How to Spot a Narcissist in Public

A narcissist is often charming, but he or she can do three things in public that reveal narcissistic tendencies. First, a narcissist is often polite, but only to people he or she believes are “important.” Second, a narcissist often lacks conscientiousness. Third, he or she tends to expect the outside world to revolve around him or her. Although a person will occasionally and inadvertently exhibit one of these tendencies, it can only indicate narcissism if it is routine and pervasive.

Typically, a person with strong narcissistic tendencies will place people in a hierarchy of money, status, or power. Rather than seeing others as equals, the narcissist subconsciously classifies people based on wealth, influence, or popularity. Because of this perspective, the narcissist may be less polite to people they perceive as “less important.”

For example, the narcissist gives the owner of a restaurant a heartfelt “thank you” when leading the narcissist to a table, but ignores the waiter clearing a plate or filling a water glass. Also, he or she holds the door open for a wealthy person but allows it for a “normal” person. These behaviors may seem random, but when a routine discrepancy persists, it may indicate superficial tendencies.

A lack of awareness of others can also indicate egocentrism. In this case, however, the selfishness is not caused by a stressful moment or a need to “master” it out of self-preservation, but rather by a blanket lack of conscientiousness. For example, a young woman finds a seat on a crowded train. She spreads out, shoves her bags next to her, and indirectly nudges a fellow passenger. Her phone slips from her hand and lands on a pregnant woman’s foot. Instead of apologizing and offering the woman-to-be her chair, she carefully inspects her phone, unaware of the inconvenience she is causing others.

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An underlying sense of entitlement also exists in a narcissist. This is shown in public when he or she demands perfection and constantly complains that things are sub par. The satisfaction he or she gets from blaming others is palpable, even though everyone else is uncomfortable with it. Often he or she believes that special attention should be given.

For example, Rick and his son buy running shoes. Rick grabs the sole seller by the arm and tells him to get the shoe that’s his son’s size. The clerk disappears and immediately returns with three boxes of shoes. After handing Rick the shoes, he rushes off to help other customers again. Rick interrupts again and asks the shoe salesman to measure his son’s foot and look at the fit of each pair. Rick asks several more questions and monopolizes the seller.

A crowd waits patiently as Rick tells the clerk a long story about wearing the wrong shoes as a kid. The saleswoman laughs and agrees that shoes are important. Rick asks the seller to also check the fit of the other two pairs of shoes.

During a lull in the conversation, a customer politely asks the clerk to get their daughter a pair of sneakers when they get a chance, but before the clerk can agree, Rick steps in and says firmly, “He’s helping us right now. You’ll have to wait.” He turns back to the shoe seller and says loudly, “How rude.”

It seems that Rick gets satisfaction from dominating the only clerk in the store. Although aware that others are waiting, he feels empowered to control the situation and put his needs and demands ahead of others. Rick’s core belief is that he comes first and that the world should take care of him.

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He also has different standards for himself than others. For example, Rick interrupts the clerk when he’s helping another customer, but publicly reprimands someone else when she tries to ask the clerk a quick question. The belief that he is morally superior to others and therefore entitled to “put others right” may indicate a serious trace of narcissism.

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Most people may occasionally lack consideration or inadvertently fail to maintain an awareness of others in public. However, if these are noticeable tendencies most of the time, a person may be primarily self-centered. An underlying sense of entitlement in the midst of others can also indicate that a person has an overarching egocentricity. Although this type of person can be irritating, confronting him or her may not be productive. A lack of insight is typically associated with strong narcissism, so the person may not be able to see things from a different angle. The argument can escalate, allowing the narcissist to keep hitting it. A person may be better off ignoring and avoiding this type of confrontation and moving on with the day.

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