do narcissists know they are narcissistic

Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissistic (And Do They Care?)

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Do narcissists know they are narcissistic? Do they recognize the impact they have on others? And if so, why don’t they make more of a concerted effort to change their ridiculous ways?

Day in and day out, you observe their obnoxious behavior. You watch as they hurt people, preserve their egos, and dismiss reality. It can be as shocking as it is disturbing. 

Let’s unpack this question…

Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissistic? 

To truly understand narcissism, you must understand the critical differences between ego-syntonic and ego-dystonic behaviors.

When a behavior is ego-syntonic, the person recognizes it as problematic and distressing. They likely feel embarrassed over it, and they also want to change their habits.

For instance, someone with a compulsive gambling issue may identify their habit as risky and dangerous. They might want to stop gambling, but they feel unable to do so. They have insight into the problem, which may lead them to seek therapy, attend a support group, or attempt to practice alternative coping skills when the urge to gamble arises.

But when behavior is ego-dystonic, the individual is unaware of its implications. Many times, personality disorders, such as narcissism, are largely ego-dystonic. The person doesn’t recognize their reality as different from other peoples’ reality. They are convinced of their truth, and they dismiss any evidence that suggests otherwise. 

Using this framework, it’s easy to assume that most narcissists don’t really recognize having a genuine problem. Instead, they often believe:

  • They are inherently special and deserving of good things.
  • They are entitled to manipulate other people to get what they want. 
  • They can play by their own rules.

As you can see, these beliefs fit the narcissist’s life, but they aren’t exactly conforming to general society!

Related Video: Do narcissists know they're hurting you

What About Narcissists Who Have Self-Awareness?

It’s a dangerous misconception to assume narcissists don’t recognize how their actions affect others. It’s not that they don’t see it- it’s usually that they just don’t care.

Indeed, the current research reveals some interesting results:

  • Narcissists generally understand people perceive them less positively than they perceive themselves.
  • Narcissists recognize that the power of their positive impressions may fade with time.
  • Narcissists have some insight into their personality (they’ll describe themselves as confident, narcissist, etc.)

At first glance, these results may seem confusing. If narcissists have some insight into their patterns, why would they keep engaging in these ways?

As mentioned, narcissists don’t identify their behaviors as problematic. In other words, even if they think other people don’t like them, they still think they are entitled to play by their own rules. They still think they have somehow earned the legitimate right to be confident, arrogant, or controlling!

In fact, most narcissists are quite proud of their personalities. They thrive on their haters, and they get a rush when they argue with other people. It’s part of what makes them feel alive and important.

Most of us feel uncomfortable when we’re challenged. But narcissists love being in the spotlight. They shine when they’re receiving negative attention. Likewise, anytime someone reinforces their decisions, they are reminded that they can get away with their shenanigans. 

At the same time, even if they identify as having negative traits (like being controlling, aggressive, or competitive), they can rationalize those, too. They will either blame others for why they have those traits. Or they will dismiss them as insignificant compared to all their exceptional qualities!

Generally speaking, the world feels like a win-win scenario for the narcissist. Even if they have an awareness of their behavior, they don’t have the motivation or fortitude to change it.

Are Narcissists Just Stubborn? 

Narcissists are stubborn, but many people are stubborn, and that trait alone doesn’t make them malicious or cruel.

It’s essential to be mindful of how you might rationalize a narcissist’s toxic behavior. Do you dismiss their attitude because of things that happened to them in the past? Do you make excuses because they act like a victim and convince you that nobody else cares? 

Narcissists are not stupid. They know how people and emotions work. For this reason, they can be held liable for their actions. Downplaying their behavior only gives them more of an incentive to keep hurting you.

But Can A Narcissist Change?

It’s the age-old question, isn’t it? With all that insight, can a narcissist change and become a better person? Can they accept feedback and grow from it? 

To be blunt, a life-changing transformation is unlikely. People can and do change, but it requires hard work, humility, compromise, and boundaries. Do you honestly believe the narcissist in your life willing to make that dedicated effort? 

Instead, narcissists tend to change in ways that serve their best interests. For example, let’s say you have always wanted to have a child. They have stalled and gone back-and-forth on the decision.

But then let’s say you end the relationship. You decide you have finally had enough, and you are ready to move on. 

Guess what happens now? It’s a miracle- they reach out and tell you they are ready to have a baby! They were just afraid, they insist! But now, they are prepared to have the perfect family you always envisioned. 

Did they change their mind because they genuinely want to have a baby? Or are they panicking about the thought of losing their right to control you? And what happens once the baby is born? Do you really think they will step up and be a loving parent if they didn’t want the child on their own accord?

It’s true that narcissists often make changes throughout the relationship. But if you pay close attention, you will notice that these changes tend to be half-hearted, non-committal, and challenging to track. 

They give you just enough scraps to make you think something positive is around the corner- but once they have reeled you back in, they often abandon their efforts altogether.

Can sustainable change happen? Should you spend your energy and time hoping that happens? Should you sacrifice your emotional well-being in the meantime? Only you can make that critical decision. 

Do Narcissists Have Any Empathy?

Some people assume that narcissists completely lack empathy. This isn’t necessarily true. Narcissists may have some empathy, but it tends to be selective and temporary. 

Indeed, sometimes it appears that narcissists can feel empathic. They might cry when someone dies. They seem to feel compassion if they see someone getting bullied or scammed. 

But even though they may exhibit empathy, they often don’t have genuine remorse or regret for their wrongdoings. Their empathy tends to be surface-level. It doesn’t determine their values, and it doesn’t guide them into making healthy decisions within their relationships.

Additionally, most narcissists are fairly skilled in cognitive empathy, which means they imagine themselves in your shoes and try to manipulate the situation to serve their needs. Make no mistake- this generosity isn’t altruistic. They want to take care of themselves, and they will do what they can to make that happen.

Is It Worth Telling a Narcissist How You Feel?

Should you say something when the narcissist hurts your feelings? Will your honesty leave an impact on them?

It might be tempting to reveal yourself to the narcissist. They probably deserve to be put in their place, right? But when you evaluate the situation, you will realize that your disclosure often leads to more harm than good.

When you share your feelings with a narcissist, a few things might happen. These situations include:

  • They ridicule or mock your emotions, causing you to feel more shame.
  • They gaslight your reality and tell you that you’re imagining things.
  • They use it against you by insulting you.
  • They appear to listen but later use your words to attack you.
  • They share your feelings with everyone else and breach your trust altogether.

None of these situations are ideal, and yet, you probably have encountered them time and time again. Narcissists only care about your feelings if they align with theirs. They just aren’t interested in a truth that doesn’t fit their specific narrative.

When dealing with a narcissist, it’s often better to remain detached, aloof, or disentangled altogether. Don’t share anything that could be used against you. Stick with surface-level details if needed. Be mindful of the risk associated with dishing out vulnerable information.

Remember that you are responsible for how you react to your emotions. Telling the narcissist how you feel is one choice you can make. But chances are, you won’t like the outcome.  

Final Thoughts

Do narcissists know they are narcissistic? At the end of the day, how much does it really matter? If insight doesn’t lead to sustainable change (or your happiness), is this relationship really serving your needs? 

Most narcissists aren’t interested in honoring your well-being. They’re interested in their self-serving tendencies. 

You are allowed to decide what boundaries work in your life. This may mean taking a no-contact approach. Breaking free from narcissistic abuse can feel overwhelming, but you deserve fulfillment, respect, and autonomy! 

If you’re ready to take control of your life, download the free Beginner’s Healing Roadmap. You’ll get a 14-day series of emails with emotional support and encouragement and a 13-pg PDF of healing prompts. Plus, you get complimentary seating to the masterclass, 7 Proven Steps to Break the Narcissistic Spell.

Recovering from narcissistic abuse is hard, and it’s okay to admit you need help. If you’re ready to go deeper now, check out the #1 therapist-approved online program for narcissistic abuse recovery. This program is so effective, counselors and therapists refer their clients to it and it’s also shared in shelters across the U.S.  You can see for yourself here.


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9 comments
Beth says March 29, 2021

I believe that on some level narcissists are aware of their abusive behavior because they so accurately describe it when they twist reality and attribute those behaviors to the target-victim. When they accuse their partner of the very things that only they, the narcissist, is doing, through blame shifting and projection, this is some indication that they realize what they are doing. You hit the nail on the head, however, in that they don’t care. They know what they are doing on some level and they don’t care about the damage and pain they cause. Even worse, they revel in being able to manipulate you and seem to take sadistic satisfaction and pleasure in causing pain. So not only do they not care, they have a perverse desire to inflict suffering. Then when the victim has a normal human response to the abuse, the narcissist makes it worse by punishing the victim for that response with irrational anger, stunning indifference, ridicule, or other hurtful behavior.

For a normal, healthy person, self awareness can lead to positive transformation, but for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, (and quite possible traits of other Personality Disorders like Paranoid, Borderline and Antisocial Personality Disorders, as it is often the case that one person has traits of multiple PDs), the narcissist seems locked in this warped way of being forever, doomed to repeat the damage throughout their lifetime.

In some countries, like several in Europe, this kind of behavior is called by the more general name of ‘coercive control’ and is now written into domestic abuse statutes, making this kind of abuse illegal. While challenging to prove, what this means is that there is a much greater awareness among the general public, social services, law enforcement, educators and the legal professions. The general public is more informed, so they see the red flags and can spot these individuals whether in private life, the workplace or in government. In the US, we are still in the Dark Ages when it comes to making the deliberate destruction of another person illegal, but hopefully that will change, and we can all become more enlightened, aware and responsive to the needs of those on the receiving end of this psychological violence and emotional cruelty.

Reply
    Carol says April 3, 2021

    Beth you are spot on. Sadly my family walked on egg shells trying to not provoke certain individuals. Sadly I was the one member who tried so hard and the one that snapped. Guess the out come now ghosted. I was tolerant be it ignored it didn’t want to rise to pettiness but flipped due to my own illness and stress. Out come there is nothing wrong with me a massive deflection with medical records for back up. It cost me and my husband daughter grandchild nephew taken away used their own child as an emotional missile. Narcs best friend has all the access though but us his family no. And she the narc has a back up don’t they always the triangulation side her best mate just to stick the boot in who is also a narc jealous and controlling. Our poor son is in the middle of this.

    Reply
Gina Fobbe says March 29, 2021

Great article Kim! I always tried to imagine being a scientist observing a clinical subject. Documenting everything helped me in the legal battle and my peace.

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    Kim Saeed says March 29, 2021

    Gina, it’s always good to observe things through a scientific lens when narcissists are involved! Great job 🙂

    Kim (✺ᵔ‿ᵔ✺)

    Reply
Justus Taurua-Whiting says March 28, 2021

I’ve recently gone full ‘NO-CONTACT’ with a chronic narcissist and am about to move address. I’ve felt the pull back because they still owe me money but I just know I cannot be exposed to their behavior ever again! 2 weeks now!

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    Kim Saeed says March 29, 2021

    Justus, I agree. I walked away, too, even though my ex owed me money. I considered it paying for my freedom. Great job on No Contact!

    Kim (❁੭ºัᴗºั)੭

    Reply
Julie poole says March 28, 2021

I recently found out I was disinherited in 2016,with my sisters being complicit with my mothers choice…in fact drove her to the lawyers to have it done…I found our at the same time that my mother had died 10 months before and I was not informed…my sisters and mother had stopped talking to me when I set boundaries ,hD let my abusive exhusband into their lives and also alienated my brothers daughter from me…another ugly story….my ex husband was formally diagnosed as a malignant narcissist and I am positive one sister and my mother had and have it as well…my youngest sister is so enmeshed. She has no voice as is my sisters daughter…they have spun so many lies and distortions and have made me out to be a monster…it was alot of money…they each got 500,000 wirh me out of the picture…it was not my fathers intentions to allow my mother to do this… keep wanting to write to them in regards to the email my sister sent refuting everything she said…why when I know it will bevtwisted into ugliness,I have no idea why I have this urge…they are completely supported by my sisters family in what ghey did…my children received nothing either…we were cut out like we did not exist…the two of them are big women supporters and social justice warriors,yet they ignored their mixed race niece and nephews for years and did not reach out at all when my oldest son had a very bad thing happen to him by the police in the middle of black live matters protests, yet there they were at them. The protests….theyvreally think they are good people…I just don’t get it

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Vicki says March 28, 2021

You have so concisely stated truth here and have made things so clear when navigating narcissist s. I am doing all I can to get completely away from the one I have been married to for forty eight years . He has managed to turn my four adult children against me . They have not spoken to me in over eight months. I realize I must get completely away from Him in order to survive . Thank you again for your publishing the truth about these people so we can be knowledgeable enough to make these hard choices to live .

Reply
    Kim Saeed says March 29, 2021

    It’s truly my pleasure, Vicki. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

    Kim ❤

    Reply
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