According to the American Psychological Association (2013), less than 1% of the global population has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, a deep-seated need for praise and attention, and a lack of empathy for others. But while the disorder itself is only present in a very rare few, a lot more people actually have narcissistic tendencies that can make them just as dangerous to be around as someone with NPD.
Egotistical, indifferent, and insensitive, narcissists are masters of sabotage, deceit, and emotional manipulation. This is why so many of us unfortunately find ourselves falling for them and letting them into our lives without really knowing just how much trouble we’re getting into. Oftentimes, we don’t realize how horrible they really are until it’s too late.
So if you want to learn how to spot a narcissist and save yourself the emotional trauma, here are 10 of the most common things narcissists say and what they really mean:
1. “If you could have just one friend, who would it be?”
While it might seem like a harmless question at first, this is actually a very subtle way narcissists will try to emotionally manipulate you. They ask you who your favorite friend is and hope that you say it’s them. And if you don’t, they’ll get upset with you for it and start giving you the cold shoulder. They want to know that they are your priority and that you would choose them over all your other friends. They want you to stroke their ego and reaffirm their sense of self-importance.
2. “We don’t need anyone else.”
One of the most common strategies narcissists use to keep you compliant and loyal to them is by isolating you from everyone else in your life (Perez, 2019). And though it may sound like a great compliment at first when your friend tells you that all you need is each other, what they’re really trying to do is make you dependent on them and them alone. They don’t want to have to compete for your time and attention with anyone else because they want to have you all to themselves.
3. “Why are you being so sensitive?”
Has anyone ever told you you “couldn’t take a joke” after you called them out for something hurtful they said? Did they try to make you think that you were the one in the wrong for “overreacting so much”? A narcissist will never own up for the abuse they inflict on you, but rather, invalidate your feelings and trick you into thinking you’re the one at fault (Carlson, Naumann, & Vazire, 2011). They don’t want you to catch on to them so they make you second-guess yourself and, as a result, enable their bad behavior by rationalizing it, minimizing it, and making excuses for them.
4. “Not everything’s about you.”
When you have a narcissist in your life, nothing will ever really be about you, because everything needs to be about them all the time. And if you want to keep being their friend/partner, you can’t ever steal the spotlight from them or else they will start to resent you for it. Oh, you want to talk about your problems and what you’re going through right now? Yeah, they don’t really care. They will project their own self-centeredness onto you and make you feel guilty or embarrassed about wanting to take away the focus from them, even just for a second.
5. “Wow. No wonder nobody else likes you.”
To a narcissist, the key to keeping you in line is by destroying your sense of self-esteem and making you feel like you have no one else to turn to. Because the more alienated and alone you feel, the less likely you are to try to escape their grasp. They will get in your head and prey on your insecurities just to spit them back at you and twist you into thinking that no one else can ever love or care for you the way they do. And unfortunately, in a lot of cases, it works (Holtzman, Vazire, & Mehl, 2010).
6. “I always defend you to everyone else, and this is how you repay me?!”
When a narcissist tells you this, it’s for three reasons. Firstly, they want to turn you against the people you love and feed you with lies that they all secretly hate you and talk about you behind your back. Secondly, they want to play the hero and swoop in to save the day. But mostly, they are doing it to make you feel like you somehow owe it to them to reward their so-called “act of kindness” by never speaking out against them and paying them back with more loyalty, praise, and obedience (Edwards, 2010).
7. “You only succeeded because of my help.”
A narcissist will never own up to their own mistakes or take responsibility for their own actions. What they will take credit for, however, is the accomplishments of their friends and family. They love to brag about how you “couldn’t have done it without them” and how you “owe them so much of your success” because they want to share in your glory. And of course, they want to remind you that you are nothing without them (Aslinger, et al., 2018).
8. “Don’t let this get to your head.”
While they might pretend like they support you and that they’re happy for you, deep down inside, they are secretly rooting against you. They want you to fail to make them feel more comfortable about themselves. And this is a thinly veiled threat that, no matter how well you do or how much you succeed, you should never make the mistake of thinking that you are somehow more important than your narcissistic friend/partner.
9. “I’m the best you’ll ever have.”
Narcissists always want you to feel like you are worthless without them and that they are the best thing that’s ever happened to you. They want to keep you hooked by making you think that they are the best friend or romantic partner you will ever have and that it would be the biggest mistake of your life to leave them. They make you feel like you’re unworthy of them but they’ve decided to be with you anyway, like they’re doing you a favor. But the truth is, they just don’t want you to find your true worth and realize that you deserve better than them (Arabi, 2014).
10. “I’m only doing this because I love you.”
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, narcissists will always try to justify their mistreatment of you by saying that they’re “only doing it out of love” and that they “only have your best interest at heart.” But don’t fall for it; when a narcissist tells you they love, what they really mean is that they love owning you. They love controlling you and exploiting you for all that you can give them. Don’t ever believe a narcissist when they tell you they love you, because their actions speak far more truth than their words ever will.
Did anyone in particular come to mind as you were reading this list? Do you think you might have a narcissist in your life? If you suspect you might be in an abusive relationship with a narcissist (be it romantic or platonic), don’t hesitate to reach out to someone and open up to them about it. Seek professional help when you start to feel overwhelmed by everything and remember that there are also plenty of foundations, charities, and social services that you can turn to in your time of need.
- American Psychological Association (2013). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition. Washington, DC: APA Publishing.
- Perez, M. (2019). “The Language Narcissists Use to Manipulate and Traumatize Their Victims.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14 (2), 369-389.
- Carlson, E. N., Naumann, L. P., & Vazire, S. (2011). Getting to know a narcissist inside and out. The handbook of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder: Theoretical approaches, empirical findings, and treatments, 285-299.
- Holtzman, N. S., Vazire, S., & Mehl, M. R. (2010). Sounds like a narcissist: Behavioral manifestations of narcissism in everyday life. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(4), 478-484.
- Edwards, J. R. (2010). “Sneaky Tools of Narcissistic Manipulation and How to Recognize Them.” Psychology Today, 29 (4); 311-320.
- Aslinger, E. N., Manuck, S. B., Pilkonis, P. A., Simms, L. J., & Wright, A. G. (2018). Narcissist or narcissistic? Evaluation of the latent structure of narcissistic personality disorder. Journal of abnormal psychology, 127(5), 496.
- Arabi, S. (2014). “Common Diversion Tactics of Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Psychopaths.” The British Journal of Psychiatry, 180 (4), 363-368.