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Can a Narcissist Be a Good Person?

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC,   December 18 , 2023

I had lunch one time with my church elder.  He was checking in on my family regarding the abuse and divorce process and how my children and me were doing.  During that lunch, he told me that I needed to cut my narcissistic ex some slack because he was really just a good person who was misunderstood.  I did not handle that comment very well.  I replied with a couple of incidences of abuse that my ex had done to some of the kids.  It was the last time he ever contacted me or the kids.

So, can a narcissist be a good person?  Generally speaking, a narcissist can do things that are good.  But they are not doing good things to be kind to people.  They lack the necessary empathy and true concern for others that would make them true fellow citizens of society.  Usually, they manipulate people through kindness to get what they want for themselves.  They often view it like a business transaction.  But it is not the behavior of a good person.

I did some research on what is behind this behavior and compared it to my own experience with my ex narcissist husband.  Read on to see what I learned.

What Makes a Narcissist?

In order to have a good perspective regarding a narcissist being a good person, we need to understand what causes someone to be narcissistic.  In the world of psychology, narcissism is diagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder if the person has at least 5 of the nine following characteristics (according to

  • Grandiosity and overestimates their worth and abilities
  • Belief of being ‘special’ and that only other ‘special’ people are worth time and energy
  • Fanaticizes about success and their own brilliance as well as other personal qualifications that are special
  • Needs constant admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., believing that they are so special, others should give them favorable treatment
  • Exploits others, i.e., takes advantage of people as their right to do so
  • Typically arrogant and self-serving and patronizing of others
  • Lacks empathy, i.e., doesn’t have compassion for others and doesn’t understand these feelings of others
  • Envious of others although they won’t show this and also believes that others are envious of them.

Can a Narcissist be a Good Person?

Why Does a Narcissist Need to Appear to be a Good Person?

A narcissist needs to appear to be a good person because that is the life-blood of their supply.  It literally keeps them alive to figure out ways for people to perceive them as the best person in the room, in the company, in the world for that matter.

Unfortunately, they cannot show true empathy or concern for those around them.  This may be the saddest aspect of narcissism.  For the few times my ex narcissist actually got candid with me, having meaningful friends was one of his laments.  I just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t go out and find someone who he could bond with in a meaningful way.

That is actually pretty ironic, seeing how we were married and not bonding in a healthy way.  And I knew it!  But I always thought it was just a matter of time before we were perfectly bonded if I just got better at communicating my love to him.

You would think I would have been smarter about that from the start.  But because I was raised in an emotionally unhealthy home, I couldn’t see all the warnings that were right there in front of me.  And even thought I saw plenty of them, I was so unable to see myself as worthy of being treated better than I was.  I knew something was wrong.  But I also thought I knew my perfect love would overcome it.  But I wasn’t perfect.  And neither was my love.

What are Some Tactics a Narcissist Uses to Look Like a Good Person?

There are really limitless ways a narcissist uses to look like a good person.  But there are some that seem to come from the playbook of every narcissist that ever lived.  Let’s take a look at some of them.

Narcissists Have to be Seen as Helpful

First, they have to be seen as the most helpful person.  Note that I said seen as and not actually BE the most helpful person.  Image is everything to a narcissist.  They really don’t care about the actual helpfulness.  I really don’t think it ever crosses their mind.  Because they are too consumed by being seen as good, not actually being good.

They are consumed by their need to hide the shame they feel from not ever being good enough when they were young.  Or maybe the shame comes from being seen as so perfect that they cannot stand the thought of falling from the pedestal they were placed on.

Can a Narcissist Be a Good Person?

Narcissists Have to be Seen as Intelligent

Not only do they have to be seen as intelligent, narcissists have to be seen as the most intelligent person in the room.  And they will do whatever it takes to get there.  They will steal the work of coworkers, and they will argue people in circles until everyone else is confused, not so much by the facts, but by the sheer lunacy of the argument.

And sometimes they can actually be the most intelligent person in the room.  And they will make sure to knock everyone else down a notch just to make sure everybody knows it.  But the covert narcissist will do this in a way that makes them still look like a good person.  How will they do this?  They will use backhanded compliments, fake sympathy (“I am so sorry that ____ had to be part of the project even though they weren’t up to the task.  They sure tried hard, though!”), and even exclamations of love (my ex’s favorite was, “I love her so much, I don’t understand why she and the kids are doing all of this to me.”).  They are masters of turning the tables to make others see them the way they want to be seen as opposed to reality.

Narcissists Will be Good to You, But You Will Owe Them

You will think that maybe the narcissist in your life is showing some healing, some improvement, maybe a glimmer of actual good.  But then, you will realize quickly, that they expect something in return.

It took me a long time to realize this was the case.  I am not a person that keeps record of favors or kindnesses.  He would do things for me, and I would for him.  But there were times that he would do things for me that he would expect something in particular in return.  It was strange, but if he told me what I wanted I generally had no problem.  I would have done it without him having to do something first.

Over time, I realized he was doing specific things to get specific things.  An example actually happened earlier in the marriage.  If he needed a certain amount of money for something, he would gift me that amount of money.  Then he would ask for whatever it was he wanted.  Often, there wasn’t enough money for him to have gifted me, let alone, double it with the money he wanted.  I would give in because I knew he wanted whatever it was and felt guilty because I had already gotten whatever it was he gave me.  Then I would do damage control until payday came around again.

Eventually, when he did this, I would just ask him what he wanted.  If we had the money it was fine.  But usually the reason he was asking was because he knew we didn’t have the money and he would expect me to magically make it all balance out.  Sometimes I did.  Because if I didn’t he would hound me until I gave in.

Can a Narcissist be a good person

The Expectations Never Got Better

Years later, it came up as a huge point of contention in counseling.  Not just the money, but other things.  A date meant sex was expected.  Even if he never even interacted with me on the date.  As time passed, everything became a transactional expectation.

When our counselor tried to explain to him why relationships don’t work that way, he said they do indeed and she didn’t understand relationships.  And then he finished that nobody was going to tell him what to do.  That kind of became his go-to answer the further we got into counseling.

Narcissists Will Appear as Good People for Certain People to Justify What They Do Behind Closed Doors

Narcissists think differently than others do.  The shame that they bury so deeply cannot emerge.  They cannot deal with it.  But when they treat others with contempt and it threatens to be revealed, they will have their own group of go-to people that will affirm their “goodness.”  These people can be referred to as flying monkeys.  Or they just may be regular people that choose not to see the bad in others.  That is not a bad thing!  But the narcissist will use it to their advantage.

The way the narcissists uses people who choose to see good in everyone is by thinking that if that person likes them, then they will like and support all of their behavior, even what they don’t know.  It is twisted logic, for sure, but it helps them to erase what they don’t want to think about.  As soon as someone treats them kindly, they feel like they are back in the good graces of everyone.

There is one more way this manifests.  The narcissist will do something mean or wrong to someone.  Then they will walk away.  Sometime soon after, could be minutes or hours or days, they will go back to that person as though nothing had ever happened.  It is very confusing for the victim.  But because most people are easily forgiving, they let it go because they prefer peace to confrontation.  The biggest problem with this is that the narcissist now knows they can get away with treating you that way.  And you will become a regular source of his narcissistic supply.


There is at least some good in everyone, even the most evil people in history.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that we see good even in full blown narcissists.  But does it make them a good person or someone safe to be in relationship with?  Not in the sense that we see good people in the scope of humanity.  They are still very dangerous people to be around and relate to.

Many times, you can set boundaries to keep yourself safe from narcissistic abuse.  They will not appreciate or respect your boundaries, though.  You must take steps to protect yourself.

The following book is an incredibly good resource to help you figure out if you have a healthy relationship with the person you are concerned about.  And it gives you ways to find and exercise emotional health with everyone you relate to. Click on it for more information!



For those of you dealing with a narcissistic husband, this is my number one favorite book (I know you already know this if you’ve read my other articles!).  It will help you discover if you are in a difficult marriage or destructive marriage.  Then it will show you what to do to move forward in a healthy manner in both types of marriages.  Check it out!


If you liked this article, I think you will also love the following articles:

Narcissistic Behavior:  What to Look Out For

Praying for Your Narcissistic Husband

Are Spiritual Narcissists Overt or Covert?

Religious Trauma Syndrome:  How to Preserve Your Spirituality

How to Navigate Religious Narcissistic Parents

What Happens to the Soul of a Narcissist?

How to Heal From a Spiritual Narcissist

Can You Maintain a Relationship With a Spiritual Narcissist?

Can Narcissists Have a Spiritual Awakening?

How Will God Judge a Narcissist?

When the Church Says to Move Back in With Your Narcissist

What Can We Say to a Friend Who’s Divorcing

23 Reasons Why Narcissists are Drawn to the Church

When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Will the Church Support Divorcing a Narcissist?

What Does the Bible Say About Narcissism?

Can a Spiritual Narcissist Heal?

Can a Narcissist Be a Christian?

What is Spiritual Narcissism?

What Does the Spiritual Narcissist Do When You Try to Leave?

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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