“12 traits of a narcissist”: Common narcissistic traits and how to identify them

People who have narcissistic tendencies can be very charming when you first meet them, but are sometimes manipulative and disrespectful to those around them to get what they want.

Though narcissists can change if they seek help and commit to bettering themselves, it can be extremely difficult for them to get a point of wanting or even considering why they would need to change at all. This is because many of the traits narcissism causes make it challenging for people to consider their faults and their impact on others—traits that we’ve listed for you below.

How Can You Identify a Narcissist?

There are many character traits that narcissists commonly possess, but first, it’s helpful to distinguish between “narcissism” and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People with NPD are different from those with narcissistic personality traits in that NPD is a diagnosable disorder that causes clinically significant symptoms that have a significant impact on a person’s life and overall functioning. Also, traits and symptoms of NPD must be present since childhood for someone to be diagnosed with the disorder.

However, those who have narcissistic traits may exhibit similar behavior to people with NPD on certain occasions, but the consequences of their behavior don’t have such a significant impact on their life and these behaviors aren’t set, rigid parts of them. The traits can also be adjusted and changed more easily than symptoms of NPD.

Despite their differences, though, the term “narcissist” is used broadly to describe both people with a real clinical condition and those with a few narcissistic personality traits. The overuse of this term often generates confusion as to what constitutes a true narcissist.

Both narcissistic people and people with NPD commonly display character traits like selfishness, grandiosity, and arrogance, though again, for people with NPD, these traits will influence their ability to function and can be very hard to change.

What Are 12 Common Traits of Narcissists? Recognizing Narcissistic Traits

12 common narcissistic traits that both narcissistic people and those with NPD display are:

  • Self-importance
  • Expecting praise for minimal work, even none at all
  • Being preoccupied with success or money, with a need to be “great”
  • Craving power
  • Only wanting to be around high-status or high-achieving people
  • Requiring lots of attention/praise from those around them
  • Entitled behavior
  • Expecting special treatment or for others to meet their high expectations 
  • Exploiting others
  • Lack of empathy
  • Envy, or believing others are envious of them
  • Arrogance

If someone you know or love frequently displays many of these traits, it’s important to try and discern whether these are just personality traits or whether they’re signs of a deeper issue before you take any action. Think: How long have these traits been present? Do they seem to impact their relationships with you or others? Are they open and receptive to feedback? Are they willing to explore and admit faults? Are they readily able to make changes? 

If their behavior is affecting others, it can also be a good idea to encourage them to seek a diagnosis or further help from a mental health professional, though it’s important to have that conversation in a sympathetic and non-accusatory way.

It’s not up to you to diagnose them, but this process can help you figure out whether your situation might be temporary or whether continuing to maintain a relationship with them is the best thing for you.

Common traits of narcissists are self-importance, wanting power, expecting praise, needing success, and wanting high-status connections Common traits of narcissists are entitlement, expecting special treatment, exploitation, no empathy, envy, and arrogance

What Are the Biggest Traits that Indicate Someone Has Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

The three most prominent and commonly seen traits that can indicate someone might have NPD are:

Each of these traits is very apparent in narcissists, though they might show up in more specific behaviors. For example, people with NPD are very interpersonally exploitative, taking advantage of people close to them for personal gain, which is a result of their lack of empathy. They can also be seen in the inflated ego that narcissistic individuals will display.

What Is the Number 1 Narcissistic Trait?

In general, one of the most commonly noticed traits that characterizes both people with NPD and people with narcissistic traits is selfishness. Since it’s the most noticeable, though, it can make it hard to separate NPD from narcissistic traits. Further assessment from a mental health professional is necessary to confirm any kind of clinical diagnosis, so if you believe that you or someone you love is exhibiting traits closer to NPD, encourage them to seek mental health counseling or consider seeking it yourself.

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What Are 10 Things a Narcissist Does?

10 things narcissists commonly do are:

  • Act haughty when talking to others
  • Make assumptions about the level of service they should receive
  • Probe for admiration from those around them
  • Question why others don’t meet their needs (without empathy for the other person)
  • Demand unwarranted recognition
  • Treat others poorly (i.e. act better than them, manipulate them, take advantage) 
  • Demonstrate skewed views of accolades (theirs are incredible, but those of others aren’t as impressive)
  • Brag (inappropriately)
  • Set very high ambitions (but low drive to reach them)
  • Allow their behavior to be harmful to relationships

Narcissism, both the traits and the personality disorder, can cause behaviors that are extremely harmful to the mental and emotional well-being of others. Because of this, it’s important to note when their behavior becomes so harmful that it’s no longer tolerable or sustainable and set boundaries to protect yourself, perhaps going as far as cutting off all contact.

What Are Narcissist Red Flags?

Signs or red flags that a narcissist’s behavior could be harmful to your well-being include:

  • Conceited or arrogant behavior to an alarming degree (i.e. causing you direct emotional or even physical harm)
  • Not realizing how they mistreat others or seeing any flaw in their behavior, despite its negative impact
  • Using you to fulfill their own needs/wants without doing anything to meet your needs
  • When their communication doesn’t reflect their actions (and they refuse to see the discrepancies)
  • Having big expectations (especially of others) that aren’t met
  • Being very envious (due to inflated self-worth)
  • Being so focused on success that destroys their healthy relationships

Loving someone with NPD or narcissistic traits can be difficult, and even if they agree to get help and change their patterns, the road to change is a long one. If you care about someone you believe has NPD, it needs to be considered whether the love you believe you share with them is truly healthy and good for both of you. 

As you consider this, it’s a good idea to speak to a mental health professional about your situation so that you can get the care and support you need as soon as possible. They can help you protect your well-being, set healthy boundaries, and develop other helpful strategies to help you cope.

Finally, if you are considering leaving your narcissistic partner, talk to a mental health professional and the people close to you in your life about your decision. Those with narcissistic traits often attempt to manipulate factors like finances, housing, or other relationships against you to force you to stay with them, so it’s important to develop a plan to keep you safe and supported during this time.

Table of contents

How Can You Identify a Narcissist?

What Are 12 Common Traits of Narcissists? Recognizing Narcissistic Traits

What Are the Biggest Traits that Indicate Someone Has Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

What Is the Number 1 Narcissistic Trait?

What Are 10 Things a Narcissist Does?

What Are Narcissist Red Flags?

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Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BC

Kate Hanselman is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC). She specializes in family conflict, transgender issues, grief, sexual orientation issues, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, behavioral issues, and women’s issues.

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Alexandra “Alex” Cromer is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has 4 years of experience partnering with adults, families, adolescents, and couples seeking help with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma-related disorders.

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  • Campbell, W. (2001). Is Narcissism Really So Bad? Taylor & Francis, Ltd., 12(4), 214–216. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1449475

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