Is It Possible He’s Not 100% Narcissist?


Part of the reason targets of narcissistic abuse stay in the relationship beyond a reasonable and rational point is because they find it too hard to accept the idea that some people are cunning, devious and heartless.  People who are conscientious give manipulators the benefit of the doubt and try to see their side of things.

This is exactly what narcissists and other emotional manipulators count on.

It’s no secret that narcissists target people who possess specific personality traits and vulnerabilities.  By definition, vulnerability refers to the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment (  Because of this inability to survive in an unfriendly environment, targets of narcissistic abuse distance themselves from painful reality through the use of defense mechanisms which are fairly unconscious, meaning victims use these mechanisms without even being aware of doing so.

Narcissists keep their victims in a constant state of fear, which in turn causes the victim to react from his or her amygdala (or “reptilian” brain).  The amygdala controls life functions such as breathing, heart rate and the basic emotions of love, hate, fear, lust, and contentment (all of which are considered “primal emotions”).

It’s also responsible for the fight or flight reaction.  Victims of narcissistic abuse live in this state almost every day.  Even after the relationship is over, victims suffer PTSD, C-PTSD, panic attacks, phobias, and more…all due to the narcissist triggering their primal fears, including the fear of abandonment.  Out of these fears, targets of emotional abuse engage in primitive defense mechanisms including (but not limited to):

  • Denial – Targets use denial to escape dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t want to admit.
  • Compartmentalization – Targets pigeonhole the abusive aspects of the relationship in order to focus on the positive aspects.
  • Projection – Targets project their traits of compassion, empathy, caring, and understanding onto their abuser, when in fact, narcissists and other emotional abusers possess none of those traits.

Therefore, to answer the question, is it possible he or she is not 100% narcissist, one would need to examine facts, and not come to conclusions based on primitive emotions which may cause one to overlook reality.   Has the narcissist been nice at some point in time?  Of course they have, because otherwise you would have left them long ago.  Those small moments of their “being nice” are simply partial reinforcement, which is the manipulative trick of random rewards to cause you to doubt and overlook their otherwise cruel behaviors.

Did they cry and seem sincere when you threatened to leave?  You bet.  That’s positive reinforcement, also known as operant conditioning.  When they turn on the crocodile tears, apologize excessively, and shower you with gifts after they’ve committed a grievous relationship sin, they are conditioning you to subconsciously look forward to these hoovering attempts, thus triggering you to take them back every time.

In closing, it doesn’t really matter if your abuser is 100% narcissist or not.  They could be 80% on the hypothetical scale, they could be 110%.  If you are being abused, whether it’s a little or a lot, that makes your partner unfit.  The best course of action is to sever the relationship and go No Contact.

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  1. Tanya

    This is exactly what i am dealing with. I think he is only partially narcissistic…i believe he does possess some empathy. His main tool is neglect as opposed to deliberate obvious abuse. But i do know one thing…his only concern is his needs. He doesnt care what i need and largely gets annoyed when i show need. His slights against me have been few but flabbergasting when they happened. Cuts on my intellect, maturity, and the like. He has been taking from me for so long and giving me crumbs. I have rode highs of addiction from his attentions no matter how small. If he does not have npd, the result on me is the same…i am enmeshed, disempowered, unable to leave, addicted, empty, fearful, stressed out, and lonely as i could be. I know i should walk away but i feel like i cant do that to him. Or be ok without him. I have no idea how to get out.

  2. Melinda

    With my ex, I’ve often wondered about this. There was a time when I saw mostly good in him as a person…a very long time ago. I don’t know whether he had traits of narcissism then, because he didn’t show it (until it was too late).

    What complicates matters is that several years after we broke up, I learned that he has stage 4 brain cancer.
    Sometimes a brain tumor (particularly the malignant type that he has) can influence a person’s behavior to change in some pretty frightening ways. Sometimes I wonder if the reason for his abusive treatment of me and violent outbursts were the result of his tumor starting back then, but no one knew it, including me.

    I still have very little doubt that he is mostly a narcissist because much of his family and most of his friends show similar tendencies…but finding out that he has the worst type of brain cancer does make me reflect on things a bit more.
    I’ve decided to try healing from the hurt he inflicted on me mentally and emotionally; I don’t want to hold on to it anymore.

    Instead, I am trying to replace the years of unresolved hurt/pain/betrayal/anger with something more like compassion…not for his sake, but for mine.
    I grew up in a home with an abusive stepfather so forgiveness is still very difficult for me but I hope to overcome my issues someday and be at peace.

    I believe that anyone who has ever loved a narcissist or had the misfortune of knowing one will always wonder if there’s a good person somewhere deep down inside them. This is natural, because we want to believe that people are basically good and want to do right and that even the worst person is capable of kindness.
    And it is truly a charitable way to see others and to view the world, but it can also result in allowing yourself to be hurt again.

    Even if a narcissist shows some “good” traits, I would caution against letting your defenses down…I did that time and time again with my ex; I was constantly being hurt until I woke up to reality. He might not always have been in complete control of his actions/behavior, I see that now in light of his cancer diagnosis. Brain tumors can cause personality changes. However, I have to remind myself that it still doesn’t excuse the way he treated me and what he put me through.

  3. Mary

    @Nessa 3.Lundy Bancroft has a book out called Why Does He Do that? There are many types of abusers described in it. The water torturer is one and they are so very subtle. You can google it and get a description.

    1. Kim Saeed

      Thanks, Mary! I really like Bancroft’s work, too 🙂

  4. Pingback: Unconfirmed Bachelorette—The Early Days | Unconfirmed Bachelorette

  5. marg

    I am wondering when the guilt and doubt in myself will be gone. I was married for 23 years to N I have 4 children and finally left. I legally separated and am still having doubts and guilt about leaving at times. So I still stay separated I think because I still have doubt in myself and what I know has gone on in the marriage all these years. Also he tells me how I am all wrong about leaving and has a different story about what’s been going on and still goes on etc. He still denies things that I know have happened.
    I try to maintain NC but I have to have contact because of the children. When I do see him he acts they way I was always asking him too. I just can’t believe that he can act so phony it really makes me doubt myself and all the strength I had finally gained gets drained away. I don’t trust him but when he behaves like that and compliments me in front of my children they seem confused and ask me do you think Dad means this or that. I think that hurts me the most. I feel he’s manipulating them and if I say that, they get mad at me. I then feel guilt again and I know I shouldn’t but I do still. I think this doubt and guilt is what’s holding me back from moving on. I just don’t know how to get past it.

  6. nessa3

    I grew up with a father who kept us in constant alert from all the things he would do to us. I am getting counciling but…I dont know if I could honestly judge my marriage or not….I mean if I were to examine it in light of what Ive seen its far better….but its nothing like what the bible says a spouse should be…but whos marraige is? How do you determine? A therapist isnt going to tell you to get a divorce….
    My husband doesnt hit or verbally abuse me…but is very neglectful…Passive Aggressive…non communicative…

  7. Dr. Nicholas Jenner

    Reblogged this on Dr Nicholas Jenner PsyD MA and commented:
    Part of the reason targets of narcissistic abuse stay in the relationship beyond a reasonable and rational point is because they find it too hard to accept the idea that some people are cunning, devious and heartless. People who are conscientious give manipulators the benefit of the doubt and try to see their side of things.

  8. My challenges with a restraining order are the law enforcement agency in our community. I have been told there is not enough “evidence”. My N doesn’t send anything electronic. He goes through third parties, mainly MY family and it is perfectly “legal” for him to communicate with my family even though prior to our relationship ending he never had a close relationship with any of them and the contact he did have was only a result of our relationship and he never had a kind word to say about anyone. Before we broke up he had deleted everyone from social media but a few weeks later after I established “NO CONTACT” he then became friends with everyone again. My family of course is not helping the situation. They believe all his lies and tell me just because we broke up they can still be friends. He will ride past my work and home but does not stop. I can’t even take a picture to show he is there. He just “lurks” around. I have enjoyed reading your blog. It is very insightful and helpful. Thank you for your encouragement and words of advice.

  9. Thank you so much for this information, Kim. I left the N in early October, and today is officially Day One No Contact for me because we had financials to deal with and until that was dealt with, I couldn’t go NC. He used that time to try to bait me with his emails about young girls he was interested in from dating sites and sending gifts to one he found in another state. This Narc isn’t just a narc, he is also a self-admitted and unconvicted pedophile and sexual deviant. Because I am an empath, I have constantly worried about anyone he gets involved with and that was keeping me emotionally attached to him. Since making this decision to go NC, I am putting my empathy on hold for his next victims/supplies. There is just no other choice for me as I need to heal from the 13 yrs of hell he put me through. Thank you for your blog. I will be reading more posts.

    1. Cynthia

      Hi Lori- My XNarc was a pedophile, too. I never knew it until, after 30 years of marriage, my son from my first marriage came forward. Heartbreak, heartbreak, heartbreak. No contact for me – my lawyer and accountant deal with the slithy toad. I am glad to be emotionally and financially and legally free from him. And to think I once adored him, always thinking things would get better – if we moved into cheaper housing, if he could free lance instead of holding down a full time job , maybe his mood swings would lessen – and all of his health complaints! – nothing was ever “right” for him. Now I know how foolish I was to keep trying. I’m 62 and starting over, but that’s OK.

      1. I am so sorry you had to go through all of that Cynthia… and your son as well. Narcs are so difficult to deal with. I don’t know how you lasted 30 years. I barely survived 13. Blessings to you as you begin your new life.

  10. scar11et

    Question. Does a N consciously do these things so it’s all pre planned or is it so mentally inbuilt in their behavior that they do it and can’t help it?

  11. Surayya

    Kim, When i read the question I immediately mentally replied NO. My Ex N is all that what a narcissist tends to be and more. Yes cry crocodile tears when he d return to woo me back, yes shower me with gifts,but my ex N never did apologize, he never thought anything was his fault. The statement , narcissist and emotional abusers possess none of these traits ( positive traits,nor good caring genuine feelings of love) hurts me to the core. God why did i ever get involved with such a person. I am doing all well, I am in stage where i can quickly distract myself when i have thoughts of him. I don’t dwell in it at all. I am in stage where I find myself counting my blessings daily which in turn make me forget him because he is not part of my blessings. I noted though, Kim for every bad event that happened in my life that caused me a lot pain, God blessed with something positive so as to balance my emotions , or else I would have lost my sanity by now. I also realized, that I no longer find myself cursing him nor waiting for karma to get him nor waiting for my eyes to see him suffer, cause I feel like God is talking to me. ” Knock Knock, Surayya, leave the justice on me, I know what needs to be done to this man, you enjoy the blessings I have showered upon you , for it is your rewards you so deserve , for all the pain you have adhered” We get so consumed and engrossed on what happened to us and the pain we went through and dealing with after effects of being involved with a stupid N. we miss on the blessings in front of us. Ever since i dumped him and was in so much pain and yes it has taken a toll on my physical self, I have seen so many blessings in my life . I got promoted to higher position I had been eyeing on for years. I have made plans to take my parents to India to be with their siblings , for a visit in May next year.This was not possible because my ex N put me in financial debts, and I worked two jobs to pay it off. I am truly blessed. We do get rewarded for our pain. I admit I do have my days it is okay to, but I move on . And I still have not found any good therapist yet, but I am already doing good..I am in such a position today I am not looking for love anymore, because once I love myself and my surroundings and my blessings , why look for one when it will take me away from what I have right now? I had a guy ask me out for date, but all he talked about was his bad relationship with his ex and wanted my shoulder to cry upon. I took the exit door, ( metaphorically speaking) because he needs therapist and he sure ain’t going to find that in me. I don’t need that at all. I have become so wiser after this bad relationship with my ex N I know steps I need to take once I see red flags.

    1. Melinda

      @Surayya…I know your post is a year old almost, but it really moves me.
      I can definitely relate to some of what you’re saying.

      I’m not religious anymore but I agree that life has a funny way of turning the tables. Sometimes we should simply allow karma to run its natural course.
      Life can have some very unexpected twists for all of us. My ex nearly destroyed me mentally and emotionally…which hurt all the more because he knew how much pain he was causing, plus the fact that I was an unwanted child growing up and I needed love. So I was shocked to recently learn that he has a deadly brain tumor.

      I didn’t wish that on him or his family and friends. In fact, I took the high road for years and chose not to hurt him or them the way I was hurt. I tried to move on with my life despite the pain of knowing that he was now with somebody else and had a child with her.
      I actually cried when I found out about his girlfriend having their daughter in 2012 because it was one more nail in the coffin, after how badly he’d treated me.

      But you are right…despite our pain and our trials, there is still some hope.
      Congratulations on your promotion at work! And although I wouldn’t say I am “blessed”, I will say that I try to not take life for granted. I have a husband who is a stable provider and although I suffer from crippling depression, I don’t have a terminal illness like my ex does.
      And yes, being involved with an N does make you stronger and wiser, doesn’t it?

      Sadly, my mother is still married to her N husband (my stepfather) and will most likely remain with him until one of them dies. I feel that it is a choice she made and it hurts because she can do better, but there is nothing I can do about it.

  12. JP

    I am so glad I found this site. I’ve been reading the post for about a week, and this one hits so close to my situation. Unfortunately, my partner is in the 80-90% narcissist range. I’ve been debating leaving for a while, but after living with him for 10 years, and being 45 with no kids, the thought of dating again sometimes has me wondering if its best to just stay around. This post reminded me that I know what I must do, I just have to actually get up the nerve to follow through. Thank you again for this site . . . . it helps me get through the day.

  13. deb

    I too was accused of doing stuff he was doing or his ex’s…I have gotten a book called Psychopath free which is excellent….it list 30 red flags for a narcissist or psychopath….highly recommend. It is a recovery book for those who have been in a past relationship with one and how to avoid in the future.

  14. deb

    Thanks, needed to read this one today! it was dead on and I was feeling guilty over breaking these ties….I have been w/o this man since January, still have triggers, allowed him to “visit” me after my daughter passed away in May (but told him he was not allowed at the funeral) and he was so ugly at the end of the day, bordering on what I would define as “evil”….there is no hope for these people unless they turn their lives over to their higher power and mean it along with counseling and a lot of work….he won’t live long enough to accomplish that and I have moved on.

    1. Surayya

      Deb, I am very sorry for your loss, May God give you strength to bear such tragic loss and find you peace dear. and you are so right, Narcissists have a lot of work to remodel themselves and they might not live long enough to accomplish this because firstly they don’t acknowledge they have flaws.!

  15. Carrie Reimer

    The last paragraph is key and what I try to say to people all the time.
    “In closing, it doesn’t really matter if your abuser is 100% narcissist or not. They could be 80% on the hypothetical scale, they could be 110%. If you are being abused, whether it’s a little or a lot, that makes your partner unfit. The best course of action is to sever the relationship and go No Contact.”
    It does not matter what label you put on the person; if they are abusive and treat you with disrespect and disregard, leave. Abuse is abuse no matter label you put on it.
    Excellent post.

  16. thankful for the goodbye

    Reading all.this helps me to not feel used and crazy..As I’ve distanced myself from this person I was feared such with passionate love , he.appears so ridiculous when I hear him call to leave his same.ole threatening messages. My heart use to.race and felt like I was suffocating. Now I press 7 to delete, hug my dog and thank God I’m far away in every aspect from that person .

  17. been-there

    Oh, Sandra, I’m just a reader (of Kim’s blog) and not an expert here, but from my experience I wanted to tell you that my ex was the master of “projection”. There were things that he would accuse me of that floored me, until I realized that all of these things were “his things”. And I talked with his ex-wife about this too – – same story. Your tears, because you CARED for him, were real. There is nothing real about Narcissists. I’m glad to read that he’s your EX. Take good care, and stay strong!

    And Kim, another excellent post. Thank you. I’ve never commented before, but I did want to tell you how much I’ve appreciated your work/writings. They have helped so much!!!!!!

    1. Kim Saeed

      Wow, thank you, been-there! I’m so glad to know my blog has helped you. Thank you, also, for such an insightful comment to Sandra. I couldn’t have responded better myself 🙂

      1. been-there

        Hi Kim. Thanks for responding to my comment and for the compliment. Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your reply. Hey, I’ve written you a letter about what’s been going on with me and I plan to email it to you privately. Thanks again for all you do. You help so many people — me included! 🙂

    2. Sandra

      Thank you so much been-there for a really kind and reassuring comment. I’ve read before about projection but I think in these relationships and certainly post-discard it’s really hard to make head or tail of what has happened and who you are. I think that is one the hardest things to communicate to others also. I’m sorry you went through something similar. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I really appreciate it. It helped a lot. : )
      Thanks, Kim, too for your comments and for this site which is so affirming.

      1. been-there

        Hi Sandra. I’m not sure if you’re still receiving follow-ups from this post, but if you are I wanted to thank you for letting me know that my (prior) words to you were helpful (and sorry for my late response back to you).

        I hope you are doing well! And I so agree with you about it being difficult to communicate with others about what we’ve been through. In my opinion, that’s why sites like Kim’s are so needed and useful! Take good care.

  18. Sandra

    Great article. Thanks. Just a little confused though – when my ex threatened to leave (usually as a result of me doing or saying something “wrong”) I would cry, there would be tears from me. He used to say that they were “waterworks designed to manipulate”. I never threatened to leave. I was too busy trying to make sure he didn’t or trying to explain myself, say sorry etc (Yes, pathetic for a middle aged mother with a post-grad education). The tears were real for me and not something I could just turn on or off. But does my tearful response mean that I am the narcissist? (It was one of the things he accused me of being. There were many others..)

    1. Kim Saeed

      No, Sandra. What happened is he was projecting…meaning if he were to cry, it would be to manipulate. You cried because you felt hurt and betrayed. That doesn’t make you a narcissist.

    2. Surayya

      Kim is so so right , Sandra, it does not make you a narcissist. . To my ex N my tears meant nothing but if something happened to him or his family member he would ball away and make it so like I had to comfort him , it was his right to demand it from me. Oh I am so glad I am done with him. You will be fine Sandra, instead of focusing on what happened and waste few minutes or hours pondering, why , where , how , what and when, focus on the goods you have, focus on your blessings and focus on what great qualities you have and put that to task. you will do just great, I am there already. I left mine now seven months ago, absolute NC , He did call off and on, but I ignored it all. Than it came to a point I had to take action I did and no word from him, Hallelujah. Amen to that. Trust us all you will do just great, a day at a time and take deep breaths , very very good for emotional and physical health dear.

  19. JC22

    I just started reading your blog today- thank you. While I left the abuse of my narcisstic husband I occassionally get dragged back in when we have to talk about our son. But you are right no contact means he has no control and I need to stay strong on this.

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