Mind & Body

5 Ways to Spot Psychopaths and Narcissists

At some point, you've probably had to cut someone toxic out of your life. Whether it's a distant friend or a close family member, sometimes you realize that a person just isn't good for you. If that toxicity stems from diagnosable personality disorders like psychopathy or narcissism, there are certain behaviors you can watch for. Knowing common red flags can help you avoid the wrong people.

Fake It Til You Break It

There are many differences between psychopaths and narcissists. Narcissists tend to overvalue themselves at the expense of others. Psychopaths habitually take advantage of others physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, or financially — without remorse. In this article, we're going to pair these two disorders because their hallmark behaviors frequently overlap.

One of those overlaps? People with psychopathic or narcissistic traits often adopt false personas and mannerisms while interacting with others, whether in casual conversation or during outrageous monologues. This showmanship gives them the chance to test, manipulate, or even vilify others. Fortunately, these become dead giveaways once you understand the method to their madness.

1. Zero to TMI in 10 Seconds

Would you discuss your smartest financial investments, strangest family drama, and most unlikely medical triumphs within a few minutes of meeting someone? A psychopath or narcissist might. Stories that make a person seem vulnerable or powerful give off a "movie star" vibe of mystery and intimacy. Intimacy can encourage bonding, and the faster you bond, the sooner manipulation can begin.

2. All or Nothing at All

Getting too personal too quickly can be a two-way street. It won't hurt you to learn way too much about a person within minutes of meeting, but you're treading on thin ice when that person starts to learn too much about you. If you get a bunch of rapid-fire personal questions, then the goal is to get you to over-share back. This is a ploy to get you to reveal your biggest problems in life, and once those are out in the open, the person will conveniently offer to help. What better way to gain your trust?

Conversely, you may not be asked any questions at all, despite learning a ton of details about this person's life. When you feel like you know everything about a person but the person knows absolutely nothing about you, the whole point of the conversation was for you to hear those wild and crazy stories and get you hooked.

3. Repetition Is Effective. Repetition Is Effective. Repetition Is Effective.

Remember that extremely personal story you just heard an hour ago? You don't have déjà vu: You're actually hearing this person retell the exact same self-serving or boastful story, maybe even word-for-word. If it sounds like they're reading a script, it's because they are, essentially. A psychopath might just go on auto-pilot and stick to one story — which may be a total lie.

4. "Special" Favors

Pay attention to this one, because the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" lists it as a criterion for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists and psychopaths are most likely to ask you for a "special" favor, not because of need, but because they feel entitled to your time and effort. You might even literally hear the word "special" in the request as if you're the lucky recipient of a unique privilege. This might seem harmless at first, but once you've shown that you can be controlled or manipulated, you can expect more requests with greater demands. It's a slippery slope.

5. Say What?!

Let's say you've just told this person about your family and they say, "It must've been hard always being the smartest person in the room." Wait, what? You were just called smart, which should be a compliment, but they also implied an insult to your family. How would you respond? If you aren't quite sure, then that's okay — in fact, that's kind of the point. Statements like this might be an attempt to throw you off-balance and test whether you'll stand up for yourself or try to get back in the psychopath's favor.

Remember: The things psychopaths and narcissists say at first aren't necessarily "mean" in the traditional sense. More often, the statements are calculated to make them appear unpredictable. Internally, a psychopath doesn't actually like you. Once they make their disdain known, they'll let you know about it increasingly often and with statements that cut increasingly deep. Get away before you get pulled in.

The Power Is Yours

Don't worry about memorizing this list; you can also trust your instincts. The defining trait of a psychopath or narcissist is a lack of emotional empathy. People with these disorders can't completely fake empathy, and your subconscious will pick up on that. If you feel uncomfortable around someone, then trust your instincts and move on.

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You can find a full checklist of the traits of narcissists and social predators in "Dangerous Personalities: An FBI Profiler Shows You How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Cody Gough February 5, 2018

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