Narcissistic personality disorder involves a distorted sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy for others, a strong sense of entitlement, and a need for excessive admiration. People with narcissism may have trouble understanding or caring about the feelings of others and may react with anger or contempt when they feel criticized or slighted.
They feel they deserve special treatment and use manipulative behavior to get it. Their mental illness and lack of emotional empathy prevent them from understanding the effect of their actions.
Narcissists have feelings, but their sense of superiority often prevents them from showing them. Their mental health condition makes it difficult for them to reveal their feelings because it makes them feel vulnerable. Instead, they use emotional abuse to distract and manipulate their victims.
Pathological narcissism results in a tendency to repress emotions. This, of course, makes it difficult for them to have a healthy relationship. It’s among the more difficult mental disorders for a mental health professional to confront because it’s hard to discern their genuine emotions. Let’s explore how narcissistic individuals experience and express emotions.
How Do Narcissists Experience Emotions?
Narcissistic personality disorder results in a narcissist having an unreasonably high sense of their own importance, a strong sense of entitlement, and a need for constant admiration. They also tend to lack empathy and exploit others for their own benefit.
Narcissists do have emotions, but they are often repressed, distorted, or reactive. They may experience emotions such as:
- Anger, rage, or contempt when they feel criticized, ignored, or challenged.
- Envy or jealousy when they see someone who has something they want or who is more successful than them.
- Shame or guilt when they are exposed for their faults or failures, but they usually deny or project them onto others.
- Arrogance or superiority when they feel admired, praised, or validated. They may exaggerate their achievements and talents and look down on others.
- Sadness, loneliness, or depression when they are not getting enough attention or admiration or when they lose a source of narcissistic supply. They may also feel empty and unfulfilled in their relationships.
Narcissists may not, however, be able to fully recognize, express, or regulate their emotions. They also have difficulty empathizing with other people’s emotions. They typically view emotions as irrational, weak, or fake. They may also use emotions to manipulate others or to justify their actions.
These narcissistic behaviors wreak havoc in the lives of their victims. People who suffer from narcissistic abuse will usually develop low self-esteem and may even come to question their sense of reality as a result.
How Do Narcissists Express Their Emotions?
The narcissistic traits associated with pathological narcissism often prevent a healthy expression of emotions. Narcissists often use narcissistic tactics, like gaslighting, lying, and triangulation, to cover up their emotions so they won’t seem vulnerable. They might also use the silent treatment to make their victims feel uncertain of what exactly the problem is.
A malignant narcissist might even use their emotions as an opportunity to inflict more abuse on a hapless victim. Because of their lack of empathy, they don’t recognize how their narcissistic traits and abuse affect other people. Moreover, they justify their bad behaviors by using their sense of superiority to validate their entitlement.
Here are a few ways that a narcissist might express their emotions:
Anger and Rage
Narcissists are easily offended by anything they perceive as criticism, rejection, or disrespect. They react with anger and try to belittle or punish the person who hurt their ego. They have no emotional empathy, so they don’t understand or care how it affects their victims.
Envy and Jealousy
Narcissists are always comparing themselves to others and feel envious of those who have more success, power, beauty, or love than them. They also believe that others are envious of them. They project their negative feelings of jealousy onto other people with little regard for the truth.
Shame and Guilt
The roles of shame and guilt in grandiose – and vulnerable narcissism – are profound. Narcissists have a deep sense of insecurity and low self-esteem that they hide behind a mask of arrogance and superiority.
They feel ashamed of their flaws and mistakes, but they rarely admit them or take responsibility for them. They also feel guilty for hurting others, but they rationalize or deny their actions. Their shame also results in a deep sense of self-loathing.
Sadness and Loneliness
Narcissists are often unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives because they don’t get the special treatment or admiration that their sense of entitlement tells them they deserve.
They also have trouble forming meaningful and lasting relationships with others because they lack empathy and trust. They may feel isolated and misunderstood by others, and when they do meet someone, they often form abusive relationships because of the narcissist’s low level of emotional intelligence and other narcissistic traits.
Pride and Grandiosity
Narcissists have a distorted sense of their own achievements and talents. They exaggerate their abilities and accomplishments, and they expect others to praise and admire them. They also have fantasies of being superior, powerful, brilliant, or perfect. It makes them difficult to work with, as the video below discusses. They believe that they are special and can only associate with equally special people.
Narcissists may also experience some positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, love, or gratitude, but these are usually fleeting, superficial, or conditional. They only feel good when they receive positive feedback from others or when they are in the idealization phase of a relationship.
They may also feel love for someone who provides them with narcissistic supply, but this is not a genuine or healthy form of love. It is more like an addiction or a dependency.
Can Narcissists Regulate Their Emotions?
Narcissists have difficulty regulating their emotions, expressing them appropriately, and empathizing with others’ emotions. They may appear cold, detached, indifferent, or insensitive to others’ feelings.
They may also be manipulative, abusive, or exploitative of others’ emotions to get what they want. Their emotional instability can cause problems in their personal and professional lives.
According to researchers in psychology at Oakland University, narcissists have difficulties with regulating their emotions, especially negative ones. They may experience emotion dysregulation, which means they have problems with understanding, accepting, and managing their emotional states. They may also try to avoid feelings of shame and increase feelings of hubristic pride by seeking external validation and admiration.
However, not all narcissists are the same. There are two forms of narcissism: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism. Personality patterns and tendencies in individuals with grandiose narcissism, also known as overt narcissism, include positive emotionality and high well-being.
Instrumental aggression is the harmful behavior engaged in without provocation to obtain an outcome or coerce others.
– Tamara Del Vecchio, Psychologist at St. John’s University
Vulnerable narcissists, also called covert narcissists, tend to have negative emotionality and low well-being. Grandiose narcissism typically results in personality types that use instrumental aggression to assert dominance, while vulnerable narcissists are more likely to experience uncontrollable narcissistic rage that results in disproportionate and dysfunctional aggression.
Vulnerable narcissists also show more deficits in emotion regulation than grandiose narcissists. A vulnerable narcissist is much more likely to exhibit self-deprecation than a grandiose narcissist, although the reason for their behavior is still the desire for narcissistic supply. They are fishing for compliments.
The relationship between narcissism and emotional dysregulation makes it extremely difficult for narcissists to express their feelings, at least not in a healthy way. The nature of their mental illness is such that they can’t risk exposing vulnerability, even to their closest friends and family members.
That’s why most relationships involving narcissistic individuals become abusive, and it’s also why most relationships with narcissists end in failure. While the narcissist is not necessarily a bad person, per se, they are also not trustworthy people. They are manipulative and often abusive.
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