How To Spot Early Signs Of Narcissism In Really, Really Nice People

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They’re the tricky ones, you know. The super-nice narcissists. They are subtle. All the narcissists in my acquaintance are super-nice. I mean nicey, nice, NICE! That’s what makes narcissism so hard to detect, so hard to identify when you meet someone new who may become a friend, partner, or spouse.

But what if we could detect narcissism despite the cloak of niceness? Do even nice, nice, nice narcissists slip up early in your acquaintance with them? What if there was an Early Detection System so we don’t waste months and years cultivating friendships, and relationships and even saying “I do” to those super-nice narcissists, only to be dashed years later?

In retrospect, here are some signs of narcissism in nice people that could’ve and should’ve tipped me off to be more careful about who I befriended. Of course, normal people do all of these things too, so it’s not foolproof. But you know what they say: Forewarned is forearmed.

Here is how to spot early signs of narcissism in really, really nice people:

1. They give too much, too fast, and unsolicited.

It’s like they’re trying to get you in their debt, fast. They are so generous and you barely know them yet. Too generous. Giving you stuff. Helping you with things. Oh, they’re so nice! Too nice. It’s just a little weird.

In fact, you offer to pay for everything they give you or reimburse them for their time, but they won’t take your money. They do it out of friendship, they say. Well, that’s nice. A little too nice, perhaps, but still nice.

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2. They quickly spill their guts to you.

They’re an open book. Have no secrets. Spill their guts. You know all about their family, finances, and sex life. It becomes easy to share about yours too. There’s too much intimacy, way too fast. No normal boundaries. And believe me, it’ll come back to bite you in the butt when time passes and “familiarity breeds contempt.”

3. They gossip a lot.

Really, it’s just about the only conversation they have. Talking about other people. Warning you who to fraternize with and who to avoid. Waxing eloquently about other people’s mistakes, other people’s stupidity.

Not that it isn’t interesting. With their flair as a raconteur, it actually makes for fascinating conversation. But scratch away the eloquence and it’s still gossip, plain and simple. That’s when it occurs to you: When I’m not around, who do they talk about? ME!?

4. Their family is screwed up.

But they love them very much. Their family is their world. But the stories they tell? Abuse. It’s as plain as the nose on their face. They come from a very messed-up family and don’t know it.

Then you meet The Family. Nice folks! Very nice folks. They start giving you stuff too. Oh, dear. Here we go again.

But the father? A very angry, depressed man who puts on his nicey-nicey act just when you’re around. And the mother? The mother can’t stop criticizing her adult kids. Not only that, she’s jealous of her own kids. When they acquire some new thing, the mother can’t bear it. Her jealousy is seeping out of every pore in her body. She does her best to ruin their joy, criticizing their new possession.

And when the kids are not around, she gossips about her own children to you. And when the mother’s not around, her kids gossip about her to you. Yeah, something is really wrong here.

5. They're very competitive.

But sometimes, your friends’ nicely-niceness slips. Usually in the midst of competition. The game they didn’t win. The buck they didn’t shoot. The fish they didn’t catch. Their upset goes beyond normal angst. They don’t take losing gracefully. There is some serious bitterness when they don’t win.

But it’s just a character flaw, right? Or is it part of the whole picture and one of the giveaway signs of narcissism in nice people?

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6. They can't handle criticism.

Oh, they can give it. Dish it out with a shovel. The teasing is non-stop. Mostly at your expense, but what the heck? It’s FUNNY! But turn the tables, tease them, even just a little bit, and yeah. They don’t like it.

They may pretend to be okay. “Haha,” along with everybody else. But you can see it. A look in the eye that says, “No jokes at my expense — ever. NOT funny!”

7. They complain about their other friends to you.

Oh, they complain. Complain, complain, complain. Complain about their other friends. Ripping ’em off. Manipulating them. Using them. But they never say “no.” Perhaps they can’t say “no.” Can’t set a boundary.

So they complain to you instead about people you know. B*tch. Complain. Gossip. Backbite. And you can’t help wondering, what do they say about me?

8. They insult people just like you.

Oh, not at first! But as “familiarity breeds contempt,” they start talking degradingly about other people — people just like you. Oh, they don’t mean you. They may even say, “I don’t mean you.” But why ever not? If you resemble those .remarks, why are you the exception?

I have a friend who loves to talk disparagingly about fat people, disabled people, and white-collar people. She may be many things, but she’s naturally thin, healthy, and can’t run a computer to save her life. Uh, my husband and I are both pudgy, white collar and he’s disabled. So, I tried to stand up for us, set a boundary, point out that a lot of factors besides gluttony result in weight gain, and let her know she was insulting us.

I was met with stony silence. No apology. And her conversation hasn’t changed. She still rails against fat, lazy people, disabled people, and white-collar people who spend all their time on the computer. Oh, but she doesn’t mean us. Uh-huh. Whatever.

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9. They get upset at the slightest boundary.

Say “no” just once and you can hear their voice dripping with disappointment. You set a boundary. You have a life of your own and they don’t like it. They want you to always be there, at their beck and call.

Suddenly, you’re not. And that mask of niceness slips. They punish you with that disappointed tone. With that deep sigh. With the drawn-out “Well, thanks anyway,” before they hang up the phone. And you feel like sh*t just as they wanted you to.

10. They are/were members of a cult.

Cults are run by narcissists and cults turn nice normal folk into narcissists. Scratch a cult member and I bet you’ll find a narcissist.

Here’s how it works:

  • A nice, normal person joins a cult. (Or maybe they joined because they were not mentally healthy and were looking for something to “complete” them.)
  • Cult love bombs on the new member.
  • The cult teaches new members that in order to be more righteous than the wretched “normal” world they must dress oddly, possibly believe far-out things, live strangely, behave weirdly, and otherwise stick out in society like a sore thumb.
  • Cult member resists this weirdness.
  • Cult removes the love bombing.
  • Cult member embraces all the weirdness, so they can be loved again.
  • Cult member pumps themselves up to feel “better than” everybody else.
  • Cult member reconnoiters life trying to feel good about themselves even though they are really weird now.
  • RESULT: Narcissism

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Cult members go out into the world with a holier-than-thou chip on their shoulder disguising just how hard it is to feel okay when you’re really weird. Narcissist much?

The only problem with this Early Detection System is those truly nice people who are not narcissists do all of these things. So, as I said, it’s not a foolproof system. Just keep it in mind as you meet new people and hopefully we can live a narcissist-free life.

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Lenora Thompson is an internationally syndicated freelance writer who left her career in IT in 2012 and reinvented herself as a freelance writer for the Huffington Post and PsychCentral as well as MAGAMedia, Mother Earth News, New Right Network, NOQ, and more.

This article was originally published at Psych Central. Reprinted with permission from the author.