What’s Behind the Narcissist’s Mask?

What’s Behind the Narcissist’s Mask?

What’s Behind the Narcissist’s Mask? 1A new study reinforces what many of us who deal with narcissists already know:

1) Narcissists tend to be less trustworthy, less loyal, less accountable and less remorseful than others

2) Narcissists tend to be more deceptive, more manipulative, more antagonistic and more vindictive than others

In some cases the gap is huge. Drawn from a study of 14,000 people, an analysis of 403 participants with distinct traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder found that narcissists are six times more likely to be deceptive, four times more likely to lie, and three times more likely to be antagonistic and vindictive than non-narcissistic people.

The study is a portrait of the many ways narcissists tend to posture and shape themselves — while at the same time using others — to shore up a fragile sense of self.

For example, the study found the following percentages of narcissists who do the following behaviors, compared to non-narcissists:

Narcissists Non-narcissists
Point out others’ mistakes, no matter how minor 73% 7%
Strongly believe they are superior to most people 84% 3%
Prefer to associate with people who are successful or popular 84% 7%
Cast aside anyone who doesn’t live up to what they want 69% 5%
Change their appearance, personality and opinions to be accepted 62% 18%
Seek to be the center of attention 80% 10%
Endlessly seek reassurance they are liked 60% 16%
Become defensive when given negative feedback 61% 32%
Refuse to acknowledge or admit when they are wrong 67% 16%

“Being a narcissist is likely to be a tiring and draining endeavor, emotionally and psychologically. It’s like wearing a mask all the time,” said the study’s author, Ilona Jerabek.

Here are three ways to cope with the manipulation and pretenses used by narcissists:

1)  Don’t expect them to change. They may change behavior from time to time, but someone with narcissistic personality disorder is unlikely to change their personality. What you see is what you get.

2) Don’t take their blaming and lack of accountability personally. Their actions are designed to gratify themselves and keep others from seeing their flaws. It’s all about them, not you, so how can it be personal?

3) Do ask yourself: “At what cost? There is nearly always some cost when dealing with narcissists. Only you can decide whether the cost in any given situation is worth it.


Photo by Mike Focus

What’s Behind the Narcissist’s Mask? 2


12 Ways Narcissists Behave Like Children

12 Ways Narcissists Behave Like Children

12 Ways Narcissists Behave Like Children 3

Narcissists’ behaviors can be mystifying and maddening if you expect them to consistently act like adults.

Though narcissists can behave like adults much of the time, when they feel embarrassed, ignored or inferior they may revert to a childlike state, acting like children during the “terrible twos.”

In a way, this regression makes sense. Narcissistic personality disorder or a narcissistic style often develops due to early trauma or family influences that can leave aspects of a person stuck at an emotionally young age.

For example, picture a young child caught with his hand in the cookie jar when told to wait until after dinner. Children respond to such situations with one or more of a dozen instinctual responses. By the same token, adult narcissists use sophisticated versions of these same childlike responses.

As you read through the following examples, you may want to think of a narcissist in your life and note any similarities with how the narcissist you know responds when feeling stressed, slighted or thwarted.

What a child caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar might do

1) Deny they did it

“I didn’t eat one. I was just looking for later.”

2)  Blame someone else

“But sis said it was all right and she had one too.”

12 Ways Narcissists Behave Like Children 4

3)  Pretend they don’t know what you are talking about

“What cookies?”

4)  Throw a tantrum

5)  Say they had no choice

“I was so hungry I couldn’t help it.”

6)  Recite good things they have done

“But yesterday I put all my toys away. Aren’t you proud of me?”

7)  Cry or act like a victim

“You’re so mean to me. It’s not fair.”

8)  Hide or run away

12 Ways Narcissists Behave Like Children 5

9)  Try to charm you

“But I love you so much, Mommy.”

10)  Change the subject

“Can I go outside and play?”

11)  Ignore you or stonewall

12)  Get mad at you for catching them

“Stop spying on me!”


Such childlike responses bear an uncanny resemblance to the key tactics narcissists use to avoid responsibility and manipulate others:

  • Denying
  • 12 Ways Narcissists Behave Like Children 6Blaming
  • Pretending
  • Acting out
  • Making excuses
  • Seeking credit
  • Playing the victim
  • Running away
  • Charming
  • Distracting
  • Stonewalling
  • Attacking

Recognizing the childlike nature of narcissists’ responses can empower you when dealing with narcissists. The next time you find yourself confused or on the defensive by a narcissist’s behavior, envision him or her as a two-year old in an adult body. Doing so can give you perspective and allow you to respond rather than react.

If an adult narcissist acts like a child, perhaps you need to treat them as you would a child. As an adult or parent, you can see through children’s attempts to avoid blame and shame. You don’t take it personally but you also set healthy limits, as that is in their best interests as well as yours.

The difference with adult narcissists is they have more power than children. Their tactics can affect you and pose danger. You have to choose your responses wisely. Here are some strategies that can help:

Give them choices

If you take your child to a crowded restaurant when you’re in a hurry, you give the child choices. Instead of asking what they want to eat, you say “Do you want pizza or a PBJ?” Similarly, suggesting options or choices to an acting-out narcissist may let them think they are in control but can move the situation along.

Have realistic expectations

You don’t expect a small child to act in a mature adult fashion. Similarly, you are generally not likely to go wrong by underestimating a narcissist’s level of maturity. You don’t have to tolerate abusive behavior. But expecting emotional maturity from a two-year-old — of any age — will just leave you frustrated.

Don’t take it personally

You don’t take a two-year-old’s pouting personally. They are in the throes of emotions they haven’t yet learned to contain or soothe. Similarly, narcissists generally cannot contain their feelings when they are embarrassed or disappointed. Recognize that they are awash in emotions that to them are so huge they cannot cope in a mature fashion.


Photo credits
Upset princess by MN Studio
Tantrum kid by Lorelyn Medina
Covering ears child by Sharomka
Steaming mad boy by Pathdoc

12 Ways Narcissists Behave Like Children 7


The Painful Catch-22 of Caring About a Narcissist

The Painful Catch-22 of Caring About a Narcissist

The Painful Catch-22 of Caring About a Narcissist 8This is the dilemma of caring about a narcissist:  If you are true to yourself, you lose a narcissist’s approval. If you are true to what the narcissist wants, you lose yourself.

Narcissists are desperate to see themselves reflected in those around them. If you aspire to goals narcissists hold dear, believe what they believe, and act in ways they think are right, they feel validated.

On the other hand, if you hold values or behave in ways opposite to what a narcissist wants, the narcissist feels invalidated and will often rage, sulk, belittle, withdraw or reject you.

Narcissists seek to cultivate sameness. Follow what a narcissist preaches and you are told you will be safe, protected and will avoid rejection and wrath. But if you honor your values and truth, you are often told you are bad, wrong, defiant or weak. Follow your own path, narcissists warn, and you will be abandoned and disliked.

If you uphold what the narcissist wants, you may be accepted, though that acceptance is generally conditional and temporary. And even when you are liked or loved by a narcissist, their love is not based on who you really are. It is based on what a narcissist chooses to see in you.

The Painful Catch-22 of Caring About a Narcissist 9

This dilemma is akin to the words above the entrance to Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy:  “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”

With a narcissist the Catch-22 is:  “Abandon Yourself or Be Abandoned By Me.”

It’s a painful dilemma. If you care about someone with narcissism, it hurts to be repeatedly rejected and abandoned, especially when the rejection comes as a result of honoring yourself. It hurts to know that another person wants you to give up yourself to curry their favor. Being abandoned by a narcissist in ways large and small can bring a deep loneliness.

Yet while it hurts to disagree with a narcissist and have them accuse you of betraying them, it also hurts to betray your own values. That, too, brings a deep loneliness.

Only you can decide which path hurts more; which path has fewer costs and more benefits. That you have to make such a calculation in an important relationship is, in itself, testament to the dysfunctional dynamic inherent in knowing a narcissist.

If you do choose, as William Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true,” here are four steps you can take to being true to yourself in relationships with narcissists:

1) Create a greater context for your dealings with a narcissist

If you must have dealings with destructive narcissists, you don’t have to play their game or accept their rules. Rather than feeling you are battling for survival or just trying to get by, create a broader context for having them in your life.

For example, view dealing with a narcissist as an opportunity for personal growth or as training in how to hold on to yourself in difficult circumstances. Or see it as a learning opportunity to observe firsthand the kinds of behavior you want to avoid.

When you have something at stake that matters to you it can give you a sense of purpose beyond just trying to survive around a narcissist.

2) Focus on process, not content

Narcissists distract and confuse others. When they are confronted or embarrassed they will act out, blame, belittle, bully or otherwise avoid responsibility.

Focus on what they do, not what they say. Their words are often attempts to make you question yourself. Their arguments are generally distractions. If you refute one argument, they will come up with another, and another, and another.The Painful Catch-22 of Caring About a Narcissist 10

You don’t have to take the bait. When faced with a narcissist who starts ramping up his or her array of defensive and offensive tactics, remind yourself:  “They are most likely trying to evade responsibility.” This gives you the opportunity to keep your eye on bigger issues, such as taking a stand for what is right or for individual responsibility and accountability.

3) Make friends with your feelings and desires

Narcissists are often uncomfortable with others’ emotions. While they give themselves lots of permission to express and pursue their feelings, they tend to shame and block others from expressing emotions.

This unfair and destructive double standard isn’t healthy. Let yourself have all your feelings and desires.

Check in from time to time and notice what you might be feeling or desiring. Then tell yourself, “All my feelings belong. Feelings aren’t logical. I don’t need to justify my feelings with reasons. Feelings just are.”

Emotions are messages from different aspects of yourself. They just want to be heard. You don’t have to necessarily act on them.

4) Concentrate on intrinsic not extrinsic rewards

Narcissists fear looking inward so they focus on external rewards such as material possessions, status, attention, power and approval. While these have their place, our most authentic motivations tend to be intrinsic.

Intrinsic rewards and motivations include qualities such as self-awareness, self-acceptance, love, being who you really are, having a vision for your life, contributing to the greater good, spirituality and intimacy.

Narcissists may judge you only on how well you play their game of accumulating extrinsic rewards. Don’t do the same to yourself.

When you have a dilemma or feel stuck around a narcissist, ask yourself what your deepest internal motivations and values are, and proceed from there.


Photo Credits:

Swirling Illusion by Andrey Korshenkov
Abandon Hope marker by Zapomicron
Serpent Shadow by Chompoo


If You Wonder Whether You’re A Narcissist . . .

If You Wonder Whether You’re A Narcissist . . .

If You Wonder Whether You’re A Narcissist . . . 11. . . you’re probably not.

In my experience, the vast majority of people who question whether they are narcissists have little to worry about.

That’s because true narcissists generally:

  1. Don’t know what narcissism is,
  2. Don’t care whether or not they are a narcissist,
  3. Avoid introspection for fear of what they’d discover, or
  4. Wouldn’t find anything wrong with being a narcissist

People who worry most about having narcissistic personality disorder often tend to know one or more narcissists and decidedly do not want to be narcissistic.

But decide for yourself. Ask yourself which of the following 20 statements are true for you most or all of the time:

  • I have little empathy for others
  • I become angry or depressed if I am not the center of attention
  • I have to win and hate to lose
  • I rarely apologize
  • I am almost never wrong
  • I am better than everybody else
  • I seek to manipulate others for my own ends
  • I have only superficial relationships
  • I am obsessed with status, wealth, power, and appearance
  • I find fault with nearly everyone around meIf You Wonder Whether You’re A Narcissist . . . 12
  • I treat others in condescending ways
  • I deserve special treatment
  • I violate others’ rights and privacy whenever it suits me
  • I delight in spoiling others’ good moods
  • I hold grudges over even minor incidents
  • I listen impatiently when others talk about themselves because I want the topic to be about me
  • I bully others to get what I want
  • I get away with things that others consider wrong because I am more clever than everyone else
  • I am infuriated when I feel slighted or disrespected
  • Other people envy me and want what I have

If you answered yes to six or fewer questions, you are unlikely to have strong narcissistic tendencies or narcissistic personality disorder.

On the other hand, if you answered yes to more than seven of these statements, you may have unhealthy narcissism. If so, and this concerns you, you may wish to seek a qualified therapist for consultation. You also can take an online test here or here to help determine if you may have unhealthy narcissism.

Of course, many of us have occasional self-centered tendencies or act narcissistically from time to time. Many of us sometimes like attention and approval, dislike losing, or treat another person poorly on occasion. But it’s a matter of degree. Unhealthy narcissism is a pervasive, enduring pattern of doing many or most of the above behaviors across a wide range of situations.

If you know someone who you suspect may be narcissistic, simply answer these questions for them based on what you have observed, and draw conclusions accordingly.

Man and mirror photo by DreamBig

My Way Sign by Sam72



25 Spot-On Quotations About Narcissism

25 Spot-On Quotations About Narcissism

25 Spot-On Quotations About Narcissism 13

Are you struggling with a narcissist in your life? You are not alone. Writers, poets, researchers, therapists, philosophers and others have weighed in on narcissism since early human history.

Here are some of their best quotations on narcissism and narcissists.

“Narcissism has more in common with self-hatred than with self-admiration.”
— Christopher Lasch, author

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. . . .They justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
— T.S. Elliott, writer

“Withhold admiration from a narcissist and be disliked. Give it and be treated with indifference.”
— Mason Cooley, essayist

“Nobody can be kinder than the narcissist while you react to life in his own terms.”
— Elizabeth Bowen, writer

“Underneath the so-called narcissistic personality is definitely shame and the paralyzing fear of being ordinary.”
— Brené Brown, researcher

“There is simply no winning with a narcissist. He will treat you so horribly that you will become withdrawn and depressed and then he will turn around and say, ‘You’re no fun anymore, you’re always so depressed. I need to be with someone more positive.’”
— Susan Williams, writer

“Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders . . . but by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, if only because the narcissists themselves are so clueless.”
— Jeffrey Kluger, writer

“When people are driving themselves crazy, they have neuroses or psychoses. When they drive other people crazy, they have personality disorders.”
— Albert J. Bernstein, psychologist

“How starved you must have been that my heart became a meal for your ego.”
— Amanda Torroni, writer

“Narcissism is voluntary blindness, an agreement not to look beneath the surface.”
— Sam Keen, author

“Because narcissistic parents are experts at making everything look good, the child of the narcissist may not know anything was wrong. A common response in therapy is ‘I had a great childhood with caring parents. I should be happy.’”
— Heather Sheafer, writer

“If you want to go from being adored to devalued in the blink of an eye, simply insult the narcissist.”
— Tigress Luv, blogger

“Parents are supposed to give the child back to herself with love. If they’ve got duct tape over their eyes because of narcissism, it doesn’t happen.”
— Jane Fonda, actor

25 Spot-On Quotations About Narcissism 14

“When narcissists behave in an exhibitionistic manner, they are seeking the same sort of admiration as toddlers, and for the same reasons. They want attention. Some examples include inappropriate dress, talking too loudly, or gesturing in expansive and space-intruding ways.”
— Mark Ettensohn, therapist

“Over and over again, I have learned how damaging, how unrelenting, the aftermath is from these pathological, quietly undermining relationships.”
— Sandra Brown, therapist


“You might as well bang your head into a brick wall if you expect the narcissist to be reasonable, empathetic or human in any way. If you sense or witness any of these traits, there is an ulterior motive. When the narcissist is being nice, it’s because they have something to gain.”
— Tina Swithin, writer

“I know now that one of the characteristics of evil is its desire to confuse.”
— M. Scott Peck, writer

“No matter how socially skilled an extreme narcissist is, he has a major attachment dysfunction. The extreme narcissist is frozen in childhood.”
— Samuel Lopez de Victoria, therapist

“The narcissist would love nothing more than to know you are eating uncooked Top Ramen out of a dumpster for dinner tonight while wearing yesterday’s underwear.”
— Tina Swithin, writer

“I have a very simple question to people . . . who seem to suffer from excessive narcissism: Please name three other persons who are smarter and more capable than you, in the field you work in. In most cases they are utterly unable to answer that question honestly.”
— Ingo Molnar, computer hacker

“Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his. If it were his beauty that enthralled him, he would be set free in a few years by its fading.”
— W.H. Auden, poet

“The best way to upset a narcissist is by ignoring him.”
— J.B. Snow, writer

“Narcissists install a mental filter in our heads a little bit at a time. . . . ‘Will he get upset if I do/say/think this? Will he approve/disapprove? Will he feel hurt by this?’ Until we can uninstall the narcissist-filter, our actions are controlled by narcissists to some degree.”
— Sam Vaknin, writer

“There’s a reason narcissists don’t learn from mistakes and that’s because they never get past the first step which is admitting that they made one.”
— Jeffrey Kluger, writer

“He was like the cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.”
— George Eliot, writer

Photo of Numero Uno man by Ron Leishman


8 Ways Narcissists Con You

8 Ways Narcissists Con You

8 Ways Narcissists Con You 15Narcissists are pretenders. While they often use overt bullying and grandiose gestures, deception is at the heart of narcissism.

Narcissists rely on false bravado, dishonesty, cover-ups, and elaborate posturing to manipulate others.

Here are eight ways people with narcissism try to con you:

1) Intermittent reinforcement

Lab rats who get a food pellet every time they press a lever will rapidly lose interest when the food stops. On the other hand, rats who receive a food pellet only some of the times when they press the lever will linger indefinitely, repeatedly pressing the lever in hopes of the elusive treat.

Similarly, narcissists use a sparse and unpredictable pattern to dole out treats such as praise, attention, money and opportunities.

Every once in a while a narcissist will say something nice to you, do something for you, or bestow his or her charm or attention on you.

The rewards seem magnified because they are rare. More than that, like a thirsty person in a desert, you may over-value anything positive you get from a narcissist given how often you feel criticized, deprived, ignored or used around them.

2) False Flattery

Narcissists are so hungry for praise that they assume others are as well. They may tell you that you are special, that only you understand them, or that only you know how to take care of them.

In truth, narcissistic flattery is not based on who you really are. Narcissists rarely see who others are. They see you primarily in terms of what you can do for them.8 Ways Narcissists Con You 16

3) Strings attached

Narcissists live in a win-lose world. They rarely give freely or magnanimously. Their gifts nearly always carry a price tag.

When narcissists give a gift, it may only be a matter of time before they remind you of the gift as a way to guilt-trip you into doing even more for them.

4) Faint praise

Narcissists crave praise but view it as scarce. As a result, they are unlikely to praise others freely or completely. For example, when you show up sporting a new hair style, they may say something such as, “Well, look at you!” You’re left wondering, is that a compliment?

Praise and compliments may be given, but qualified. They may say something like, “Well, at least you did better than the last job which you screwed up big time.”

5) Lowered expectations

Narcissists disappoint others so often that disappointment becomes the norm. This serves the narcissist. As people come to expect less and less, narcissists are free to get away with more and more.

6) Promised protection

Narcissists seek to convince you that proximity to them and their wealth, power, charm, beauty, or wit will protect you in a dangerous world.

Their goal is to instill dependency. As the spider said to the fly, come into my web.

However, as with any protection racket, the costs generally outweigh any benefits. The closer you get to narcissists and the more you depend on them, the greater the chances you will feel trapped and may end up as a tasty meal for their egos.8 Ways Narcissists Con You 17

7) Faux vulnerability

Just as narcissists may tell you that you need them, they’ll pretend that they need you.

They may say they can’t live without you. The goal is to make you feel indispensable and appeal to your ego. In addition, they seek to make you feel guilty should you think of not doing their bidding or of leaving them.

Narcissists are tremendously vulnerable. Their identities are built on a house of cards; easily collapsed when their egos are not fed.

Their con is that they need you in particular. They often don’t need you as the unique person you are, they just need someone to praise them and listen to them. Stop feeding their ego and you may be replaced in a heartbeat.

8) Selective truth

Narcissists exaggerate. They speak in glittering generalities. They say: “Everyone knows this,” “Everyone else agrees” or “Everybody does this.”

The goal is to con you into seeing the world their way and doing what they want. More importantly, their selective truths are attempts to hide any evidence that puts them in a bad light.8 Ways Narcissists Con You 18

Underneath these eight cons are the narcissists’ deep inadequacies. Deep down, the are convinced that:

  • They won’t survive without enough attention
  • Others are out to get them
  • Losing is unacceptable

They see the world as a hostile, kill-or-be-killed environment. That worldview, along with a narcissistic sense of entitlement, leads them to posture, pretend, and hoodwink others with nary a second thought.

Knowing these cons can help you avoid falling for them. Narcissists are unlikely to change. You don’t have to play their game.

Photo credits:
Cross fingers by Ruigsantos
Head pat by Studiostock
Con artist by Ionut Catalin Parvu
Pinocchio by Tristan Schmurr