Narcissists Need a Partner In Their Denial
Denial is very important to the pathologically narcissistic defense structure. The pathologically narcissistic person's entire existence is predicated upon being able to deny reality enough so that they can function. They deny everything, up to - and usually including - who they are. The false image of themselves that they impose upon the world, the lying, the blame-shifting, the gaslighting, the projection of their feelings and behaviors onto other people, the ridiculous overreactions or, conversely, the lack of any reaction at all... these are all attempts at denial.
Now, many people believe that the narcissist's manipulations and misrepresentations of themselves are designed to ensnare others in their trap. It is true that they employ many manipulations against others, but the truth is, the person they are usually trying to convince is themselves. That's why they need to involve other people. If they only see others as reflections of themselves, and if they require input from others to create any self-worth, then they need that person or those people to believe in what they say they are. Otherwise, the illusion falls apart. They are looking for a partner in their denial of who they believe they really are.
It's kind of like Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. She cannot exist unless people believe in her. If they don't, she will just wink out of existence. In order for a pathologically narcissistic person to exist, they have to have this false image to believe in. If they do not, the shame and pain they feel because of the reality of who they think they are is too much. They simply cannot bear it. This is why denial is so important. These are people who have generally spent their entire lives trying to pretend that they are someone other than who they are because - for whatever reason they imagine - who they actually are is too painful and hideous. Face that? Not happening. So they deny and they pretend. Like a child, they simply turn away from what they don't like or can't process and pretend things are different.
Some people believe that the narcissist's self-hatred is deserved. That may be true, but it's important to remember that if they were not afflicted with this pathological shame and self-hatred in the first place, they probably would not have turned out the way they have. Just something to think about. There are some who will say this paints narcissists as victims and gives excuses for the narcissist's behavior. There is a difference between an excuse and an explanation. What they have become is a shame on many levels. But that doesn't mean their terrible behavior is excusable. It isn't. Ever.
If someone feels that anything said here somehow excuses the behavior of a grown adult who knows the difference between right and wrong, that is their own interpretation of what is being said, because that has not and will not be said. The fact that someone has had a hard life is not an excuse to abuse other people, and actually it is appalling how often people just make that leap. Nothing excuses abuse, not even mental illness if a person knows right from wrong and narcissists know right from wrong. They just don't care. They believe their behavior is justified - always. There is no excuse for that.
This is why it's impossible to actually have a relationship of any kind with a narcissistic person. In order to make them happy, you have to be willing to be their partner in denial. You have to be willing to live in an alternate reality where none of the abusive, insensitive and inconsiderate things they do ever happened. You have to literally erase and edit your reality minute by minute the way that they do and pretend right along with them. You have to be willing to be the villain so that they can be either the hero or the victim - or both, the cause of mistake, every accident and every bad thing that happens to them so that they remain perfect and blameless, and you have to be a punching bag with a smile so that they can feel superior and exercise their endless desire to punish others. If you don't do these things, you are hurting them. You are exposing them. You will most likely be accused of abusing them.
Denial is one of the largest components of pathological narcissism. They are wrapped in it, encased in it. It has built up around their damaged self over time, the way that the oyster creates a pearl by wrapping an irritating grain of sand. But unlike the pearl, the end result is not beautiful. It's ugly and sad. Denial can permeate nearly every facet of a narcissist's existence and you could literally say they cannot live without it, because pathologically narcissistic people who are stripped of their denial and forced to face their internal reality often decompensate and may even become suicidal. The only way they can function at all is to find other people to buy into a fictional external reality. This is a damaging, toxic situation and it is one that usually has no resolution or happy ending unless someone just gets away from the relationship.
We often hear the question of whether someone can help a narcissist. The answer essentially, is no and the reason is that denial has conspired with other issues to make it almost impossible for them to understand they need help. They don't see many of the problems because they don't want to. It's your fault. It was a bad time. They were drunk. They were having a bad day. They were sad. They were angry. They were tired. That never happened. You're too sensitive. They did nothing wrong. You're making that up. You're just saying that to be hurtful. Stop criticizing! You encounter nothing but an endless cycle of excuses, rationalizations and blame designed to make it so they never have to even hear what you are saying, let alone understand or entertain the idea.
It isn't just a matter of listening better. It isn't just a matter of "Stop acting like that!" In order to actually change things, there is an entire infrastructure inside the narcissistic person that would have to be dismantled - one that has been there for years and years. That takes years and they have to be willing to go through what seems like endless agony and pain to do it. It's just easier to deny it. But you don't have to be their partner in that if you don't want to. You can live in reality and accept things as they are. That is true freedom.