The Narcissist I Am With Is Unaware of What They're Doing

The Narcissist I Am With Is Unaware of What They’re Doing

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Dear Kim,

I am currently experiencing all of this (related to your article titled The Cycle of Narcissism: Why Do They Teeter Between Love and Hate)?  Reading the section on whole object relations really has made something click in my mind and makes so much more sense now.  I believe that the narcissist that I am with is unaware of what they are doing. But all these articles seem to insist that the narcissist must always be aware of it.

Is it truly not possible that she just doesn’t understand? It’s so hard for me to wrap my head around this concept; it’s just so unbelievable that this could all be intentional.

I genuinely feel that this is a person with NPD, but it is undiagnosed, and they do not understand what they are doing. Meaning that this bizarre and evil behavior is not of malice, but rather untreated mental illness.

At the end of the day, NPD is a mental illness rather than a personality trait. Could it not be treated and worked on as such? We don’t say that people with Autism can never be intelligent because they have Autism, so why do we say that people with NPD can never become emotionally compatible?

As a behavioral therapist working on my Master’s in behavioral analysis, I feel as though this entire field is actually just a little behind. Surely, there is no way to completely write off all individuals with this disorder as “bad” people we should run from; they are still humans with a mental illness, just like anyone else that needs support or assistance in society due to disability.

Does anyone know of any discussion forums anywhere online where I might be able to speak with some others experiencing this sort of event?


Hi Reilly,

I understand your concern for the person in your life who you believe has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You mention that she is undiagnosed. It’s entirely possible that she could have another personality disorder either overlapping with or different from NPD.  

One of the biggest mistakes I see is people focusing on NPD when several other Cluster-B personality disorders could explain a person’s dysfunctional behaviors.  

Further, they are called “Cluster-B” disorders for a reason. The reason is that if a person has one personality disorder, it very likely coexists with a second or third personality disorder.

So, it’s doubtful that she only has NPD.

This explains why the target of a disordered person’s abuse has such a difficult time pinning a definitive label on their abuser.

NPD is a personality disorder, not just a trait and not the same as a mental illness.

You can’t compare NPD to Autism, a condition regarding the processing and expression of emotions.  Autism is not a disorder of intelligence. A person can be highly intelligent and still have Autism. 

I think where the field might be behind is that some folks still believe there is a way to help narcissists. This invariably comes from individuals who are involved with narcissists and don’t want to accept the reality of their situation.

This includes mental health professionals. 

Having an education in Psychology or Behavioral Analysis doesn’t prevent someone from engaging in the same denial as the rest of the population.  It doesn’t prevent them from maintaining toxic relationships.  I see this happen all the time.  

Then, of course, we have the folks who have large social media followings who claim that they, themselves, are reformed narcissists.

I once had a public debate with one such person. I asked to see proof that they’d been diagnosed with NPD, as well as the proof that they had been reformed. They made public promises to provide this information, but it was nothing but crickets behind the scenes.

This person is selling high-ticket programs and services regarding the “cure” of trauma and NPD and supposedly has an endorsement from Oprah.

In reality, there was never a shred of proof, aside from their own words, that they are, in fact, a reformed narcissist.

Where the field is not behind is the current studies, which show NPD cannot be cured. There have actually already been tons of case studies, trials, brain scans, and assessments performed.

Narcissistic individuals cannot be rehabilitated because by the time a narcissist becomes an adult, their personality is a permanent part of who they are. Their brain structure is abnormal, and they lack empathy and remorse.

Folks are also overlooking the neuroscientific studies proving that NPD cannot be cured.  

NPD is not something that can be “fixed,” just as psychopathy cannot be fixed. Both are part of the dark triad and are aptly named for a reason.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not a disability. A disability assumes that a person is prevented from something they WANT to do, but can’t because of a mental or physical impairment.

Narcissists do not want to be empathetic or remorseful to begin with.

The universal debate on whether a narcissist always knows what they’re doing contains a critical flaw. Even non-disordered people aren’t always aware of what they’re doing.

Examples would be getting in your car to drive somewhere, being preoccupied, and missing an exit. Going into a room and forgetting why you went in there. Reading several paragraphs in a book and then having to go back and re-read them because you were thinking about something else.   

Some of our behaviors are so ingrained that we operate on autopilot. This is the same for narcissists.

Their dysfunctional and abusive behaviors are so ingrained – such a deep part of who they are – that they don’t always have to be laser-focused when they are behaving dysfunctionally.   

There are, of course, some professionals who insist narcissists can change, but no one is seeing this play out in the real world.

I’ve been in this field for ten years and not once has anyone ever expressed that they found a way to make things work with a narcissist that wasn’t utterly devastating to their own well-being and livelihood.

None of my many colleagues in the mental health field have seen or heard of changed or improved narcissists, either.

Get Started On The Stages of Healing After Narcissistic Abuse

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My best recommendation is to find an online program to keep you on track and to offer support.  The Break Free Program has been vetted by therapists and neuropsychologists as an effective step toward getting over narcissistic abuse. Aside from keeping you safe from narcissists, it also empowers you to go out into the world with confidence.

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1 comment
Lynnie says April 26, 2021

This is such a good article. People with NPD do know what they are doing. How do we know this – they see the reactions of the people they hurt. That in itself is enough proof they are aware of what they are doing. Seeing tears in others mean you are hurting them. Hearing pleas to stop your behavior means you are hurting others. People avoiding you or labeling you as mean or cruel, indicates you are hurting others. It’s indisputable in modern psychology that NPD’s know exactly what they are doing.

Also, even people diagnosed with schizophrenia (unless in a psychotic state) know right from wrong. This is why we see the M’Naghten Rule applied when a person who is mentally ill commits a crime. If at the time of committing their crime the person is found to be sane they are held accountable for their actions. If not even mental illness is an excuse for harming others, then surely NPD isn’t either.

That being said, NPD isn’t a mental illness. It’s a personality disorder so we know that they definitely know right from wrong, they just don’t care how others feel as they have little or no empathy to care, are entitled to treat others any way they please, and garner narcissistic supply when they hurt others, which is something they thrive on.

The majority of people with NPD sadly never change. It’s a pervasive and difficult to treat personality disorder because one must have insight into their behavior in order to change (something NPD’s lack), and they must have a desire to change (something NPD’s also lack as most will not admit anything is wrong with them), and they very rarely if ever seek treatment.

Yes, it’s fine to have concern for people with NPD but holding them accountable for their behavior would serve them better than pity and excuses. Even in mental illness, which NPD isn’t, we can’t allow others to harm, abuse, prey on, or manipulate others for their own personal gain. Those behaviors, no matter the cause aren’t acceptable in any human being.

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