralitation. they entered into my personal life so much in during relapses, then finally when I went to detox and rehab. on my is list of resentments was my boss, a trigger, when I crossed the line I feared her so much, that I would have been fired as my return to work.One time I was out with depression which was once for six months due to my boss an extreme Narcissist, I would cry and kept it quite.Then 3 years later I am a grateful recovering alchololic, they hire another mean and nasty boss and booted me out the door for doing the next right thing. I am out of work with Major depression and anxiety over the past year due to loss of my job I had for 10 years I could never stoop to their level. How would I ever explain this to an attorney. Though much Physchotherapy I learned they are extreme narcissists and the only manupulated and exploited me for 10 years. I never new what one was extreme narcissists. I put in trust in everyone. My bosses and coworkers were in my will they said to get back at my ex friend john buy a Mercades Benz as they all had them. buy that bath tub with jets. So I did I thought they were helping me and would not believe my sponsor or my physician. Has any one out there had this expierence and how would I every seek Justice?One attorney said this is a C I P A case,which i sighned off and he said it is so complex this is stress workers comp, which the state belives. Getting booted out for doing the next right thing. Did anyone please help me experience.I feel like I am reliving early sobriety all over again. I have to take a nap I have extreme fatigue and anxtiety. Please if anyone has experienced this what was done about this? Helpless

    • Why is it that when alcoholics “recover”, they try to blame other people for their being a manipulative drunk. Where is their accountability ?
      Instead they blame their bosses as “triggers”.
      This person needs to work the AA program and accept all the crap that they did to others and apologize to the people she harmed.
      A sad case indeed.

    • Don’t you have any family that can help you, you sound so sad.

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    Thanks for the post. I will definitely return.

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