Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms: The red flags

Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms

Trigger warning: This article deals with narcissistic personality disorder symptoms. Please ensure you are in a safe place to read this content and can access support if needed.

Wondering how you landed here again? The same thing in a different package? You’ve managed to escape one narcissist only to find your next relationship has ended up being the same… despite a seeming different start. reports that around 1% of adults in the general community experience Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), with some studies estimating up to 6%, and whilst it is a diagnosable mental illness, that doesn’t lessen its impact on victims, especially second or third time around.

Surviving one relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is hard enough especially when you have to navigate co-parenting and recovery post that relationship ending.

Part of your recovery has no doubt been to vow to never again fall for someone with NPD…. and yet, here you are. Confused and in a relationship with another narcissist.

If only there was a road map of signs that could be easily spotted.

Here are the most common narcissistic personality disorder symptoms.

Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms: The red flags

Learning the warning signs and growing muscle in practicing active observation provides you with the training to spot narcissists while they are still at arm’s length.

If they happen to get through your first layer of defences, how they  behave in the next phase of your relationship will give the game away in quick time, and you can rip the Band-Aid off less painfully …. IF you’ve honed the skills in being able to identify the classic narcissist behaviours below.

There are key behaviours and phrases that they all have in common, we call this their “toolbox”, and it’s pretty limited.  Each of these behaviours emerge at different stages of the relationship.

It is important then to recognise the 4 stages and their related red ‘flags’.

  • Stage 1: Acquaintance: Friend zone
  • Stage 2: Charm on steroids
  • Stage 3: Not so charming; The wheels are falling off.
  • Stage 4: Survival mode: trying to regain supply and control.

Stage 1 – Acquaintance stage:  Spot the Elephant in the room.

There are some early clues like the overuse of “I” language, and the seldom of use “we”. They use “you” or “they” predominantly solely for laying blame and scorn.

You can practice spotting these traits ahead of an emotional connection by observing those around you in everyday life. Red Flags will then jump out like flashing beacons when you’ve tuned into noticing them..

When we learn to watch and listen, there are clues to personalities in all language and behaviours. The below behaviours are common in Stage 1 with narcissistic personality disorder symptoms:

  • When relaying a story/event, it will usually revolve around them only as ‘hero’ or ‘victim.’ (i.e. no responsibility is taken for their part in anything)
  • In terms of occupation: Either king of the jungle (boss, president, CEO etc.) or ‘cannot keep a job’(blames everything/everybody else for their lack of success)
  • In their mind, everyone is against them, plotting against them … strangely even people in other cars in the traffic (this is where the victim mentality is most present).
  • They believe people allegedly deliberately target them to annoy them.
  • They lay on the charm socially, but behind closed doors, watch out for their venom to emerge. Even in the workforce they will pick their targets.

Stage 2:  Prince Charming

In the start of the relationship, they are doing their groundwork and getting you hooked into a false sense of “this is the one”.  You will love them, your friends will think you’ve hit the jackpot … even your pets will swoon – this is the power of their full charm offensive.

We can narrow it down to be alert for these ‘tools’ during the early days. They will usually:

  • Engage in love bombing – showering you with compliments, attention and romance.
  • Be interested in you and everything about you.
  • Fall “In love” in quick time. Want to “lock it in” … suggest buying a dog/sharing a house or purchase/engaged/pregnant.
  • Declare that you are the most amazing person they have met.
  • Complain that the former partners were all … evil, unfaithful, controlling, paranoid blah blah.
  • Send too many texts and want to spend a huge amount of time together like they cannot get enough of you.
  • Want to know about your past hurts (they file these as weak points to use against you later)
  • Want to meet the family and friends (charm offensive part 2, only to put them down and criticise them later)
  • Are often alone and it seems they have no close friend group – lots of acquaintances they call friends but don’t really spend any time with them
  • Have some sad family story/childhood story – used to illicit empathy in you
  • Set up the “debt bank” where they do or buy amazing things for you (to set up a perceived debt later)
  • Make wonderful promises (they have no intention of keeping)

As you look over the above list, if your latest love interest has ticked 50% of what’s here, it may be  time to exit stage left, and save  yourself more pain.

Stage 3:  Not so charming, the wheels are starting to fall off

Once the narcissist feels they have you, their behaviour usually starts to change. This change in behaviour may see you  start to question what you are doing wrong and find yourself asking yourself “is this the same person you started with?”

Once you enter this doubting phase – even if only in your own mind and you never voice this to your friends – you may also start to withdraw somewhat, and no longer pander to their ego and what they want, or constantly tell them what they want to hear.  This will cause the classic narcissist to want to take you down a peg or two … or ten!

It’s important to be aware of what tools are coming into play for the narcissist now. What you will start to notice:

  • If it’s not about them, they will make it about them
  • A huge lack in normal ethics and morals and self … these qualities are beyond them
  • They will lie without a need or a reaction/sign they are lying – they are masters at lying
  • They will want you to pursue them and validate them … they may also deliberately withhold affection and/or contact to test if you initiate (to their level of satisfaction which of course cannot be achieved)
  • They will use sex/lack of sex as a control tool … “they” decide when you have it even if you try to initiate it – it’s the ultimate control tool
  • They accuse you of upsetting them, and you will be confused about why
  • You will be always second guessing yourself and this is a downward spiral
  • They will have ailments, real and imagined … always worse than others’.
  • They will use phrases like “You made them do it”, “I’m sorry you see it that way” As a way of invalidating you and your view
  • They will make targeted, hurtful remarks in public that fly under the radar of others
  • Will start isolating family and friends through words, criticisms and behaviours and if possible, geographically. You will feel, and sometimes actually be, very alone
  • Words and actions don’t match and promises are not kept
  • Their interpretation of events does not make sense

Stage 4: Survival mode: Trying to regain supply and control

By this stage you have probably worked out that what you are experiencing is not normal, and they sort of know that you know. In other words, the gig is up! This is the time to tell a safe group of family and friends what is going on and start making plans to safely exit.

Once you recognise the signs below, you know it’s time to go. Be sure to go when its safe. Look out for:

  • Coercive control and/or financial control
  • Gaslighting
  • Tracking via phone and friends
  • Seemingly innocent remarks and questions either to you or family and friends to garnish what stage you are at and your whereabouts at any time

It’s important to know and remember, they won’t ever:

  • change,
  • validate your hurt or
  • be accountable!

Please stop, breathe and trust your instincts. You may have been able to quash that little voice of concern inside you during  the first part of the relationship but the signs can no longer be ignored.

It’s time to  leave and live your best life… leaving them to a life that’s full of same, same.

Remember …

It’s not your job to fix them, fulfil them or be their whipping post!

It’s your life to live with as much joy and love as possible xo

Helpful Resources:


Health Direct (Emotional abuse)

Steps To Family Violence Response Centre 

How to recover from a marriage to a narcissist

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About the author

Using her extensive background in health and emotional healing, Jacinta Callaghan both individually and in workshops creates strategies for women dealing with or overcoming the effects from, emotional or physically abusive partners, parents or relatives.

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