Narcissists Understand, They Just Don't Care
It's not uncommon in narcissistic relationships that people get bogged down and stuck in a cycle where they find themselves repeatedly explaining basic concepts to the narcissist. These are usually things like trust, respect, integrity and any number of moral values. People find themselves unable to hit on the formula that will make the narcissist understand that what they are doing is wrong and unacceptable. They find themselves explaining these things over and over again in the hope that this time it will get through, as if the narcissist is a child instead of an adult.
This is understandable. When someone is doing things wrong that are causing disturbances, sabotaging themselves or hurting others, we assume they must not understand. When someone engages in behavior that is callous, foolish or dangerous, we assume they don't get it. When someone continuously does things that hurt themselves, or put themselves in danger, we assume they don't know any better. These may be logical assumptions to make in some situations. Most people will not continue to do things they know are hurting others, or hurting themselves. However, with narcissists, this is not correct.
Narcissists do understand that their behavior is wrong. They don't care. At least in that moment - and quite possibly the rest of the time as well - they feel you deserve it. They are not confused, they are not unsure and they are not sorry. As far as they are concerned, their behavior is only wrong in the broadest sense. Yes, it is wrong to say mean things to others, or lie about them or hit them. But what they believe you have done to them is so egregious and so horrible, what they are doing is justified. It isn't that it's not wrong. It's that it's not wrong for them.
Anyone else doing it would probably be wrong, but those people are not facing the evil that the narcissist is facing. (That's you.) Narcissists most often believe they are defending themselves. The truth is, they are reacting to irrational feelings and thoughts they themselves are having, and they are punishing other people for these things rather than facing that it's coming from them. The fact that you haven't actually done anything means nothing. They feel you did or you would or you could, and narcissists believe their feelings are facts. What they feel becomes what you think, what you said and what you did. No amount of explaining, logic or anything else will change this, because they don't want to believe you and don't care about your feelings anyway. So the narcissist was mean to you. Boo-hoo. That's nothing compared to what you've done to them, and if you didn't do anything this time, that doesn't mean you never will or you never have, so it doesn't matter anyway. You still deserve it.
This is why we say Stop Explaining to The Narcissist. There is no point. This is not a rational or logical person. This is an overly-emotional child with arrested development, delusional thinking and projection problems. You are not going to get through to them. If you've noticed, even when you think you have, you realize very shortly that you didn't. Their epiphanies don't last and whatever they understood, agreed to or promised you yesterday might as well never even happened today. They have no truth and they have no logic. All they have are feelings, and that is what they go by. This is why, though they understand the difference between right and wrong, their associations with these things are frangible. They are fragile. Right and wrong as concepts are well-understood by the narcissist if not applied to them. They will tell you all day what you've done wrong. They understand very well what wrong is. However, because for the narcissist truth is dictated by their emotions, by how they feel, their assessment of how these things apply to them is based solely on whether they feel they were justified or not.
For example, a narcissist may know - and believe - that it's wrong to steal. However, in their mind it was justified that they stole something because they needed it, or because it was too expensive, or because the person they stole it from wronged them, or because "Hey, they would do it to me." Their application of morality operates on a sliding scale that is dictated by how they can rationalize the wrong behavior. The better the justification, the less wrong it is in their eyes. We see this with narcissistic murderers. These people know - and believe, most of them - that killing is wrong. For instance, it would be wrong for someone to kill them. It is wrong for someone to go into a store and kill strangers. But they don't see their behavior as having anything to do with things like that. They don't fall into that category. There is always a reason they are special, that the rules don't apply to them.
This is the same reason they take so many risks with their lives and their health and their jobs. Rules don't apply to them. Like a child, they believe in magical thinking. It'll all be all right. Someone will save the day. Something will come up. Things will work out. Underneath all of these misguided superficial beliefs is the same deep-seated internal belief: I'm special.
Narcissistic people truly believe they are justified in their behavior, and they will spin it any way they have to in order to make this true. You could spend months or even years trying to make this person understand when the reality is, they do understand. They just don't agree with you and they don't care anyway. Their experience is not your experience and it never will be. This can be a hard lesson to learn. Don't fall into the trap of believing that someone who engages in wrong behavior doesn't understand what right is. They absolutely do.