You would think that anyone who behaves as narcissists do would be well aware of exactly what they’re doing. They seem to be planning out their manipulation, and it’s difficult to imagine that they don’t know what they’re doing. But is that true? Do they really know they’re toxic or have they been doing it for so long that they don’t even realize they’re doing it?
The best answer to that question is that they are aware of some behaviors. Some of the narcissist’s manipulation tactics need to be planned, and they are likely aware of those behaviors. Other behaviors, however, are likely so natural to them that they don’t even realize they’re doing them.
It’s important to understand how a narcissist thinks and what they are capable of doing so that you can be aware of their manipulation when it’s happening. It’s important for protecting yourself to know the signs of their toxicity. Let’s explore the different ways that narcissists behave and whether they’re aware of their toxicity.
Are Narcissists Aware of Their Toxicity?
The problem with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is that they lack the empathy to understand the consequences of their actions. They can’t put themselves in your shoes to understand how their behavior hurts you.
They also view their victims as mere extensions of their own identity, so they feel like they have a right to do what they want. They feel entitled to treat you in any way they want. They will likely do just that as long as you allow them to act that way.
While they may be aware of specific behaviors, and they may even characterize them as bad, they don’t necessarily understand they’re hurting you. They make excuses for their behavior, and they downplay your sensitivity to being treated in such a toxic way.
Narcissists also lack the ability to engage in self-reflection. They don’t examine the reasons behind their behaviors. It’s easier for them to simply blame you or to console themselves with the thought that the ends justify the means.
On the rare occasions when they may apologize for treating you in a certain way, there’s usually a reason for that. There’s something they are trying to get you to do or say. Even though they may tell you they realize what they did and how it hurt you, that’s probably not true.
What they realize is you got angry and they need something from you. They will also likely tell you that they will change, but that’s also not something that’s likely to happen.
You might want to believe that they can really change, but it usually takes years of long-term therapy for a narcissist to reduce their toxic tendencies. It’s better that you accept that they won’t change so you can make the best decisions for yourself.
Are Narcissists Self-Aware?
It’s very difficult for narcissists to be self-aware. Narcissism is a complex disorder that’s caused by repeated childhood traumas. As a result of that trauma, the narcissist buried their true self, which they came to believe is hopelessly flawed.
They are filled with shame and self-loathing, and they are unwilling to examine the underlying reasons why. Moreover, in the place of their true self-image, they constructed a false self-image and infused it with grandiose ideas of superiority and perfection.
They believe they are better than everyone else, and they also believe they are entitled to behave any way they want. Still, given the complex nature of their mental disorder, their false self-image is often in conflict with their fears and underlying shame.
As a result, they can become depressed and anxious, but they are unlikely to seek treatment. If they do see a therapist, they will usually lie or otherwise try to manipulate the therapist. They have great difficulty examining what is really going on inside.
Psychologist and narcissism expert Elinor Greenberg puts it this way, “The more sadistic ones (narcissists) know that they enjoy putting people down and causing other people pain. They usually do not reflect on what this means.” They just can’t bring themselves to look inside.
What is a Narcissist’s Emotional Intelligence Like?
You might wonder if they have any level of emotional intelligence (EQ). For narcissists, their EQ is usually pretty low. Part of the problem is that they aren’t really in touch with their emotions.
Getting in touch with their emotions would mean allowing themselves to be vulnerable. They fear vulnerability because it makes them appear more human, and it creates the possibility that someone might discover their true nature.
Even if they try to become self-aware and cultivate more emotional intelligence, they are really looking to change their behavior as opposed to truly healing from their disorder. They are more concerned about their image than they are about their mental well-being.
Do Narcissists Recognize Other Narcissists?
You might also wonder if narcissists are able to recognize narcissism in other people. Two narcissists are sometimes able to create a successful relationship together, so maybe they can tell. That’s one possibility. They might recognize narcissism and tolerate it more than other people.
Perhaps, they think of it like they are joining forces. They do share a lot in common, and that often forms the basis for a long-term relationship. It’s also possible that narcissists recognize other narcissists, but they see them more as competition.
They might realize it would be difficult to manipulate another narcissist, and so they leave before it becomes a problem. Of course, it’s also possible that their false self-image with its grandiose sense of self-importance and perfection won’t let them recognize another narcissist.
To them, other people are beneath them, and they don’t spend much time thinking about them. That keeps them from noticing a lot of different characteristics, so they might not see narcissism in other people at all.
Can Therapy Help a Narcissist?
There are some therapeutic methods that can help a narcissist reduce their toxic behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly helpful therapeutic technique that is used for narcissistic personality disorder.
The goal of therapies to treat narcissism is to help them develop more empathy and eventually examine the underlying reasons for their mental disorder. While some of these methods can be successful, the bigger problem is that few narcissists seek help.
First, their fragile sense of identity has difficulty withstanding anything that suggests they are not perfect. They have spent the better part of their life telling themselves they are superior individuals. If they engage in therapy, that means admitting they are not perfect.
Another reason narcissists fear intense self-examination is that they are filled with shame and self-loathing. They are afraid that if they look more closely at why that is, they will find characteristics validating those negative beliefs.
This is why most narcissists would rather run away from their relationships than seek help for their condition.
There are some things that narcissists recognize about their own behavior that is problematic. They can’t admit they have a problem, however, and when they do, they just want to modify their behavior enough to solve immediate problems rather than truly effect a change. They would rather distract you by triggering you or gaslighting you than own up to their own responsibility in the matter.
You can prevent that, though, by recognizing, defusing, and healing your own emotional wounds. I have created a 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers. It’s a handy guide with step-by-step instructions for getting your emotions back under your own control. It’s free, and I will send it directly to your inbox if you click on this link.
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