You are currently viewing The Narcissist Smile Test:  Works Every Time…Almost!

The Narcissist Smile Test: Works Every Time…Almost!

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC,   November 22, 2023

I spent over 35 years with a narcissist in my home, although I had no idea until the last few years.  I knew something was wrong.  But I had no idea what it was.  I thought if I tried hard and was a better wife, he would eventually notice and return the love.  But all I did was make it easier for him to abuse me.  When I finally figured out with the help of my therapist that my then husband was a narcissist, everything suddenly made sense.  But what if you aren’t quite sure whether or not the person you are having difficulty with is a narcissist?

There is a quick and easy way that in most cases can tell you if you are dealing with a narcissist.  It’s called the narcissist smile test.  All you do is calmly look at them, smile kindly, and say no to whatever they have asked you.  If s/he reacts in anger, then you’re on to something. 

If you continue to remain calm and they continue to escalate, you have your answer.

Let’s take a look at the whole picture, some examples from my own life, and what you can do about it all.

What Exactly is the Narcissist Smile Test?

The narcissist smile test is definitely not a test that will be given by a psychologist or other professional.  The results are not scientific, per se.  But they are telling, to say the least.

I tried to research who coined the term “narcissist smile test” as well as the test itself.  There doesn’t seem to be any credit given to the originator, but several articles on the subject credit it to Richard Grannon, who was married to a narcissist for several years and is now a YouTuber, life coach, self defense trainer, and author.  He runs Spartan Life Coach, a website that deals with self defense techniques and personal development.

He is also quite controversial because he is extremely overt about narcissism and can be triggering.  There is a huge conflict between people who think he is amazing and people who think he is a narcissist himself.  I found some of his videos incredibly helpful when I was first learning about narcissism.  He introduced me to terms like word salad, which I had never heard before.

Well, now that I have gone down that rabbit trail, let’s get back to exactly what the narcissist smile test is.  As I described above, when you find a potential narcissist provoking you in some way, you simply look back at them calmly, making sure you are not being stirred up by their words, smile in genuine kindness, and respond to their request with a simple, “no.”  Then watch their eyes and their overall physical reaction before they begin to speak.

If they are a narcissist, then likely they will respond with their body before they speak.  Their eyes may instantly go black and look as though they are going to shoot arrows of fire straight at you.  Their body may stiffen as they prepare how they are going to handle this rebellion against their desire.  And then the words will come.  They may wonder aloud why you would say no.  Or they may chide you for being so reckless as to not meet their needs in that very moment.  It can escalate from there, depending on the level of their narcissism and how much they thought they needed you to say yes at that very moment.

I remember one time when we were driving home and he told me that when he retires from the military, he wanted to open a car repair shop.  He has never been able to do business rationally.  He gives away too much and is not savvy about business practices in general.  Mostly because he acts based on how people perceive him rather than how business should be handled.

I gently tried to sway him to another possibility that may be a better fit for him.  And he went ballistic.  He said the only appropriate answer would have been for me to tell him that it was an excellent idea and he would be amazing.  I kid you not.  It didn’t matter to him how untrue it was or how devastating it would be to our future.  It was what he wanted to do.

Interestingly, he is still telling his current wife that he wants to do that.  And she said that he was just dreaming and wouldn’t really do it.  I’m going to just leave that right there because I am not psychic and can’t tell you what will happen in the end.  But I guarantee he is still wanting to do that much more than the work he is currently doing.

Click here for more examples of narcissistic behavior.

When the Narcissist Smile Test Doesn’t Work

As much as this test works really well when the narcissist is in his (or her–adjust the pronouns to fit according to your own situation) element, there are times that this test won’t work even on the most narcissistic narcissist.  Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why.

The Narcissist Smile Test Won’t Work When the Narcissist is Around Those He’s Trying to Impress

If a narcissist knows someone is watching them that they have to hide the narcissism from, they will be the most agreeable, kind, generous, giving, loving person.  It doesn’t even seem to matter if they are a covert or overt narcissist.  If they are working on obtaining supply from someone in addition to you (this is ALWAYS the case), then it is imperative that they make a wonderful impression.

At the end of the day, a narcissist doesn’t really see people as people.  He knows that you are a person, but your value as a person is way lower on the scale than his personhood is.  He has to do whatever he can to win, look better, perform better, be better.  And often, he cannot do that based on his own merits alone.  So, then, how does he make himself look better if he can’t do it by himself?  He brings those around him down in order to elevate himself.

For most narcissist who have at least an ounce of self-awareness (or should I call it self-consciousness), they realize they can’t just outright destroy the person they are interacting with.  So they must do it in a roundabout way.  If they are aware of people watching the interaction with you that you have just upended with a friendly smile and a “no,” they can’t just explode at you.  They have to look like they are reasonable, kind, loving, and all those things I just said above.  And with that, they will respond to you with kindness and “understanding.”

And with the word understanding, a whole new issue comes up.  If a narcissist can show kindness and understanding when they need to, then they can also show it when they don’t want to.  But they don’t because they don’t want to.  The narcissist is not as unaware as they want you to believe.  But as long as they can make you think they don’t know they are being narcissistic, they can keep on behaving that way while you keep on trying to show them what they are doing wrong.

Check out my article on what is behind narcissist eyes, or can you really tell a narcissist by their eyebrows?

The Narcissist Smile Test Won’t Always Work with a Covert Narcissist

I addressed a little bit about the covert narcissist not always being able to exhibit his rage when he knows there are people watching that he needs to impress.  The truth is, a covert narcissist is always thinking 3 or more steps ahead to make sure he is covering his narcissistic tracks.  And this means that even if there isn’t someone nearby that he has to perform well around, he may be hedging his reactions in order to position himself better in the future.

For instance, one time your narcissist may ask you if you can do something that you’ve said no to many times already.  (My ex used to brag that if he asked often about something he knew I would eventually give in.  So he would then intentionally beg daily until I finally said yes.)  But, on this particular occasion, there is somebody in the room that if he asks you that same thing one more time, you will feel pressured to finally say yes.  So he does it.  But this time, you very strongly and bravely maintain that boundary and say no yet again.

Now what?  He can’t explode all over you for holding out when he wants you to just give in.  And he is absolutely seething.  But he can’t show this other person that he needs to gain more narcissistic supply from.  So, in this case, he realizes that if he reacts to your refusal with kindness and understanding, the spectator will now see him as a stand-up guy.  And that, three steps down the road, will prove that you are complaining about nothing when conflict comes up later and he has now convinced the other person of what a nice guy he is and you just aren’t giving him what he needs.

He just turned his lemons into lemonade.  At your expense.

The Narcissist Smile Test Won’t Work When They Know You’re on to Them

When the narcissist thinks you may be on to his narcissistic behavior, he will quickly change gears back into the hoovering, love-bombing stage.  He will say what you want to hear, do what you want him to, and move mountains to pledge his love, devotion, and loyalty to you.  Because once you fall for it, he will have you back under his control.

But this isn’t just when he thinks you are on to him.  He will also do this if he feels that other sources (or potential sources) of narcissism are starting to see through the mask he wears.  So, he will not take the bait in the narcissist smile test.  Instead, he will be the picture of perfect understanding and fellowship.  Until you get home and behind closed doors.

When Narcissistic Reactions to the Narcissist Smile Test Doesn’t Mean Narcissism

Sometimes, you can perform this test on someone and they may take the bait.  Let’s say a friend asks you to do something that makes you feel extremely uncomfortable.  And now that you are much better at setting and keeping boundaries (if you aren’t there yet, you need to read the book, Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  it will be a complete game changer for your entire life!), you say no to their request.  They may not realize the weight of what they have asked you or even thought it through to see your side of things.  And because they were counting on you with no backup plan, they actually raise their voice and show extreme displeasure at the difficult position you have now put them in.

While that certainly describes a narcissist who does these things daily, it doesn’t mean that everybody who does these things on occasion is narcissistic.  What it means is that we can all be selfish, overbearing, and lacking in understanding.

With that idea in mind, we have to realize that just because someone reacts poorly, you cannot put a name on their behavior or hand down a diagnosis.  There has to be a level of grace for human failure.  Especially because we have all been there.

If you can find a pattern of behavior where you are nothing and the other person is everything (at least in their eyes), then you can fairly safely attribute it to narcissism.  But if not, maybe they are having a hard day and you come alongside them in support and love.  As long as the relationship does not delve into toxic waters.


The narcissist smile test is a pretty awesome way to bring out a narcissist’s behavior without him or her even realizing it.  Or at least without them realizing it until it is too late and they have shown their true colors.

But also be aware that sometimes your narcissist is a few steps ahead of you and is able to keep that mask on pretty tightly.  As you learn more about narcissism and how to relate to narcissists in a way that is healthy to you, you will learn how to prevent him from constantly being several steps ahead of you.  His behavior will be way more predictable to you.  And you won’t have to worry about the mask being to difficult for you to handle.  You’ve got this!

How have things been for you?  Have you gotten to the point that he can’t get that crazy reaction out of you?  What resources have you used to get to the point that he can’t ruffle your feathers?  How does it feel to start emerging from feeling so buried under the narcissist’s behavior and demands.

And finally, how have you been able to recognize and deal with the narcissist who fails the narcissist smile test?  Feel free to comment below or contact me here.

Blessings and hugs,

Follow me!


Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

Leave a Reply