The essence of a good friendship is reciprocity. It’s all about give and take. One day you may be having a hard time, and she’ll be a shoulder to cry on; the next, you may spend sympathizing with the unfair workload she’s been lumbered with at work.

Do you feel that your friendship has become imbalanced - that the focus is on your friends’ problem, your needs are going unmet, and you can’t get a word in edgeways?

Does your friend belittle you in public, insult you, and make fun out of you to impress others? Do they use you for personal gain, always demand more from you and lash out at you when you confront them?

These are all signs that you have a narcissistic friend.

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is characterized by an excessive grandiosity and a lack of empathy toward other peoples’ needs.  Usually, narcissists are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

By early adulthood, a person must display five or more of the following characteristics to be diagnosed with NPD [1]:

  • Overblown sense of self-importance or grandiosity
  • Obsession with fantasies of power, beauty, success, love
  • Requires constant fawning and admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Uses others for their own benefit
  • Lack of empathy and struggles to relate to others
  • Arrogance
  • Envious of others and a belief that others are envious of them
  • Believes they are special and only wants to be around others they consider ‘special’ [1].

Warnings signs of a narcissistic friend

They have unreasonable expectations

A narcissistic friend will expect you to satisfy their whims and desires without considering how their behavior may impact you. You will be expected to provide sympathy and admiration whenever required.

For example, your narcissistic friend may call you in the middle of the night and expect you to listen to their latest problems. They will not care how this impacts your sleep schedule or what you have the following morning.

They believe they are owed time by friends and may fly into a rage if you cancel plans or make plans with other people.

The more support you provide, the more they will demand of you. People with NPD are unempathetic, use people compulsively, and struggle to respect boundaries [2].

They threaten or lash out

Narcissistic friends require constant admiration or sympathy from their friends to bolster their self-esteem [3]. They can turn aggressive, physically or verbally, when they don’t receive the admiration they crave [3].

They may insult you to your face or to other people, spread malicious lies about you or even physically assault you.

Jealousy

Narcissists believe they ought to be the center of their friend’s universe. Whether it’s your family, friends, colleagues, or even your pet, a narcissistic friend will criticize you for prioritizing anyone or anything above them.

This jealousy may lead to them flying into a rage at you, which they will then attempt to gaslight you into believing was your fault.

Motivated by envy, they also may try and deploy narcissistic triangulation to drive wedges between you and your friends. This can involve pitting you against each other while presenting themselves as the voice of kindness and reason. In this way, they secure your devotion to them and bolster their own feelings of superiority.

Conversation remains superficial

Narcissistic friends will usually keep conversations superficial. This is because they dislike the feeling of vulnerability that accompanies talking about intimate details with others.

They will tend to only share personal information that is self-promotional, such as an achievement, or that gets someone to act in their service [4]. Rarely will a narcissist ever give of themselves if it does not somehow contribute to their own ends.   

Lack of genuine remorse

Narcissists consider themselves to be elevated beings with heightened intelligence, power and importance. Naturally, it follows they struggle to admit to wrongdoing. Genuine remorse comes from self-awareness that a narcissist cannot feel due to their sense of grandiosity.

Generally, for a narcissistic friend to demonstrate remorse, there must be something in it for them. For example, say you are treating your narcissistic friend to dinner, and on the way to the restaurant, they insult your appearance. They may apologize profusely at that point, hoping that you will still foot the bill for the meal.

After they have achieved their desired outcome and ensured you’ve paid for the meal, the narcissistic friend will revert to type. They may gaslight you by claiming you are overstating the severity of the incident or that you are being selfish and unforgiving.

They struggle with forgiveness

Narcissists struggle to forgive friends for perceived transgressions, even minor ones, such as leaving a message unanswered briefly. Instead, they will adopt a cold disposition and may even claim ‘you owe them’ for not meeting their expectations.

This is because your narcissistic friend’s inflated sense of self-importance leads them to believe they are entitled to special treatment from everyone. Any forgiveness provided by the narcissist is contingent on you doing something for them in the future, in keeping with a key sign of NPD – using others for one’s own benefit.

They exhaust you

Finding yourself emotionally drained and sapped of energy is a symptom of having a narcissistic friend. Manging their ego, constantly listen to them, and meet their unreasonable expectations is exhausting. This can cause feelings of distress and antipathy towards your narcissistic friend and make you question the friendship.

How to deal with narcissistic fiends

Setting boundaries

Handling a narcissistic friend can be demanding. Narcissists lack empathy, remorse, and a sense of guilt [4]. They will not alter their behavior just because they recognize it is hurting you.

Setting clear and concise boundaries is an option for you. Let your narcissistic friend know exactly what you will and will not tolerate. For example, demanding they do not use hurtful language towards you or insist they respect you when you say ‘no’.

If they disregard any of your specified needs, you can inform them they must stop. If they don’t, then be prepared to walk away from them.

Setting boundaries with a narcissistic friend may be an uncomfortable experience and lead to them confronting you. They may argue with you, diminish your feelings, fly into a rage, or accuse you of being over-sensitive.

But setting boundaries is vital for your self-respect and is a positive step towards improving your relationship with your narcissistic friend. Be firm and clear about what you require from them, and make sure you follow through with consequences whenever they ignore one of your boundaries. That way, they will take you seriously.

Practice self-care

Self-care exercises such as yoga or meditation can enable you to keep your cool when interacting with your narcissistic friend. Additionally, meditation can aid with anxiety and stress [5] caused by your narcissistic friend.

Make time for the great outdoors; getting into nature can be relaxing. Whether walking or something more strenuous, exercise can help alleviate stress caused by your narcissistic friend. If you lack mobility, caring for plants can be both soothing and rewarding.

Find support systems

Invest time in relationships with friends, family members, colleagues, or new people. Spending time with a narcissistic friend can be exhausting, but having a network of other friends who can support and rejuvenate you can feel rewarding.

You can also join a support group with others who’ve struggled with narcissistic friendships. Discussing experiences with people who have faced similar situations can be helpful.

Seek professional help

You may benefit from working with a therapist on your issues with your narcissistic friend. They can help you set boundaries, listen to how your narcissistic friend is affecting you and provide professional advice.

If you are feeling depressive symptoms, anxiety, or experiencing any panic attacks because of your friendship with a narcissist, seek help from a mental health professional urgently. They can assess you and prescribe a course of treatment, whether that be behavioral therapy or a course of medication, and aid in your recovery.

Move on

Friendships with narcissists can be challenging and feel very draining. If they refuse to respect your boundaries and continue to cause you stress and distress, then perhaps it is time to consider bringing an end to the friendship.

This can seem difficult, not only for fear of how they may react to such a measure but because you have shared so many experiences and time together. But, if your mental or physical health is suffering because of this person’s actions, it could be time to step away from this relationship.

Resources:

  1. Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. [Updated 2022 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/
  2. Zimmerman, M. (2021). Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). MSD Manuals. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/personality-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder-npd
  3. Maples, J. L., Miller, J. D., Wilson, L. F., Seibert, L. A., Few, L. R., & Zeichner, A. (2010). Narcissistic personality disorder and self-esteem: An examination of differential relations with self-report and laboratory-based aggression. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(4), 559–563. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2010.05.012
  4. Diggins, M. (2021). Narcissistic Friend How to Identify, Subdue, and Safeguard Yourself from Narcissistic Friends. Observe for Behavior Signs, Sociopath tendencies, and . . . the Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Bco Publishing.
  5. Krishnakumar, D., Hamblin, M. R., & Lakshmanan, S. (2015). Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety- A Modern Scientific Perspective. Ancient Science, 2(1), 13. https://doi.org/10.14259/as.v2i1.171