biggest misconception about narcissism

The Biggest Misconception about Narcissism

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You’ve begun to suspect that you might be dealing with a narcissist.  So, you go to your computer and start doing numerous Google searches, entering terms such as “narcissism”, “emotional blackmail”, and “verbal abuse”.  You begin gradually (and perhaps also grudgingly) coming to the realization that you’re likely dealing with a narcissist and that the best option for you is to detach yourself from the relationship.  

But then you come across a site which claims that narcissists don’t mean any genuine harm—that they’re not really aware of the fact that their behavior hurts others and so they aren’t really intending to inflict any injury.  These sites further claim that the narcissist’s hurtful behavior doesn’t mean that they are deliberately cruel people; rather, it’s simply a by-product of their incapacity to empathize.  And since they aren’t necessarily horrible people, perhaps we should show them a little sympathy and understanding for their unfortunate condition.

Or maybe you find material out there which claims that a long-term relationship with a narcissist is both possible and perhaps even rewarding.  True, narcissists will invariably cause some injury to those around them, but you just should decide for yourself whether their “redeeming qualities” offset the pain that comes from their occasional abuse.

And to make matters more confusing, you discover a trend that’s lately come into fashion—one which encourages the acceptance of the “self-aware” narcissist.  So long as the narcissist is aware (at some level) of their lack of empathy, you can maintain a relationship with them, recognizing that the inevitable harm they do isn’t really their fault.  They aren’t really trying to hurt you; they are simply trying to find their own happiness according to their own lights.  And so long as you too are aware of this fact, the relationship can continue and perhaps improve as a result. 

Finally, you land on an article which reports that many people who are diagnosed narcissists have, in fact, achieved self-awareness, and after recognizing the pain they’re causing their loved ones, they form a resolution to change their ways, even if only to improve their own lives.

When you encounter claims such as these, they may make you feel better about your situation.  You realize it would be extremely difficult and painful for you to break off all relations with the narcissist in your life, and so you may be susceptible to wishful thinking about how things in your relationship could get better.

Articles that try to alleviate the dire situation of being in a relationship with a narcissist simply feed into your wishful thinking.  They keep you from resolutely facing the facts, and, if you follow their advice, they keep you stuck where you are. 

In contrast to the promises these articles make, you will discover as time goes on, despite all your efforts to make things better, that all you get from the narcissist are promises of change that they never follow through on at all, or at least not in any lasting way.  You will come to see that no amount of patience or understanding on your part can bring about any lasting change in the narcissist’s behavior toward you.

As you have always done before, you are still constantly walking on eggshells around them.  Instead of experiencing the loving benefits of a relationship with a “changed” or “enlightened narcissist”, you are still constantly on edge, and still living in misery. 

And at some point in this process, you have to wonder whether the patience and understanding that those articles recommended you show the narcissist — and that you, accordingly, have shown them (to your detriment)—were based merely on misconceptions and false hopes.

There are lots of myths out there about narcissistic individuals becoming “self-aware” and changing their ways as a result and about how you can improve your relationship with them.  My purpose in this article is to puncture what is probably the biggest misconception about narcissism that many people have.

The Biggest Misconception About Narcissism

The biggest misconception I’ve encountered about narcissistic individuals is that they are wounded people who don’t really mean to hurt others…that they are simply acting out on a condition which they were left with owing to childhood wounding and that we should show them great patience and sympathy, since, by doing so, there is hope that their behavior will change and we will have a better future with them.

While it’s true that most narcissists were wounded as children, we must realize that those children are now gone.  In their place are adults with underdeveloped levels of emotional maturity, deficient attachment capabilities, and a complete inability to empathize with others.  

What’s left in the place of those wounded children are scheming manipulators who don’t give a care about anyone except themselves and their own immediate needs.

The myth that there is “hope for a narcissist to change” is perpetuated by people of all sorts—from the licensed psychologist to self-proclaimed narcissistic individuals themselves who hop on forums to defend themselves and their conduct.  (Many of the people in this category are self-diagnosed and may not actually have narcissistic personality disorder, so their ability to speak for the narcissist is questionable.) 

But the proof is in the pudding, and finding a “changed narcissist” seems to be like discovering a “square circle”—it just can’t be done.

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What is most distinctive about narcissists is that they display behaviors that come straight from the “Power and Control Wheel”, which can be found on most domestic violence websites.  This fact alone shows that, contrary to the popular myth, they are fully aware of what they are doing and the effects that their behavior has on those around them.  Those effects are precisely what they are trying to achieve, for ends of their own.

Another indication that narcissists are aware of what they are doing is the way they display two distinct “personalities”.  With the outside world, they are capable of being agreeable and showing proper respect.  It’s only with you (and others close to them) that they show their true colors and trample all the rules of human decency.   

The public face they show reveals that they know how they should behave with others; it’s just with you that they lack all sensitivity.  Their abusive behavior, therefore, cannot be explained by a lack of awareness.  They “know the rules” and simply choose to ignore them in their private relationships.

If narcissists were truly unaware of the consequences of abusive behavior, they would act the same way in all environments.  But that is not their way.  And because they already know what they are doing, it is a mistake to hope that the narcissist will change by becoming “self-aware”.

For these reasons, then, we should resist the call that we show greater sympathy for these abusive individuals, at least to the extent that by doing so we are causing greater and unnecessary harm to ourselves and other members of our family.  Why show patience with the narcissist when they are repeatedly inflicting deep wounds upon us and when they are having such harmful effects on our children and their emotional development? 

It is, of course, an individual’s prerogative to sacrifice themselves for the sake of an unworthy cause, but when that involves creating a toxic environment for children, who deserve much better, then we must seriously rethink our motives and their likely repercussions.

We have an ethical obligation to remove ourselves and our children from such abusive situations, since whatever good may be achieved by sympathy and understanding for the narcissist is far outweighed by the inevitable harm that will come to ourselves and our children from remaining in a hopelessly toxic relationship.

Our energies are wasted on the narcissist and are better devoted elsewhere—to improving our own lives and giving our children the sort of childhood that will enable them to have healthy relationships and happy lives.

For some people, these will be harsh truths.  The pain that ending a relationship with a narcissistic partner will bring leads people to hope and look for some other way.  Articles that hold out promises of narcissists changing and of your improving your relationship with them are stepping in to serve that misguided need.  But, the truth is: it’s dangerous to keep a narcissist in one’s life. The ripple effect from doing this is far beyond the scope of what people can generally comprehend while in the midst of abuse.

In my article, The Chaos Theory of Narcissistic Abuse, I discuss the real and present danger in trying to maintain a relationship with a narcissistic partner.  There are no miraculous transformations or divine epiphanies that will finally bring narcissists to see the error of their ways and change the irredeemably self-centered way they approach relationships and life in general. 

To remain in a relationship with a narcissist is, therefore, at best reckless and at worst an ethical wrong.


Everyone has the innate capacity to heal themselves. But, it’s likely you will need external support to heal the traumas that get in the way of your ability to tune into this gift.⠀ I cover the applications and theories in all of these areas in my narcissistic abuse recovery program, which has been voted the #1 online program by folks in the psychological community.

Develop effective ways to break free from narcissistic abuse and stop falling prey to the biggest misconception about narcissism. Reduce conflict, stress & drama!  Learn more now!

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If you’re new here, one way to start your healing journey is by grabbing my free Beginner’s Healing Roadmap. This roadmap is packed with information and tools to begin your healing journey (I could actually charge for it, but I don’t). You get a 13-pg PDF of healing prompts, a 14-day email recovery series, and free seating in my popular masterclass, 7 Steps to Break the Narcissistic Spell.

If you know it’s time to stop wasting your life and start healing, you can get yours here:

I created this roadmap for people who sincerely want to begin healing so they can finally stop the crippling pain, heal, and live the lives they deserve.

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William Gerdtz says October 16, 2022

I come from a family where both parents exhibit narcissist traits. I have two sisters, one older, one younger. My father, who has since died very obviously favoured the elder sister was pretty good with me and scapegoated my younger sister. My mother is a covert narcissist and exploited my younger sister’s jealousy of the elder sister. In order to gain favour with my mother my younger sis would act as the flying monkey to continually get me into trouble as I was my mothers scapegoat. I am now 60 yrs old. It wasn’t until I was nearly 40 yrs old did I work this all out. My two sisters and now elderly mother live in their own made up reality world. I confronted my elder sister about how she did nothing while my mother belittled me at Christmas, birthdays etc. She ran away and hid and was quite rattled at the time. . I confronted my mother detailing a well prepared list of facts, which she heard but offered no defence. Next time I saw her she stated I was a “bit grumpy” when I had confronted her. I have reasoned it would be a complete waste of time to confront my younger sister, a pointless exercise ending up in denial and probably a ‘you are crazy’ response,. – To present time and I minimise contact as much as possible. My now 84 year old mother does rely on me to manage her finances while my elder sister and husband have tried their hand several times at theft by deception or elderly abuse. (who could have guessed the golden child ended up feeling entitled to more than their share? lol) I have had several confrontations with my elder sister and husband over stolen items and them blaming me for my mother refusing to fund their lifestyle through deception. ( we are so poor ) They attempted to bully me into silence and failed. Seems their attitude is that I must be excluded if I threaten to expose the truth. My mother remains ‘neutral’ (?) on their behaviour which is really enabling, tolerating and playing along with their damage control…. and she wonders why I minimise contact! The three of them can have their denial of reality ‘safe place to hide’ away from their own behaviour and I don’t have to buy into their denial of behaviour drama, of which I think is quite cowardly. Sadly, It is increasingly obvious that the narcissism will be passed down in the form of covert narcissism to my sisters.

Kay says April 20, 2022

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of the “Give the N understanding and support” premise is that when the N inevitably fails to change, the victim then blames him/herself for being insufficiently “loving and understanding”, thus taking all the blame for the lack of change. It also hooks the victim into trying ever harder to give love and decency in exchange for abuse, like a gambler who tries to win back losses by placing ever higher bets. A few years ago there was an animated movie called “Wreck-it Ralph” about a bully who “becomes nice” after being shown “love and understanding”. I took my little niece to see it at her request and was appalled at the message, I told her that appeasing bullies only encourages them and that the movie was wrong. BTW, although to the movie was supposed to be a comedy, she didn’t laugh once.

M.a. says April 20, 2022

Thank you for this helping helpt me through the last part of recovery?

Robin Thompson says April 19, 2022

All I needed to finally leave was to hear her hollow “ I love you “ and catch her cheating again.

Joy Yearwood says September 13, 2021

“If narcissists were truly unaware of the consequences of abusive behavior, they would act the same way in all environments.”

This sentence alone is the principle we ought to keep in mind about narcissists. We must learn to not think emotionally but hold them accountable for their purposeful toxicity, even if the action we take against them is to go no-contact.

B says September 12, 2021

Bless you Kim,I needed to read this one, I want to let go, it’s my sister and brother that’s doing this to me ,but they take up for each other and blame me for everything, they took me for a lot of things money turning people against me ,family etc. My boyfriend also 20 some years he passed away in2019. I’m so confused. God bless you Kim.Stay safe.

    Kim Saeed says September 13, 2021

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Sounds like you’re the scapegoat…and that’s such an awful thing. I hope you are able to finally free yourself from this existence.



    Pearl says October 16, 2022

    Ah, you’re the “scapegoat” for your blood family! It’s ok (it’s great – eventually) when you decide to go “no contact”.

Gina says April 17, 2021

Hi Kim,
This morning I got a thank you via for all the things I did to save him and his marriage. He has been secretly taking therapy sessions. My colleagues are planning a party with Ho’oponopono.
It sound OK, doesn’t it?

Anonymous says April 16, 2021

Thank you for bringing up the word “decency”. I thought of it yesterday.

I convinced myself that no one considers it, or its redefined so much that it’s not socially acceptable.

Every person knows what it means and either accepts it or chooses to ignore it.

Thank you for this great article and for bringing up this word.

Anonymous says April 16, 2021

Thank you for this brave truth telling article.

It alleviates some of the pain of having to say something to long time friends about the situation. There’s nothing to say really. This kind of person is a fake. A harmful one at that.

Thank you for keeping a grip on the reality of their behaviors and what occurs. And continually reminding us to forget the wishful thinking and the false hopes. Otherwise we can’t see the behavior versus the words. We become too focused on the words and the ease of life without having to leave.

Tammy says April 13, 2021

I have finally been ‘no contact’ with an absolute N, according to almost all tendencies I ever see listed; including dangerous adult temper tantrums. What finally brought me to my senses were the successive arrival of grandchildren. Their wise mothers would not allow me to have the N in their presence.I couldn”t deny that the N was unpredictable. So, love won… love for my grandchildren. Regret now and sorrow for 15 years believing my unconditional love for N could change him or that I could ‘take it’s because of same. There are other people who need you sane, don’t have the deep scars I have for the 15 years.
Everything Kim advises is absolutely true, just stop casting your pearls before swine, they DO NOT LOVE YOU !

Kevin says December 5, 2020

This was a good article and lends itself to pretty much all types of narcissistic relationships. Although I don’t read all of the articles distributed, I do read many and have yet to see one that addresses parent of adult narcissistic children. In my case it is with one of my daughters. I would love to find information specific to that relationship dynamic.

Thank you

Heather says November 17, 2020

I am in recovery for addiction issues. I have been told to forgive my abuser. I don’t think that is proper to say. I have been divorced from my abuser for 23 yrs. No they do not change. They will never change. They act so different to certain people making them look like they are the victim. I have had so much therapy over this. I am a survivor but the mental damage that has been done can be very hard to cope with.

Peacebrother says November 15, 2020

Another indication that narcissists are aware of what they are doing is the way they display two distinct “personalities”. With the outside world, they are capable of being agreeable and showing proper respect. It’s only with you (and others close to them) that they show their true colors and trample all the rules of human decency. — This is the biggest give away that narcissists know exactly what they are doing and choose to act the way that they do to their targets. The Power and Control Wheel is another example of the deliberate bias against males, this being completely written saying that it is only males who are abusive. This hurts to the core, males who are being abused by females. This bias makes males completely vulnerable to female abusers because if a male tries to defend himself in any way, the bias is that he is the abuser and she gets away with abuse. This bias makes males completely helpless against female abuse.

Anonymous says October 20, 2020

I tried to go no contact and he said our puppy got hit in the road just to make me respond and I fell for it. Have they no shame?

Laurie says March 17, 2020

I personally am blessed to be married to a wonderful loving man. I do have a family member and friend who are married to narcissistic men. I would love to read your roadmap & maybe can share it with the younger woman who uses computers & get her to go to your site & get her own copy, also to read your article/articles. The other woman is in her later 80s, no computer but if I can share some of your practical tools with her maybe setting healthy boundaries would be a possibility. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom in this area!

    Kim Saeed says March 17, 2020

    Thank you so much, Laurie, for caring about your friends and your willingness to share my material with them. I am very happy to know you are blessed in your own life and hope your friends can join you in that joy. XoXo

Kat says January 17, 2020

I appreciate this post. Thank you for taking the time to give a explanation of what I have been struggling with the same problem. (My ex husband) I believe is exactly that. He has been using our 6 year old son as a form of control over me for 2 years now, i finally got enough courage to take it to the courts. But I’m afraid that it may still not make any difference. I am a great mother to our son but he doesn’t allow me to spend time with my son. What do you think I should do? Any advice is GREATLY APPRECIATED. thank you 🙁

Anonymous says August 7, 2019

When I started googling info about narcissist s that was actually exactly what I was looking for – whether they could change, whether they dould care, if you could make a relationship with one work, etc… It is extremely fortunate that I didn’t find any of the articles you mention, as I would have desperately latched onto those hopes, as yes, that was what I wanted to hear. Instead I found only articles saying the opposite, and finally found this site which has so many articles that again and again echo my exact experiences so that I can’t not see the insight and accuracy the writer has, despite my still being in the stage of wishfully thinking I can keep loving my narcissist. Thank you. Will be continue reading and trying to learn and heal.

    Nancy says January 15, 2020

    Having extensively researched and studied narcissism, I have not read a single article stating they have awareness and willingness to change. Those of us who suffered and survived narcissistic abuse are information warriors. The articles and websites you are referencing do not exist.

      Kim Saeed says January 16, 2020

      Hi Nancy,

      I have also done extensive research and there are many authors out there, including some who are PhDs, who say that narcissists are sometimes willing and able to change. So, these articles and websites to exist.

Are Narcissists Aware of Their Disorder? - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program says May 9, 2019

[…] A common misconception is that if they’re not aware of what they’re doing, then we shouldn’t hold them accountable for their seemingly unintentional wrongdoings.  Instead, we should offer them compassion and try to help them through whatever “pain” they’re suffering that is making them behave in such a hurtful way.  After all, hurt people hurt people, right? […]

9 Secret Signs of Narcissism You Can’t Miss Once You Notice Them - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program says March 3, 2019

[…] The truth is, introverts can also be narcissists. These are the ones who fool us into their web of manipulation. […]

Marthie says July 25, 2018

After living with a narcissist for 16 years, I realized that no one can help him, he will never change. We are still not divorced, but I /we do not have any contact with him. The divorce is still hanging, now for 5 years. But the no contact helped me a lot.

Healing from Identity Loss After Narcissistic Abuse says July 8, 2018

[…] tell yourself they’re just a tortured soul – that they just need someone to support them and show them compassion. They have horrible […]

nancy says June 22, 2018

I believe I may be dating a narcissist who is using my adult daughter of 26 to make me jealous you keep saying how happy is to have a daughter but I’ve basically been pushed aside and she gets all of his attention now she works with him it’s a tough situation I need some help

    Kim Saeed says June 23, 2018

    Hi Nancy,

    If you feel this man is showing your daughter inappropriate attention and that he may be a narcissist, the best thing you can do for yourself and your daughter is to end your relationship with him because things will only continue to spiral downwards. If you need some guidance on how to do this, you can find it here. Whichever solution you choose, leaving is really the only answer.


    Kim XoXo

Rebecca Wild says June 10, 2018

Hi Kim, I am not sure if I am with a narcissist. My husband extreme when it comes to violating my boundaries, everything has to be about him, he has gas lighted me, but he doesn’t criticize me, he wants to be my husband forever even though I have moved out, and have not been intimate for 6 months. When I moved out he had a party without me. He did mention he was going to have a party several months earlier. It just happened to be the week after i moved out and had to be out of town. He says he understands me and knows its just my moods. He is not rageful. Is he a narcissist? Thank you. Your insight would be appreciated.

    Freebird says September 13, 2021

    The red flags I’ve picked up here are “ is extreme violating my boundaries”. Ie. He has no respect for you, you are below him in his eyes? (Big, major one).

    “Everything has to be about him” …desire for attention, adulation etc?

    “He has gaslighted me” …good you have recognised what this is. (My brain was spinning for years until I became almost too ill psychologically and physically to get out. Only found out what it was after leaving.) Gaslighting is aimed at keeping you off balance, doubting your own perception of reality. They are basically trying to send you crazy?

    “But he doesn’t criticise me”…..are you sure? Maybe subtle comments in front of others? Through gaslighting was he subtly criticising you? (I maybe wrong here…just a pointer to examine past exchanges.)

    “He wants to be my husband forever”…is this an “idealised view of love” even though you’ve moved out. Maybe he can’t accept that you have left. (You still ‘belong’ to him). Or is this a form of ‘hoovering’ to suck you back in?

    “He says he understands me and knows my moods”…he certainly would know you having been together for a while but no one really knows what goes on inside someone’s head. This could refer to the sense of feeling ‘omnipotent’? (Look up DSM cluster B criteria) It also sounds like gaslighting….(using who you are as a person) against you to keep the upper hand.

    It’s really good you got out while you could. Over time gaslighting and all the other crazy Narc games, plus your own confusion (what is this?, I don’t understand, but he loves me? Is it me? ) can affect your brain.(hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex) as you spiral down further then your work may be affected, physical health, relationships etc etc.

    Question happenings in the past, work on self help, look up what is emotional abuse, N’s.

    I’m not a trained expert but 19 year relationship survivor plus nearly a decade aftermath of auto immune disease, cptsd.

    Keep safe.

Are Narcissists Aware of Their Disorder? - Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed says November 16, 2017

[…] by victims of narcissistic abuse is whether the narcissist is aware of what they’re doing.  A common misconception is that if they’re not aware of what they’re doing, then we shouldn’t hold them accountable […]

Joyce Short says September 18, 2017

The underpinnings of Narcissism are as much nature as nurture. When people say “They’re born that way,” they’re largely correct. We all have differing levels of oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin and additional nuerotransmitters that result from our DNA. It’s that brain chemistry that fashions our conscience and our caring toward others.

Twins separated at birth are found to have similar likes, dislikes and temperaments, even though their upbringing was very different. The similarities between my son’s thinking and behavior so closely resembles his father that you’d never envision that he barely saw the man for the first 17 years of his life.

Thinking that you can undo what Mother Nature created is folly!

    Peggy Dougherty says January 13, 2018

    You just described my son! I’m trying to figure out if there’s hope for him. They say the frontal lobe isn’t developed until you’re around 26.When faced with a decision whether to side with truth or with his father’s sadistic twists, he was sitting in his room arguing with himself… he ended up going with his father. He has always confused me with his personality swings… one day he’s compassionate, & he’s argumentative & self absorbed the next. He’s 19 & has been living there for 5 months, not speaking to me. I don’t know whether to try therapy with him or not. That s if he’ll even agree to go. I fear that the longer he’s with him, the more enmeshed this personality disorder will become. Can he be saved?

      jacqueline says January 16, 2019

      i also believe my son to suffer from NPD. hes 33 now addicted to meth ( has used it since he was 19 )and currently sitting in county jail waiting to go to court to be sentenced for felony assault. I look back on all his yrs of growing up and I now know he was bron this way and inherited it from his father who was a very cruel man. Even though we left when my son was only 4 I did try for 3 yrs to give him chances to ” get it figured out ” I know hind sight is always 20/20 and in looking ba my ck I would ve left the day my daughter came home from the hosp. He has physically, emotionally, and sexually abused my daughter who is 2 yrs younget than him. He has physically and emotionally abused me his mom, He has physicallly and emotionally abused every woman who ever loved him. Yet we al still love him. I have gone NC and I am freefrom his abuse. some people in my family say He just wants love, I thow down the BS card. Ive loved unconditionally for 33 yrs and have gotten nothing but poor treatment. Some say this comes from rearing the child again I throw the BS card. My son was born this way and he inherited it from his father. My daughter is not like this, shes sweet caring and loving, the complete opposite of my son ( same father ) He once told me when he was in his 20’s that his life was all messed up because of choices I made for him and that Ive done nothing to earn HIS respect. I hate typing so i wont go into detail but hes been a problem since he was concieved. I love my son to the ends of the earth but I REFUSE TO BE HIS VICTIM ANYMORE and he cant stand it.
      I believe that theres no hope for some people as they discard one they find somebody else to abuse. All I can do is pray for him and refuse to be his victim anymore.
      Good luck to you and I hope you have better luck than I did

Tony says September 18, 2017

Kim, well written article, concise, precise and irrefutable. Well done.!!!

    Kim Saeed says September 25, 2017

    Thanks, Tony! 🙂

Pamela says September 18, 2017

Whew!! When I first started reading this I thought you were going toward “forgive and accept.” Thank goodness I read all the way to the end. My particular story is 50 years of forgiving and accepting only to finally (thanks to you and others) be able to put it together enough to go NC. My N was my baby sister. There is no hope for them to change and I truly believe they know exactly what they’re doing to try and ruin us. Also, as they get older it gets worse. She started working on me when she was born and never quit until I called it quits. You cannot stay on the hope they will change because they are incapable.

It has now been 5 years NC. I’ve even been able to move to a totally different area so no memories or fear to run into her. I hear she’s gone thru many “friends” along the way and is consuming a gallon of liquor a week. From afar I feel sorry for her but made no difference in her for 50 years. Get out before you stay that long!!!
Thank you, Kim. Couldn’t have done it without you! <3
#notmycircus #notmymonkey

    Dotsy Maher says September 21, 2017

    Oh dear God…I got a stomach ache when I read ..she started working on me and …until I called it quits…

    I then got identical twin younger sisters…
    I was OK with one of them..but the youngest REALLY did start in on me early…because her twin preferred me to her…

    Later as adults the became more and more alike a different species..

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