Narcissists Are Narcissistic - 24 Hours a Day
We sometimes hear people say things like, "And then he went right back to being narcissistic!" or "She was normal for two days and then back to being a narcissist!" This is understandable but it's a misunderstanding of the way pathological narcissism affects somebody, especially if they actually have a personality disorder.
When someone has a personality disorder, the personality itself is disordered. This means that there is no time or situation where this disorder is not present. There is no moment in this person's life where the disordered functioning is not affecting them. People tend to believe that when someone is not "acting out," that is their normal and a deviation from that is "abnormal." For pathologically narcissistic people, however, this is their normal. All of it. The hysteria, the anger, the kindness they may display at times, the constant splitting and black and white thinking, the manipulation. Even when they are behaving "normally," they are still being affected by the disordered thinking. It permeates every aspect of their life - whether you see it or not. If it truly doesn't, then it's likely they are not pathologically narcissistic.
When someone is pathologically narcissistic, everything about them is colored by that. Their behavior, their thinking, their perception, their thoughts, feelings... everything. When we say pathologically narcissistic, we are saying that this person has such strong and rigid narcissistic traits that they are either unwilling or unable to adapt their behavior and thinking - even when it is in their own best interest to do so. For example, someone who wants to work but is unable or unwilling to stop engaging in behaviors that result in them being fired from every job they get, or someone who does not want their marriage to end but is either unwilling or unable to stop doing the things that are destroying it.
The problem with pathologically narcissistic people is that the way their disordered mindset evolved is out of a need to protect them from unfair criticism or abuse. Unfortunately, it has become pathological and dysfunctional, therefore everything is now identified as criticism and abuse. This means the narcissist hears none of it in any way that matters. Their mind has evolved to simply shut these hurtful things out or worse, to integrate them into their own ugly picture of themselves. This is the true tragedy of narcissism, because without being able to understand or even hear what the problem is, they cannot fix it. They identify it as abuse or a threat and react with hurt, anger and denial instead of looking for ways to fix the problem. They will simply continue on with the same behavior, unable or unwilling to understand what is going wrong. Things will keep getting worse and they will keep outwardly blaming others and inwardly believing it is because they are inherently unlovable and broken, without ever realizing they have the power to fix it.
When you are dealing with a pathologically narcissistic person, realize that you are dealing with narcissism all the time. It doesn't go away. At any moment, the situation can change. These are unstable, volatile people with no grounded center and no true ability to regulate their emotions. More importantly, you are speaking to them through a filter, the filter of their narcissism. Everything you say is received through this filter, everything you do is viewed through it and everything they feel is processed through it. If you had contacts in your eyes that tinted everything pink, and were asked to identify the color white, you would not be able to do so because everything looks pink to you. Every color would be distorted to you because your perception is affected. Now let's pretend it's always been that way for you and you never knew anything different. How hard would it be for you to believe that the way you are seeing and perceiving everything is different or wrong?
This is why so many narcissistic people accuse their loved ones of gaslighting, of manipulation, of narcissism. In some situations, this is just projection but in others, to the narcissist it looks like that is what you're doing. They don't see it the way that you do. They never have and they likely never will. They believe feelings are facts, and you are telling them that they have their facts wrong. You are presenting a completely different story than the way they experienced things. To them, this looks like a deliberate attempt to manipulate, deceive or trick them. Of course, they already believe you will do that, so this just makes them more sure of it. Now you're being cruel to them and trying to gaslight them into believing you're not! You are dastardly indeed. This is what leads so many people to record their conversations with narcissistic people in their lives. They feel they need a touchstone of tangible reality to work from, because the narcissistic person sees things so differently.
Many narcissistic people level abuse accusations at their loved ones out of spite or because they are trying to hide their own abusive behavior, but others seem to actually believe they are being treated badly. In the end though, it doesn't matter why someone behaves this way. You will not be able to change their mind. You're not going to be different. They have a vested interest in things staying exactly the way they are, and it really has nothing to do with you.