When I was in relationships with narcissists I was numb in disbelief, at the things they are capable of doing…
I am sure you can relate.
Maybe you have asked yourself – Do narcissists know what they are doing? Do narcissist’s know how they hurt people?
I hear these questions all the time.
The answer is not really simple – because I believe the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’…and also I believe there is grey area where we may not know the answer at times.
Before I get to the answer I want to explain to you how a narcissist’s mind operates and why they do what they do.
The False Self
The biggest mistake that we can ever make when trying to understand how narcissistic people operate is to assign our lens of ‘normal human behaviour’ onto what they do.
This is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
The narcissist operates through a False Self which is an egoic construction. The False Self is the ultimate defence mechanism which avoids self. The False Self as an intense egoic construction seeks significance, approval and energy from ‘the outside’.
The False Self is incredibly insecure – its maintenance depends on getting regular ‘reminders’ that it is worthy, of value, and is acceptable. The truth is a False Self has no ability to create or maintain these feelings for itself – it is an empty shell that forever needs ‘filling’, and it cannot receive outer information, settle on it and be ‘solidly’ at peace with this information. This is why narcissists are constantly in need of narcissistic supply.
If an individual knows who they are and does love and accept themself then they are able to detach from other people’s assessments – because this person is not precariously reliant on their approval or validation.
The False Self has no ‘buffer’ of self-worth or self-acceptance to be criticised. Narcissist’s don’t and can’t detach from other people’s assessment of them. They are totally susceptible to feedback from the outer world to establish ‘an identity’. And this is WHY it is so critical for a narcissist to ensure, create and maintain the type of narcissist supply that will allow him or her to repeatedly create a version of faux self-worth that is bearable.
If it can’t be approval – fear will do. To make sure someone is severely affected by the narcissist is valuable supply because it validates that the narcissist exists.
Know this – narcissists do not create their world healthily from their Inner Being unfolding out into life – their world is distorted, it is turned inside out – it operates from the outside in.
Because of this distortion the narcissist’s brain wiring is maladapted (mutated) to accommodate the False Self. What this means is the narcissist’s mind – to protect the narcissist from narcissistic injury when triggered (which is regular) – takes distorted pathways rather than thinking ‘normally’.
The intense ‘natural’ reaction for the narcissist is non-accountability.
o feel ‘wrong’ whilst trying to desperately prop up trying to ‘feel good enough’ is agonising. This has been the case for the narcissist from a very early age. In fact this is the very reason that the narcissist collapsed his or her True Self and created a False Self in its place. This was the ultimate defence mechanism to NOT feel the self-annihilating inner emotional pain and powerlessness or NOT being acceptable.
At this point (as hard as it may be for you depending where you are at with your own healing) you may be able to have some compassion for a narcissist – because he or she was the product of abuse or / and being engulfed by a parent or role model. So severe was the emotional pain, that he or she ‘split’ from the True Self, disowned it and replaced it with the only defence mechanism available at a young age to stop the emotional pain – the False Self, which was a childish, pathological grandiose version of ‘self’ to avoid this pain.
The ego is everyone’s reaction as the first line of defence against fear and pain (until learning to dissolve the ego and behave more consciously). However, with narcissists this has reached the level of personality takeover. It is the only function that the narcissist now has available, because the True Self is so stunted and disowned that it no longer operates.
When triggered with feelings of insecurity the narcissist’s brain impulses fire off down the pathways of emotional survival – which is non-accountability. The narcissist’s perceptions are literally distorted. Sam Vaknin describes is as ‘remote viewing’ whereby the narcissist is observing what he or she is doing yet cannot really connect to it. I have heard another narcissist described it as watching a car crash from afar, as if ‘numb’ and disconnected when acting out narcissistic malicious rage.
We need to understand however someone’s brain perceives things is that particular person’s ‘reality’. We all know that several people may witness an event and all have a different version of what took place. Each person views the event through their own unique lens of life.
The Bizzare Twists and Turns
When operating in defence mechanisms (emotional survival to a narcissist) if something the narcissist did could potentially receive criticism the narcissist quickly switches into being non-accountable, and projecting and deflecting the blame somewhere else.
What we know as ridiculous correlations, childish excuses, bizarre tat for tat retaliations, the creation of phony allies, malicious unrelated dredging up of the past, extreme out of proportion umbrage and pathological lies is all very valid to the narcissist. It is his or her brain latching on to some way to escape accountability, being ‘wrong’ and suffering emotional annihilation.
This is why we have all seen narcissists defend their arguments and twist and turn like a pretzel, and we got hooked into insane conversations that we believe no rational adult would ever have. All whilst the narcissist, like an angry five year old, vehemently defends (what we believe to be) ludicrous and mentally deranged points.
I guess you can read by my description of these events that I have (to my detriment) participated in way too many of these conversations with narcissistic partners…
Phew – thank goodness never again! I’ve only ever been close to two people that converse and behave like this, and if I ever got a whiff of it again you know what I’d do!
Yep – big thanks but no thanks….
So really the truth is we are looking at the narcissist like he or she has all of a sudden morphed into an alien with two heads – in utter dismay of ‘how obvious facts are’ and ‘how obvious really poor, immature out of bounds behaviour is’ – yet TRULY the narcissist is clueless. His or her brain pathways are simply doing what they are doing as ‘programmed’ to do.
The harder we push the point – the more the narcissist acts out.
How Can Something That Doesn’t Exist Do Something Wrong?
It’s also important to understand a very good point Sam Vaknin also makes, which is: How can a False Self – which is not real – have done anything wrong? How can it be held accountable?
The False Self is a ‘shield’ for the narcissist. He or she is numb and strangely detached from the False Self and it really doesn’t feel like him or her. The narcissist truly can’t attach to the emotion of being the False Self.
The False Self is a mirage, and the narcissist has trouble connecting to having done something wrong. In fact the narcissist deeply feels like a victim. He or she is the one that feels wronged – and believes it is outrageous to be held accountable.
We need to realise that the narcissist’s version of ‘being ‘wronged’ is way different from our ‘normal’ human version of ‘being wronged’.
The narcissist is incredibly insecure (no inner True Self resources) therefore any criticism real or imagined is of enormous negative impact to the narcissist. In fact the association of the slight with previous unhealed traumas magnifies the event incredibly out of proportion.
The narcissist does not have the True Self resources to heal any of the original wounds (they are all disowned and have been categorised in ‘some way’ egoically to avoid them instead), put current or future events into perspective, and does not have the ability to NOT harbour, sit on things and / or react and blow ‘what someone else did’ hugely out of proportion.
Imagine a young child who suffers a negative comment and acts like it is the ‘end of the world’. That is exactly what is going on for the adult narcissist. His or her emotional intelligence has been stunted significantly somewhere between 5 and 7 years of age. Yet this is much more dangerous than a child. Obviously adults can act out maliscious resentment and revenge much more devestatingly than a child.
Additionally children live in the moment, get over ‘slights’ and carry on in life. Narcissists don’t.
The narcissist is never ‘in the moment’. He or she is a product of intense unhealed wounds from the past that continue to gnaw relentlessly (these ignored wounds have been screaming for attention for decades to be healed and are simply NOT going away), and the anxiety of being able to secure adequate narcissistic supply in the future in order to avoid emotional annihilation.
Harbouring wounds and being hyper vigilant to triggers is the narcissist’s defence arsenal which the False Self is not prepared to let go of. To not be alert to attack or being able to keep ‘one-up’ (on step ahead of threats) means being vulnerable – which is unthinkable to the narcissist’s False Self.
So now you may be able to realise why on earth the narcissist is sprouting ‘how bad you are’ in relation to the horrendous stuff that has gone down. Stuff which you could not have even thought of doing , let alone executed. Yet you are the bad one?
Yes – from our version of reality this is insane. From the narcissist’s version of ‘reality’ you did something terrible and the narcissist was simply doing what was necessary as a defence, and then when forced into accountability somehow projected what he or she did as something YOU did.
You need to realise that the narcissist truly, when he or she thought these thoughts (justifications) a few times, stated it to other people (the usual smear campaigns) then to the narcissist his or her versions are real.
I know that is frightful but there it is…
For you to convince him or her your version of truth is genuine you would have to rewire the narcissist’s brain!
This is why after believing the narcissist gets it, within minutes, hours, a few days, weeks or months you will have conversations about this topic that the narcissist finally agreed to – and then you discover all of that is now out the window.
The narcissist has defaulted back to his or her original version – everything else was simply fluff.
Is it any wonder you have felt like you are losing your mind and are totally traumatised? This is why trying to reason with a narcissist, get safety, stability, understanding or ‘normality’ is about as self-damaging as lying yourself down on a busy freeway.
It is quite simply an exercise of soul-destroying insanity.
Even More Twists and Turns
Now for all the distortions and defence mechanisms in the brain wiring, we have to remember that narcissists are built on survival mechanisms. Narcissists have the ability to know when ‘not to blow’ from triggers and put on a mask and present Mr or Ms Wonderful instead.
Much worse for a narcissist than being triggered by a ‘slight’ is being seen by the outside world as ‘flawed’. Therefore the narcissist is adept at creating the perfect persona with people who are not as intimate as those who have been engulfed into the narcissist’s inner circle of influence. It is the people ’on the inside’ who are highly susceptible to abuse.
The narcissist simply cannot hold his or her mask up indefinitely, and sonner or later it will slip. Then it slips more and more, because the narcissist soon discovers that when he or she acts narcissistically this ensures masses of attention (narcissistic supply).
If you haven’t left the narcissist for good, and instead stay and react – your reaction to the warped narcissistic behaviour grants the narcissist the knowing that he or she exists, is alive and is ‘significant’. This is A-Grade narcissistic supply.
It also gives the narcissist added avenues of supply by going to his or her peeps stating how deranged, manic and abusive you are. Any evidence of you ‘losing it’ (totally understandable) will be presented to others to gain their attention and sympathy.
It’s also a wonderful way to hook in exes for supply (including sex, comfort and commiseration) thinking they may have a chance with the narcissist again, who of course is presenting him or herself as an ‘option’ in order to gain narcissistic supply.
If you have left the narcissist and have decided you are done with the abuse, the narcissist may become incredibly accountable. The problem is with narcissists – this just does not hold.
I have done sessions with narcissists in deep narcissistic injury due to the loss of their relationships and they have been startlingly accountable. However as soon as they start getting ‘well’ again – the False Self comes back up and the twisted reality reinstates where the previous humility was.
My question is – Was the accountability true in narcissistic injury? Or was it just a ploy to gain energy in order to feel better and reinstate the False Self again?
Sam Vaknin believes the answer is the second statement, and that narcissists are not interested in dissolving the ego and healing their True Self. He upholds it is always about the narcissist’s one true master – The False Self.
The point is I really don’t know the answer, and I know I certainly am not going to drive myself crazy trying to work out narcissists for another minute of my life. As far as I am concerned the answer is irrelevant. What is relevant is the cycles and the behaviour of non-accountability and repeat out-of-bounds abuse continues, and is totally unacceptable in my life.
Narcissists Being Narcissists
Narcissists know they are amoral – they purposefully hide their adulterous, pathological and underhand malicious behaviour through lies and deception. They are street wise enough to know the repercussions of being caught out are not advantageous to their agenda. However, if they don’t need to bother to hide the behaviour, and can get the same agenda fulfilled, they won’t.
Life for a narcissist must be exhausting – operating through so many tactics, continually monitoring narcissistic supply, having to be a chameleon and wear so many different ‘hats’ in order to gain supply, and being on-guard, hyper vigilant and reacting to triggers in order to constantly regulate narcissistic supply – so we can assume that any shortcuts to having to expend energy for the necessary payoff is welcomed.
A narcissist simply can’t relax and just be content to be him or herself, because there is no True Self.
Because narcissist’s brains are wired in this way of ‘me versus you’ and needing to use pathological tactics to get by, they truly suspect everyone else is doing the same thing. Narcissists have no ability to trust or feel supported by anyone.
Just as we have no model to fathom how narcissists operate, they have no model to fathom how we operate.
Narcissists don’t ‘get’ the virtues of conscience, reverence and respecting people as worthy enough to honour and consider. The truth is they simply do not have the capacity to care about other people enough to not act the way they do. It’s actually not purposefully malicious, or personal – in as far as being a ‘sadist’ – it is simply how they think they have to operate in order to survive.
Narcissists need to feed off people to survive – pure and simple.
I hope this has helped answer this question ‘Does the narcissist know what he or she is doing?’ You may need to digest this article several times.
Please remember as always what is hugely important for your recovery is to use this information for what it is fully intended, which is to help you get your focus off the narcissist, and let go of what he or she is, or what he or she had done and firmly take the responsibility to work on healing your unhealed parts and create your own incredible life.
Because if you don’t, you will remain stick in the vibration and the ‘yuk’ of narcissism, whereas your entire goal is to empower yourself and leave narcissism far, far behind where it will never need to be your reality again.
I would love to hear your comments, and please for my sake (I am very committed to maintaining my own healthy vibration) and everyone’s sake in the community, I would much prefer it if we don’t share the details of the ‘war stories’ of the narcissist’s pathological non-accountable behaviour (we have all been through them identically – all narcissist’s do the same stuff) and that we kept our focus on our own healing and empowerment as much as possible.
My truth is a narcissist free reality filled with joy, love, personal growth and gratitude – and I want to truly inspire you to heal, purge the narcissist and live the same way.