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How to Spot a Narcissist in Public

3 signs can reveal narcissistic tendencies in a public situation.

Key points

  • A narcissist may be charming and courteous, but only to the "important" people.
  • The lack of conscientiousness for others in close proximity may indicate narcissistic tendencies.
  • A subconscious belief that he or she is entitled to the treatment that he or she demands may point to egocentrism.
  • A narcissist often derives satisfaction from publicly reprimanding others.

A narcissist is often charming, but he or she may do three things in public that reveal narcissistic tendencies. First, a narcissist is often courteous, but only to people whom he or she believes “matter.” Second, a narcissist frequently lacks conscientiousness. Third, he or she tends to expect the outside world to revolve around him or her. Although a person may occasionally and accidentally display one of these tendencies, it only signifies narcissism when it is routine and pervasive.

Typically a person with strong narcissistic tendencies ranks human beings on a hierarchy of money, status, or power. Instead of viewing others as equal human beings, the narcissist subconsciously classifies people according to wealth, influence, or popularity. Due to this viewpoint, the narcissist may be less courteous to people they perceive as “less important.”

For example, the narcissist gives the owner of a restaurant a hearty “thank you” when he shows the narcissist to a table but ignores the bus boy who clears a plate or fills a water glass. In addition, he or she holds the door for a wealthy person but allows it to shut on an “ordinary” person. These behaviors may seem accidental, but if a routine discrepancy persists, it may signify superficial tendencies.

A lack of awareness regarding others may also point to egocentrism. However, in this case, self-absorption is not caused by a stressful moment or a need to “reign it in” out of self-preservation, but rather a blanket deficiency in conscientiousness. For example, a young woman locates a seat on a crowded train. She spreads out, pushing her bags onto the spot next to her, indirectly poking a fellow passenger. Her phone slips out of her hand and lands on a pregnant woman’s foot. Instead of apologizing and offering the expectant woman her chair, she carefully inspects her phone, oblivious to the discomfort she is causing others.

An underlying sense of entitlement also exists within a narcissist. This is revealed in public when he or she demands perfection and constantly complains that things are subpar. The satisfaction he or she derives from reprimanding others is noticeable, although it makes everyone else uncomfortable. Often, he or she believes special attention should be provided.

For example, Rick and his son are shopping for running shoes. Rick grabs the only salesclerk by the arm and instructs him to fetch the shoe in his son’s size. The clerk disappears and immediately returns with three boxes of shoes. After he hands Rick the shoes, he hurries off to resume helping other customers. Rick interrupts him again and requests that the shoe clerk measure his son’s foot and take a look at the fit of each pair. Rick asks several more questions, monopolizing the salesperson.

A crowd of people wait patiently as Rick tells the salesclerk a long story about wearing incorrect shoes as a child. The store assistant laughs and agrees that shoes are important. Rick asks the clerk to inspect the fit of the two other pairs of shoes as well.

During a break in the conversation, a customer politely asks the salesclerk to grab a pair of sneakers for her daughter when he has a chance, but before the clerk can agree, Rick steps in and firmly states, “He is helping us right now. You are going to have to wait.” He turns back to the shoe salesman and loudly says, “How rude.”

It appears Rick derives satisfaction from dominating the only employee in the store. Although he is aware that others are waiting, he feels entitled to control the situation and place his needs and demands above anyone else’s. Rick’s underlying belief is that he comes first and that the world should cater to him.

In addition, he has a different standard for himself than others. For instance, Rick interrupts the store assistant when he is helping another customer, yet publicly reprimands someone else when she attempts to ask the salesman a quick question. The belief that he is morally superior to others, and, thus, allowed to “set others straight,” may indicate a serious vein of narcissism.

Most people may occasionally lack consideration or accidentally fail to maintain an awareness of others in public. However, when these are prominent tendencies the majority of the time, a person may be primarily self-centered. An underlying sense of entitlement existing in the midst of others may also signify a person has over-arching egocentrism. Although this type of person can be irritating, it may not be productive to confront him or her. A lack of insight is typically coupled with a strong streak of narcissism, so the person may not be able to see things from an alternate viewpoint. The altercation may escalate, which allows the narcissist to continue lashing out. A person may be better off ignoring and avoiding this type of confrontation and continuing on with the day.

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