Honestly, Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists?

— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.

Narcissism is a personality disorder, and we often think that these people are so full of themselves that they have little self-awareness of their condition.

Or, you might think that since their typical behavior has consequences on their lives, relationships, and careers, narcissists are aware of their toxic qualities.

What’s the truth?

Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists

Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists?

Most narcissists can and do recognize they are narcissists. Their sense of superiority and entitlement makes it difficult for them to admit to their problematic behavior, even to themselves. So they deny or justify their flaws and mistakes.

  • Narcissists have a deep-seated sense of shame for their imperfections and even ordinariness. This deep-seated shame makes them create a grandiose self-image of being superior to others.
  • Narcissists may recognize (and repeat) their behavior if it benefits them in some way, such as their anger or sarcasm giving them authority, power, or admiration.
  • Even if a narcissist recognizes their own behavior, they may not take sole responsibility for it. They may include others, blame others, or make excuses for their actions, rather than admitting the fault as uniquely their own doing.
  • Narcissists also tend to have a difficult time accepting or handling criticism, which makes them resistant to embracing feedback or making changes. Only rarely does a narcissist take responsibility for their actions. It usually requires a major event or a wake-up call for them to realize their behavior is problematic.

So, the next question arises here: Are narcissists self-aware or not?

Do Narcissists Have Self-Concept?

Pathological narcissists have a compromised self-concept, while adaptive narcissists have a strong self-concept.

Self-concept is a person’s overall view of themselves, including their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about themselves.

This study investigated the self-concept of narcissists and found that there are two distinct types of narcissism: adaptive narcissism and pathological narcissism.

1. Adaptive narcissism

A healthy form of narcissism.

  • Adaptive narcissists have a strong sense of self-worth, high levels of self-authenticity, and a consistent sense of self.
  • They are confident, yet humble and aware of their limitations.
  • They are also more likely to be successful in their careers and relationships.
  • They have a greater sense of uniqueness and a need for public exposure.

2. Pathological narcissism

A more unhealthy form of narcissism that can be harmful to the individual and others.

  • Pathological narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance and a need for admiration.
  • They are also more likely to be manipulative, exploitative, and entitled.
  • They have a greater concern about others’ reactions and a feeling of an insubstantial existence.

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Do Narcissists Have Self-Awareness?

Narcissists often lack self-awareness, even though they may appear confident and self-assured. They find it difficult to recognize and understand their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This lack of self-awareness stops them from seeing themselves accurately and changing their behaviors.

Self-awareness is an essential component of emotional intelligence and is crucial for personal growth and development.

Narcissists may notice they are being manipulative or controlling, still, they may not understand why it is a problem for others.

Since they don’t see their behavior as a problem, they don’t feel the need to change. They may even believe that their behavior is justified or that others are the ones who need to change.

Some reasons why narcissists may lack self-awareness:

  • They have an unrealistic self-image of being perfect and flawless, so they fail to see their own flaws or weaknesses. E.g., “I don’t see it as my fault, so why do I need to change?”
  • They have difficulty empathizing with others, so they often blame their victims for the negative consequences of their own acts. E.g., “I didn’t hit you. You brought it on yourself.”
  • They cannot understand how their behavior affects others, and may not be able to see how their behavior is hurtful or destructive, and wonder why others react negatively to them. E.g., “You could have told me it hurt you that bad when I hit you.”

The lack of self-awareness can make it difficult for narcissists to negotiate healthy relationships.

The struggle to understand, share, and empathize with the feelings of others holds them from building strong bonds. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, fueling further narcissism.

Narcissists often worry about what other people think of them, so they create a perfect and flawless public persona. They invest too much in this public image that they often forget who they really are.

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How Do Narcissists View Themselves?

Narcissists view themselves as superior, special, unique, and important, with a strong sense of distorted righteousness and toxic entitlement.

“I am teaching him/her a lesson on how to handle the cruel world,” an abusive narcissist’s distorted justification for hitting a child.

Having a sense of entitlement means they believe they deserve special treatment.

Narcissists believe they have earned their right to special treatment not just for their talents and successes, but also from their willingness to interact with those they consider inferior.

They tend to lose their calm and get angry or resentful when they are treated like any other person in a situation.

They also lack empathy, which means they have difficulty relating and responding to the feelings of others.

However, narcissists are not emotionless for themselves. They are often plagued by feelings of insecurity, shame, and anxiety despite their confident exterior.

They harbor a deep-seated fear of failure and rejection, which can lead to depression and other mental health issues.

Narcissists may also feel envy and rage towards those they perceive as more successful or accomplished than themselves.

While they are envious of other more successful narcissists, they often fanatically admire “supreme leaders” and dictators.

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How Do Narcissists Behave In Their Relationships?

Narcissists have a recurring pattern in their relationships: The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle.

Here are some typical ways a narcissist behaves in a relationship:

  • Narcissists often enter into relationships to get their supply (fulfillment of their needs and desires, and receiving of validation and praise).
  • They can use their partner as a social ladder rather than a valued person with whom to build a deep connection and trust.
  • Narcissists are manipulative and controlling in their relationships, often using gaslighting tactics to make their partner doubt their own reality and boundaries. Theheir partners languish in a state of confusion and helplessness, feeling trapped in the relationship.
  • They deliberately violate their partner’s boundaries, even after clear instructions not to, as they see themselves as entitled to whatever they want. They become angry or vitriolic when their partner tries to set limits, asserts their need for personal space, or mentions boundary overstepping.
  • They may seek out emotionally vulnerable, weak-willed, or traumatized partners who are easier to control and manipulate. They may even go on to use their vulnerable partner for some “cruel fun,” creating a vicious cycle of toxicity.
  • The narcissist’s tendency to prioritize their own needs and desires over their partner’s takes a heavy toll on the relationship. Most narcissistic relationships tend to be bitter, regardless of whether they stay together or part ways.

Narcissistic self-centeredness can produce long-term effects on their victim partner.

Who are the narcissists?

Narcissists are self-centric people, have thoughts of unlimited power and success, and an excessive need for encouragement and special treatment (APA, 2013)

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a clinically diagnosed form of narcissism.

  • The grandiose narcissist has high self-esteem, overestimates their abilities, and likes to be the center of attention. Believes they are superior to others, are less likely to feel guilty about their negative behavior, and more likely to feel public shame proneness (the tendency to feel public shame in negative situations).
  • The vulnerable narcissist has low self-esteem, is more likely to view their negative behavior as a reflection of their own worthlessness, has more negative emotions, and relies on external admiration. Hypervigilant, has grandiose fantasies, more likely to have shame withdraw (the tendency to hide their negative behavior from others). 

Superficially, narcissists are charming and charismatic. But once they lure someone into a relationship, their true nature is revealed: up close, they are cold, indifferent, and even cruel.

Why Do Narcissists Crave Control and Power?

Narcissists have an insatiable desire for control and power because they often believe that if they prove and assert their superiority, they will receive the special treatment that they feel entitled to.

This sense of being seen as a powerful person is driven by a deep-seated insecurity and fear of being exposed as inadequate or inferior.

Narcissists also crave control over situations and people because it gives them a sense of security and predictability, and lets them avoid feeling vulnerable or helpless.

So they want to be in charge of every aspect of their lives and the lives of those around them. This includes controlling their environment, relationships, and even their own emotions.

Power is also a key motivator for narcissists. They want to be seen as successful and admired by others.

Achievements, talents, and brilliance are all important to them because they provide a sense of validation and superiority. They often believe that they are the best of everything and deserve all the privileges that come with it.

Narcissists may also use their power and control to manipulate and exploit others.

They may use their charm and charisma to gain the trust and admiration of others, only to use them for their own gain. This can include using others to achieve their own goals or to boost their own self-esteem.

So, narcissists crave control and power because it gives them a sense of security, support, and superiority. Of course, they may use their power to manipulate and exploit others.

Is it possible for a narcissist to change?

It is possible for a narcissist to change, but only if they are willing to confront their behavior and seek treatment.

That said, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a challenging condition to treat.

People with NPD often refuse to gain insight into their behavior, resist seeking help, obstruct therapy via defense mechanisms like denial and stonewalling, and even work to “fail” their therapist.

It has been noticed that some highly intelligent narcissists can prove to their therapists that they have recovered and do not need further therapy.

Still, psychotherapy is the most effective treatment option for NPD. It can help narcissists learn self-awareness and new ways of interacting with others.

Since they are unlikely to seek treatment on their own, it is often up to non-narcissists, such as family members or partners, to confront a narcissist and take them to treatment.

Another factor that makes them resist changing themselves is their relationship with compromise. Narcissists often struggle with compromise, as they believe they are always right.

However, learning to compromise is crucial for healthy relationships and personal growth.

What is the impact of narcissism on others in the workplace?

Narcissism can have a significant impact on others in the workplace.

Narcissistic individuals act conceited, patronizing, and self-important, and expect special treatment. This can lead to abusive behavior towards others, as they feel that their needs and desires come first than those of others.

Narcissistic individuals may also be prone to hurting others in the workplace.

They may use their power and influence to manipulate others for their own gain, which can lead to feelings of hurt and resentment among their colleagues.

Also, they are often quick to criticize others and are intolerant of any perceived criticism or negative feedback.

They keep seeking excessive attention and admiration from others in the workplace.

This can be challenging for colleagues who may feel that they are constantly “walking on eggshells” or trying to appease the narcissistic individual.

Worse, narcissists often condemn the dignity and reputation of others, especially women and those from the LGBTQ community.

Narcissistic individuals are also quick to take credit for the work of others, and minimize their colleagues’ achievements to make themselves look better.

This can lead to feelings of resentment and frustration among colleagues, and can ultimately harm the overall reputation of the organization.

It’s important for organizations to be aware of a narcissist’s behaviors and take steps to mitigate the impact on others in the workplace.

Do Narcissists Suffer Negative Consequences Themselves?

Do narcissists suffer, really?

Narcissists are often viewed as individuals who are self-absorbed and lack empathy towards others. However, do they suffer negative consequences themselves?

Research suggests that narcissists do experience negative outcomes in various areas of their lives.

Relationship Difficulties

Narcissists often struggle to maintain healthy relationships with others.

They may have difficulty connecting with others on an emotional level, and may prioritize their own needs over the needs of their partners.

This can lead to relationship difficulties, including divorce and separation.

Work and School

Narcissists may experience difficulties in the workplace or school.

They may have a grandiose sense of self-importance and believe that they are entitled to special treatment.

This can lead to conflicts with coworkers or classmates and may result in negative evaluations or poor academic performance.

Physical Health Problems

Research suggests that narcissists may be more likely to experience physical health problems.

This may be due to the stress and anxiety that can result from their interpersonal difficulties and the pressure they put on themselves to maintain their image.

Alcohol Misuse

Narcissists may be more likely to engage in alcohol misuse.

This may be due to their tendency to seek pleasure and excitement and their desire to escape from negative emotions.

Suicidal Thoughts

Narcissists may also experience suicidal thoughts.

This may be due to their difficulty coping with negative emotions and their tendency to engage in impulsive behavior.

Prevention

Prevention of narcissism is difficult, as it is a complex personality trait that is influenced by various factors.

However, early intervention and treatment may help reduce the negative consequences associated with narcissism.

FAQs

  1. Will a narcissist admit to being a narcissist?

    It is unlikely that a narcissist will admit to being a narcissist. Narcissists have a grandiose sense of self-importance and believe they are superior to others. They are also highly defensive and have a strong need to maintain their self-image. Admitting to being a narcissist would require them to acknowledge their flaws and weaknesses, which is something they are not willing to do.

  2. Should I tell a narcissist that he/she is a narcissist?

    It is generally not recommended to tell a narcissist that he/she is a narcissist. Narcissists are highly defensive and can become aggressive when their self-image is threatened. They may also deny that they have any problems and blame others for their behavior. It is better to focus on setting boundaries and protecting oneself from their manipulative behavior.

  3. How to make a narcissist realize they are a narcissist?

    It is not possible to make a narcissist realize they are a narcissist. Narcissists have a distorted sense of reality and believe that they are always right. They are also highly resistant to change and may not see any reason to change their behavior. It is best to focus on one’s own well-being and seek support from a therapist or support group.

  4. Do narcissists know they are manipulating?

    Narcissists may not be aware that they are manipulating others. They may believe that they are simply getting what they want and that others should be grateful for their attention. Narcissists have a strong need for control and may use manipulation to maintain power over others.

  5. Do narcissists call you a narcissist?

    Narcissists may project their own flaws onto others and accuse them of being narcissists. This is a tactic known as “gaslighting” and is used to make the other person doubt their own perceptions and reality. Narcissists may also use this tactic to deflect attention away from their own behavior.

  6. Why do I question if I am a narcissist?

    It is common for those who have been in relationships with narcissists to question if they themselves are a narcissist. This is because narcissists often project their own flaws onto others and may accuse their partners of being narcissistic. A therapist or support group can help you work on your feelings and help you better understand yourself.

Final Words

Finally, here are three simple take-home messages:

  • Narcissists have a big ego, but it’s fragile. 
  • Some people with narcissism can function well in society.
  • Pathological narcissists have unstable self-esteem, are perfectionists, and are frequently aggressive.

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