8 things narcissists don’t want you to know about them (according to psychology)

Narcissists are all about image.

In popular culture, we tend to think of narcissists as people who are extremely vain and self-centered. But that’s only part of the story.

Narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, is a serious psychological condition that can cause people to be extremely manipulative, deceitful, and cruel to people around them.

It’s not always easy to identify a narcissist. That’s because these people are often very good at hiding their true nature.

In fact, narcissists hide a lot of aspects about themselves, trying to emphasize their best qualities and hide the ones they are less keen on.

Narcissists rely on keeping you and everyone around them in the dark about who they really are. Because when you see them fully and completely, they lose a lot of their power to manipulate you.

So if you want to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse and manipulation, here are some things narcissists don’t want you to know about them.

1) They have low self-esteem

Narcissists can be vain and self-centered. They are also often very charming and confident. So it might seem strange that a group of people known for thinking highly of themselves actually suffer from low self-esteem.

But understanding a narcissist’s lack of self-esteem is key to understanding the rest of their behaviors.

“Narcissistic individuals are actually really hamstrung by insecurity and shame, and their entire life is an attempt to regulate their image,” says clinical psychologist and professor Ramani Durvasula.

“Narcissism has never been about self-love – it is almost entirely about self-loathing.”

You see, not all narcissists are the same.

There are what is called grandiose narcissists, who genuinely believe they are better than everyone else. Then there are what psychologists call vulnerable narcissists, who actually crave affirmation and validation from others.

A vulnerable narcissist will go to great lengths to hide this vulnerability. Sometimes, they may not even be aware of it themselves.

But once you understand that this is where some of their behavior comes from, it becomes a lot easier to appreciate why a narcissist acts the way they do.

2) They feel empty

Narcissists care deeply about what other people think. That’s why they will often go to great lengths to project an image of success, wealth, and happiness to others.

This is all just part of their vulnerability. Because they are unable to generate their own healthy sense of self-esteem, they rely on others to do it for them.

And ultimately, this often leaves them feeling empty inside.

As psychologist and narcissism specialist Mark Ettensohn points out in this video, narcissists have a hard time seeing themselves as fully realized people.

Instead, they often relate to themselves as an ‘it’, an object or thing, instead of as a person.

Lacking a healthy sense of themselves and their own self-worth, they are prone to feeling empty and often bored with life.

Unfortunately, this can result in creating drama with others just to give them something to focus on other than their inner emptiness.

3) They have a limited emotional range

A key trait of narcissism is the inability to feel empathy. That means they struggle to put themselves in another person’s shoes and understand how they feel.

This is part of why narcissists are comfortable manipulating others for their own goals. Because they don’t really feel how others do, they don’t have a problem using other people for their own ends.

But it also leads to a less rich life.

Imagine if you couldn’t really appreciate a great film, piece of music, book, or other work of art, because you lack the ability to feel the emotions it conveys.

Imagine not being able to form deep and meaningful connections with other people because you are unable to understand their feelings.

“Some emotions are felt almost exclusively as a result of our feelings of connection with other people, such as guilt. Therefore, narcissists would be inhibited in their abilities to feel them,” writes author and narcissism expert Kristin Milstead.

“In addition, other emotions are expressed for a variety of reasons, and some of them are related to our connections with others.  Yet narcissists may only feel them for self-centered reasons.”

Often, narcissists will try to hide the fact that they don’t feel things as strongly as the rest of us, because they are worried that their manipulative nature will be exposed.

4) They envy others

Often, narcissists act like they have everything figured out. As if they are living the best possible life, and everybody else is just doing it wrong.

But deep down, they are often envious of what other people have or the lives that they live.

“Narcissism develops within a personality structure organized at avoiding contact with shame,” writes psychologist Mark Zaslav.

“Envy is more likely to hijack attention for such a person than for someone genuinely comfortable in his or her own skin.”

In other words, narcissists are obsessed with what other people have that they don’t because they can’t generate an authentic feeling of self-worth from their own actions.

Instead, they focus on the material, and this leads them to envy others and everything they have.

5) They depend on others for validation

hidden narcissistic streak 8 things narcissists don't want you to know about them (according to psychology)

I’ve already mentioned how a lot of the classic behaviors of narcissists stem from their lack of self-esteem. This is another great example of that.

You see, because they don’t have an internal sense of their own value, narcissists depend on others for validation.

That means they give more importance than they should to what other people think of them.

This leads them to constantly try and impress other people. Whether it’s with the clothes they wear, the things they say, the way they look, or the money they make, a narcissist is always trying to get other people to think highly of them.

They may act like they don’t care what other people think. They may seem to have all the confidence in the world.

But the reality is, narcissists care very deeply what other people think of them, and they depend on those around them for a sense of self-worth.

6) They are scared

Narcissists are the masters at acting confident and in control at all times. But often, this confidence is nothing more than an act to cover up their deep inner fear.

Many narcissists are afraid.

They are scared that their manipulative nature will be exposed.

They are scared that others will realize that they have low self-esteem.

They are scared that the people around them will one day realize that they aren’t nearly as confident and in control as they pretend to be, and that much of their confidence and charm is all a big act.

“Narcissists live behind an endlessly-under-construction facade designed to procure attention and special treatment while obscuring failings and weaknesses they dare not confront,” writes psychotherapist Dan Neuharth.

“Narcissists are frightened, fragile people.”

Often, this causes them to engage in defensive behaviors.

This is why narcissists often refuse to accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong. Their fragile egos can’t take the shame of not being perfect all the time.

This fear itself is often shameful, and so narcissists will do everything they can to hide it.

7) They have a painful past

Like many psychological disorders, narcissism has its roots in childhood.

Psychologists Brian D. Johnson and Laurie Berdahl point out that while children are naturally self-centered, this is something they should gradually grow out of.

But the way children are raised can have a huge impact on the likelihood of them becoming narcissists.

They advise concerned parents to “avoid parenting styles linked to developing a narcissistic personality, such as neglect, indulgence (spoiling with privilege and possessions, and promoting entitled attitudes), and cold, overcontrolling authoritarian methods which insist on perfection, winning, and toughness from a child.”

These are all factors that can make a child into a narcissist.

Narcissists often try to hide their painful past. They may feel it makes them weak or be ashamed of their dysfunctional background.

But it can give you an insight into why a narcissist is the way that they are.

8) They fear being exposed

It’s not just a painful past the narcissist is trying to hide. Because narcissists are generally highly manipulative, they often fear being exposed for what they are.

This leads them to hide their true personality behind a show of being caring, friendly, and charming.

“Narcissists are unable to tolerate failure of any sort and public humiliation is considered the worst type of failure that could happen,” writes licensed counselor and professor Suzanne Degges-White.

“The narcissist’s ego is the only protection they have from the world and when their ego integrity is breached, narcissists often respond in ways that seem markedly out of proportion to the circumstances for average people.”

What narcissists are hiding

 For narcissists, life is not much more than a lie.

These manipulative people care deeply about what others think of them, and so they will present a false version of themselves to the world that is designed to protect their fragile ego from criticism and rejection.

So much of a narcissist’s personality is built around preventing anyone from getting to really know what’s going on inside their minds. But understanding a narcissist better will help you break free of their manipulations.

Picture of Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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