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Narcissists’ entire personality is a defense to help them manage their hidden insecurity and inner turmoil. There are three hidden things they do that aren’t immediately obvious, but if you think about them, they will make sense to you and explain narcissists’ manifest behavior.
These behaviors stem from core symptoms of narcissism, especially their lack of empathy and grandiosity, and also arrogance.
It’s important in understanding narcissists to realize that their brain works differently and that they see the world much differently. Don’t compare them to yourself.
A Hierarchical Existence
Having power is the primary preoccupation of a narcissist. In their mind, having control and being on top keep them safe. They can’t conceive of equal relationships and avoid environments where that is the expectation. To them, everyone is a predator or prey. They must be in charge or will be eaten.
Thus, in every situation, they’re always assessing who’s on top, and try to be him or her. They use impression management to do this. They start with bragging and flattery, but when that doesn’t work, they try more aggressive tactics, such as belittling, manipulating, backstabbing, cheating other people, or taking credit for their work.
Feelings Don’t Matter
If you’re not familiar personally with a narcissist, you might take what they say and do at face value. You might think they’re caring and generous because they give you a gift, or that they respect you because they compliment you. However, those close to a narcissist frequently question the sincerity of the narcissist in their life when they act as though they care about your feelings. They suspect ulterior motives, manipulation, and selfishness.
The fact is that many narcissists fake their feelings, because they don’t authentically know how to respond. They don’t see other people as individuals separate from themselves, nor have natural empathy. They never want to discuss feelings, particularly vulnerable ones. They learn how to respond by observation or manufacture feelings and responses to provoke a certain reaction in someone else. Even in the rare case that they might apologize for past behavior, they soon repeat the abuse or blame you for it without remorse or recognition of any contradiction. If you point it out, they might use DARVO or just blame you as if they never owned up to it before.
They Hide Their Shame
Although narcissists feel grandiose and better than everyone else, they don’t love themselves. Underneath they worry they’re not enough or that they’re making mistakes. They may not be conscious of this underlying shame, just as many people are not, even though they may claim to have healthy self-esteem. Yet even when they do admit their insecurities to themselves or someone else, they don’t see the contradiction between that and their grandiosity. They may judge themselves for a bad decision or doing something foolish because they’re so smart — “How could I do that?” The part of themselves that feels insecure is split off from the part of themselves that feels grandiose and superior. They then project aspects of themselves they can’t accept onto others whom they disparage.
Learn more about the underlying features of narcissism, what motivates narcissists’ behavior, and explicit suggestions and strategies on how to respond to it effectively in “Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist: Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships.”
© Darlene Lancer 2023
Grapsas, S., Brummelman, E., Back, M.D., & Denissen, J. J. A. (2020). “The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Narcissism: A Process Model of Narcissistic Status Pursuit.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 15(1) 150 –172. DOI: 0.1177/1745691619873350.