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Traits of the White Knight Narcissist: Black Knight Syndrome

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. While many are familiar with the classic narcissist, there exists a subtler yet equally problematic variant – the White Knight Narcissist.

“White Knight Narcissist” is a term for someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder who likes to be seen as a good person. They get their narcissistic supplies by doing helpful things for other people.

This is in direct contrast to malignant Narcissists, who we are calling “Black Knights”, who get their narcissistic supplies from sadistically setting out to demolish other people’s self-esteem and pleasure in life.

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Understanding Narcissism

To comprehend the concept of a White Knight Narcissist, it is crucial to first understand narcissism as a whole. Narcissism is a personality trait that falls on a spectrum, ranging from healthy self-esteem to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Individuals with NPD exhibit extreme self-centeredness and a grandiose self-image, often resorting to manipulation and exploitation to achieve their goals.

White Knights are still Narcissists, despite their desire to be seen as helpful, generous, and kind. This means that they still:

  • Have shaky self-esteem.
  • Lack whole object relations and object constancy— they cannot see themselves or other people in a stable, integrated, and realistic way as simultaneously having both liked and disliked traits.
  • Are extremely self-centerered.
  • Lack emotional empathy and cannot feel other people’s joy or sadness—or care deeply about anyone else’s feelings.
  • Are preoccupied with their place in whatever status hierarchy matters to them.
  • Want to be seen as special.
  • Devalue other people when it suits them.

So what characteristics are specific to White Knight Narcissists?

  • They want you to think they are good people.
  • They will do favors for other people that make them look good.
  • If they are wealthy, they are likely to be philanthropists who give away large sums of money to causes that they support—as long as they get public recognition for doing so.
  • Some are “good neighbor narcissists.” By this I mean that they will offer to pick up groceries for sick neighbors or help someone to put up their window screens, or do some other chore.
  • Helping people makes them feel important and enhances their self-esteem.

Exploring White Knight Narcissists

In essence, a White Knight Narcissist is a person who portrays themselves as the savior, defender, or hero of others. They project an image of altruism, displaying acts of apparent kindness and compassion to win admiration and adoration from those around them. This behavior is often associated with the “hero syndrome,” where the individual compulsively needs to help others, even at the expense of their own needs.

The Paradox of a White Knight Narcissist

Behind their charming and charismatic facade, White Knight Narcissists harbor self-serving motives. Their “helping” behaviors are not driven by genuine care but rather by the desire for validation and control. They engage in good deeds and charitable causes not out of true concern for others but to secure a steady supply of admiration and external validation. This paradox makes them a perplexing and potentially dangerous presence in relationships. 

White Knights, despite their desire to be seen as helpful, generous, and kind, still exhibit classic traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. These traits include shaky self-esteem, lack of whole object relations and object constancy, extreme self-centeredness, and a lack of emotional empathy.

Their need for validation and desire to be perceived as special often leads them to engage in various acts of kindness and generosity. For instance, some White Knight Narcissists may actively participate in philanthropy, donating substantial sums of money to causes they support, but often with an expectation of public recognition.

Moreover, they may portray themselves as “good neighbor narcissists,” offering assistance to their neighbors in times of need, which boosts their self-esteem and sense of importance. However, underneath these altruistic actions lies a desire for external validation rather than genuine concern for others.

Relationships with White Knight Narcissists

In romantic relationships and intimate relationships, White Knight Narcissists engage in love-bombing, showering their partners with excessive attention and affection. However, this phase is often short-lived, leading to devaluation and emotional abuse as the relationship progresses. Victims of White Knight Narcissists may have a history of abandonment or low self-esteem, making them vulnerable to the manipulative tactics of these individuals.

What is it like being their spouse?

At first, people think that they have hit the jackpot and are with someone who is genuinely kind and caring. They may have met at a charity event or as volunteers in a homeless shelter. But over time, they see less and less of the person’s good side.

They begin to notice that there is very little intimacy in their relationship. Now that they are wedded, the good deeds always seem to be done for someone else at their expense.

In some cases, the person may take off the mask of “do-gooder” at home. After a while, their behavior may become just as devaluing and hurtful to their spouse as any other type of Narcissist.

Impact on Mental Health

Victims of White Knight Narcissists often endure gaslighting and emotional manipulation, leading to severe emotional distress and diminished self-esteem. The emotional reality of others is dismissed or belittled in favor of the narcissist’s own desires, leaving the victim questioning their sanity and self-worth.

White Knight Narcissists in Society

White Knight Narcissists can be found in various settings, including the workplace, friendships, and even in activism or volunteer work. Their charisma often allows them to rise to positions of influence, where their manipulation can have far-reaching consequences. On social media platforms, they may present themselves as “good guys” or “nice guys,” but their actions are primarily driven by a compulsive need for attention and admiration.

What is it like working for them?

In the workplace, White Knight Narcissists may be perceived as charismatic and benevolent leaders, often involved in charitable initiatives. However, their altruistic facade may hide a more tyrannical side. Employees may experience fear and anxiety due to the boss’s unpredictable temper and public humiliation of those who displease them.

It is essential for colleagues and subordinates to recognize the distinction between the public image of the White Knight and their actual behavior within the workplace. The need for validation and control drives their actions, and their true motivations may not align with the charitable image they portray.

You might think that they would be loved by their staff, but that is not usually the case. 

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Example: Barry and Sue

When narcissistic Barry first met single mother Sue, he could not do enough for her and her three-year old son. He did all the little chores around her house without being asked. He replaced burnt out lightbulbs, cleaned out the garage, and helped Sue to repaint her son’s bedroom.

After they were married, he gradually switched to doing less at home and more for strangers. It was like he had absorbed enough praise from Sue and now needed to please other people to feel good about himself.

When Sue complained that Barry was never at home anymore, he devalued her instead of examining his own behavior. “When did you become so selfish and self-centered?”

The reality was that Barry did not know how to actually be intimate with other human beings. He had no real interest in other people except for getting their validation that he was a good person. He substituted doing chores and being helpful for having meaningful conversations or paying attention to what Sue said her real needs were.

As Sue put it, “I liked that Barry was so helpful, but I did not want to marry a handyman. I need a husband who cares more about my emotional needs and less about whatever chores need to be done.”

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Handling White Knight Narcissists

Recognizing the red flags of a White Knight Narcissist is the first step in protecting oneself. Setting firm boundaries, seeking professional help from a clinical psychologist experienced in personality disorders, and focusing on self-care are essential strategies for dealing with White Knight Narcissists.

The Path to Change

Can White Knight Narcissists change? Under certain circumstances and with professional assistance, there is a possibility for rehabilitation and transformation. However, true change requires self-awareness, responsibility, and genuine commitment to addressing their underlying issues, such as self-esteem issues or a history of abandonment.

Coping with the Aftermath

Recovering from the aftermath of a relationship with a White Knight Narcissist is a challenging journey. Rebuilding trust, embracing personal growth, and providing support to others who may have experienced similar situations can aid in the healing process. It is crucial to remember that victims are not to blame for the narcissist’s actions and that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but of strength.


White Knight Narcissists present a complex and paradoxical personality type, intertwining altruism and manipulation. Understanding the traits and dynamics associated with this variant of narcissism is crucial to protect oneself from potential harm. By recognizing the signs and seeking appropriate help, individuals can begin the journey toward healing and empowerment.

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Frequently Asked Questions

9 thoughts on “Traits of the White Knight Narcissist: Black Knight Syndrome”

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  2. Pray to Jesus for wisdom! Demand God shows you truth from the false . I left my narc many years ago , I’m a single woman homeowner now ! Best wishes Ruth!

  3. Pingback: NARCISSIST TYPES (#1) | HEAL & GROW for ACoAs

  4. Is it possible for a white knight narcissist to recognize his desire to be seen as a good person, and make a conscious effort to only do things that are in line with that self image? For example, when faced with a choice in behavior, he would consider, “what would a good person do in this situation?” Is it possible for a white knight narcissist to realize that the most efficient way to be seen as a good person, is to strive to be a good person with every decision that he makes. To differentiate right from wrong from an intellectual standpoint, rather than an emotional one, but still capable of choosing to pursue the good? Because the lack of self esteem stems from the knowledge that your virtues are only surface-level, and the only way to defeat that lack of self esteem is by choosing the goodness in every situation, until which time you can remove the mask, because you have convinced yourself that you are a good person, and your behavior reflects that. You no longer have to ask “what would a good person do?” Because you have become that person, and its no longer an act, your desire to be a good person has driven you to break free of the narcissistic behaviors and actually invoke genuine, lasting changes in your personality. Not just how people view you, but how you view yourself. I’m asking this, because I’m quite certain I was a narcissist for a long time. I’ve hurt many people, I’ve lied, stolen, abused. I didn’t really care about others at all. But I did care that I was becoming a social pariah, my friends were sick of me, my parents had washed their hands of me, and it was becoming harder and harder to convince people that I was a good person, and eventually, it got to the point that I could no longer convince myself that I was a good person. And that really bothered me. So I decided that if I was to continue to present myself as a good person, the only way that it would hold up to any scrutiny, was if my actions were in keeping with that image. If I do everything in my power to BE a good person, then I can finally take off the mask and stop pretending. This didn’t happen overnight, either. I’m 32 years old, and these changes took place over the past 7 years or so. I am now in a loving relationship with my best friend, we’ve been together for 4 years now, we were both alcoholics and we both got sober together, we have a fantastic relationship, we never fight, rarely ever argue, and although I have to think logically about how my actions impact others, rather than knowing intuitively, I do feel like I’ve developed a capacity to genuinely care about people. Its still hard for me to accurately assess people’s emotions at times, but I certainly don’t want to cause any more pain. I tread lightly, think about what I say, and how I act, and any time I observe myself beginning to deviate from my desire to be a good person, I remind myself that that’s not who I am, and I course correct. Is it possible that a narcissist, with a strong enough desire to be a good person, could break free of the behaviors that define the disorder? I wonder if this could be helpful to other narcissists, or people who are struggling with the narcissists in their lives. I can say that my life, and my self esteem, and my personal relationships and my behavior has improved exponentially. I no longer leave a trail of broken relationships and people that I have hurt in my wake. I’d love to know your opinions on this.

    1. Therese Lougheed

      I left my husband few months ago. I didn’t know anything about his narcissism that time. I was very confused. He is very good to other people yet he is verbally abusing me at home. He possesed all the traits that a malignant narcissist has slowly revealed himself. (sorry for my english)

      1. Therese I have a spouse with the white knight syndrome. It has happened 4 times in our relationship. All those times I blamed me until the white knight syndrome came out. I finally accepted it wasn’t me but him. Most of all I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I thought he will finally love me. I was wrong. As I was going into bed he was worried about this other woman in distress. Just recently he wouldn’t get rid of this best friend. I knew then this will not workout. I am ceasing our couples therapy and he needs therapy.

  5. Therese I have a spouse with the white knight syndrome. It has happened 4 times in our relationship. All those times I blamed me until the white knight syndrome came out. I finally accepted it wasn’t me but him. Most of all I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I thought he will finally love me. I was wrong. As I was going into bed he was worried about this other woman in distress. Just recently he wouldn’t get rid of this best friend. I knew then this will not workout. I am ceasing our couples therapy and he needs therapy.

  6. I have researched narcissism for many years as have had many family members/ colleagues in my life with this horrible disorder. I have recently discovered that someone I work for is a ‘white knight narcissist’. He portrayed as someone very caring, extremely helpful and genuine, but after awhile I had the feeling that something was a bit off, I sensed that there was no real empathy, everything was all about him and such a general lack of consideration for my feelings/needs also. He now has a new partner in a different city, I don’t know her of course but I feel sorry for her, as I’m sure it will end badly in the future. Looking back I realised he was very selfish and exploitative with a good dose of brainwashing in between, I never let him get the better of me though, and I think he somehow knew that I had figured him out. Lots of love and hugs to everyone going through this

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