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Is Your Friend A Narcissist? An Expert Shares How To Draw Effective Boundaries

Friendship should be simple, but unfortunately, it’s often pretty complicated. From imbalances in your dynamic to miscommunication, no friendship is immune to its ups and downs. The key to any healthy relationship is, of course — wait for it — boundaries! Boundaries can be important in terms of how you spend your time and energy and what you choose to talk about with a friend. 

But if your friend shows narcissistic traits, that can be another issue altogether. What are some signs of a narcissistic friend? And, if you do have a friend like this, how can you draw effective boundaries? I talked to licensed therapist and mental health expert Sophie Cress to learn more about the signs of a narcissistic friend, and how you can navigate boundaries with them.

“Narcissism is a multifaceted characteristic marked by an inflated sense of self-worth, an ongoing craving for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others,” Cress told Her Campus. “While some degree of narcissism is common, especially in competitive settings, pathological narcissism, referred to as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), can greatly hinder social relationships and functioning. Those with NPD may encounter difficulties in close relationships due to their inability to form emotional connections with others beyond superficial interactions.” 

People with narcissistic tendencies often exhibit grandiose behavior, believing they are better than others and worthy of special treatment. They may use and take advantage of others to satisfy their own needs and uphold their exaggerated self-image. Their fragile self-worth is sensitive to criticism, leading to defensive and hostile responses when their belief in superiority is questioned.


When it comes to identifying a narcissist, things got a little more complicated. “Identifying narcissistic traits involves understanding complex behavioral patterns and how people interact,” Cress explained. “One important sign is when someone is excessively focused on fantasies of power, success, or attractiveness, along with a strong sense of entitlement and a constant need for excessive admiration.” 

Cress noted that a lack of empathy is another important sign for a narcissist, along with “an exaggerated sense of self-importance, often overstating their achievements and talents while downplaying or dismissing the accomplishments of others. Their relationships often involve manipulation, exploitation, and using others to achieve their own goals.” 

Finally, Cress noted that narcissists are often sensitive to criticism due to a fragile ego beneath a confident exterior. “However,” Cress noted, “It’s important to approach diagnosis carefully, as narcissism exists on a spectrum, and not all individuals who show narcissistic traits meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A thorough evaluation by a qualified mental health professional is needed for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate intervention.”


Cress explained that creating boundaries with a narcissistic friend can be difficult, but is important to maintaining your own health and that of your relationship. She said, “Boundaries contribute to emotional well-being by creating a sense of safety and security within the friendship. When both parties are comfortable setting and respecting boundaries, it builds trust and strengthens the bond between friends.” 

To set boundaries with narcissistic friends, Cress had a few tips. “Clearly and assertively communicate your boundaries, expressing your needs directly and firmly while remaining respectful,” Cress says. “ Establish which behaviors are unacceptable to you and the repercussions if those boundaries are violated.” 

Additionally, Cress noted that “consistency is crucial in enforcing boundaries, as narcissists may try to test limits to see if they can exploit weaknesses or manipulate their way back into your life.” Whatever consequences you set for violation of your boundaries should be firmly followed through to avoid further exploitation by the narcissistic friend. 

“Be prepared for potential resistance or manipulation from the narcissistic individual, as they may attempt to undermine or dismiss your boundaries in order to maintain control,” Cress said. Setting your boundaries is one of the most important things you can do to help yourself in any relationship, not just one with a narcissist. 

If you are having trouble in any relationship, figuring out how to set boundaries for yourself can be an important first step in reclaiming your hold over your own mental health. Don’t push yourself to keep relationships that are hurtful to you on any level, and conserve your energy for your own sake. As Cress noted, “Boundaries help maintain equilibrium and prevent the development of one-sided or toxic dynamics.” Thus, they’re important to friendships and any other relationship you have.

Katheryn Prather is a Her Campus national writer for the Wellness section, with particular interest in mental health and LGBTQ+ issues. Katheryn is studying Creative Writing and Linguistics at Emory University and trying to get fluent in Spanish. Her obsession with all things language is found from her coursework to her writing, which spans from songs and short stories to full-blown fantasy novels. Beyond writing for herself, class, and Her Campus, Katheryn also serves on the executive board of Emory’s Voices of Inner Strength Gospel Choir, where she sings alto. In her free time, Katheryn can often be found writing and revising, reading, or being disappointed by the Dallas Cowboys.