For many years, people have believed that one of the biggest reasons narcissists do not heal is because they are not self aware. If they can’t see what they are doing wrong, they can’t fix it, right? Wrong.
Does a narcissists know they are a narcissist after all? As a whole, my experience and new research is showing that narcissists know exactly what they are doing. And they are using the perception of a lack of self awareness to further abuse those around them.
Let’s take a deeper look at what the research is saying and what my experience has shown me.
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Research Shows That Narcissists Know They are Narcissistic
Narcissists universally communicate themselves in a positive light so people will see them as they want to be seen rather than as they are seen in reality. Additionally, they one of the hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a lack of self awareness. So, in light of these two statements, does the narcissist actually have more self awareness than we realize and are fully aware of the person they are hiding behind the narcissistic mask?
Research is starting to tell us a very different story than what we have “known” in the past. The most notable study done on this subject was by Erika N. Carlson, Simine Vazire, and Thomas F. Oltmanns in 2012. Their study was conducted on whether narcissists have insight into the negative aspects of their personality and reputation. It consisted of three different sub-studies:
- They examined others’ perceptions, self-perceptions and meta-perceptions of narcissists across a wide range of traits for a new acquaintance and close other.
- They examined others’ perceptions, self-perceptions and meta-perceptions of narcissists across a wide range of traits longitudinally with a group of new acquaintances.
- Finally, they examined others’ perceptions, self-perceptions and meta-perceptions of narcissists across a wide range of traits among coworkers.
This study expected to come to three distinct conclusions:
- They know that others see them in a less positive light than they see themselves.
- They know that they have a strength in first impressions, but things tend to go south from there.
- And they have some knowledge of themselves as narcissistic, as in they will define themselves as arrogant.
The Results of the Study
Upon doing the necessary research, this study showed that the predictions were correct as to how narcissists think others see them. There was one strange anomaly, though. Results showed that while the narcissists understood that others saw them less favorably than they saw themselves over time, they claimed that they did not kow exactly why that was. They just knew.
Could that be because they actually did know, but because of the deep shame that prevents them from healing, they also couldn’t admit that they knew why people viewed them in a negative way? While there is no proof of that in this study, it is the way I am choosing to interpret it. You will see the reason for this in the next section where I share my experience and what it taught me.
How My Experience Showed Me That My Narcissist Knew What He was Doing
I just want to start this section by saying that it took me a really, REALLY long time to figure out what my narcissist was doing to me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for so many years because I didn’t want to believe that someone who pledged to love me could even think about doing such things. Until I couldn’t deny it anymore.
While research has been slow to acknowledge that narcissists know what they are doing and use others’ grace as a weapon, those who have experienced a narcissist in their life will tell a very different story. Using the empath’s grace against them may be one of the narcissist’s greatest weapons.
Once I realized that, it didn’t take too long for me to start seeing it play out.
An example of that was that facts were always changing. As soon as I understood things one way, he would change the circumstances. I did not get clarity on this until we started counseling and I started keeping track of things as they happened. Also, most of our contact stopped being verbal. When I had emails and texts that allowed me to go back to check out the facts, things became much clearer. I generally had the facts straight to start with. And he would be caught red-handed when I now had proof.
Unfortunately, even upon producing texts or emails that proved the facts, he would continue to hold on to the lie. Or he would admit it at the moment and proceed to tell the wrong story again a few days later. It was amazing how well he could hold on to the facts of the fabricated stories. Also unfortunately, he could also run circles around me regarding how well his memory was. My memory was mush by that time. That is why for so many years I just believed the crazy stuff he told me.
How You Can Know if Your Narcissist Knows Exactly What He’s Doing to You
How do we know for sure that we are dealing with narcissm when we are in the midst of the craziness? Believe it or not, there are actually some really obvious signs that will tell you if your narcissist is intentionally abusing you. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The Narcissist Gets Overly Upset When Confronted
My narcissist would lie just about as much as he would open his mouth. For many years, I would assume I had misunderstood him or that he had forgotten what had originally happened. Over time, I couldn’t excuse the lies anymore. I had to call them for what they were. But when I started calling him out and the excuses started running like water, I still held my ground. I could now see it for exactly what it was. And it made him very mad that he wasn’t able to get away with it anymore.
When he dragged me to counseling to “make me obey,” and there was obvious proof of the lying, he still literally went ballistic on being caught lying. He would angrily say he couldn’t believe the counselors were calling him a liar. They would respond that they didn’t call him a liar. They just showed him proof of the lie that he now could no longer deny. On one particular night after this same exchange had happened for the third or fourth time, he finally said, “Nobody’s going to call me a liar,” and stormed out of the very small room, almost knocking his counselor off his chair. It was comical to watch, but heartbreaking to think about.
The Narcissist Will Falsely Accuse You to Throw You Off of What he Did
The narcissist is actually accusing you of the very things he is doing. He knows what he would do. And part of his narcissism is the concept that the bad things he does are the same things everyone else does. So, in order to maintain the thought that he is just like everyone else, he will actually accuse you of doing those things.
One day, I was working in the yard on my flower beds. My then-husband came out, very visibly upset. He showed me porn that had shown up on a device in the house and immediately said, “I can’t believe (child’s name not to be reavealed here) actually did this.”
I was equally as upset and told him I was going in the house right now to talk to him about it. He immediately stopped me and then, after a long hesitation, told me it was actually him, but he didn’t want me to know.
I was glad for his honesty. And I dropped it there because I was glad he at least confessed. But I was extremely unnerved that he would pawn things off on his kids that he had done.
I realized he had done it countless times before and after. But that was the only time he ever confessed. Even later, toward the end of our marriage, he would be caught red-handed and still continue to deny. By that time, there was nothing I could do.
My narcissist obviously knew he was a narcissist here. He knew that he was falsely accusing others to protect himself. And it was 100% intentional. There is no way around it.
The Narcissist Will Gaslight You
Probably the biggest reason I believe a narcissist knows they are a narcissist is because they gaslight you. They fool you into thinking a different reality than what is actually happening. Thinks disappear with no reasonable explanation. Settings are changed. Someone says they missed you at an event because the time got changed and you had no idea. Then you later find out that the person who made the change told your narcissist and they never bothered to tell you. When you confront them, they say they have no idea what you are talking about.
The narcissist will tell people that they don’t know why you are behaving the way you are, but he is right there to support you through your difficulty. Those things don’t get back to you because people don’t want to upset you. And they think the narcissist is such a brave soul to be caring for you so deeply. It is all such a sham.
More About Gaslighting
If you are somewhat new to narcissism (and even if you aren’t), you need to watch the movie, Gaslight.
You will be surprised at how well constructed the narcissist’s plays are. And they are constant. You never catch a break because the more he can kick you while you are down, the harder it will be to pick yourself up and get healthy. The first time I watched this movie, I only caught the major things the narcissist (Gregory played by Charles Boyer) did. When I watched it a second time, I saw how every single thing he did was a setup to constantly barrage Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman, earning her first Academy Award) with narcissism. On a separate note, Angela Lansbury does an amazing job in her first movie role!
The Narcissist Will Steal From You
In the house I grew up in, I would leave money on or in my dresser in my room. Nobody ever touched it. It wasn’t an issue. When I got married, my husband would complain incessantly about money being left on the dresser not being safe. I would tell him I didn’t understand because it was just the two of us. There was nothing to worry about. He would still insist. I just thought it was weird. For a while. Then the money started disappearing. Not until my first two kids were born. But they were only 18 months old and 6 months old. There was no way they were taking it. But it didn’t stop him from stealing it anyway.
It never stopped over the years. Except that in the last years before the divorce, he started outright taking it while telling everyone that anyone who left money lying around deserved to lose it.
And the stealing didn’t stop there. Sentimental items from my childhood were thrown away or taken to the thrift store. My gardens would be destroyed, either by running his truck through flower beds or cutting down decorative trees and bushes without even talking to me. But he would tell the kids, “don’t tell Mom,” just before doing it. It was all very intentional.
What to Do Once the Narcissist Knows you Know He is a Narcissist
Generally speaking, once the narcissist knows you are onto him, things get segnificantly worse. They can heap more abuse on you to try to convince you they are “right” or to punish you. Or they can just treat you even more badly because they are angry that you called them out. Almost never does a narcissist apologize and pledge to make things better–unless they are trying to trick someone into thinking they are improving. Yet another evidence that they know exactly what they are doing.
Anyway, you must know how to de-escalate things once the narcissist knows you know. Here are some important things to do.
Exercise Gray Rock
Rocks can be boring. The color gray can be boring. Together, that is the whole purpose when you are talking about stopping narcissism in its tracks. You want to bore the narcissist to tears so he will stop making you his target of narcissistic supply.
Gray rocking someone is the act of being nonreactive to whatever they try to throw at you to knock you off balance. By either not responding to emails, texts, phone calls, etc., or responding with answers that show no emotion or stir whatsoever, the narcissist will lose interest quickly. They are not getting what they need from you. And if that continues long term, they will lose interest and move on to another easier target.
Just know that it is never enough to be balanced and kind in your relationship. The narcissist will always be trying to stir things up, but in ways that you don’t realize what he is doing. Then it looks like you are the one stirring up the trouble. And they will be very good at convincing others that you are the “crazy” one. That is why you must stay calm and non-reactive.
Keep Conversation to a Minimum With a Narcissist
The less you have face-to-face oral conversation, the better off you will be. When all communication is through texts, writing, or emails, you have all of the proof you need to keep things factual. There can’t be spin if you can go back and confirm what was said. Actually, there will still be spin, but it will be curtailed as soon as you have definitive proof to show.
I can’t tell you how many times we were in counseling before our divorce and he would accuse me of something. And so often, I was able to pull up the emails that talked about what he was accusing me of. The argument would be over instantly. Unfortunately, cornering the narcissist with the truth didn’t really solve anything. He would just claim that he “misremembered” and needed to find out why he did that. Kinda like OJ saying he was going to go find the real killer.
Don’t Fall for What They Tell You
Once they see that you see what is going on, many times they will try to get you back in their good graces. It is easier for them to reel you back in than to go find a fresh source of narcissistic supply. But you need to make sure that you do not fall into the same trap over and over again.
Understand that the narcissist will say anything they can to convince you they are safe and you should listen to them. And you have probably already fallen for it a million times already, just because you wanted to extend grace and give them the benefit of the doubt. At some point, you need to be able to stand your ground and say no more.
Set and Keep Boundaries to be Safe From the Narcissist
Boundaries are important for every relationship you have. And for most relationships, it won’t even be an issue. Most people understand healthy boundaries without having to dialog about it.
But narcissists to not understand boundaries. And they absolutely hate them when they are implemented. It is critical for you to make and keep them with the narcissist in your life.
You will also most likely need to have professional help in order to do this. A narcissist will never stay within your boundaries. They will always push them out of the way because that is how they get the attention or whatever benefit they are trying to get. Having a counselor or other support will help you keep the strength you need to deal with the narcissist trampling your boundaries.
Using CORE to Deal With a Narcissist
The best way to deal directly with the narcissist who knows you’re on to them and you need to hold the line is to use CORE values. In her book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, Leslie Vernick talks about using CORE strength to learn how to properly deal with your narcissist. Here is what the acronym CORE stands for:
C – I will be committed to truth, both internally in my own heart and mind and externally. I refuse to pretend.
O – I will be open to the Holy Spirit and wise others, teaching me, maturing me, and guiding me into his way of living my life.
R – I will be responsible for my own responses to destructive behavior and commit to being respectful without dishonoring myself.
E – I will be empathic and compassionate toward others without enabling people to continue to abuse and disrespect me.
In a response to a follower, she goes on to say, “When you know and believe that you are a loved, valuable, worthwhile human being and live from that core place, toxic people lose their power to manipulate you. They can’t control and intimidate you as they once did when you felt worthless, dependent and needy.”
If you are struggling with your marriage, you really need this book! It was a total game changer for me, especially in conjunction with counseling. This book begins with a test you can take to determine if you are in a difficult or destructive marriage. Then the book guides you through whichever circumstance you find yourself in. I love how it gives you the strength and wisdom to make your own decisions. You will emerge from this book a stronger person!
There are many more ways you can find to learn to deal with a narcissist. But upon doing these, you will find yourself in a whole new place. And honestly, once you do these, you will probably know a whole lot more about how to go forward (or not to go forward) with the narcissist in your life. These alone are a great start and will allow you to see a whole new world. Let me know how it has worked for you!
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