How to Spot a Narcissistic Friend

When I made friends in college, she wasn’t part of the plan. She just came with the rest of the package, like an unwanted soft drink in a fast food combo. Sure, she sang a little too loudly and corrected people gratuitously. But she couldn’t be that bad, right?

That’s what I used to think. And so did everyone around me.

Narcissism is a buzzword these days, but most people don’t know what it really means. Media outlets point fingers at us, a “selfish” and “entitled” generation,  partially because they don’t realize how much our livelihoods depend on self-confidence. I’m a woman, and not a particularly self-effacing one; in today’s world that makes me a walking revolution, and I’m proud of that. But there’s a difference between self-esteem and arrogance. There’s a difference between self-love (cue the suggestive eyebrow wiggle) and imposing your will on another person to mess with her sense of self. These people are ruthless, set on getting their way at all costs. Who cares about what’s “good” or “right?” The ego always wins.



Maybe you think I’m being a little melodramatic. If so, you’re lucky because it probably means you’ve never met such a person. But that doesn’t mean you never will. Once you see them, they’re everywhere. Read on for three of the red flags I experienced and save yourself the pain of a toxic friendship.  Note: My ex-friend was female, so that’s how this pronoun party’s gonna go.

1. She checks up on you for no good reason. I’m not talking about the friends who make sure you get home at late hours. This is about people who make subtle attempts to undermine your autonomy. When it was fifteen minutes before my next class, my ex-friend—let’s call her Bob, because I don’t know any women named Bob—would ask me nagging questions like “Shouldn’t you be in class?” For the love of cheese, woman. Shouldn’t you be fretting over your OWN life?

2. She finds out where to hurt you and saves it for later. There are a lot of jerks out there. Some of them are politicians with really bad hair (that narrows it down). You know how they’re really good at twisting words back on their opponents? So was Bob. She had this annoying habit of insisting that everything she said was right, even with the dictionary proving her wrong. In the middle of a phone conversation with my mom, she interrupted to say, “Syllabi, not syllabus.” Then she chastised me for swearing when I whacked my head on a bed frame (which hurts like hell, by the way). With a wobbly voice teetering on tears, I told her not to correct me so much. Nine months later I decided to apply for a new job, and she said, “Are you sure you’d be good at it? Because in September you tried to confront me and almost cried. And you’ll have to confront a lot of people in this job.”



3. She is always wronged and never wrong. Sure, she makes a lot of noise about how hard your life is. But she doesn’t sound like she believes a word of it. In the early stages of friendship, narcissists have a toxic pull. They make you feel special, chosen. If you listen closely, you’ll realize that’s because they say cruel things about other people in their lives. And it’s only a matter of time until you stand up to her and become the target. When I was friends with Bob, she dominated every conversation and never asked how anyone else was doing. When I ended my abusive relationship, it took two weeks before she even realized we’d broken up. And when I told her she was hurting my feelings after she sided with people who bullied me, she said things like “Although I forgive you, I don’t want to trust you again” and “This is all so small in the big picture.”

Bob was right about one thing, but not in the way she imagined: she is small in the big picture. But I can still pull a T-Swift and try to help others going through the same thing. There aren’t a whole lot of shelters or support groups for dealing with abusive friendships, so if you’ve been through it, consider this your first validation: your story is real, and after all the pain you made it here. You have arrived.

Feature photo by Seth Doyle VIA Unsplash