Emotional range varies widely, just as personality and preferences also do. Can narcissists show emotion? You might even wonder if they know they are a narcissist.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you’ll no doubt remember Hermione’s rebuke to Ron: “just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon.” He can’t imagine how someone could feel all sorts of competing emotions at once. But narcissists often do, contrary to popular understanding.
In fact, narcissist’s feel a full range of emotions. It’s just that many of these emotions are negative ones, bound up in their disorder. Still, some experts argue that we are just now beginning to understand the full implications of narcissism. Some of our assumptions might be in need of reevaluation.
Some valuable insight can be gleaned from how they treat their friends, but read further for more interesting information on the inner lives of narcissists.
Narcissistic Vulnerability and Shame
To truly understand how the narcissist thinks and feels, it’s important to look at the underlying motivations for their narcissistic behavior. This is the only way I can come to terms with my relationships with narcissists.
Underneath their arrogant and controlling behavior, they are often filled with self-doubt and an unusually sensitive feeling of vulnerability. In many ways, they are actually very similar to alcoholics and other addicts.
Instead of actually being the powerful and superior people they project themselves to be, they actually lack a clear sense of self and worth. They often feel their lives have no meaning, and so they fill that emptiness with forced praise and grandiose predictions of their success. The more insecure they feel, the more emotional damage they inflict.
Narcissists also feel deep shame, of themselves and their abilities. This is why they must hide behind a barrage of egotistical statements and self-centered behaviors. It’s also why narcissists cannot take even the slightest criticism; they are so vulnerable inside that it simply hurts too much.
Typical Narcissistic Emotions
Other typical emotions felt by most narcissists include arrogance and superiority. While these potent emotions are, as described above, usually a front to cover over their weaknesses, they ultimately become defining feelings. That is, the narcissist will eventually begin to believe in their own hype.
The narcissist also harbors a deep sense of entitlement, the belief that they deserve better than everyone else. They are special and, as such, require special treatment. The emotions that are generated out of a sense of entitlement are envy and frustration. “Why do they have what I don’t? Why can’t I get ahead like I deserve?”
These feelings of envy and frustration often lead to anger, even rageful outbursts. If their needs and desires are not met or if their behavior and perspective are questioned, then the narcissist leans on anger to intimidate others and to protect their vulnerable inner core.
Narcissists are also infamous for their inability to recognize and respect boundaries. This manifests itself in a disregard for others and a profound selfishness—but all of this masks an internal emptiness they constantly feel. Fear is the defining emotion here, fear that these weaknesses will be discovered and fear that they truly aren’t worthwhile.
Narcissistic Defense Mechanisms
Narcissists also display a range of emotions that function to defend their internal vulnerability, and these make it exceptionally difficult to maintain relationships with others. Rather than engaging in self-reflection when challenged, narcissists will manifest a host of negative reactions.
For example, the arrogance they boast for themselves and the contempt they manifest for others are actually protections against their own sense of inadequacy. When you’re the best and everyone else is inferior, then you can ignore the deep-seated feelings of shame at your core.
They are also quite good at denial, existing in a distorted world of their own making. This makes it very difficult to communicate with a narcissist, trust me, as any argument you make is merely deflected by their twisted version of reality. They will shift the blame for whatever they did back onto you.
Narcissists are often aggressive, as well, hiding their innate feelings of inadequacy and humiliating others in hostile ways. They may even demonstrate what’s called narcissistic rage. By humiliating you, the narcissist restores their superiority. This aggression is also manifested by envious feelings, as mentioned in the previous section.
Another Take on Empathy
Finally, the commonly held view of narcissists is that they lack empathy, the ability to identify with others and to feel compassion for their feelings. Instead of viewing a relationship as a mutually beneficial support system, they often see it as merely transactional. A relationship only serves them insofar as they get what they want.
This means that they can be extraordinarily insensitive and hurtful, as well as cold and distant. They may outwardly profess feelings of love and romance, but inwardly they are calculating how to get what they want. Or, at least, these are the popular takes on narcissism.
However, more recent studies have suggested that people with narcissistic personality disorder actually do feel empathy. It’s just that expressing that empathy endangers the defenses they’ve built up around their own inner turmoil and self-doubt.
This indicates that narcissists possess the capacity to change, and that, with time and trust (and therapy), they might be able to show compassion.
Responding with empathy to the distress of others is typically an unconscious process. Those of us without narcissism are simply hard-wired to treat others with compassion.
But the narcissist might feel exaggerated feelings of vulnerability to such responses, so even if they consciously feel empathy, their internal patterns trigger a different response. Thus, they display disdain or anger rather than kindness.
While many of the narcissist’s primary emotions are negative—from arrogance and envy to anger and shame—there are some reassessments about the capacity for narcissists to have potentially positive feelings. This bodes well for the potential for new and more effective therapies to treat the disorder.
This also gives those of us who interact with narcissists on a regular basis some hope for forging better relationships. If you grew up with narcissistic parents or have experienced the turbulence of a narcissistic relationship, then you might feel relieved to find that there is promising new research for treatment.
I myself am heartened by the possibilities. If you’re unsure whether you have a narcissistic parent or not, check out this video about seven signs of a vulnerable narcissistic mother.
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