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5 Tests Which Reveal A Narcissist’s True Colors

We could all benefit from learning how to better assess narcissistic traits and toxicity in people. As an author and researcher who has corresponded with thousands of survivors of narcissistic partners, friends, family members, and co-workers, I’ve learned that there are five simple “tests” you can use to assess toxicity in someone new you’re getting to know or even someone you’ve known for quite some time.

While none of these on their own are necessarily indicative of a full-fledged personality disorder,  if these behaviors are frequent, intense and show up in tandem, it is a good sign you need to detach.

Keep in mind that more covertly aggressive, cunning narcissists can hide these behaviors for a while before you’re sufficiently invested in a relationship with them. However, these can still be helpful to weed out potential narcissists in your social circle, relationships, friendships, and business partnerships over time.  Here are five tests you can use to test for narcissistic traits in an individual:

1) See how they react to your success.

According to former FBI agent Joe Navarro, warning signs of narcissism can include a pathological sense of envy and competition. In his book Dangerous Personalities, he lists the following red flags:

—One senses {the narcissist} wants to destroy or spoil the fortunes of those he envies or is in competition with.

—At work, habitually competes with peers for attention or praise and devalues them to garner favor with those in authority.

—Enjoys putting others down so that she feels better about herself. 

—Is disinterested in knowing more about you and lacks normal curiosity in others.

—Has refused to look at or recognize a proud accomplishment of yours or fails to acknowledge pain and suffering of others.

—Rather than feeling happy for others’ success, is jealous or petty and begrudges their success.

Research also indicates an association between malicious envy and the Dark Triad traits – narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (Lange et al., 2017). When meeting someone new, share something you’re proud of and observe how they react. Do they shut you down and turn the attention back to themselves? Do they covertly belittle or minimize your accomplishment, attempting to detract from your sense of achievement? Do they extend congratulations or treat what you share with indifference and a haughty attitude of, “So what?” Is there a mismatch between their nonverbal behavior and their words? For example, do they pretend to be happy for you, even while their eyes are seething with anger – only to later sabotage you? These are tell-tale signs you may be dealing with someone on the spectrum of narcissism. Normal, healthy people do not try to diminish what gives you joy or pride in life. They are able to set any jealousy or envy they have aside and more often than not, feel happy for your success.

2) Observe their reactions to times when you are suffering.

Perhaps one of the most defining traits of narcissism is a core lack of empathy. When you are in need or extreme distress, a narcissist will usually exacerbate your pain or even abandon you. This is very common when in a relationship with a sadistic narcissist. I’ve heard countless stories from survivors who were abandoned by their narcissistic partners during the loss of a loved one, a major surgery, after childbirth, or even during a life-threatening illness.

Ask them for a favor or see how they respond when you are in crisis. How do they react when you most need them to comfort you? Do they condescendingly treat you with indifference? Do they discard you without a word or subject you to the silent treatment? There are some narcissists who will be able to fake empathy for a short period of time, but usually, they revert back to their callous, cold, and abusive ways.

3) Throw out a personal disclosure. Do they use it as ammunition?

Healthy, empathic people will respect when you tell them something in confidence. Malignant narcissists will use anything and everything you tell them against you, including your insecurities and deepest traumas. They will tap into your greatest fears and make a mockery out of them in order to further gaslight you into believing you are the problem (Stern). They have no limits as to what they will use – even if it inflicts enormous pain. As Dr. Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience writes, “The psychopath carries out his evaluation of a situation—what he will get out of it and at what cost—without the usual anxieties, doubts, and concerns about being humiliated, causing pain, sabotaging future plans, in short, the infinite possibilities that people of conscience consider when deliberating possible actions.”

If you want to test potential toxicity in someone, pretend to tell them something that’s important to you. In actuality, this will be a trap which will act as bait. Tell them something false or insignificant and see if they throw it back to you later on as a put-down, as an insult, as a form of gaslighting to discredit you, or as a verbal assault disguised as a “joke.” Some narcissistic individuals will even go out of their way to spread your personal information to others as gossip or slander. This will provide a clue as to how they treat your suffering in the future. If they make fun of, degrade and gaslight you using this disclosure, you know everything you need to know about the character of this person.

4) Set a boundary.

Boundaries are kryptonite to a narcissist, especially one who wants to fast-forward the relationship or disrespect you.  According to manipulation expert Dr. George Simon, “Aggressive personalities don’t like anyone pushing them to do what they don’t want to do or stopping them from doing what they want to do. “No” is never an answer they accept.”

Setting a boundary causes a narcissistic injury in toxic people and might even result in narcissistic rage (Goulston, 2012). Watch what happens when you set a boundary with a narcissist (ex. Please don’t call me after midnight). Do they respect your wishes and back off? Or do they persist even more with an excessive sense of entitlement? Perhaps they pretend to understand your boundary but violate it time and time again anyway. Their reaction to your boundaries can reveal their true manipulative intentions.

5) Express or assert yourself – and see how they respond.

Expressing dissatisfaction (even politely and respectfully) to a narcissist agitates them greatly. They treat every perceived slight or criticism as a life-or-death threat and work to extinguish it with unprecedented vindictiveness. See what happens when you (authentically) disagree with a narcissist’s perspective or even give them warranted feedback in a healthy way (ex. I don’t think the waiter was being mean at all, I feel you may have been a bit aggressive with him).

A true narcissist will see even warranted feedback as a challenge to their perceived sense of superiority and will likely lash out in verbal abuse (ex. You’re an idiot if you think the waiter wasn’t mean!), gaslighting (ex. You have no idea what you’re talking about, you’re insane!), or diversion tactics and accusations (ex. You’re only on his side because you were flirting with him!). More covertly aggressive narcissists may be able to hide their rage but punish you later – for example, bringing up this incident in a future argument and using it to debase you.

The Big Picture

Use these five tests to detect whether or not someone you know may have narcissistic traits and detach accordingly. Remember, even if they do not have a full-fledged disorder, they can still be harmful to your mental health and well-being depending on the intensity of these behaviors and their willingness to change. The higher they are on the narcissistic spectrum, the more likely they will engage in these behaviors with malice, entitlement, and a lack of empathy. It’s important for you to make a safety plan and slow down before you invest in a toxic relationship. Your boundaries and self-care are paramount.


Goulston, M. (2012, February 09). Rage-Coming Soon From a Narcissist Near You. Retrieved August 01, 2019, from

Hare, R. (1999). Without Conscience. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Lange, J., Paulhus, D. L., & Crusius, J. (2017). Elucidating the Dark Side of Envy: Distinctive Links of Benign and Malicious Envy With Dark Personalities. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,44(4), 601-614. doi:10.1177/0146167217746340

Navarro, J., & Poynter, T. S. (2017). Dangerous personalities: An FBI profiler shows how to identify and protect yourself from harmful people. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.

Simon, G. K. (2016). In sheep’s clothing: Understanding and dealing with manipulative people. Marion, MI: Parkhurst Brothers,.

Stern, R., & Wolf, N. (2018). The gaslight effect: How to spot and survive the hidden manipulation others use to control your life. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

5 Tests Which Reveal A Narcissist’s True Colors

Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she researched the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology. She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, Salon, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

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APA Reference
Arabi, S. (2019). 5 Tests Which Reveal A Narcissist’s True Colors. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jul 2019
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