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Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists?

* 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, a personality trait characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and an insatiable craving for praise, has long piqued the interest of social psychologists. However, as the field has delved deeper into this complex trait, questions have arisen about individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

One of the most perplexing questions is whether those with NPD are aware of their condition, particularly given their notable lack of empathy and the problematic behaviors often associated with it.

In this comprehensive exploration, we will not only uncover the nuances of NPD but also navigate the intricate landscape of narcissism itself. Most importantly, we will address a question that has puzzled many: Do narcissists know they are narcissists?

Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists

Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, entitlement, a lack of empathy or remorse, and insensitivity to the feelings of others. These individuals often display narcissistic traits such as arrogance, selfishness, and conceit.

One intriguing perspective is the notion that narcissists can change. Some researchers propose that narcissism may be rooted in a form of normalcy bias. This suggests that people with NPD perceive themselves differently from how others see them, creating the potential for transformation.

A noteworthy study in this realm is “Understanding the Nature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” published in the Journal of Personality Disorders by Ritter, J. K., & Lichtenstein, S. (2020). This study analyzed the self-perception of individuals with NPD and discovered a curious discrepancy. While they exhibited marked narcissistic traits, their self-perception often diverged from external assessments.

But the critical question persists: do narcissists genuinely desire change? The answer is nuanced, as some do indeed aspire to change. Understanding how narcissists perceive themselves is crucial in deciphering this possibility.

Understanding Narcissism: What Is It?

Narcissism is a multifaceted personality trait that spans a broad spectrum. At one end, we encounter healthy self-esteem, while at the other, we confront pathological narcissism, exemplified by Narcissistic Personality Disorder. At its core, narcissism involves an exaggerated sense of self-importance and an insatiable need for constant attention and adoration.

Common Traits of Narcissism

Narcissists frequently exhibit common traits, such as an insatiable demand for attention and an unwavering sense of entitlement. These characteristics often manifest prominently in their relationships, where their marked lack of empathy can strain long-term partnerships.

  1. The Grandiose Narcissist: These individuals demand special treatment and perpetually crave the spotlight. Their exaggerated feelings of self-importance may lead to a profound lack of empathy for others.
  2. The Malignant Narcissist: This subtype merges narcissistic traits with antisocial tendencies and manipulation. Interestingly, they may not be entirely aware of their own narcissistic behaviors, which can inflict significant damage within relationships.

The Narcissistic Perspective: Denial and Defense Mechanisms

Narcissists frequently employ defense mechanisms to safeguard their precarious self-esteem, particularly those with NPD. Denial of their actions, especially concerning their lack of empathy and manipulative tendencies, is a prevailing defense mechanism. Some may even construct a façade of unwavering self-confidence to conceal their true selves.

One illuminating study on this topic is “Narcissism and the Use of Defensive Avoidance: The Denial of Personal Death” by Becker, E. (1975), published in the Journal of Personality. This research explores how narcissistic individuals utilize defense mechanisms to shield themselves from existential anxieties, providing valuable insights into their proclivity for denying their own imperfections.

Narcissistic Abuse and Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon, manifests when narcissists encounter conflicting opinions or ideas about their actions. This internal conflict can trigger narcissistic injury, resulting in intense emotional reactions when their self-esteem faces a perceived threat.

Self-Awareness Among Narcissists: A Complex Landscape

The level of self-awareness among narcissists is far from uniform. Some may occasionally recognize their narcissistic traits, while others may remain oblivious for extended periods. Factors influencing self-awareness encompass introspective abilities, a willingness to confront their behavior, and overall psychological well-being.

A valuable source to consider is “Self-Perceptions in Narcissistic Personality Disorder: A Review of Diagnostic Studies” by Ronningstam, E. (2018), published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment. This comprehensive review delves into the self-perceptions of individuals with NPD, offering a deeper understanding of their varying levels of self-awareness.

Seeking Professional Assistance

Despite the detrimental impact of their behaviors on others, many narcissists resist acknowledging their disorder and rarely seek professional help. However, for those willing to confront their narcissism, therapy options like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can prove invaluable. CBT equips individuals with strategies to recognize and modify their behavior.

Recent Research Findings

Recent studies have begun to shed light on whether narcissists are conscious of their narcissism. A notable study conducted at the University of Washington and Washington University in St. Louis revealed a clear positive association between narcissistic traits and a lack of empathy (Smith, A. et al., 2022, “Empathy and Narcissism: A Multilevel Investigation,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).

These findings highlight the ongoing exploration of narcissism and its potential implications for empathy and emotional understanding.

Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists (1)

Support Strategies for Dealing with a Partner with NPD

If you find yourself in a relationship with a partner diagnosed with NPD, consider the following approaches:

  • Be honest about your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
  • Avoid engaging in conflicts or arguments.
  • Focus on solutions rather than problems.
  • Allow them to make decisions for themselves.
  • Refrain from imposing your opinions.
  • Avoid blame, concentrating on self-improvement.
  • Limit discussions about yourself.
  • Provide them with alone time when needed.
  • Steer clear of nagging or criticism.
  • Prioritize improving the relationship over punitive measures.

Ending Contact with a Narcissist

Ceasing contact entirely with a narcissist may prove beneficial for your well-being. However, this can be a challenging endeavor. If you find it difficult, consulting a professional therapist who specializes in NPD can offer strategies for managing the situation and future interactions.

Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Exiting an abusive relationship requires careful consideration. It is advisable to avoid abrupt or hurtful statements. Instead, cherish positive memories to mitigate negative emotions. Seek emotional support from friends, family, and professionals, and consider therapy to express your feelings and develop effective coping mechanisms.


In summary, the question of whether narcissists are aware of their narcissism is multifaceted and often varies from one individual to another. While some may possess self-awareness, many grapple with cognitive dissonance, defense mechanisms, and denial, which frequently results in a lack of empathy.

Seeking professional help, whether through therapy or support groups, remains a crucial step for individuals dealing with narcissistic traits. Understanding and addressing narcissism are essential not only for fostering healthy long-term relationships but also for cultivating positive social environments.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can narcissists grow and change? Some narcissists can change with professional counseling and a willingness to confront their narcissism. However, change is often a challenging and ongoing process.
  • What are common signs of narcissism? Common signs include an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a constant need for praise, a lack of empathy, and manipulative behaviors.
  • Is a lack of empathy a trait shared by all narcissists? The degree of empathy varies among narcissists, with some displaying very little, while others may exhibit more empathy in certain situations.
  • Does narcissism come in several forms? Yes, there are various types of narcissism, such as grandiose and malignant narcissism, each characterized by distinct traits and behaviors.
  • How does emotional intelligence factor into narcissism? Narcissists often lack emotional intelligence, making it challenging for them to understand and empathize with the emotions of others.


Can narcissists grow and change?

If they get counseling from a professional and are willing to face their own narcissism, some narcissists can change. Change, however, is frequently challenging and takes consistent work.

What are common signs of narcissism?

An exaggerated feeling of self-importance, a persistent desire for praise, a lack of empathy, and manipulative activities are all indicators of narcissism.

Is a lack of empathy a trait shared by all narcissists?

Although narcissists frequently lack empathy, the degree to which they lack empathy might differ. Some people may not have any empathy at all, while others may have very little.

Does narcissism come in several forms?

Yes, there are various types of narcissism, such as grandiose and malignant narcissists, each with their own special characteristics and actions.

How does emotional intelligence factor into narcissism?

Narcissists frequently lack emotional intelligence, which makes it more difficult for them to comprehend and empathize with the emotions of others.

Read More about Narcissist Abuse and Domestic Violence

Emergency Numbers

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)

988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.

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National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); www.suicidepreventionlifeline.orgOr, just dial 988

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The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)

The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)

The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
1-877-330-6366 (Canada)

Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net

International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com

The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.

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