Why People with Narcissism Are So Mystifying

Person leans toward large mirror, fingers to glass. The face is distorted. People with narcissism live in a self-constructed world of double standards and distortions. That is a key reason dealing with someone who has narcissistic characteristics can feel confusing, frustrating, and draining. One way to cope with a person with unhealthy narcissism is to recognize the “game” of narcissism.

Some key paradoxes in people with narcissism:

1. Hypersensitive, Yet Insensitive

People with narcissism may easily play the martyr or fume at the smallest perceived slight. They may sulk when they’re not the center of attention or don’t get their way.

Yet should someone around them have a crisis, that person’s hurt and needs are often ignored, minimized, or ridiculed. If someone makes requests of them, the person with narcissism may become irritable or label the other “selfish” or “demanding.” And though their narcissistic behavior inflicts pain on those around them, they often seem clueless about it, acting mystified or indignant when the consequences of their actions are pointed out.

2. Oppositional, Yet Intolerant of Opposition

Many people with narcissism seem to derive energy from saying no or opposing things. They may take delight in ruining another’s mood or special occasion. They tend to blame others for relationship problems; it’s about what you did that made them act a certain way. They may need to have an enemy, a vendetta, pursue legal action, write inflammatory letters, or seek revenge.

Yet should someone question them or call them to account for wrongdoings, they can become incensed or full of disbelief that anyone would oppose them. They may turn to personal attacks or distractions when another challenges them.

3. Demanding of Attention, Yet Unwilling to Reciprocate

People with narcissism tend to be attention vacuums. If positive behavior doesn’t bring the spotlight, they will easily switch to negative behavior to remain dominant.

Despite their pursuit of affirmation and admiration, they rarely dole it out. They may listen impatiently to others, waiting to bring conversation back to them. They may one-up others or compete with loved ones, almost as if any good that comes a loved one’s way takes away from the person with narcissism.

4. Emotionally Entitled, Yet Lacking Emotional Intelligence

If a person with narcissism expresses emotions, those feelings are often presented as sacred and unquestionable, necessitating worship or a full stop by others.

Yet when those around them express emotions, people with narcissism tend to treat others’ feelings as things to be changed, avoided, or ridiculed.

5. Quick to Blame, Yet Slow to Own Their Part

People with narcissistic behavior seem to relish finding scapegoats. Their own personal challenges or shortcomings, if even acknowledged, are often blamed on others. If they fail, it is someone else’s fault. (Though when they succeed, it is entirely to their credit.) If their actions bring pain to others or have great cost, they seem allergic to the words “I was wrong” or “I am sorry.” They may glorify rules and insist others follow them, yet freely break the rules when it suits them.

6. Worshipful of Status and Appearance, Yet Myopic About Their Flaws

People with narcissism may be fixated on who they know, associating with only the “right people” and having contempt for those they see as inferior. They may compulsively need to look perfect and be the best.

Yet if their physical beauty fades or their status wanes, they may distract, deny, or redouble their efforts to feel special and connected. They feel entitled to admiration and respect, rather than acknowledging that respect is earned and that gaining admiration takes hard work.

7. Needy, Yet Depriving

People with narcissism seem driven to pursue success, admiration, material possessions, or other proxies for self-worth. They may pressure or manipulate others.

While you may have to relate to people with narcissism, you don’t have to play their “game” or follow their rules.

Yet to those close to them, people with narcissism may be cold and disinterested, demanding obedience and threatening to disown others for opposing their wishes. They may splurge on unneeded material goods while criticizing others for wanting more than the bare necessities.

Because of these double standards, being in a close relationship with someone with narcissism can be exhausting. If you wonder whether someone close to you has narcissism, the following experiences are commonly felt by those in relationships with someone behaving narcissistically:

  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling blindsided
  • Confusion as to why someone who loves you would show so little empathy
  • Feeling used and manipulated, yet helpless to stop it
  • Hypervigilance
  • Feeling emotionally unsafe
  • Frustration or anger
  • Feeling small, isolated, helpless, or hopeless
  • Feeling unaccepted
  • A need to hide your true feelings so as not to upset the other person
  • Fatigue, sluggishness, or heaviness
  • Feeling over-scrutinized
  • Feeling part of a command performance
  • Feeling not good enough
  • Feeling unseen or unheard

While you may have to relate to people with narcissism, you don’t have to play their “game” or follow their rules. Healthy self-care in relationships with people with narcissism means:

  1. Recognizing unhealthy narcissistic behavior
  2. Gaining distance from those behaviors through perspective and action
  3. Asking yourself, “At what cost?” At what cost do you tolerate or accept narcissistic behavior? At what cost do you change your own behavior to avoid others’ reactions?

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Dan Neuharth, PhD, LMFT, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Marc

    January 23rd, 2017 at 8:44 AM

    Do you think that our current president has been evaluated?
    I swear it seems like he meets ever indicator

  • Monika

    January 23rd, 2017 at 11:24 AM

    When you find yourself with a person like this in your life I think that at some point you must take a step back and look at the true cost on your own self that this person is costing you. Are they being more harmful than helpful? Do they make you angry or scared more than they ever make you happy? Someone who is narcissistic can be such a drain on any one of us, no matter how strong we may be initially. It is never a good thing to keep someone like this around unless they are really willing to make some big changes in their life.

  • Anais

    January 23rd, 2017 at 1:47 PM

    Everyone born after 1985 in the USA is pretty much narcissistic. Its all about them and their needs. Its horrendous what we’ve become.

  • Tom

    July 26th, 2019 at 12:17 PM

    Too true

  • ellie

    January 23rd, 2017 at 2:36 PM

    Maybe this is a little bit harsh, but these people are bloodsuckers, vampires, they leach everything good right out of you because the focus and the attention always has to be about them.
    they care little to nothing about the feelings of others nor do they care what their own actions mean to other people in their life.
    Mainly they are concerned with what they can get or extract from you without having to lift much of a finger for effort.
    I am telling you they will suck you dry if you aren’t careful.

  • Ezra

    January 24th, 2017 at 8:45 AM

    They are only baffling to those of us who care more about others than we do ourselves. Those who feel more for themselves, it seems to make perfect sense to them.

  • Lana

    January 24th, 2017 at 3:54 PM

    You see these people who have such an inflated view of themselves but sadly many of them to have that have to totally wear down their significant other. It’s like they thrive and have even more of this view of themselves once the main person in their life feels terribly about themselves. I just don’t know that I could be that kind of person who consciously or not needed another person to feel bad before I could feel good about myself.


    January 24th, 2017 at 7:35 PM


  • Cindy

    January 26th, 2017 at 7:26 PM

    A good read I found that started me out was a book titled, 30 Covert Emotional Manipulator Tactics on Kindle at amazon. And Psychopath Free by Peace.

  • mo

    January 25th, 2017 at 7:10 AM

    yes and the double standard is always for the other people in their life, because they don’t do anything wrong

  • Irene

    January 25th, 2017 at 11:39 PM

    Yes, but how do you deal with it if the person is a relative and partly dependent on you?

  • Fran T.

    October 2nd, 2018 at 9:15 PM

    That’s exactly what I’d like to know as well….my son is a narcissist, and I keep blaming myself , but I have another son who is 7 years younger with no such traits. How do I deal with the elder son who makes 3 figures but seems to always want US to buy dinner when we go out together, and has always played the “victim” at every turn every since 2nd grade… Its such a strange thing to deal with ! I was exhausted raising him and once my second boy was born I realized how abnormal the first born’s personality was. My second son is nothing like the first born for which I am eternally thankful for!

  • Brooke

    January 26th, 2017 at 1:57 PM

    They choose to be opaque.
    It is a defense for them in some ways
    and makes them impossible to understand

  • java

    January 29th, 2017 at 8:27 AM

    faut penser aussi que cette hypersensibilité peut être les conséquences d’une maladie . Surtout si ce n’est pas notre état habituel

  • Lora

    January 29th, 2017 at 9:53 AM

    For me I have always been that person for better or for worse who is more concerned with others’ feelings than I guess that I am my own.
    The people who don’t feel that way, who are only looking out for themselves, those are the people that really perplex me.
    Aren’t we supposed to all wish to work for the common goal of a united humanity?
    Narcissism sort of goes against that whole wish.

  • Max

    January 30th, 2017 at 2:41 PM

    I have in a sick way found that these people are very compelling to me, I don’t want to get wrapped up in their story but there is something that is so captivating about another person who can think so much of themselves and yet so very little of others. I am always wanting to try to figure them out, see what really makes them tick, thinking that surely this has to go deeper than their own ego, and usually I am proven wrong. It is all about them and what they can get out of any situation for themselves, with very little though given to another.

  • Pam

    February 1st, 2017 at 9:39 AM

    What do you do if the narcissistic person in your life is your daughter. I recently broke 3 ribs. She never asked if she could help or even how I was doing. She is exhausting.

  • Frab

    February 15th, 2017 at 3:00 AM

    Realize they can t help it but do what you need to protect yourself.

  • Frab

    February 15th, 2017 at 3:04 AM

    Great article Dan you have got it to a T many articles are not as clear as this.

  • Pip

    March 11th, 2017 at 12:33 PM

    Wow what a clear and accurate description. Really helpful, and interesting that the exhaustion this behaviour creates is virtually part of the definition. The complete lack of insight these people have into their effect on others still astonishes me, and is why they are unlikely to change. Extricate yourself from these relationships; nothing you do will please them, be good enough or make them truly happy and you will lose part of yourself trying.

  • Redman

    April 27th, 2017 at 8:19 PM

    just more confirmation on what i already
    knew from personal experience. easy way to tell if you theyre a narcissist… no real affection back when you give it to them. dont stick around. leave and find yourself.

  • Nancy

    October 2nd, 2018 at 10:42 AM

    Oh my gosh. Very good description. From first hand experience I can say that if you are in a relationship with someone like this, get out ASAP. It will only get worse as time goes by and escape will be more and more difficult.

  • Gabriella M.

    April 23rd, 2019 at 9:15 AM

    I know a lot people like this have girl who in one now and just feel so bad for her she got manipulated in so many ways imaginable I don’t know if she be able to even let go even after she finally realizes it in the future. Its sad cause she was bad at me even though her man kept coming to me abusing me in the situation( stalking) so idk its very sad u right ASAP is the answer

  • Gabriella M.

    April 23rd, 2019 at 9:09 AM

    Well dealing with a narcissistic person is very demonic cause all they see is themselves the same way Lucifer did when fall from heaven. ITS VERY DENOMIC and if that person was to change it’ll take a lot prayer and fasting.. Uhmm I m was dealing with one recently and he even manipulated grown ass people so its not the feeble or weak mined its a spiritually issue deeply rooted within the person. ITS DENOMIC!! Cause even if I was to move on this person when internally still feel the need to get constant attention and use our situation and abuse he did to be to seek further attention.. So ITS more then a mental issue its VERY DENOMIC and Highly COMPARED TO THE DEVIL IN ALOT WAYS!!

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