As a society we’re becoming more and more aware of narcissism but narcissists are also becoming better and better at flying under people’s radar. They are so good at manipulating their way into our lives that we often don’t realize until it is too late. It’s for this reason that learning how to spot a narcissist in the beginning of your relationship is so important.

The most reliable approach to spotting a narcissist in the beginning of your relationship is to learn about narcissism and use that information to help you avoid being blinded by the suspected narcissist’s manipulation so you can accurately identify any narcissistic behaviors that may be present. 

It is important to not underestimate a narcissist’s ability to portray themselves as non-narcissistic to the untrained eye. The best way to avoid being blinded by manipulation when attempting to spot a narcissist in the beginning of a relationship is to diversify your approach.  

First, you should search for narcissistic traits in the suspected narcissist.  

9 Narcissistic Traits You Should Search For to Accurately Spot a Narcissist

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance.
  2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.
  4. A need for excessive admiration.
  5. A sense of entitlement.
  6. Interpersonally exploitative behavior.
  7. A lack of empathy.
  8. Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her.
  9. A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Second, you should do a deep dive into your own emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Why?

As we mentioned before, narcissists are really good at portraying themselves as non-narcissistic so it is very common for victims of narcissistic abuse to not recognize the warning signs before it is too late. 

If this is the case, there are three things that you should focus on when doing this deep dive into your emotions, thoughts, and feelings. 

a victim of narcissistic abuse thinking about the relationship they're in

Three Questions You Should Ask Yourself When Trying to Spot a Narcissist In the Beginning of the Relationship

The following three questions we suggest that you ask yourself when trying to spot a narcissist in the beginning of the relationship require some deep self-reflection that has the potential to stir up negative emotions. It’s for this reason that we strongly recommend that you seek the guidance of a qualified professional to help guide you through the confusion and complexity of narcissistic abuse.

Do I Feel Like I Have to Be Perfect for the Suspected Narcissist at All Times?

Narcissists are really good at making you feel as if you’re not enough in the beginning stages of the relationship.

A really subtle form of manipulation designed to do this that a narcissist will use is a form of triangulation called typecasting, a manipulative technique designed to exploit one’s desire to look good to other people. 

To do this a narcissist will compare you to someone else in their life. These comparisons are designed to manipulate you into believing that if you want the narcissist in your life, you have to be similar or better than the other person that they’re very subtly, and often indirectly, comparing you to. 

8 Examples of Common Typecasting Phrases In Narcissistic Environments

  1. This company loves hard workers! The last person would work overtime without any compensation! That is how he/she got to the top!
  2. My ex-wife was a great cook. 
  3. When I was a kid I always did what my parents asked!
  4. My ex-husband worked out so much! 
  5. I hope that you can take a joke because my last employee couldn’t.
  6. My ex was such a jealous person, I hated it!
  7. Your brother/sister is such a brat! He/she is always complaining!
  8. The only reason that we broke up was because of our communication… he/she was horrible at returning my texts and calls. It made me feel so alone.

When a narcissist uses typecasting they are manipulating you into normalizing the feeling of not being comfortable with your authentic self. This will make you more likely to be submissive, non-confrontational, and wary of your actions out of the fear of disappointing the narcissist.

It’s important to remember that typecasting doesn’t necessarily mean that the narcissist likes the other person that they’re comparing you to. In fact, you shouldn’t be surprised if the things that they’re saying about the other people that they’re comparing you to are lies. It is just a manipulative technique designed to lay a foundation from which a narcissist can begin to gain power and control over you.

Do I Feel Comfortable Communicating With the Suspected Narcissist?

It is really uncomfortable to communicate with a narcissist because the fragility of their ego makes them hypersensitive to any type of feedback, criticism, or communication where their grandiose perception of themselves isn’t being worshiped by others.

The reason for this is that narcissists are created by an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers. 

There are so many negative consequences of having this type of upbringing that you can learn about in our article How Are Narcissists Made but the two that we’re going to unpack here are the deeply rooted hatred narcissists have for themselves and their emotional inadequacies. 

Having unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers means that the narcissist didn’t have their thoughts, emotions, feelings, and needs mirrored. This is simply when a primary caregiver reflects or “mirrors” their child’s emotions. Mirroring validates, reassures, accepts, and shows love towards the child which allows them to develop a realistic sense of self. 

A parent mirroring his child
Source: https://www.enlivenminds.org/parental-mirroring/

When a child doesn’t have their existence mirrored, they’re left lost and confused while they search for the validation, reassurance, and admiration that their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers couldn’t give them. 

Something that often coincides with this type of neglect is acknowledgement from the primary caregivers when the child excels at something they value or serves their agenda. For example, a primary caregiver could be unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent but the moment their child emerges as a really good athlete, that is when they’ll step into their “parental” role where they’re temporarily available, responsive, and consistent. 

What this does is it teaches the child that their authentic self isn’t good enough. To get the validation and reassurance that they need, they have to be something or someone else. This causes them to develop a deeply rooted hatred for themselves because they believe that their true identity makes them unloveable. 

When this sense of not being good enough is combined with the emotional inadequacy that originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing we get a child who is incapable of managing their own negative emotions so they build a falsified identity that is designed to eclipse their true identity and suppress all of their negative emotions.

Sadly, they build this falsified identity on their perception of what society values. But because of their emotional inadequacy, they’re incapable of looking past the superficial exterior of society so they gravitate towards superficial, trivial, and materialistic aspects of life when building their identity.  

All this does is it creates an individual with an extremely fragile ego and a ferocious defense of their falsified identity because they truly believe that their true identity is dangerous for their well-being. 

So the reason that it is so hard to communicate with a narcissist is because their identity is so fragile that any type of authenticity contradicts their falsified identity and triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions. The same negative emotions that their emotional inadequacy prohibits them from being able to manage. 

It’s as simple as this…

If you share one of your achievements with a narcissist, they’re going to feel inferior in comparison to you. If you criticize a narcissist, it is going to trigger their sense of not being good enough. If you talk about the success of someone else, they’re going to be jealous. The list could go on forever but the point is that communicating with a narcissist is hard because of their emotional inadequacy and how fragile their identity is. 

a narcissist being jealous of her friend.

Do I Feel Like My Existence Is Minimized or Invalidated When I’m Around the Suspected Narcissist?

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, your existence is going to be minimized and invalidated on a daily basis. This means that there’s no respect, trust, honesty, open communication between partners, support of one another, or efforts to make compromises for you.

Suggested Reading: Is It Possible to Have a Healthy Relationship With a Narcissist

While there are many different reasons that narcissists can’t have healthy relationships, there are two in particular that act as both reasons and warning signs you can use to spot a narcissist in the beginning of the relationship that we’d like you to focus on.

First, narcissists are very one-dimensional. Their superficiality prohibits them from maintaining genuine conversations and/or relationships. The reason for this is their approach to building their falsified identity. 

Their emotional inadequacy, causes them to build their identity out of their accomplishments and their accomplishments only. They fail to acknowledge and accept the fact that one’s identity is built out of their own vulnerabilities and insecurities as well.

Second, narcissists are so vain and grandiose that they feel uncomfortable when the attention isn’t on them. This is because their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers were unable to mirror their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs which means the narcissist was never able to develop a realistic sense of self. In other words, they truly believe that they are as “great” as they portray themselves as. 

A narcissist’s grandiose and vain personality enables their falsified identity to suppress their negative emotions. Meaning that if they were to step out of their self-centered aura just long enough to acknowledge the greatness of others, it would contradict their falsified identity and trigger their suppressed negative emotions. 

All of this makes a relationship with a narcissist extremely one-sided. They will expect you to pay close attention when they speak about their fantasies of success and power. They will tell these captivating stories, which are often exaggerations or bold-faced lies. They will need a constant flow of validation, admiration, and reassurance, and they will expect to get what they want, when they want. 

When it is your turn to talk about yourself, they will be distracted, they won’t be able to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way, they will be visibly agitated, hypersensitive to your success and/or achievements, and dismissive of your goals for the future. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

It can be really hard to spot a narcissist in the beginning stages of the relationship because of how good they are at manipulating others. If you are in a situation where you’re unsure whether or not someone in your life is a narcissist, please seek out the guidance of a qualified professional.

It is so important to be able to work with someone who understands how to dismantle the complexity of narcissism in a way that allows you to heal.

We also strongly recommend that you check out our articles How to Know When a Narcissist Is Manipulating You and How to Stop a Narcissist From Manipulating You as it will help you protect yourself if you do in fact have a narcissist in your life!

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. “DSM 5 diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.” DSM 5 Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 2013. 947-p.