are narcissists aware of their disorder

Are Narcissists Aware of Their Disorder?

When it comes to narcissists and their irrational behaviors, one of THE most frequently asked questions posed by victims of narcissistic abuse is whether the narcissist is aware of what they’re doing. 

A common misconception is that if they’re not aware of what they’re doing, then we shouldn’t hold them accountable for their seemingly unintentional wrongdoings.  Instead, we should offer them compassion and try to help them through whatever “pain” they’re suffering that is making them behave in such a hurtful way.  After all, hurt people hurt people, right?

There is one major flaw in the question – are narcissists aware of their disorder? – in that it assumes all narcissists fall under the same location on the spectrum of the disorder.  They don’t.  When it comes to narcissism, there are individuals who have few enough traits that they might not be identified as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (which is a huge defect in the DSM criteria, since it only takes one pathological trait to completely ruin another person’s life). 

There are also people who fall so far on the other end that they possess the dark traits of Machiavellianism and psychopathy.  These individuals are highly cunning and engage in dangerous forms of deception and manipulation.  These are the people who can live two or three different lives behind their partners’ backs and rig the heaters in the winter to emit carbon monoxide, hoping to collect on their family members’ life insurance policies.

In contrast, most “garden-variety” narcissists aren’t sitting around strategizing about what they will do next to their unsuspecting partners.  That would take too much time away from their self-fulfilling agendas.  All they’re concerned with is what they need minute by minute in order to gain the most narcissistic supply — whether from you or another supply source.  It doesn’t matter which.  If what they desire is being reflected back to them in the form of gratifying experiences or admiration, it doesn’t matter to them which mirror they are looking into. 

Inside the mind of the garden-variety narcissist

Narcissists typically act upon their emotions, which are greatly stunted.  They have very low emotional intelligence and never developed any form of emotional resilience. 

This partly explains why they can appear loving and caring one minute, yet seem to hate you the next.  This generally happens when they’ve experienced a narcissistic injury, which is evident in their tendency to snap at the most innocent of comments or questions.  

Since one can never know what’s going on in the narcissist’s mind at any given moment, what they consider injurious one minute could be completely ignored the next.  Do yourself a favor and don’t try to analyze it.  As soon as you think you’ve come up with a solution, the rules will have changed.

…and don’t make the mistake of believing that sharing your findings that they could be a narcissist will help.  It won’t.  This will only instill righteous indignation in them because they are unique and special.  If you dare to insinuate there is something wrong with them, be prepared for the explosive outcome.

While a non-disordered person considers how their words and actions affect other people, narcissists do not.  Because of this, many of their behaviors are spur of the moment.  There are some very deliberate actions they engage in, such as hiding evidence of an extramarital affair or forging another person’s name on a loan application, but they think it’s all warranted because by that point, the person they entered into a relationship with stopped seeing their greatness or began requiring too much damage control. 

Many narcissists, at some point or other, do become aware of the effect their behaviors have on other people, but they are completely indifferent to it.

One way to comprehend how narcissists feel about their deceptive and manipulative behaviors against others is to compare it to a person’s penchant for steak or pork chops.  Most people are aware that cows and pigs are sentient beings, yet generally don’t reflect on what the animals go through before they appear as a tidy meal on the dinner table.

If a vegetarian were to point out to a meat-eater how horribly these animals suffer, the meat-eater would shrug their shoulders because they like steak and don’t plan to stop eating steak.

This is precisely how narcissists feel about abusing the people closest to them. 

The difference is that we generally don’t see what happens to animals that are processed for consumption unless we search for it.  Narcissists see the results of their manipulation and abuse every day and still remain completely indifferent. By the time the love-bombing phase is over and you are being devalued, you’ve become their opponent and so to them, any pain or distress you experience is your own fault.

Ultimately, whether a narcissist knows they are a narcissist is like asking if codependents are aware that they are codependents.  Most are not, unless they’ve experienced an abusive relationship with a narcissistic individual and have begun the research that typically ensues when seeking answers about their partner’s cruelty. 

However, unlike a person who learns they have codependent traits and may strive to develop healthier thoughts and habits, narcissists are not at all concerned with self-improvement…unless it’s a façade and a temporary means of reaching an end. 

In short, to what extent the narcissistic individual is aware that they are disordered really depends on the gravity of their condition.  But, in any case, don’t expect to get a straight answer to your question from the narcissists themselves.  Their actions always speak louder than their words, and that is what you need to pay attention to.

Copyright 2018 Kim Saeed 

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  1. Anonymous

    My ex narc is aware that he is. In several occassions he tried confessing it to me by saying he is not really capable of love. He even asked me to listen to a song and told me to read between the lines. The song is written on our native dialect which is double meaning. It says something like he’s gonna change for me because I don’t deserve that kind of treatment and blah blah but if you take a closer look and decode the lyrics, it actually says something like “Why are you still listening to this song? I’m giving you a chance to escape since the first stanza. Aren’t you scared? You better run for your life!!”

  2. Donna

    Wow. Just excellent. Really appreciated the analogy of meat eaters shrugging their shoulders. Very helpful in trying to comprehend somewhat.

  3. Hope Wozniak

    Boy did this hit the nail on the head. It all fits. I thought he was just an abuser but I see all these Narc traits.
    Is it possible, however that I made him this way? I have been so confused at times, I wonder if I am the Narcissist and am acting like him being in the symbiotic relationship so long—35 years….this is quite depressing to me that I am responsible for his behavior and I am the sick one especially since he has accused me of being nuts. Or is this in his “playbook” also?

    1. Anonymous

      If your asking yourself if you are the sick one, you are not a Narcissist. Narc’s don’t ask if they are the sick ones. They don’t care, they might think it for a fleeting moment, but shrug their shoulders instead.

  4. Pingback: ‘Narcissists are Fragile Beings’ and Other Dubious Data - Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed

  5. Anonymous

    Hey Kim! So- I found myself in a relationship w a narc- got pregnant. We are currently in a custody battle. Hes tried pulling all sorts of crap illegal and legal (the more I ignore it- the angrier and sloppier he gets) and so far it mostly has all just backfired. (A judge just recently eviscerated him in court, told him to stop contacting me, and also advised him to ‘consider NOT attempting any more stunts to gain leverage) so hopefully there is a real likelihood that in the end maybe I can limit (to the maximum) the amount of visitation that he gets with her. Short of that, my concern is- will my daughter be like him automatically or can I prevent that? AND if I can prevent it- how? and what are the signs I should watch for. My daughter is 1yr and she has absolute meltdowns already when she doesnt get what she wants. Its hard to figure out if its narc disorder…or T-2s come early. My son was an angel until his Nana passed away and didnt have the same ‘style’ tantrum. He was 2. Help if you can! Books? Counseling/early childhood development? Ignore HER tantrums? Thank you!

    1. Evangelina

      To Anonymous with kids with tantrums. They do not have narcissism – that only develops later in adulthood, as a result of severe psychological and physical abuse! You should check your children for autism because autistic meltdowns and tantrums sound like that, and they are NOT caused by as you put it ‘when she doesn’t get her way’. That’s an unkind thing to say about any child. Autistic tantrums are caused by sensory overload and that’s something neurological and the child can’t help. Blaming a child for reacting physically to something that they have no control over is abuse and is WRONG ! A child’s well being must come first

      1. Pat

        To Anonymous,
        How about a little sensitivity to your little one? Obviously she is going through some pain

    2. Kim Saeed

      Hi Anon,

      It’s much too early to determine if your daughter has developed narcissistic traits. Almost all children of this age have tantrums because they haven’t developed a vocabulary to express themselves, nor have they gone through the stages of emotional development.

      Actually, the worse thing you can do at her age is to ignore her. You don’t have to give into her demands, but ignoring her could cause her to develop an insecure attachment style, which could eventually cause her to develop codependent traits.

      Here is an article for your review:

      Wishing you and your children the best.

      Kim XoXo

  6. Lisa

    Thank you. I have so much work to do but I’m getting there slowly but surely. This has been a heart breaking and mind blowing experience. Your emails help me. I just hope I get there. Lisa

  7. Pingback: 3 Myths About Narcissism That Need to Die - Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed

  8. Kelly Trainer

    Im having terrible trouble with my ex husband i was married 23days left 5times..he has done awful thibgs to me including the police. .says he going to kill me..police wont do anything unless he shows deadly affraid…i cant eat..sleep..nightmares. ..if i chsnge my number i never know if he really at my door..plz help deadly affraid

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Kelly,

      Sorry for the delay as I’m just seeing your comment. I would highly advise visiting your local domestic violence center and also going to the courthouse and filing a restraining order. Document everything and install a Ring security system at your door so you’ll have proof of when he shows up and any threats he might make.

      Hope that helps.


  9. Anonymous

    Why am I hurting when I’m the one told my narcissistic husband I want a divorce and I want him to leave so he did now I hurt why is this when I don’t want him no more neither do I trust him and he has committed infidelity so many times I can’t count anymore and I don’t understand why he had women in their house having sex when they had their own home he could have went there but instead I found out it was having sex with these women I knew one of them

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Anon,

      You have every right to feel hurt, even though you’re the one that ended it. You were betrayed and you’ve come to the realization that this guy will never change, no matter how many times you forgive him and try to make it work.

      You will still need to go through the grief cycle, in addition to overcoming the biological addiction we develop inside these relationships. It’s a bit of a journey, but if you can successfully detach from this relationship, you have a better chance of healing yourself and finding the happiness that is your birthright.


      Kim XoXo

  10. Laurie

    I escaped a marriage to a narcissist. He alienated my children from me. After 4 years, I got them back. My 18 year old son left shortly after an orchestrated move by his father. My daughter, now 18 has lived with me for 2 years. I can see she is a narcissist and do everything I can not to get played by her. Is there any help for them or is it a “life-sentence”? All of the article I read are about the relationship of partners, not of parents and children.
    She is moving away to go to university in a few months, I know I can’t save her. But as a parent, is there anyway to have a relationship with an adult child who is a narcissist? I am aware she will try to use me for the rest of her life. Is it possible to have a relationship with her?

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Laurie,

      I am sorry to learn that you believe your daughter is a narcissist. Sadly, when children grow up with a narcissistic parent, they generally develop either codependent or narcissistic traits. This is why I advocate leaving marriages where children are involved, if at all possible…of course, this knowledge comes late since we were mostly taught to stick it out til the end.

      Whether you continue a relationship with her is up to you. I’ve seen people go no contact with family members, including parents and children, for their own mental well-being. It’s a hard choice, for sure, but it’s sometimes necessary. If you’re not ready for that, you’ll need to develop very strong boundaries in your interactions with her and also practice extreme self-care. Whether there is help for her depends on whether she sees the need for any help and then whether she acts on it.

      Hope that helps!

      Kim XoXo

      1. Renee Penn

        Hi Laurie: I can sympathize greatly with you. I was married to a narcissist for 21 years. I have one child, daughter who is clearly a narcissist and unfortunately, on the sociopath side, EXTREMELY abusive to my grandchildren, her live in BF and myself. I went no contact with her 2 1/2 years ago. It is so heartbreaking to have had to have done this, but I needed to do it for my own sanity. I cry often, especially for my two beautiful grandchildren (girls 3 and 5) and CPS was called (they said they found nothing, but of course they did not, she is a narc and lies/hides everything). I’m so sorry you are going through this. No contact gets easier. I sleep better but I worry constantly about my granddaughters. Oh and she has contact with her narc father, he can do “no wrong”. it’s a sad state of affairs when the child goes back to the abusive parent. The whole situation is just so awful. I wish you the best with your daughter.

  11. I couldn’t agree more with:

    My ex. BF used to casually drop a phrase like “I need longer hair”, or “I need more feminine energy” or “I need a firmer butt”. This was usually accompanied by a argument and a period of disappearance /silent treatment. Initially I was baffled what all of this meant, till one day it had dawned on me: he “needed” all these things and was GETTING them behind the scenes (while proclaiming love eternal and exclusivity to me). As excuse is Narcissist’s best friend, a mere whim “I need longer legs” or “bigger breasts”, is comparable to “today or “my body is craving a hamburger (or a pork chop), and since both are my birthright, I go get them” [from whoever they are attached to]

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Marzena.

      Thank you for following my blog and for commenting. I can relate to your experience as I heard similar things from my N-Ex. Any person who wants you to change your natural structure is objectifying you and has no ability to connect on an emotional or intimate level. When these words come up in a budding or existing relationship…RUN.

      I’m glad to know he’s your EX. Wishing you all the best in your journey…

      Kim XoXo

  12. YinYang

    I left my N after 2 long years of abuse. I left and came back many many times. How it ended was SICK. We broke up, I moved on he moved on but he didn’t move on. He kept stalking me, harassing me, trying to control me. I ignored this for as long as I could. One day I decided to open my spam folder and countless emails from him. Some were of him apologizing but most were of threats and insults and promises to expose me. The last email he sent me were of all the women he was with during our relationship… I came home later that night to him urinating on my front door. I called the police they later arrested him and I was granted a restraining order for two years. I have been in therapy for over a year and I feel amazing. It is possible to heal from this type of emotional abuse. There is a light at the end of this dark dark tunnel. Never lose hope. Thank you for reading.. YinYang

  13. Heather Lottman Costigan

    I left my narcissist husband after 15+ years of marriage, but we were together for 20+ years. I am absolutely an Empath, he is a textbook malignantly narcissistic, personality disordered, potentially sociopathic monster (among other things). I’m now able to see him as a child who coped with being neglected & bullied by pathologically lying, seeking comfort/love through increasingly dangerous sexual habits (before, during & after our marriage), & by spending (on himself while withholding from his family). He had verbally, emotionally​ & physically abusive parents (Dad did what was done to him, Mom was handicapped with MS & quite passive aggressive in developing co-dependency with her children as her caregiver’s.
    I was the perfect target for my ex. I had been cheated on by my first love & desperately ached to be accepted & loved as I was. I was an easily charmed by him.
    I struggled with multiple hormonal imbalances throughout our relationship which affected my weight, moods, confidence, self-esteem, & even my ability to work or to parent. Idiopathic Orthostatic Cyclic Edema, PMDD, & Adenomyosis were all undiagnosed until my 30’s, but I always knew something just wasn’t right. I truly suffered monthly from 12 years old until the addition of a 365 day birth control pill in 2013-2014 & the removal (by me, not Dr.-BEST decision I ever made) of antidepressants opened my eyes. Prior to this, I was only content, happy, & “normal feeling” when I was pregnant or after my period finished until I ovulated (maybe 7-10 days a month).

    With the loss of 45+ lbs in a 6 month time, & my “issues” suddenly non-existent because my cycle was suppressed & the meds for IOC Edema could work as intended I was literally a different person! I loved life, I looked as he always said he wanted me to, I had energy every day, was productive, I even had a sex drive & no more pelvic pain! Except even then, there was still something wrong with me. Without my “issues” as his scapegoat I saw his true self clearly for the first time. My initial reactions were that I still didn’t look “good enough”, that I wasn’t “fixed” “well enough”, & that I was still somehow the reason for his/our unhappiness.

    Then the signs started appearing as if they were being dropped in my lap! The spending, the lying about “working” all the time, eventually the cheating, & eventually the ugly truth that he was abusing me (& indirectly our 3 boys).

    I filed in July of 2015, & moved us in with my parents in August 2015. I’m STILL not divorced. Why?!? Textbook characteristics of a narcissist/sociopath in divorce. Withholding financial information, harassing me, using the kids as pawns, you name it. I finally stopped being scared and filed a motion to compel in 2/2017. Shortly after that I found out he filed a fraudulent joint tax return without my signature so he could keep the whole refund (like he’s already done with 2 of them). Because he’s feeling the heat & the pressure of being called to task, his behavior is escalating to threatening me (insinuated, of course), & fabricating constant conflict, emergencies, & drama as reason to contact me (all about the kids, of course).
    The million dollar question for me is…
    I’m not afraid of him & he’d never directly threaten to hurt me or the boys (he knows he’d be done for).
    I’m pushing for Equitable Distribution & I’m not afraid of going to court (he’s deathly afraid) now, but how do I manage communication with him between now & the time the divorce being final?
    I have faith that karma will serve the snake the life he deserves & I try very hard to take the high road for my own sanity & for my boys. Because of that I am surrounded by amazing friends, family, & now even the love of my life (my 3rd love in this lifetime, my soul mate, no question). I have faith that we will be cared for & that the divorce will proceed & settle fairly in our favor.
    Can I actually go NC if I share children with him?

  14. Ella

    My ex just updated his status as: “I don’t regret the things I did wrong” …. Who in their right mind and has empathy would be proud to say that he doesn’t regret the things he did wrong …. A narcissist definitely does!!
    Yes of course they are aware of the pain they inflict into others. And they will be happy seeing us destroyed with their actions!

  15. Rhondie

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve read your blog and hundreds of articles and books and this is what I needed to hear most of all. It has been a nightmare of confusing crazy making insanity. I love him deeply and have had so much trouble breaking the bond but this was one of my greatest concerns …Thank you for all you do .

  16. Cindy

    I’ve been married to a narcissist for almost 20 years….the first sign I knew he wasn’t “normal” was when we were engaged and took a trip with friends to ski at Santa Fe. We had been engaged for almost a year but had never taken a trip together.
    After a long day of skiing, he wanted the whole group to see a play. Everyone went, but one couple decided to leave early because they were so tired. Robert, saw this
    and was like,” Why are they leaving?”
    When the play was over, we walked back to our private cabin since it was
    Very late.
    When the door shut, Robert went into
    A terrible abusive RAGE and started
    Cussing at me and throwing things at me and said he never wanted
    To see my ugly face again…
    I was so scared, and this was before cell phones!!! All the other cabins were scattered about the mountain in the snow, so I was trapped!! I ran and locked myself in the bathroom and just prayed…I cried in that bathroom all night long….
    You see, I didn’t know about narcissistic personality disorder!
    I was frightened for my life….
    As I watched the sun come up, I quietly escaped to the office about a mile away on foot. When everyone met for breakfast he showed up like nothing had happened and was just being this happy jovial guy that could charm a pig if he had to!
    I told my friends what happened, but they didn’t believe me…
    On the plane home, I broke off the engagement!
    He came groveling back to me and said that would never happen again…
    I didn’t happen for another YEAR!
    But after we got married…two months afterwards the abuse lies and deception started all over again!
    THEY ARE AWARE OF WHAT THEY ARE DOING, BUT WANT TO CONTROL AND ABUSE TO MAKE THEMSELVES FEEL BETTER!!! THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU AT ALL….So don’t give these serpents any type of sympathy!!! They are playing you like a card!!! STAY AWAY!!

    1. Leslie

      I saw the real him 2 days before our wedding. I don’t even remember how it started but I was doing my best to avoid conflict which pushed him over the edge. He shut the electricity off to our home at the breaker (because I was ignoring him getting dressed for work), took my car keys, and my cell phone. He then decided to throw me around on the concrete patio in our backyard where thankfully the neighbors heard me screaming for help. When the police came he was mr charming and had them convinced I was just a crazy female even though he had 6 inches and 100 lbs on me and I was obviously very shaken up, swelling, bruising, but I had to leave the property, not him. I went back later when I had nowhere else to go but my parents house and they didn’t seem to believe me and I was feeling ashamed. When I went back I stayed in our bedroom telling him I would shoot him with my gun if he came near me. He then calls the cops and tells them I am waving my gun at him (it was still in the nightstand where I had not touched it) so I left the house again and just sat in my car with nowhere to go, he alienated my friends. The police called me from our house to ask what was going on and when I told them yet again he was coming after me they asked if I wanted to file a report and I said no because I was confused, we were to get married in 48 hours. Later I found out he filed a report on me! Of course he came groveling back to me saying some crap about our love was so passionate it burned out of control and he would never do it again. Not even 2 years later he came home drunk as a skunk (after driving home drunk with already 1 DUI) and was mad at me for insisting he come home that night (no trust in him at all) so he decided to pick a fight with me that woke up our baby and when I went to comfort her he was still screaming at me so I left her in her room and went into another room where he threw me on the floor yet again and I lost it flailing and kicking madly. Later I found out I had kicked him square in the nose giving him a nose bleed. He locked me in the closet so I was unable to get help. I begged and pleaded with him to please let me out, why are you doing this to me, all the while our baby is crying in another room. He finally calmed down, let me out, and passed out drunk. Next day he was all apologies and I love yous. I threw him out not long after that. Divorced 1 day after 2 year anniversary. Next month he will get married again to his 3rd wife in 7 years. Hindsight truly is 20/20. I see it all so clear now, the abuse, the lies, the red flags. Never again.

      1. June

        They are sooooo sick, they don’t know they are sick. I promise; you will stop wanting him. The road ahead is very bumpy, this experience rapes you at every level…. But know you are sooooo much better off. He is hopeless

  17. Great analysis Kim!

    An important concept to understand about why we punish Narcissists….. it’s because they create harm, and sometimes, they break laws in so-doing. The fact is that the only way to keep a Narcissist reigned-in, is to pass laws to protect society from their behaviors, which, as you know, has been my focus for several years, and the basis for the books I’ve written. They won’t change because they want to be nice. They’ll change to stay out of jail.

    Having a penchant for doing harm, does not give them a free pass to do so. They know the difference between wrong and right. They just chose to ignore society’s norms and laws for their personal gain.

    The concept of a Narcissist “suffering” from their behavior is an oxymoron. One of the elements that is missing in the psychological makeup of a Narcissist is emotional empathy. They simply don’t relate to the harm they create for others without it. It makes them immune to conscience. Without a conscience, the only thing that keeps them from harming others is society’s laws.

  18. Olivia McKinley

    Hi Kim,
    I am facing just a vicious vicious ex husband with NPD in a custody battle. It has been gut wrenching to put it mildly. I met him when I was 13, married at 20, and just divorced at 36 having never been in ANY other relationships. I had no idea I was involved with someone who has NPD and I was not prepared for the arsenal he is bringing. He took everything so he has the means and the ego to keep annihilating me in court. After being a stay at home, home school mother for 10 years and tolerating his abuse, I began to stand up for myself and he then filed for divorce in an effort to scare me back into submission. I did not comply and I have never seen him more furious.

    He refuses to comply with even the basic court requirements because it appears that he thinks he does not have to comply with court orders just like everyone else. It is so frustrating and the courts don’t seem to be very aware or knowledgeable on how very abusive this disorder is or that it even exists!

    I need to locate an expert witness (obviously I can pay them) specializing in NPD that can at least write a memorandum or affidavit on the impacts of NPD on spouses and children. My word in court is not going to mean anything because I am not obviously a doctor. He has an attorney and I am doing this by myself. I’m so overwhelmed and just want to find someone who can explain to this judge how terrible this will be on the children if he has full custody of our babies. He doesn’t really want that, he wants to hurt me because I removed the supply and adoration.

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Olivia,

      I am sorry to learn of your struggles. I can relate as I share a son with my Ex.

      Regarding your finding an expert witness, you may want to reach out to my friends at They might be able to help point you in the right direction.

      Best of luck to you!


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