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5 Things You May Not Know About Narcissists

Updated on November 13, 2019
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

1. They are not all arrogant, vain or overconfident.

While many pathologically narcissistic people can come across this way, they don't all behave this way at all and NONE of them actually feel this way. The core of pathological, unhealthy narcissism is envy and shame. Shame for the self and envy of others. Purported arrogance, vanity and overconfidence are their way of denying this envy and shame.

Narcissistic people have a false self that they project onto the world, and the point of this false self is to directly contradict and combat these negative feelings for themselves. If they feel weak, they may try to appear powerful. If they feel unattractive or unwanted, they may try to appear vain and conceited. If they don't feel confident, capable or sure, they may try to appear arrogant. It's a misdirection designed to create the idea that they are different than they are because they believe they do not have any value as they are. How they try to appear has a lot to do with their individual personality. Most pathological narcissists are either covert or overt, and some are a mix.

It's kind of like the concept of introverts and extroverts, where most people are one of the other and some people are a little of both depending on the situation. Overt narcissists are the ones that mainly appear arrogant, vain and overconfident. Covert narcissists can come across very differently. They can seem insecure, helpless, vulnerable, like a victim... They can also appear to be generous, magnanimous, helpful, caring and more. The word "covert" means hidden. Not all pathologically narcissistic people are obvious at first. Some can be very hard to see, especially if a person believes they all have to appear a certain way. They don't.

2. They can and do apologize.

We always hear that narcissists never apologize. This is not the case. Some narcissists do apologize. That doesn't mean they're actually sorry, of course, but many do apologize.

Usually, the apologies come after some consequences have resulted from their behavior that they don't like. They may be truly sorry, but they are sorry that things have resulted in these consequences, not for their behavior. If the consequences had not happened, they probably would not have apologized. Many don't seem to even realize they've done anything wrong, nor do they actually care once it's pointed out. Only when it impacts them negatively (or when it could) do they begin to care. They may also apologize because they have pathological shame for themselves. This shame is not really based in reality and has nothing to do with anything they've actually done, per se. It's more of a reaction to self-loathing and so is the apology.

Others apologize because they think this is what they are supposed to do when they get caught or called out doing something wrong, not necessarily understanding how remorse works. Still others may apologize as a purely manipulative device. And of course, some never apologize at all. Narcissists are individuals. That's why suspicion of toxic narcissism should not be based on specific behaviors but rather on patterns in someone's life. Behaviors can have different motivations depending on the context. The narcissist's motivation is always the same, regardless of what they are doing.

3. They are unhappy, miserable people.

It's a very common misconception that narcissistic people are happy and carefree. Some do indeed appear that way, but if they are pathologically narcissistic, then this is not the case. People who are severely narcissistic are generally very unhappy. They commonly have problems with anxiety, stress and depression. Studies have typically shown in the past that narcissistic people report feeling happier than others but researchers are finally learning that narcissists cannot be trusted to self-report. Not only will they lie to perpetuate a narrative about themselves, but they are often extremely disconnected from their feelings and don't understand them. Many are also simply attempting to give the "right" answer, even if it's not true. Asking narcissists questions directly often will not result in the truth.

Other studies have borne this out because they contradict narcissists' narrative that they are happy. For example, studies have shown that narcissistic people experience stress and emotional upset much more strongly than those who are not narcissistic. Studies have shown that narcissistic people have great difficulty recognizing and naming emotions in others and in themselves. As we have discussed in other videos, narcissistic people generally have a very negative and abusive inner-dialogue. They have fluctuating, even nonexistent self-worth and an unstable identity. These are things that they have no tools to deal with and no escape from.

This is why suicide is a reality among narcissistic people, despite a very persistent misconception that narcissists love themselves too much to kill themselves. The rate of suicidality among narcissistic people is disproportionately high when compared to the rest of the population, with some studies putting it at 20% when it occurs with major depression. It is true that narcissistic people can engage in suicidal threats to manipulate others but it's equally true that many are suicidal because they are miserable.

They are stuck in a world they don't understand or know how to navigate with no tools or capabilities to do what they need for themselves and no ability to be happy. They get tired of the stress, the pain and the confusion. They also often have poor impulse control and no ability to see beyond the moment, like a child. Suicide can look like an escape from their problems. And if they can't get what they feel they need, they'd rather die. This is very like a child, who also has no ability to regulate their emotions and no ability to distinguish between "need" and "want."

If a two year old spills their milk, they become very upset. They have no understanding that there is more milk in the world and they can have another glass. All they know is they felt they needed milk, they had milk and now they don't. Adult narcissists are very similar. This is drama on their part, but it's not just drama. In many ways, it's very real to them. If anyone's self-worth bottoms out, suicidal feelings are almost always the result. Since narcissists don't have much to begin with, this can be a constant problem in the life of a narcissist.

And of course, we can look at their behavior to gauge their happiness: do people who are truly happy and love themselves act like that? Do they say those things? Do they do those things? Do they need to hurt and degrade others to feel better about themselves? Do they need to feel like someone else lost in order to feel like they won? Do they use people? Do they manipulate others? Do they constantly complain that nothing is good enough, that no one does enough for them? Do they go around constantly saying, "What about me?" No. They don't.

4. They are hiding the truth from themselves more than anybody.

Many people believe that narcissists are putting on an act for others and while this is true, others are not actually their target audience. Not really. The truth is, other people are not the audience. They are just props the narcissist uses to make the act more believable to themselves. It is themselves they are trying to convince. If other people believe they are special or amazing or scary or powerful or whatever they are claiming to be and they reflect that reality back to the narcissist, then the narcissist can believe it, too.

This is what is sometimes called "narcissistic supply." The other people are feeding the narcissist a supply of validation based on this fiction that the narcissist uses in place of true self-worth. This explains why the fiction is so important to narcissists. It is their only defense mechanism against that negative, abusive inner-dialogue and lack of self-worth. That's why any "prop" that does not play their part correctly in this fiction is punished or discarded. The person has disrupted the narrative and that creates serious upset within the narcissist, even panic. The fiction is very fragile and can be damaged easily. When this happens, the narcissist has no defense against that vicious inner-critic and this is a life-threatening situation because their self-worth takes a nosedive. Preserving this fiction is therefore extremely important, and so is securing people who can help with that. People who cannot help with that, either because they have seen through the narcissist or because the narcissist thinks they have, are not regarded as very important in many ways.

This is why you will often find that those who do not know the narcissist very well are treated better and seem to have more importance to the narcissist than their own family. What these people reflect back to the narcissist is better than what their family reflects back because the family knows the narcissist is not really what they are pretending to be. The supply they provide is tainted because the idealized image of the narcissist has been tainted in these people's eyes - usually by narcissist's own behavior. They will often either outright discard these people or seek out others to provide supply to compensate. Triangulation often occurs in these situation as well, with the narcissistic person using the new people to punish those they believe have failed to provide them what they need. They may also attempt to repair the damage they've caused to their own fiction if they cannot find others that they feel are suitable, but because their image has been tarnished, they usually don't believe this can happen and simply create a cycle of idealization and devaluation that never ends.

Many people believe that when narcissistic people devalue and discard after they've been exposed, it's because they've been exposed to others. That's true, in a way, but only because when you expose them to others, they lose places to turn where they can receive validation. The real truth is, you've exposed them to themselves and more than anybody else, that's the one person who needs to be kept in the dark.

5. They are not going to suddenly understand one day.

This can be really hard for people to understand and even harder to accept. Narcissists are usually reasonably intelligent people who can have conversations and things like that. It is extremely frustrating when someone of seemingly normal intelligence and functioning apparently cannot grasp reason or logic, or understand how facts work. This is probably one of the reasons they've gotten the reputation of being so malicious and so deceitful; it's just too hard to believe that someone who appears able to function does not understand. And at times at least, they obviously are extremely malicious and purposely deceitful. But there are many times that they just don't seem to get it - and if we examine their decision-making and the totality of their behavior, we can see that this is likely the truth. Because it's not just the way they treat others.

Pathologically narcissistic people routinely behave in ways that do not benefit themselves, either. Many do it repeatedly, even sabotaging themselves at every turn. A person who is simply malicious and selfish or just looking to game others for their own ends would be able to see that, but it doesn't seem like most narcissists can. For example, a basic con man generally does not do the work of setting themselves up in a perfect situation where they are getting exactly what they want from somebody and then sabotage that totally by continuously behaving in ways that could - and often does - cause them to lose that situation. They are cognizant enough to know that is a mistake and emotionally mature enough to control any behavior that would result in that happening. Many narcissistic people are not able to do that.

It's like a child. Even the smartest three year old on the planet cannot understand most adult concepts. It's not because they are stupid. It's because they are not mature enough. They haven't gotten there yet cognitively or emotionally. Pathologically narcissistic adults are often there cognitively but not emotionally. It's beyond immaturity; they seem to have arrested emotional development. There's generally a large disconnect between their intellectual and emotional maturity, to the point that their emotional immaturity routinely counteracts their intellectual ability. In healthy adult people, this does not happen. It can happen in times of extreme stress, but it is not their basic way of functioning. For narcissistic people, it is.

This is why they are not going to just understand what you are trying to tell them or show them or anything else. It's very likely that they can't. Toxic narcissism affects the entire personality structure: emotion, cognition, perception... everything. It's asking a person with flawed perception to use that flawed perception to see and fix the flaws in their perception. Even if they could somehow overcome that and understand, pathologically narcissistic people are generally in survival mode, living in the moment and trying to get their needs met. Their entire lives are about avoiding pain. Facing these things brings pain. That's the exact opposite of what they have spent their lives trying to do. Their survival strategy has evolved to protect them from having to hear or believe things about themselves - or anything - that are painful or dangerous, and anything which disrupts their fiction is painful and dangerous. Facing the things you are trying to tell them would be literally running counter to their survival as they know it. They're not going to do that. Nobody is going to do that.

It's important to understand that if someone is pathologically narcissistic, this is not just a stubborn liar who doesn't want to admit something. This is a person with a serious problem, and one that it is not possible for you to fix. It may not be possible for anyone to fix it, including them. It may not even be possible for them to acknowledge it.

A lot of these things are hard to hear and even harder to acknowledge, but in the end, it's better to understand what you are dealing with.

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