The 3-step guide to distinguish real-deal narcissists from mere narcissistic moods


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You know how every once in a while, you put on an outfit that requires approximately 14,000 selfies? That’s because sometimes, we all need that full Kris Jenner youredoingamazingsweetie.gif treatment. While I call this situation “feeling myself,” others may call it “being a narcissist.” And, you know what? Fair. But since for many of us, instances like this represent the exception not the rule, is it really fair to color these narcissistic tendencies as full-blown cases of pathological narcissism?

Turns out, no—it’s not fair. In fact, there are three key differences between narcissistic tendencies and the real deal. As a reminder, a textbook narcissist throws a fit when the attention isn’t on them. Highly dramatic and self-absorbed, they tend to not respond well to criticism. In fact, they often won’t even hear any criticism. Overall, they believe and often express how they’re the best person and always right, and won’t accept anything to the contrary.

But that’s different than believing you look awesome in an outfit and wanting to share that stance with your followers and the rest of the world, right? Right. That’s because the general key difference between narcissistic behavior and classic narcissism is whether those “me, me, me” traits make up your entire personality or simply spike up here and there. But below, you can find a breakdown of all three key points—frequency, intensity, and duration, per a recent Psychology Today piece—that explain the how narcissistic tendencies and being a pathological narcissist are the same at all.

1. Frequency

How often do these traits pop up, and when they do, are they emblematic of the person’s personality, or more so an isolated mood?

For example: Let’s say your usually very shy sister is getting married, and she’s really feeling the spotlight for her bridal shower. And her bachelorette party. And every single dress fitting. Sure, this may be frustrating for you endure, but in this situation, the narcissism is explained by the occasion at hand: Your sister is getting married, so let her live it up.

However, let’s say your sister got married five years ago and she still relentlessly posts wedding photos on social media every chance she gets…and still compares every social gathering (including weddings she attends) to her own event. In this case, a bigger problem may be at play because the narcissistic tendencies are ongoing.

2. Intensity

On a scale of 1 to Kanye, how would you rate the intensity of these traits? One way to measure this is to consider how much someone seems to speak about themselves compared to others in conversation. For instance, does the person in question seem to value the power of listening or prefer to redirect the conversation to themselves? Consider whether someone’s empathetic stab of “I know how you feel” comes from a well-intentioned place or is more likely a thinly veiled segue to shift attention back onto themselves.

3. Duration

If you’re a genuine narcissist, you likely won’t listen if someone kindly asks you to dial it back a bit. On the flip side, if you’re merely a confident person who’s comfortable speaking their mind, a comment from a peer may well register and lead you to change your behavior.

Plainly put, there’s usually a timeline—with an end point—for instances of a narcissistic mood. And when it seems the limit does not exist? You might have a real-deal narcissist on your hands.

Still confused about narcissism? Take the quiz that psychologists use to identify a narcissist. Also, here’s how to stop a narcissist mid-sentence.

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