I have received a few variations of the same question from readers, “Are Narcissists really aware of their behavior considering they have a personality disorder? Do they know what they are doing is wrong?”
Most people don’t put too much thought into their everyday behaviors. Think about how you behave on a regular basis. You usually don’t stop and think about what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it. You just act or react. Our behavior is generally driven by an accumulation of our emotional state at the time, our self-esteem and our past experiences.
As I illustrated in my blog Seeking Revenge Against a Narcissist, their general default setting consists of emotions such as, anger, smugness, frustration, boredom, obsession and contempt. When these feelings are part of your everyday experience, your brain creates neural pathways, so that when new stimuli comes in through your senses, your brain filters it through these pathways. The more we think a certain way, the stronger the neural pathway becomes.
So when your Narcissist is interpreting his environment, he is interpreting it through those filters. When you do something and he reacts in a rage, it’s because that neural pathway that leads to anger is well traveled and he is constantly interpreting other people’s intentions as negative and threatening to his sense of self. A Narcissist is extremely concerned with how others perceive him. Because he needs to be admired and considered superior, any slight real or imagined, will travel down the anger neural pathway and insight his fury. So in this manner his behavior has become his habitual way of thinking, it’s his natural reaction and is not something he thinks about consciously. He’s not thinking that he’s over reacted or acted badly, he’s just looking at how your behavior was offensive to him.
A Narcissist’s life is filled with anxiety. The need to alleviate these anxieties is what drives much of his behavior. He is a walking contradiction with desires to have emotional security and a need to be alone at the same time. On top of the need to rid himself of his anxiety, his actions are also self-esteem driven. Because he derives his sense of self-worth from the people and things in his environment, the choices he makes and the things he does reflect that. Most of the time he isn’t thinking of anyone else. He’s thinking, ‘how does this make me look,’ hurting you is usually an unfortunate repercussion he often never even considered. So in these two respects he is not really aware of his behavior.
However, we all know that if we want X to happen we must do Y to achieve the desired result. For instance, if you want a paycheck you must get up and go to work every day. If we are looking at the manipulative aspect of a Narcissist, abso-freakin-lutly he is aware that he is manipulating you. Some Narcissists are more manipulative than others, but believe me when he wants something from you, he’s going to tell you what you want hear, or do what he needs to, to get it, knowing full well, he has no intention of delivering on his promises. He wants everything on his terms and he doesn’t concern himself with how you will feel about it.
Consider the behavior of a drug addict. They will lie, steal and manipulate to get their next fix. Certainly they know what they are doing is wrong, but they don’t care. This not caring has been going on so long that every time they find themselves in a moral conundrum, it gets easier and easier to justify their behavior. All they concern themselves with is getting their next hit, regardless of the consequences to anyone else. In a similar fashion, all a Narcissist concerns himself with is obtaining his much needed supply. His needs outweigh all other considerations.
There is another aspect to this. Not everyone perceives right and wrong the same way. We’ve all been in situations where someone has thought that our behavior was wrong, even though upsetting someone was never our intention. What do we do in this situation? We will probably think they are over reacting and we won’t get too upset about it, or put too much thought into it. This is what a Narcissist does, they just do it on a grander scale.
Most people are guided by their conscience. They govern their actions based on their feelings and their ability to put themselves in another’s shoes. But what happens when you have no moral compass? When you lack empathy? When you remove those abilities – what’s left?
To answer your question we need to know exactly what you are dealing with and the level of their emotional impairment. Here is a very simplistic break down of how I tend to look at it:
There are 3 bad ass brothers – Emotionally Unavailable, Narcissist and Psychopath. They’re all cut from the same cloth, but there are distinct differences in their abilities to feel, relate to others and form attachment bonds and they are all missing various shades and colors from their emotional color pallet.
Emotionally Unavailable Narcissist Psychopath
Emotional Unavailability is a component of Narcissism, Narcissism is a component of Psychopathy.
Emotionally Unavailable people tend to exhibit a lot of the same behavior as Narcissists. They blow hot and cold in their relationships, they’re self-centered, they have the entitlement mentality and they don’t take responsibility for their actions ect… They have a great difficulty forming attachment bonds with others and tend to have huge emotional walls built up, that don’t allow others to get close.
For example, think about what it would be like if you were involved with someone that was in love with someone else. How would they treat you? You wouldn’t get their full attention or full commitment. They might have just one toe in their relationship with you and you’d be treated like an option. I tend to think that Emotionally Unavailable people have all of the colors on the emotional color pallet, but they are shades off of the true colors. Being Emotionally Unavailable is not a personality disorder, so usually those inflicted are capable of overcoming their impairment with the right amount of self-work and the desire to heal and change.
The major differences for me between an EU person and a Narcissist are that Narcissists have a weak, fragile self-esteem and depend on others for validation and their sense of self-worth. Not to say that EU don’t, but the degree is vastly different. Narcissists need to feed off of the admiration and esteem of others, like people need oxygen to breath. Without it they withdraw and spiral into depression. This need makes them predator-like and oh so willing to say and do whatever’s necessary to obtain another’s affections.
Narcissists also lack empathy. Those emotional colors are either nonexistent, or so far off the emotional shade chart that they don’t even resemble the original color.
While some Narcissists do engage in long term relationships, one of the most prevalent things that are missing is a sincere emotional bond. Many partners of Narcissists have said that they never really could get close to them and therefore never really knew them at all. Narcissists are also not nostalgic about any person, place or thing. Nothing seems to hold any deep sentimentality or emotional attachment for them.
Narcissism is a component of Anti-Social Personality Disorder, also known as Psychopathy. A Psychopath exhibits the same egomaniacal, predatory behaviors. They lie, manipulate, con and lack the ability to feel empathy or remorse. Psychopaths do not form attachment bonds. They have poor impulse control and engage in high risk behavior. Narcissists and Psychopaths share the same sense of entitlement and the same smug demeanor.
They also share a desire for attention and admiration, but the major difference between a Narcissist and a Psychopath is that a Psychopath does not depend on others for their self-esteem. They use others for self-gratification, or for their own amusement, but not because they have fragile egos that require constant reassurance. They despise humanity and really couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of them.
So the distinction between whether or not someone is Emotionally Unavailable, a Narcissist or a Psychopath is necessary in determining a person’s level of emotional impairment, because a behavior resonates as wrong to us, only when we believe or acknowledge that it’s wrong. If you don’t feel bad after you’ve done something, is it still wrong if you don’t feel it?
Does a Psychopath know that killing is wrong? Cognitively he does absolutely, but when those underlying feeling of empathy and morality aren’t present, right and wrong doesn’t really hold much meaning.
In the same way, absolutely a Narcissist knows that he’s hurting you. He knows that cheating is wrong, lying is wrong, manipulation is wrong, but only because society says it’s wrong. Not because he feels bad about it. I’ve said in previous blogs that it’s impossible to gage someone else’s emotions based on your morals and what you would or wouldn’t do. To a Narcissist everyone thinks and feels the same way he does. He’s missing pieces in his emotional color pallet. He just doesn’t know he’s missing them.
How can you know you don’t have the emotional color of empathy if you’ve never experienced it before? How do you know it even exists? Because it doesn’t exist for him, he tends to think that when you express it – your behavior is put on and false. Your behavior is just as much of a mystery to him as his is to you. The only difference is he isn’t sitting around thinking about your behavior – he’s thinking about him. Often they are quite surprised that their behavior has offended you, because your reaction and how it would affect you, never even crossed their mind.
So is a Narcissist aware of his behavior and that what he’s doing is wrong? Yes and no. Some of their behaviors are so ingrained in their neural pathways that they’ve become habitual and they usually don’t give it much thought. But when a Narcissist is stalking prey and trying to get what he wants in the moment, for sure he is aware of what he’s doing. He has perfected his attack. He knows he’s misleading you, he just doesn’t care.
All of us are able to rationalize and justify our actions to some degree, a Narcissist just does it on a grander scale. Mainly because they are missing integral emotional components that impairs their ability to consider the feelings of others. Because they don’t consider how their actions will affect you, there isn’t really a right or wrong component in their decision making process and since your feelings were never even a consideration to him, when he hurts them he can easily absolve himself of any wrong doing, because hurting you wasn’t something he necessarily intended to do. You were just collateral damage.
The bottom line is, whether or not a Narcissist is aware his behavior is wrong is really irrelevant. The question you should be asking yourself is, ‘Why am I still involved with a person who displays Narcissistic behavior? What am I getting out of this?’
It’s as if we are looking for a reason to continue to be invested. When you’re involved with a Narcissist you have likely become an expert at minimizing and rationalizing their bad behavior. And if somehow we can excuse his behavior and say that he just didn’t know better, then we can continue to justify engaging with them.
I’m the first person that always jumps up and says it’s all about intention. When I’m confronted with a situation – intention is always the first thing I look at. But with people who are only capable of having hurtful, self-serving intentions, whether or not they are aware that they’re hurting you doesn’t matter. You can’t say, “He treated me like gum on the bottom of his shoe, but it’s ok because he didn’t mean to do it – he’s a Narcissist.” There is no court on this planet that accepts Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Anti-Social Personality Disorder as a defense, so neither should you. “Sorry your honor, I killed those people, but I have a personality disorder, so it wasn’t my fault,” that just doesn’t float. We are all responsible for and need to be accountable for our actions, regardless of our impulses, or drives.
The only questions you should be asking are – Is this relationship good for me? Does this person add value to my life? Does he make me happy? Am I consistently being treated in a loving, respectful manner?
If the answer is no then, ‘What the hell am I still doing in this relationship?’ And, ‘Where’s the door?’ – are the only questions you should be asking. Stop looking for reasons to justify his behavior. Take the focus off of him and put it where it always should be on – you.
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