Do Narcissists Know They Are Manipulative Or Is It Something They Do Subconsciously?

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When you have a mental condition like narcissistic personality disorder that has developed over time, it can be hard to realize you even have a problem. To you, it seems like you are the only sane person in a sea of lunatics. But sometimes the actions of the narcissist seem premeditated and it defies logic to think they don’t know what they’re doing. 

Because narcissists lack empathy, they can’t foresee how their actions will affect the people in their lives. They think in binary terms and are constantly focused solely on their own needs, so they don’t consider how their actions affect others and often act subconsciously to get their needs met.

Read on to discover more about what motivates the narcissist to do the things they do and how they perceive the world around them. 

Narcissism and The False Self

Part of the problem that a narcissist has is that they tend to dissociate which means they can easily erase memories. They do this because they experience the world and people around them through the prism of a fictitious construct known as the false self. They create the false self because they never fully developed their own sense of self as a result of childhood experiences or trauma. 

They use the false self to filter their experiences, and because they have a very fragile self-esteem, they will get rid of any kind of information or experiences that undermine the grandiose narrative that allows them to legitimize their negative behaviors. 

Because they filter everything through the false self, there are gaps in their memory which they fill with what they consider plausible scenarios. To you, this just seems like they’re lying, but in reality, they believe their version of events. In fact, the narcissist can’t even consider that a particular event or situation might have occurred in any other way. 

Because of these so-called ‘fillers,’ narcissists often seem to contradict themselves. What they might have said yesterday is reversed today. For the narcissist, the sequence of events is logical, but it often leaves you feeling confused and manipulated. 

The Narcissist’s Narrative

Because of the trauma they’ve endured, narcissists create–through their false self–a narrative of their life, the purpose of which is to buttress their fragile self-esteem and prove that the claims made using the false self are true. 

As with any good story, the narcissist needs other characters to uphold and support their narrative. The problem is that no matter how well constructed, the narcissist’s narrative is inevitably too hard to sustain. Reality comes rushing in and threatens to drown the narcissist as they are confronted with the truth. 

It’s something many experts call the grandiosity gap. This can happen when the other characters in the narcissist’s story refuse to play their roles as assigned. To cope with the stark differences between their narrative and reality, narcissists will go through certain stages of grief, including denial. 

When that fails to assuage their pain, they then invent a new narrative that better accommodates the reality they’ve been forced to acknowledge. The narcissist may even deny that the previous narrative ever existed. To you, it seems impossible they could have forgotten, but they honestly convince themselves that the past narrative never existed. 

Why Does a Narcissist Create These Grandiose Ideas?

Why Does a Narcissist Create These Grandiose Ideas

It’s important to realize that the narcissist is externally validated. That means they get their sense of identity and worth from feedback they receive from other people. Because they don’t have an internal feedback system, they need constant input to maintain a sense of continuity and prop up their self-esteem and self-worth. 

The people in a narcissist’s life, therefore, become their source of narcissistic supply, that is to say, they give the narcissist the admiration they need to feel good about themselves. These people also become a kind of external memory drive. They help the narcissist to make sense of those gaps in their memory or contradictions by maintaining a stable flow of coherent data. 

Narcissists learn early in life that they have to expect the unexpected. Narcissism often develops from childhood trauma, so many narcissists have experienced caretakers who are unpredictable and often abusive. That’s why they have denied their true self and constructed the false self. 

Once they have done that, it becomes easier to reinvent themselves and become their own creator. That’s part of why they are so grandiose in their thoughts and actions. 

What Happens If You Contradict a Narcissist’s Perceptions?

When the people in their life contradict their perceptions of themselves or their status, it creates quite a problem for the narcissist. In fact, they perceive that their carefully constructed worldview is at risk, and they will do almost anything to preserve it. 

Remember that they are unable to nurture themselves inwardly; they must get that from the people in their life. If those people are criticizing them, their entire sense of self is in jeopardy of falling apart. It’s very frightening from their point of view. 

That’s why narcissists frequently become enraged with even the most gentle of criticism. It’s as if they’ve built the proverbial house of straw and the big, bad wolf is threatening to blow it all away. They respond with a ferocity that can be very intense, and this is known as narcissistic rage. 

They also will frequently lie to and manipulate the people in their life to save their fragile false self from destruction. They don’t see themselves as being manipulative. Instead, they see themselves as constructing a coherent narrative that meets their need for maintaining a sense of self-worth. From this perspective, they don’t consider the people to whom they are lying or manipulating. 

Final Thoughts

Because narcissists are constantly focused on preserving their very carefully constructed false self and narrative, they don’t really consider the feelings of the other people in their life. These people are merely characters in a story the narcissist is telling, and what the narcissist does to manipulate them is nothing more than an act of self-preservation. 

It’s not exactly correct to say that the narcissist is acting subconsciously, but they do believe the story they tell themselves to justify their bad behavior. They also are not able to consider the feelings of the people who they see as mere extensions of themself. 

Now that you understand a little more about the motivations of the narcissist, you might also like this blog post about if spoiling a child can cause narcissism. 


If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel


Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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