The best way to avoid a narcissist is to be able to recognize the traits inherent in such a personality. Some of these traits will be obvious to you; others, less so.
The most obvious trait of a narcissist is grandiose behavior, as well as an irrational need for continued admiration. These behaviors are exhibited in bragging, which often includes exaggerations of their talents or achievements, holding court at parties or meetings, monopolizing the conversation or meeting, and interrupting or cutting people off. A narcissist’s constant need for admiration leads them to continually seek new sources of admiration, which they do by changing partners, relationships, or employment. They often complain that they are not appreciated and/or that they are smarter, know more, or do more than others.
Another common trait is a lack of empathy. Empathy is the ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. Because they lack empathy, narcissists have no idea of the devastating impact their hurtful words or behaviors have, which allows them to criticize others with impunity. If their intended target (i.e., you) objects to their abusive treatment, they spin the situation to either make it your fault or play the victim.
Which brings me to another trait: Narcissists do not accept blame for their actions. This makes their intimate relationships very shallow and superficial, and almost always self-serving. To a narcissist, a relationship is based on what the other person can do for them — either literally or by proxy. They may like someone because that person makes them feel special, dotes on them, or is comfortable playing the doormat, putting up with the worst of the narcissist’s behaviors. Or the person may have qualities the narcissist hopes to gain by association. This is why many narcissists seek out an attractive romantic partner or a successful business partner, because they perceive the other person has assets that reflect well on them. But narcissists are capricious in their relationships and will drop someone like a hot potato if they feel the other person no longer has value for them.
Less obvious and often surprising to learn is that narcissists are actually very insecure and lack a strong sense of self, making them exquisitely sensitive to their position in relation to another person. Narcissists are constantly monitoring their environment to be sure they are at least equal to others. Whenever they perceive they are “less than” another, they will react by either attacking or devaluing that person, in order to restore their status. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a narcissist’s wrath knows how hurtful and vindictive a narcissist can be.
Lastly, it is important to note that the number of traits and their degree of severity is what determines if someone has a true narcissistic personality disorder, which only a qualified mental health professional can diagnosis. Many people may exhibit one or more of these traits but would not be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder.