Does a Narcissist Know He’s a Narcissist?

The word “narcissism” has been thrown around in recent years and often means different things to everyone. However, whether or not narcissists are genuinely aware that they have this personality disorder is often debated in psychology circles.

Does this person know they have a disorder, or are they unable to recognize that there’s a problem?

Here are insights from experts:

Laurie Hollman, PhD

Laurie Hollman

Licensed Psychoanalyst, Choosing Therapy | Author, Are You Living with a Narcissist?

Full-blown NPD do not know they are narcissists—they feel their self-absorption is warranted

In my experience, narcissists with a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder do not know they are narcissists, especially without any professional treatment. They feel their self-absorption is warranted. An unempathic person is unaware of their lack of empathy.

I’ve found, for example, narcissistic doctors whom I’ve treated think their bedside manner is exemplary. And in fact, it may be that they have a well-spoken, kindly manner with their patients that is somewhat like a script. Then they are admired by grateful patients not only because of their actual skill but also because their script is so believably caring.

This narcissistic caregiver wants to be admired, considered the top of their field, and worthy of accolades and awards, so thankful patients reinforce this script. However, in their private life, their spouses and children do not feel actual empathy and may even resent the praise they receive from their patients, which the narcissist will go on and on about.

The narcissistic mind will believe that their interests are always primary. They believe their way or point of view is stellar and should be highly regarded and heeded. Again, they believe this is reasonable, given all they think they have to offer.

They do not recognize compromise should be a part of relationships or family life.

This individual feels entitled to be the focus of attention, the center of a social gathering, the superior parent (who expects kids to adore and enhance the parent’s self-esteem rather than the child’s), as well as the number one employer or employee even when the needs of others are disregarded.

  • If the narcissist does fail at some endeavor, they will most likely blame others.
  • If their performance is judged as being faulty, they will deny to themselves that they are responsible for any mistakes or lack of knowledge.

The central theme of the narcissist is “Me, Me, Me,” which is the core of their personality disorder and may even be affected by aspects of their brain anatomy.

Without treatment, they will be so entrenched in their beliefs that they can become quite depressed, anxious, and lonely because they are so inept at satisfying relationships. It is indeed their actual suffering that will lead them to seek help eventually because their inflated grandiosity is unconsciously a defense for inner feelings of emptiness.

For this reason, the narcissist needs psychotherapy from a highly trained empathetic and trustworthy therapist specifically able to understand and feel compassion for this individual’s pain.

This is an illness, not simply an aberrant character trait for someone with inexplicable values.

If people in the narcissist’s life are educated to understand this fine point, they, too, will be able to love their narcissistic family member during their treatment. In my view, change is possible in the life of a narcissist if there is enough dissonance and discord that leads to humiliation and open resentment from those he wants to be special to.

Related: Can Narcissists Change if They Want To?

Sharonda “Nya B” Brown, MA, NCC, LPC

Nya B

Licensed Mental Health Clinician and National Board Certified Counselor

Someone who struggles with narcissism or its traits is well aware of who they are

One may believe that a narcissist knows that they are a narcissist, but the reality is, they do not. What I’m about to say next can be quite confusing, so bear with me.

Narcissism is a disorder of shame. Therefore, someone who struggles with such a disorder or the traits of the disorder is well aware of who they are. Similarly, they are well aware of their shortcomings or “things” they are ashamed of. How else would they know what parts of them to protect? This is the extent of their knowledge.

What makes narcissism a disorder is the blind extent to which one will cover up their shame. These characteristics are just a few defense mechanisms used to protect their ego:

  • manipulating
  • lack of empathy
  • shifting blame
  • “gaslighting”

What happens when people become defensive? They are only aware of their need to protect themselves, not the measures they will take to do it.

For example, an adult whose parents may have repeatedly shamed as a child for spilling food or making a mess, if unresolved, may grow up and work very hard not to make mistakes. Because they are aware that mistakes can happen and were made painfully aware that they have made them, they may become obsessed with perfection. So much so that they may develop an alter-ego.

This alter-ego will be obsessed with image; will have nice cars, clean home, dressed to perfection, a need to always be “right,” etc.

Anyone who dares to threaten that, or hold them accountable for mistakes, will trigger them, provoking them to shift blame, not take responsibility for their actions, or heighten their refusal to see things from the other person’s point of view.

Similarly, because they feel attacked, someone with narcissistic traits may also work hard to make the other person feel bad for even making a note of any mishap or shortcoming. While completely being unaware.

There will always be a need to protect the ego

This is how true narcissism presents itself. As a prerequisite, narcissists must see themselves in everything and become oblivious to anything else for this to happen.

The only way a narcissist can see themselves at fault or their actions as hurtful to others is for a skilled clinician to safely hold up the mirror of shame and point out to them how hard they’ve been working to protect that ego. Only then will a narcissist be able to step outside of themselves to become fully aware that they are a narcissist.

Emily Simonian, LMFT

Emily Simonian

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Thriveworks

They have enough self-interest to notice what others might be saying about them

I think it’s important to highlight the difference between narcissistic personality traits vs. a narcissistic personality disorder due to the growing popularity of this topic in mainstream media and pop culture. 

Many people can have one or maybe even a few narcissistic traits, like a constant need for praise or admiration, having a sense of entitlement, or an enormous sense of self-importance, but that doesn’t mean they are “narcissists.” 

In the mental health field, we use the diagnosis Narcissistic Personality Disorder to clinically describe what most people think of as severe “narcissism,” which includes the traits mentioned above, in addition to others, like patterns of having exploitative or manipulative relationships as well as a lack of empathy for others. 

To have NPD, a person must have 5 out of 9 traits listed for that diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, typically starting in early adulthood. They will usually have trouble with their relationships across numerous facets of their lives:

  • In friendships
  • Family relationships
  • Romantic relationships
  • or work

So, does someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder recognize their narcissistic traits? In short — yes, most likely because they have enough insight and, more importantly, self-interest to notice what others might be saying about them. 

For example, someone without NPD will look in the mirror and see their narcissistic personality traits as a problem that can hurt them or hold them back in life (because they have empathy and are not entirely self-serving)On the other hand, someone with NPD will look in the mirror and see their narcissistic personality traits as a solution that will move them forward in life. 

In other words, true narcissists can’t move beyond their self-serving behaviors because they see them as positive, advantageous, and as a means for getting what they want or becoming who they want to be.

They are likely to label anyone but themselves as the problem, negating the purpose of insight or awareness in the first place.

Dr. Dana McNeil, PsyD, LMFT

Dana Mcneil

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Founder, The Relationship Place

There is a very unlikely probability they think they are doing anything hurtful or out of the norm

If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who you identify as possessing the traits of a narcissistic personality disorder, then you probably have lots of questions about how your partner ended up this way!

You also probably wonder how they can seem so inconsiderate, self-centered, and insensitive to your needs and feelings.

You may have tried to convince yourself that your person must have experienced a traumatic event in life that left them horribly and emotionally scarred in some way to create this behavior. You likely also fantasize that if you just love them enough and are patient enough, then they will turn their behaviors around.

The sad reality is that if you are involved with a person who fits the criteria of being clinically diagnosed as having a personality disorder like narcissism, then the probability of their suddenly becoming insightful about why they are the way they are is slim to none.

When someone experiences what we in the therapy world refer to as a personality disorder, it means the behaviors and thinking the person exhibits have been with them for a very long time – probably since birth. This is often the way they sprang into the world.

Many therapists view the behaviors of someone labeled a narcissist as being that person’s response or coping skill to an early trauma that taught them to turn inward and become overly self-reliant.

The theory is that because it feels too scary to depend on other people for their sense of self or to view others as a safe place to self-reflect in ways that allow for growth and develop empathy, they shut off their need to connect or relate to others.

What that means is that these hurtful traits are congruent with the way the person has always viewed themselves and the world they inhabit.

As a result, there is a very unlikely probability they think they are doing anything weird, odd, hurtful, or out of the norm for the way they have always existed with everyone in their life prior to you.

A recent study in 2020 from the Cleveland Clinic found that only 5% of the population actually meet the criteria of being diagnosable as having a narcissistic personality disorder.

While the topic of narcissism is hot right now, there are tons of social media articles that suggest your partner’s unkind behavior must be due to their being a narcissist; the probability of your ending up in a relationship with one is very small.

That’s good news from a therapy perspective because most truly diagnosable narcissistic personality disordered people are not interested in going to therapy, working on behavioral changes, and don’t attribute their relationship problems to having anything to do with themselves.

It probably doesn’t feel good, but if your partner is just being insensitive, dismissive, or arrogant because they don’t know any better, then there is still hope for things to turn around.

If you are in a relationship with someone who truly is narcissistic, please remember that your partner has a mental health issue, not a personality flaw. Believe it or not, your partner may not even be aware that they are doing something hurtful or that their words and actions are rubbing you the wrong way.

Consider seeking support from a couples therapist to help learn tools that you both can use to navigate conversations in productive ways. Learning new ways to communicate can help avoid one or both of you becoming defensive or critical so that you can know how to best ask for your needs moving forward.

Dr. Gail Saltz

Gail Saltz

Associate Professor of Psychiatry, NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine | Author, The Power of Different

It is rare that a person who is a narcissist knows they are a narcissist

How would they come to know? If they know, how might they act?

If someone tells them they are a narcissist, it is likely they would defensively dismiss this. The word itself has such a negative connotation that it is considered more of a criticism or an insult rather than a description of the specific traits causing difficulties.

Telling someone they are a narcissist likely will not be helpful.

However, if you tell them that you are feeling bad in the way you relate to them because they seem only to be concerned with themselves and have difficulty being aware of others’ feelings, that would likely be more constructive.

Dr. Fumi Stephanie Hancock, PSYCHDNP

Fumi Stephanie Hancock

Founder, POB Psychiatry

They may not appreciate being called ‘narcissistic’ but would never apologize for the traits they exhibit

There are various schools of thought regarding this topic. Some believe that narcissists know that they are narcissistic. The other simply acknowledge that they may not know that they are narcissistic.

Here is what we know about them and what makes most believe that they know they are narcissistic. They may not appreciate being called ‘narcissistic‘ but would never apologize for the traits they exhibit. In fact, they welcome it with open arms!

We know they are very strategic and put much thought into what they intend to accomplish, and sadly, some people see it coming but still get sucked into their orbit, while others ignorantly find themselves in that orbit and are desperately looking for ways to get away from the narcissist.

Some visit to my practice to ask if they truly are narcissistic after being confronted many times by their family members. Let’s talk about this – they relish and own the symptoms which they exhibit. After all, they are often into themselves.

They consider themselves God’s one and only gift to mankind even though they might not have cracked the Bible or Quran open in their lives.

They are the manufacturers of the greatest ‘gaslighting‘ the world has never known; they will rather let the family or the community or even the world at large burn down to ashes if they are not steering it. So entertaining their sultry behavior is only going to make things worse.

Their fierce thirst for power would often lean towards authoritarianism; after all, they really do not care if anyone likes them. They simply want to be admired and revered.

Their charismatic character makes them attractive to a group of persons who are already vulnerable because they feel they are not getting in life what they deserve; they use fear as tactics to get people to fall in line.

When they promise to destroy you, you can take it to the bank and cash in on that. That narcissist in your world will lie, cheat, steal, destroy in broad daylight, then laugh in secrecy and openly at his prey!

A stroke of a pen is a dangerous weapon in the hands of a narcissist.

They may not have started the fire, but they have studied it enough to know how to keep fanning it until they either get what they want or destroy that same thing they claim they want. They are masters and skilled at planning destruction and lies. When you are targeted, they latch on until that person is completely destroyed.

They study their prey for a long time- they court that person or persons, start the plan to assault their minds, and crash into their souls with seeds of lies which is rooted in the fears their preys already have.

Their spirit of entitlement roams the streets, and they find others to take that dark journey with them.

In other words, there is usually evidence of some flicker of truth on which they base their lies! They radicalize their preys, who now take on their biddings and would die for it if need be. An example is Jones— a cult leader several years ago who got people to complete mass suicide.

Narcissism can be as little as the spouse making the family miserable with his iron fist full of lies and deceit, to the boss in an organization bent on making you look bad, or even to the country leader who refuses to leave his office when the time is up!

So do they know they are narcissistic? If you confront them, some might tell you, “You have no idea what you are talking about,” or “You are the sick one.” You are the one who needs help, and they are the solution to your sickness.

While they may never come out right to say they are narcissistic, they do not apologize for their behavior.

Their world is all about me, and you are in their picture transactionally. When you outlive your usefulness, you are gone! So quit pretending you are their best friend because they do not have one.

They wreak havoc in their families or even their communities or organizations where they are serving, then turn around to tell the same people they have inflicted pain on that they are the only ones who can fix the havoc.

You can never win an argument with them, and true forgiveness does not exist. You may be, just maybe, forgiven when you twist yourself inside-out lose your dignity and pride. But that is just maybe.

They cover their inadequacies with lies, act like cult leaders regardless of the setting, and are very persuasive because they plan their actions way before their victims realize they are already moving into their world. I regard them as half-baked because they are truly driven by their own inadequacies.

Most of all, they simply do not have the empathy most people around them want them to exhibit.

Woe is ME‘ becomes their national anthem, and when they feel wronged, they quickly project those raw emotions to those who are already captured by them. ‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the narcissist in your orbit, that one who is absolutely convinced you are not loyal.

Sadly, some may lose their lives following this dark, charismatic cultish, and dominating personality.

Dr. Jordan Schaul

Jordan Schaul

Scientist with Degrees in Biology and Psychology | Founder, Scapegoat Strength

While they know they’re narcissistic, they consider their narcissism in a very positive light

First and foremost, narcissism is all about image and reputation management.

While narcissists are aware that there are some negative connotations associated with perceptions surrounding their ‘narcissism,’ they would rather be respected and admired for being seen as a ‘big deal’ (which is how they see themselves) than for being liked for kindness, thoughtfulness, and empathy.

Of course, narcissists have a greatly inflated and, quite frankly, distorted view of themselves and their abilities. They are very much aware that they are narcissistic, but they tout/promote what they perceive as the attributes associated with trait narcissism and downplay shortcomings associated with the narcissistic personality characteristics.

Individuals high in narcissistic traits, particularly those with pathological ones (As seen in clinical narcissism or NPD), view the world in all or nothing terms.

They perceive themselves as all good and others as all good or bad. These dichotomous thinking patterns are cognitive distortions, making it difficult for narcissists to appreciate the nuance and gray areas in life.

Dialectical thought patterns, as opposed to dichotomous thought patterns, help most people appreciate the duality in life events and in our judgment of others.

While narcissists know they are narcissistic, they consider their narcissism in a very positive light, if not as a strength.

Any shortcomings associated with trait narcissism may be considered trivial to them. It’s very hard for narcissists to develop a critical view of themselves unless they have been truly humiliated. This is because, given their self-construct, they can’t tolerate criticism from others.

Ike Kalson

Ike Kalson

Co-founder, Live Narcissist Free

Narcissists traditionally have lacked introspection or self-awareness

The old way

Narcissists traditionally have lacked introspection or self-awareness. Rather than acknowledging their problems and focusing on self-improvement, they would instead project these issues onto their victims.

Over time and with repeated instances of gaslighting, some victims would end up believing the narcissists’ projections, making them ripe for further manipulation. This pattern of behavior is one reason why many believe Narcissistic Personality Disorder is underdiagnosed in our population.

A new breed of narcissists

While the old way has worked extremely well at manipulating victims, awareness of narcissism has become increasingly mainstream over the last few years. With this in mind, some narcissists have found a new source of supply after realizing who they really are.

They’ll join a support group or confide in you, pretending to have suffered from abuse by a narcissist. They’ll tread very cautiously as if they are a traumatized victim (for example, they’ll leave their cameras off or be particularly shy). This approach gains the trust of actual victims, allowing the narcissist to infiltrate their lives.

From thereon, they go back to the same playbook of lies, smearing, and manipulation, retraumatizing the victim.

Inside the mind of a self-aware narcissist

Self-aware narcissists realize they have gaps in their skillset (though they will never publicly admit this), so they find ways to fill in these gaps. For example, a self-aware narcissist will realize they have never cared about anyone but themselves.

In order to learn how victims express empathy, they’ll go to the source (online forums, support groups, and actual victims) and observe how people talk and act. Now armed with the right lingo, they’ll say exactly the right things to gain trust from victims.

It’s the same thought process as traditional covert narcissists, though now, it’s being applied in the specific context of exploiting already traumatized victims.

Three signs of these narcissists:

  • They’re controlling but over more “intellectual” things
    • Self-aware narcissists will try to micromanage victims through non-conventional means. For example, instead of taking control of finances (a ploy of traditional narcissists), they’ll control:
      • the music you listen to,
      • the books you read,
      • the topics of conversations.
    • This is more covert and can easily go unnoticed until things worsen.
  • They try and progress quickly though a relationship
    • Once they have opened up to the victim, these narcissists will quickly try and progress the relationship (whether it’s romantic or just a friendship).
    • They may offer opportunities for the victim to share extremely vulnerable things. While the victim may already be on the lookout for a narcissist, their concerns are eased when the narcissist pretends to already be a victim.
  • They converse with victims at a very deep level
    • Self-aware narcissists may come up with some fake flaws up front and talk about how they’ve improved on their mistakes through their self-introspection and healing. It’s also likely they will share deep stories of abuse and how they’ve recovered and healed.
    • These dramatic stories are to allure the victim and give them hope that they have found someone who understands them.

Sarah K. Ramsey

sarah ramsey

Professional Problem Solver and Relationship Expert | Author, “Toxic Person Proof: Clear the Confusion and Learn to Trust Yourself

Narcissists are very aware that they are masters at getting their way

How could anyone hurt someone on purpose? Does a narcissist know they are blaming others for their problems? Do hurt people always hurt people? Narcissists may act badly, but surely they don’t realize they are doing it, right?

If you have been in a toxic relationship, you’ve probably wrestled with the questions above. Good, kind, loving, giving, and forgiving people who reflect on how their behavior affects others can have a difficult time imagining that someone else would hurt people on purpose.

I’ve talked to thousands of people who have had a partner, family member, coworker, or friend with whom they attempted to have a relationship. These kind individuals did everything within their power to make a relationship work!

They tried to communicate well, take responsibility for their own faults, and find alternative ways to minimize conflict. Yet, nothing worked. The narcissist in their life still thought they should always win, always get their way, and always blame others when something went wrong.

You are probably nodding your head, saying, “Yes! This person gets it. It is like they have a camera watching my life!” But, you may still find yourself asking, “Does the narcissist know what they are doing?”

I want you to think back at how old you were when you were taught how to take turns. You were probably around 2 years old when you had a caregiver point out that other children should get a turn with the toys or book.

In very rare circumstances, someone may be 4 or 5 when they start school and learn to share. However, by the time someone is 10 years old, they would have been told to take turns and consider others hundreds of times.

The entire early childhood experience is about learning how to take turns in front of the line, rotating turns on the playground equipment, or alternating turns when answering questions.

How likely is it that a twenty, thirty, fifty, or sixty-year-old doesn’t know how to take turns? Yet, narcissists do not take turns!

Their needs, wants, desires, concerns, moods, money, decisions, and image are always more important than others. They always consider themselves the most important person in the room.

If you dare to have wants or needs of your own then they feel entitled to lie, yell, gaslight, or manipulate to throw you emotionally off-balance and ensure that they, the narcissist, become the main event once again.

The narcissist knows they should take turns. How could they not? But, the narcissist doesn’t want to take turns.

Narcissists also know who they can act badly in front of. Have you ever seen a narcissist change their behavior based on who was watching? A narcissist is always careful to balance their need for control with their need to keep up a good public image.

Have you ever had a narcissist yell at you in the car and then turn on the charm as soon as you get out of the car? Or lose their temper until someone new walks into the room? Changing behavior depending on who is watching shows that the narcissist doesn’t have an anger problem.

People who can’t control their anger are unable to control their anger no matter who is watching. People who know how to control their anger in front of their boss or police officers can choose to also control their anger in front of their family members or coworkers.

Related: The 19 Best Anger Management Books

If they can control their anger in front of others, they aren’t losing control. They are using their anger to control you.

They choose to behave in a way that makes you feel afraid, confused, or forces you to back down from the conversation. They know they shouldn’t yell in front of others because it is socially unacceptable, so when other eyes are watching, they pretend to be a caring partner, parent, or coworker.

Yet, when no one is watching, the mask comes off, and the true behavior is shown.

Remember, no one would ever pretend to be abusive. Nice people don’t pretend to be mean. Dangerous people pretend to be nice. That means the controlling and damaging behavior is the real “them.”

Pretending to be kind, playing the victim, or flipping the switch when others are around show you that they know what is socially acceptable and what isn’t. If they know how to put the mask on and appear to be socially acceptable, then they know what they are doing.

They know who they are.

The problem for society is that narcissists don’t have an issue with their behavior or who they are.

  • They like getting their way, looking good, and avoiding responsibility.
  • They like not having to consider other people’s needs and wants.
  • They don’t have a problem being selfish or using manipulation or anger to get their way.

Do they have a narcissist club where they understand every nuance of the personality disorder and behavior? No, and in fact, they may not even identify with the word narcissist.

It is doubtful they would say they were antisocial or had a personality disorder. However, these people are very aware that they are masters at getting their way and making sure it is always their turn.

They know exactly when to put away the anger and turn on the charm.

They all seem to play by the same playbook, and that playbook is always about making sure they can keep up their image while avoiding taking personal responsibility for the way they have hurt others.

They know exactly what they are doing, and their actions are how they keep getting what they want.

Antoinette Bonafede, LMSW, DBT, REBT

Antoinette Bonafede

Senior Associate Therapist, Gateway to Solutions

They cannot see past themselves to recognize flaws in their personality traits

A narcissist often goes undiagnosed, which can leave a narcissist feeling confused and angry about specific patterns they find developing in their life, without understanding there might be something they can do to address these personality traits.

Although, they are highly aware of their thoughts, actions, and manipulative ways to get what they want emotionally, physically, or something concrete. Regardless, it will always be to their benefit.

They seek validation and attention to feed their “narcissistic supply.” At times they can be calculating or subconsciously feeding off their personality traits. So, the answer isn’t so black and white.

Narcissistic behavior is a lapse in good judgment where a person may display insensitivity to a person’s feelings or a lack of social awareness of those around them. It’s a short-term lapse in judgment commonly regretted and remedied with acknowledgments and apologies.

In contrast, a pathological narcissist diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder functions a little bit differently. While we see these same egocentric and conceited notions in behavior, the difference is a lack of accountability for these actions.

The individual is unaware of its repercussions.

Those with this disorder are said to seek out toxic relationships to exploit their partner for selfish gain. It typically accompanies defense mechanisms in conflict such as:

  • Blame-shifting
  • Portraying the victim
  • Recalling their behavior as mere reactions because of others’ thoughtless actions (a clear display of lack of empathy and inability to take criticism)

The narcissist needs to be sought after. They need to be viewed as admirable, different, or worthy of special treatment. Their personality will often accompany grandiose actions to command attention.

A narcissist claims to understand the pathology of narcissism based on society’s laymen’s terms. However, because of their perceived beliefs and assumptions about self, others, and the world, they cannot see past themselves to recognize flaws in their personality traits.

Convincing the individual that they are not exceptional is quite challenging. Part of their schematics is they believe they are entitled, and others must give them what they want, often through manipulation.

A narcissist won’t show signs of classic symptoms of mental illness, like depression and anxiety. They have a low endorsement of emotional disturbance, have many social support networks, and validate their vitality and well-being to the utmost highest level.

They do not focus much on their negative emotions. Their thoughts are always on the short-term payoff and not on the long-term. The problem here is they’re convinced their truth is the truth and will dismiss all evidence that implies otherwise.

Sara Sloan, LMFT-Associate, MA Counseling

Sara Sloan

Marriage and Family Therapist, Austin Concierge Therapy

A narcissist never takes responsibility for their bad behavior because, to them, it is never wrong

In my experience, narcissists know they’re narcissistic, but they don’t view their negative qualities and behaviors as a problem.

Instead, narcissists view their antisocial actions and behaviors as justified, something they can excuse away, or something they do to defend themselves because they’re always the victim, and they always have to be right.

For example, a narcissist is never a liar in their own mind, even when they’ve extensively lied; instead, the narcissist may view the situation as one where they had to bend the truth against a bigger conspiracy against them.

When a narcissist cheats and gets caught, they blame their partner for not giving them enough sex, attention, love, etc. Their partner drove them to cheat, so it’s not their fault.

The narcissist’s negative behavior is always caused by someone other than themself.

A narcissist never takes responsibility for their bad behavior because, to them, it is never wrong; it is always justified.

I know there’s a lot of complexity to this question, but I hope this helps explain how I conceptualize it.

In other words, narcissists are aware of their bad behaviors, but they don’t view them as bad because they can never be wrong.

Silvi Saxena, MBA, MSW, LSW, CCTP, OSW-C

Silvi Saxena

Licensed Social Worker | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, Choosing Therapy

Narcissists have no self-awareness so their ability to recognize that they’re a problem will not happen

More times than not, narcissists do not know they are narcissists and will receive being told they are narcissists very poorly.

Narcissists have no insight and self-awareness, so their ability to recognize that they are a problem will not happen. They will deflect, try to shame and guilt you or bully you into being their support and play the role of a victim when confronted with any feedback.

Narcissists will not suggest they are a part of any kind of problem and will instead use things you’ve said or done against you and manipulate you to convince you that you are the problem.

Because narcissists don’t have self-awareness, you can expect to be gaslighted and controlled. Over time, they will continue to chip away at your boundaries until you totally comply with what they want.

Jon Rhodes

Jon Rhodes

Clinical Hypnotherapist and Narcissism Expert, Narcissisms

There are aware and unaware narcissists

Most narcissists don’t know they’re narcissists. They unconsciously act narcissistic or find ways of justifying their actions. And many of their narcissistic acts are instinctive.

For example, an unaware narcissist doesn’t think, “I know, I’ll bully that person at work, so they won’t have the strength to get that promotion ahead of me.”

Instead, their narcissism drives them to instinctively find fault in things they do. Then complain to their superiors, and put them down in front of others. In the narcissist’s mind, they’re doing the right thing by exposing bad work practices. And they ignore the benefits they derive from it, believing they’re doing it for the common good.

But some narcissists do know they’re narcissists. Or if they haven’t heard of the term, then they know they’re manipulative and exploitative.

These aware narcissists are less common. They’re usually more intelligent, and they deliberately plot and plan rather than react and justify. And they will plan to bully someone for their own ends.

Aware narcissists believe they’re superior to “weak” empathetic people and feel justified exploiting them because their inferiority means they deserve it. They often rationalize it by thinking of phrases such as:

  • It’s a dog-eat-dog world
  • survival of the fittest

Despite the differences in approach between aware and unaware narcissists, the behaviors are remarkably similar. It’s just that one does it consciously and the other unconsciously. But ultimately, their brains cause their narcissistic behaviors.

Both will deny and justify if challenged, in much the same way. Only the aware narcissist will have more conscious insight into what they’re actually up to.

In rare circumstances, self-aware narcissists know their condition

Some narcissists know what they are, but most don’t. The ones who are more rational and self-aware fall under the category of cerebral narcissists. If they read a lot about psychology, some may read about this disorder and realize these traits describe them. But they won’t admit it to anyone else. And their research just makes them better at being a narcissist.

For example, if their partner accuses them of having low empathy, they’ll say it’s because they think they are a little autistic. They hope this explanation camouflages their true problem— that they are a narcissist.

In the rare instance they are officially diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, they may accept or deny this fact. If a family member tries to tell them, they may also know.

But in more cases than not, they will reject these “accusations.” There are some narcissists on YouTube and Quora who educate the public from a narcissists’ perspective. This way, we know what to look out for and avoid getting entangled with their kind.

The majority of narcissists can’t admit to any faults

Narcissists won’t hold themselves accountable for anything they do wrong. So why would they ever admit or accept that they’re a narcissist? They genuinely think they are good people. Their ego protects them from thinking they do any wrongdoing. They don’t take accountability for their actions.

If they hurt someone else, they will point at the other person and blame them instead of saying sorry. They won’t apologize unless they’re in a drastic situation like someone is about to leave them. At that point, they will say anything and everything just to prevent the person from leaving.

Anyone who disagrees with or questions them becomes the enemy. And they will take that “enemy” down to protect their ego. Even if they just proclaimed their love to that enemy a few days before.

Ultimately, a narcissist not admitting their problem is the start of all their other problems. If they could accept this simple fact, they could grow and improve themselves like a healthy person. But since they’re unable to admit any wrongdoing, they are at a huge disadvantage. It’s why their growth as a person is stunted, and they don’t behave like normal adults.

Jacqueline Servantess

Jacqueline Servantess

Women’s Coach | Author, “The Other Woman: Helping To Protect Young Women From Narcissist Married Men

They deny it to themselves and refuse to even consider it to be true

Everyone is different but generally speaking, narcissists do know that they are crafty or even “up to no good.” That being said, they simply do not have a conscience about it, or at least not one that lasts.

Additionally, because these people can be so dishonest and truly all-out liars, of course, it is suitable that they are in denial and even lie to their own selves about the type of people they are. So while they may know that they are scheming and doing things in secret, they also have their own justifications that they use to make it “okay.”

Related: Why Do People Lie to You? [and] How to Deal With Liars?

If it makes them feel better, then to them, what does anything else matter, right? Again, the conscience issue.

So while many narcissists may not even know what narcissism is, as more and more people are becoming familiar with the fact that this disorder very much does exist, a narcissist probably wouldn’t even consider that it could apply to them unless confronted concerning it.

After being told upfront that they are a narcissist, their reaction could very typically be to enter into extreme denial. They not only deny it to those around them, they even try to retaliate and project and call their victims the narcissists.

Also, they deny it to themselves and refuse to even consider it to be true.

But that being said, deep down inside, they might know that there could be something to it. And if they really allow themselves to ponder things more deeply, they might even be willing to admit to themselves (not someone else) who they are.

Sadly though, even if they would get to that point of realizing they were a narcissist, typically, they still would not even change their ways. As it is with narcissists, they almost never change.

It’s one of the most serious mental disorders that exist in the realm of psychological health and something that the public needs to continue to be educated about.

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