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5 Signs of a Situational Narcissist

When success or fame changes someone you know.

Key points

  • A situational narcissist is someone who at one time behaved reasonably and diplomatically but developed an egocentric complex.
  • Situational narcissism can occur in someone who receives real or perceived elevated status and subsequently believes they are "above others."
  • Situational narcissists may show their “ugly” side to those whom they perceive as lesser but be friendly to those in their exclusive peer group.

“It’s not easy being superior to everyone I know.” ― Anonymous

“Success went to his head.” — Common saying

“The true snob never rests; there is always a higher goal to attain, and there are, by the same token, always more and more people to look down upon.” ― Russell Lynes

Acquired situational narcissism (ASN) can be defined as a person exhibiting narcissistic behavior after becoming successful or popular.

Source: Kues/Shutterstock

Typically, a situational narcissist is someone who at one time behaved reasonably and diplomatically but developed an egocentric complex as the result of gaining a measure of accomplishment, fame, wealth, or other forms of external success.(1)(2)

Situational narcissism can occur in just about any arena in life. It changes a person after the individual receives elevated status (real or perceived), which instills a sense of superiority, entitlement, and privilege. The narcissist believes that he or she is now “above others,” at least within their personal and/or professional circles.

Here are a few examples:

  • A colleague who receives recognition or a promotion becomes more egocentric.
  • An individual who is accepted into an elite school or organization becomes arrogant and entitled.
  • A person who dates or marries a “trophy partner” is prideful of the elevated status, prompting an air of superiority to peers, while basking in the partner’s reflected glory.
  • An athlete who's the “star” on a team is self-aggrandizing and boastful.
  • Someone who becomes independently wealthy shows contempt for those in the lower socioeconomic class and is rude toward “the little people."
  • An attention-seeking public figure who develops megalomania after gaining a degree of popularity and/or notoriety.

Below are five signs of a situational narcissist, with references from my book How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. It’s important to note that many successful people do not exhibit (or show relatively little of) the following characteristics. Situational narcissists, however, are likely to possess at least several of the following traits, while remaining largely oblivious to, or unconcerned with how their behavior affects others.

1. Superiority Complex

One of the most common signs of a situational narcissist is that, after they receive their elevated status, they begin to feel, act, and speak as if they’re superior to others. They are not shy about discussing or flaunting their newfound success and may begin to look or talk down to those whom they view as inferior or less accomplished.

2. Different Faces to Different People

While situational narcissists may show their “ugly” side to those whom they perceive as lesser, they will often be friendly, gracious, and generous with those who are part of their exclusive peer group, and especially turn on the charm toward individuals of even higher status. Instead of treating people as human beings regardless of background, relationships are determined based on status consciousness and social comparison.

3. View Others as Superior or Inferior, but Rarely Equal

For some situational narcissists, professional, social, and even family relationships are determined based on perceived social castes. Factors such as wealth, education, societal status, professional position, exclusive membership, social upbringing/refinement, nationality, and ethnic background determine how someone is to be treated. For some situational narcissists, people are either superior or inferior, but rarely equal. They embody what it means to be “snobbish."

“The true definition of a snob is one who craves for what separates men rather than for what unites them.” ― John Buchan

4. Entitlement

Situational narcissists typically expect “special treatment” due to their elevated status. At work, they may feel like they can avoid some tasks, receive extra perks, and be exempt from certain rules.

At home and in social circles, they may automatically expect others to cater and defer to them. They want you to place them on a pedestal (narcissistic supply), even when such actions are clearly inequitable and undermine and demean your value as an individual.

5. Condescending Verbal and/or Nonverbal Expressions

To put up and maintain a facade of superiority, some of the worst-offending situational narcissists will put others down to boost their own power and prestige. They may target select victims for ridicule, blame, shame, sarcasm, and overall marginalization.

Nonverbally, they reveal their sense of superiority through their lack of eye contact, demeaning glare, eye-rolling, dismissive gestures, groans and sighs, quick inattentiveness, impolite yawns, and overall condescension.

After her promotion, she stopped being her friendly self. She would glare at you before deciding whether she wants to speak with you.” ― Anonymous

“Pride will always be the longest distance between two people.” ― Source unknown

Most situational narcissists are not bad people, with some clear exceptions. They still possess common human frailties such as self-doubt, insecurity, and inadequacy—perhaps even more than most, as they work hard to maintain their false, superficial exterior.

Some situational narcissists, after the initial excitement of their self-absorbing success, will eventually return to their old, more equitable selves.

Unfortunately for others, the intoxicating sense of power, status, recognition, and admiration may begin to define their core identity, as they strive to always maintain the veneer of outward superiority. For these situational narcissists who lose their way—and their real, humanistic selves—short-term glory is often replaced with long-term failure, as eventually, the consequences of their egocentric ways exact a heavy price. Unless they come to their senses and rejoin the human race, their lives may be filled with shallow emptiness—and what H.D. Thoreau calls “quiet desperation."

© 2017 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.


(1) Sherrill, Stephen. Acquired Situational Narcissism. The New York Times, December 9, 2001.

(2) Millman, Robert. National Public Radio interview, August 21, 2002.

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