This article was originally published on PsychCentral on 3/20/17. Because of their fundamental sense of worthlessness and compensatory grandiosity, narcissists play by different rules than the rest of us. Here is a list of things healthy people do that a narcissist will never do.
Things a Narcissist Will Never Do
Admitting wrong is uncomfortable for most people, but the give-and-take in relationships at times calls for an acknowledgment of fault. Healthy people usually know when they owe an apology and are willing to give it. Whether we interrupt, fail to deliver on a promise, say something hurtful, or lose our temper beyond reasonable bounds, we offer apology to show respect and caring.
The narcissist, on the other hand, never apologizes. Seeing himself as above reproach, he never feels he has done wrong. His sense of superiority over others reinforces his belief that other inferior beings are always to blame for anything that goes awry, even if the narcissist is actually responsible. Sometimes narcissists express fauxpologies, which are designed to deflect blame back onto others. An example of a fauxpology is, “I’m sorry you are so sensitive and can’t handle real life.”
2. Take Responsibility
Above all, the narcissist repudiates responsibility. Because she has built her identity against fundamental feelings of invalidation, she is intensely sensitive to shame and blame. Responsibility of any kind triggers the narcissist’s threat of exposure to criticism. The narcissist is so averse to responsibility, she systematically stages her life to avoid it and becomes masterful at denying and projecting it onto others, particularly those closest within her sphere of power: her partner and children.
Narcissists are terrified of their own shadows—the long-hidden child within who was irreparably damaged and whose feelings of inadequacy the narcissist constantly overcompensates for. For the narcissist, self-reflection is dangerous territory to be avoided at all costs because it represents unbearable vulnerability. This is why narcissists rarely seek therapy, avoid honest communication, refuse accountability, and readily resort to raging defensive outbursts to blunt the truth.
For the same reason the narcissist does not apologize, he also never forgives. To him, everyone represents a potential threat to be defeated, and he is hypervigilant to perceived or (more rarely) real attack. Life is a battle zone, and the narcissist is always fighting for his survival. Narcissists regard any kind of hurt as cause for retaliation and revenge. If someone apologizes to them (often in a misguided attempt to end conflict), narcissists see it as proof of their superiority and may take the opportunity to further punish that person for whatever s/he may or may not have done wrong. Genuine forgiveness is not part of the narcissist’s emotional lexicon, fundamentally because the narcissist cannot forgive himself.
5. Act Selflessly
Selflessness is the antithesis of narcissism. Because the narcissist lacks empathy and has an inflated sense of entitlement, acting selflessly is beyond her comprehension. At her core, the narcissist has nothing to give because she feels her survival is at stake and nothing else matters. She is parasitically dependent on others as sources of supply and cannot return the unconditional love she demands. Narcissists by definition are locked in an inward spiral of unmet early childhood needs and grandiose compensatory self-beliefs.
6. Express Their Real Feelings
The narcissist thrives above all on attention, and there is no more fascinating topic than himself. The extroverted narcissist loves to dominate a room, asserting his superiority and awing others with his intellectual (fill in the blank) prowess. The introverted narcissist also thrives on attention and finds passive-aggressive ways to get it, such as complaining or playing the victim. But when it comes to his feelings, the narcissist hides, from others and from himself. Narcissists lack the self-awareness to understand the underlying feelings that drive their behavior as well as the courage to make themselves vulnerable enough to share those feelings. The narcissist operates competitively on raw survivalist instinct and is a stranger to his innermost emotional realm.
7. See Emotional Nuance
Though she may be clever, particularly at manipulating people and spotting their vulnerabilities, the narcissist lacks an awareness of emotional nuance and is prone to extremist black-and-white thinking. She tends to either idealize or devalue others, and she projects her own corrupt emotional agenda, believing that others see life as she does—as a series of games or battles to be won. The wide continuum of emotion that healthy beings, especially the most empathetic, experience on a daily basis is lost on the narcissist, who is trapped in her lonely self-protective construction of reality.
Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post and PsychCentral. She is the author of a forthcoming memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts).
Related Articles by Julie L. Hall
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Image courtesy of DaveBleasdale, Creative Commons.