What is Narcissism - Part 2

Read Part 1 Here  - What is Narcissism?  

Unhealthy Narcissism

Image of dummy or narcissist?
Unhealthy narcissism = Acting in your own self interest - at someone else's expense while fooling yourself that you are a great person.

Now this definition includes nothing of the usual talk of grandiosity, arrogance or lack of empathy but we shall get to those soon. First I want to focus on the narcissistic trick (that we all use from time to time) to hide from the things we don't want to see in ourselves.

And when I say everyone, yes that means you too! So if you think you are never the teeniest bit narcissistic - I dare you to read on!

Let's take a look at that description again and start breaking it down ...

Unhealthy Narcissism = Acting in your own self interest - at someone else's expense while fooling yourself that you are a great person.

Okay so 'acting in your own self interest at someone else's expense' is pretty straightforward. This is the classic win/lose situation. A good example in this case might be a person who gives their time and money to a mistress or lover instead of their family and kids. Now don't get me wrong because I am not saying ALL narcissists cheat on their spouse. In many cases what robs this person's family of their time, money and interest may be something else, such as:

computer games,
bar hopping,
romance novels,
soap operas,
computers or TV.

It can even be a person who ignores and tolerates injustice to others (such as their kids or step kids) to preserve their own 'sanctuary' because they don't want to get involved in anything unpleasant or confrontational.

Did you get that? I want you to read that last paragraph once again because sometimes just preserving the status quo by saying and doing nothing is acting in our self interest at someone else's expense.

So does this mean that every cheating spouse, barfly or absent parent is a narcissist? No.
Because the next part is defining ...

Unhealthy Narcissism = Acting in your own self interest - at someone else's expense while fooling yourself that you are a great person.

I have said many times that narcissism equals hiding shame and I am going to jump back to that definition right now to help help you get a really clear idea about how this fooling yourself bit works.

So let's talk about shame.

Shame is a little different than embarrassment, because it is more public. For instance you might be embarrassed about your weight, but the vast majority of people probably don't really care whether you are fat or slim and so really it is not shameful at all.

Embezzling money from your family budget on the other hand, or resorting to verbal abuse or violence when you are emotional are things you might be embarrassed about, but go a step further because if disclosed they would cause you public shame.

If you are starting to feel antsy, that's okay, because really no one likes shame. We all have to deal with it at one stage or other however and so it is important that we learn how to do this. If this is something you still struggle with, here is the best advice I can give you ...

~ When you find yourself in a situation that may bring shame on yourself, it is usually best to admit your genuine embarrassment to the people involved that you have harmed. ~

This one is really tough, but the surprise result is that if your embarrassment is genuine people will generally forgive you. They may be angry first and they may want you to make amends, but if you are humble and show genuine contrition, they will usually forgive you in time.

Now of course this doesn't mean that you will not go to jail if you have broken the law, but it does mean that the judge and jury will be far more lenient and the people who you know might still write and visit! Because as hard as it is to admit we are embarrassed - people generally find it attractive when we do.

This doesn't mean that you should go around apologizing all the time, because remember we are talking about stuff you genuinely feel ashamed about. You apologizing out of fear or false modesty is not attractive, but will simply make you look weak and unattractive. Further, apologizing for things other people have blamed on you (to hide their own shame), just makes you a pushover and even worse a victim or target.

Many kids will get a chance to learn about expressing shame when they are growing up if they are caught stealing. A wise parent will insist their child returns what they have taken and admits they are ashamed of what they have done and apologize. Hard to do? Sure - but this experience and discovering they will be forgiven (if they are genuinely embarrassed and sorry) is priceless.

Expressing shame may also involve talking to a teacher whose class they have been getting carried away with themselves in - or it may be about another child or animal they have hurt.

One way or another this can be a defining moment in a child's life.

Because if a person does not learn how to express shame, they are likely instead to lock it inside themselves and deal with it by creating a fantasy personality (for themselves) that they can hide in so as not have to face the shame they feel about who they really are. They will tell themselves they are fine and it is really someone else's fault (and they are the poor victim) to fool themselves and not to have to face their own wrongdoing and shame.

And once this act of hiding their shame in this way is repeated it becomes habit.

This person will then only seek the company of people who acknowledge and praise their false personality and will actively avoid anyone who wants to shed light on the truth about their own behaviour.

I will give examples in a moment, but first I want you to notice that for this psychological trick to work we need one more important element and this is a 'scape-goat'.

Because once we have boosted ourselves up with the fantasy of us being perfect and above reproach - then all we need is someone else to blame for what we did wrong.
"So the serial cheater makes sure he hangs out with other men who think him 'a legend' for whatever fantasy personality he has created for himself (great sportsman, humanitarian, teacher, preacher etc.) and who will support his scapegoating such as "Is it any wonder I cheat on her when she is such a nag."

And soon anyone in the real world who disagrees with this version of reality will be avoided or likewise criticized.

There is usually never enough people to feed this false ego however and so private fantasy preoccupations - that protect this person's fragile false ego from reality - start to kick in.
TV, movies, drinking, gambling, romance novels, soap opera's, computer games, religious or secular ritual and porn.

And soon this person will do just about anything to avoid having to spend time with their spouse or kids, whose very existence reminds them, that far from being a hero they are in fact letting themselves and their family down.

So in this narcissistic world instead of spending time with our kids or partner - we put our best picture on Facebook and spend every free moment chatting with our peers in a mutual fan-club where we praise each other up.

So are you starting to see the difference between confidence and high self esteem and the hell of unhealthy narcissism?

A healthy ego means liking yourself for who you really are - and so high self esteem will not make a person arrogant or insensitive but instead more considerate of others.

The narcissist on the other hand is caught in a trap.

The way he feels good about himself is largely fantasy and so anyone who gets too close is going to see through the game. So intimacy dies, along with any chance for this person to grow.

Because growth usually requires that we are able to honestly assess our strengths and weaknesses in order to see where our character needs improving.

The narcissist cannot hold an honest conversation because that would mean tuning into their real feelings and these feelings are so bad now (from all their shame being pushed down inside), that this person may truly worry that perhaps they are evil.

But this 'evil' in truth is a psychological double bind.

They may do things others deem evil, sure, but the outward pain they cause is nothing compared to the inner judgement and torment that they cause for themselves.

The ongoing shame is then perpetuated by them not being able to face the reality of their own shortcomings and (developmental) gaps.

For example this may be a married man with children who cannot face his poor relationship and fathering skills and so 'hides' in the idea that he is still free and single - using his family's 'shortcomings' as his excuse for not spending more time at home.

Or it may be a married woman doing similar.

We also see narcissistic behavior in ministers who pretend to be virtuous, upstanding citizens who, when judged for their treatment of their family (and their own private personal habits), can easily be seen to fall far short of that mark. Or women who spend time at home reading romance novels and/or watching soap operas and chatting on Facebook, while pretending to their husbands that they are spending time with their (sorely neglected) kids.

So this is not the sadist who enjoys hurting and humiliating people - but instead a human desperate to be loved - but who has totally forgotten who and where they really are.

Don't think you are narcissistic at all? Let's check ...

Do you ever buy goods you know deep down are probably made by slave labor? Now let's look at that definition again ...

Unhealthy Narcissism = Acting in your own self interest - at someone else's expense while fooling yourself that you are a great person.

I wonder how many tricks you play in your mind to avoid the truth of where all those cheap products and clothes you buy are made? Or where the meat you eat comes from? Or what you would do to protect your standard of living if it was put under severe threat?

Don't worry, we are all narcissistic in some area of our life -  It just depends how close we let the win/lose deal come to home. And there is no long term psychological harm in this either, if we can simply face this behavior as it reveals itself and suitably acknowledge and express our own feelings of shame and be honest about what we are doing.

Because we cannot create a better life for ourselves and each other if we don't have the courage to really look at who we are and what we do.

So now let's go back to my original list (from part 1) of the benefits of unlocking this door ...

Healthy Narcissism (or in other words healthy ego)

  • Greets people (including close family and friends) confidently and warmly (by name) looking them in the face and smiling.
  • Can be objective about their own faults and weaknesses.
  • Can be objective about their own talents and skills.
  • Can relax and feel comfortable around people of all ages and not afraid to hear what other people think.
  • Can put their point of view across without putting anyone else down.
  • Is compassionate.
  • Is patient.
  • Feels relaxed and comfortable in their own skin.
  • Wins friends easily with interesting people.
  • Maintains healthy and close personal relationships with their family including their spouse and kids.
  • Enjoys life even when things are not going to plan.
  • Is naturally influential.
  • Is their own best friend.
  • Lives with ease and peace within themselves.
  • Enjoys intimate and gratifying sex.
All of these things in the list above are about a healthy attitude to life because they come from true intimacy with others, which only comes from us truly knowing and liking who we are. This has nothing to do with unhealthy narcissism.

To learn more about creating this kind of psychological healthy in your family -  please visit these pages of our website ...

Narcissism in Yourself
Narcissism in Your Partner

And hang in there!

Kim Cooper
Proofed by DF Feb 2 2016


  1. Dear Kim,
    I have to say that the way you can put things is amazing.
    I know all these things and have always struggled to put them together so that someone else can understand where I am coming from.
    I know that I am growing emotionally, due in part to my studying your great work and putting in my own effort with some help from the divine and friends and family. Certainly, when we realise that we are not the centre of everything(as an ego), we can then notice and appreciate all the great gifts and beautiful things and people there are in the world.
    Thank you again :-)

  2. wonderful article really helps me understand my ex husbands behaviour much better. now i need to hold strong to sort out some financial dealings with him if i relent on agreements he will revert back to old behaviour. i have to take a step back and let him sort out the mess he created and that goes against my nature but he has taken advantage of my generosity for years and it cannot continue.give me strenght lord. thank you for all your work you are doing a wonderful job god bless you

    1. You are on the right track for sure. Stick to it and be warm but stand firm.

  3. Dear Kim;

    About 4 years ago I first heard the term "narcissist" from a friend of mine, describing my husband. I then went searching for the meaning and found your web site. You, in part, have changed my life. While my marriage didn't succeed, as a matter of fact it failed horribly - or at least I recognized that it had already been failing for 30 years; I, however, am more whole spiritually, emotionally, and physically than I have ever been. I've learned to recognize my part in the failure of the relationship but also the dead-end relationship with a spouse unwilling to recognize or change the issues causing the destruction. I have found joy in life, forgiveness and healing. Thank you for your skills, your openness to share, and willingness to help others.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing. I am sorry that it didn't work out - but I am so happy that you understand why and feel so much stronger and more positive about the future.

  4. Dear Kim and Steve, Thank you for being so open and honest about your discoveries. You truly know how to live out sacrificial love. For each other and all of us out here! God bless you both!

  5. Dear Kim,

    As a codependent who has had a relationship with an unhealthy narcissist for the past 2 years, I have really found your information helpful. I dearly love the man I have been with, but I found that he was seeing other people and whilst I tried to deal with his behaviour, found that I couldn't. I think, ultimately I got too close to finding out how he really feels about himself so he decided he just wanted to be friends. That was five weeks ago - I haven't contacted him at all in that time. I think he may now have met someone else....

    Thanks so much for your information. It is very valuable.

    1. I am sorry to hear that but I am glad you are feeling stronger. It is not uncommon for them to run!

  6. Kim and Steve, thank you for this amazing article. Your information are very valuable to me. I bought all your matierials available and your Narcissism Daily Mirror email are extrmely helpful. You have no idea how your articles have been helping me through my hard time, giving me a clear vision of what was going on with my 10+ years of failing marriage. Although my husband has finally left us for good last year, your articles has been helping me speeding up my healing process and become a better person. I will also use your wisdom to teach my children when time is right so they can have a better head start. You are a blessing from God. Thank you!!

  7. Great Post! Thank You :)

  8. There is a lot to work on here.

  9. Dear Steve and Kim, thank you for sharing the inner thoughts of a narcissist. It helps me dealing with my ex-husband so much better, despite of the love I feel/felt for him and the hurt he causes.
    I find it amazing that their behaviour is so typical and so alike, all over the world.
    My 3 year marriage came to an end because he wouldn't give in, and that hurt me a lot because I believe things can change. But he was a profound narcissist who could not bend his head.
    So, now I profit from your advice en insights.

    I have one thing to add on the subject of codependency. And that is that I (and probably other people too) was not very unhealthy codependent at the beginning. A narcissist makes you codependent because they are very strong and confusing. And you just can't believe and understand what is happening, but in the meantime he pulls you in, and you change, bit by bit.

    Lots of love and joy

    1. Yes my codependence got worse with Steve too until I finally saw it for what it was. It was there from the beginning however! I hope to write a new post on that soon.

  10. Dear Kim,
    What fantastic information! You are a star! Yes, I have some ways I would like to improve myself for sure!It is so important to me to be able to show a good example to my children and to be more courageous for the general good.
    Thank you.

  11. Is anger very often a part of narcissism? I don't understand if that is a separate issue or a part of the narcissistic personality disorder. I think my husband was abused by his Dad as a child & spoiled by his mother. Love to him is, too often to me, a matter of mothering him. But I read that mothering a narcissist may need to happen because you said their are gaps in their life.

    1. Narcissistic people will often throw tantrums and be very angry - but just as often they will provoke another person to get angry first. Either way they will generally try and blame it all on you! I believe it is important to do some fill in parenting with our partners - but this should be to help them learn and grow - not allow them to remain immature and childish!

  12. I have so many questions . . . .I have done so much reading and research on the topic. One question, your site is the ONLY one where you suggest staying in the relationship, and/or hope of the narcissistic parter realizing they have a problem. All the other sites say to run for the hills!!! The narcissist has to actually acknowledge there is a problem, right? Most information I've read touts how the #1 problem with narcissism is that they don't believe that there is anything wrong with them!!

    1. Does a lion have to admit it has a problem to be tamed? No and you can't leave your safety up to a lion! We teach people how to take charge of their own physical and emotional security within their relationship. With over a 1000 testimonials now we must be on to something. Not everyone gets the same results we have - but still people thank us that they are in a much stronger and happier place from taking the steps we offer.

  13. Great series of articles! I hope I bring some more followers for you by sharing it. You have great insight on this topic and offer a much more productive approach than what can be found in most other articles found online.

    Have you looked into Highly Sensitive People yet?

    It's something I'm learning a great deal more about and seems to involve many of the same topics you cover from emotional intelligence to dietary advice. One school of thought I've recently heard is that most disorder/co-dependence involves high sensitivity which, by it's nature, involves boundary and empathy issues.

    1. Hi Sean - Sorry it has taken me so long to answer, the reply function here hasn't been working. I haven't had a chance to check that site out yet but it sounds interesting. I am such an empath it is crazy. A girl got hit by a bus (she is okay!) outside our office the other day and I got a headache and felt like I had been hit by a bus as soon as it happened before we even knew what was going on.

    2. Yes, Kim, that's an HSP sounding story. I'm going through Ane Axeford's material now, myself. I thought it'd be complicated to go through my history with her, but she was able to fill in details without help from me when sitting with her for a session here in NYC. Now I know and, more importantly, I have a path to follow which rhymes with what you've already provided.

      So much of the material from your eBooks and recommendations fit HSP squarely, I thought you'd have an interest. HSP is not a disorder itself, just that 15-20% of everyone are wired that way (nervous systems highly responsive in comparison to general population; genetics). However, there can be a suseptibility to personality disorder, as well as a general tendency to have relationships with the personality disordered. HSPs naturally have thin or few boundaries. It can get confusing at times to whom your feelings belong (ex: you didn't get hit by the bus, the girl did).

  14. Thanks Kim great article... my husband left my children & I 9 mths ago & your article describes him to a tee. He created a fantasy world on face book & started seeing other people, he actively avoids anyone who would enlighten him of the fantasy world he is living in. He cannot hold an honest conversation with me. I wish to build a new relationship with him as parents of our 4 children under 7 but am finding it terribly hard to communicate with him , as he spirals deeper into his fantasy world & obsession with personal success( which seems to be failing miserably).
    Thanks again for the support you offer...

    1. Hang in there and you stay strong for those beautiful kids!

  15. Hi Kim! As with the others who have commented, thank you for your articles. I saw from Sean's comment that he wonders about the connection of Narcistic personalities with Highly Sensitive people - an avenue I have also explored. I also wonder about a connection with Bipolar disorder or whether the two/three conditions can co-exist in the same person. I'd appreciate anyone else's thoughts on this matter - and also any ways in which living with a person who is either bipolar, narcistic or highly sensitive (as well as being an alcoholic) can be made tolerable or even pleasant...

    1. The advice we offer is about healthy relationship habits - including boundary setting - which will help in many situations. I guess just like a healthy diet and exercise will help with many physical ailments.

      One exception is that our suggestions will probably not help if the person you are dealing with has a brain tumor and that is what is causing their odd behavior. This can make a person very unpredictable and even violent and is something I have come across in stories people send me a few times now.

      On the other hand our advice WILL help you to live more peacefully with people with many different problems.

      We also give advice in Back From the Looking Glass for dealing with alcohol cravings. That is something I unfortunately battle with myself.

    2. Yes, there is a potential connection between HSP and BiPolar in particular. HSPs can also be high sensation seeking (HSS), which is like having your foot on the break and the gas at the same time (risk taking, but not too far). This can leave some appearing to be excitable one moment, but then they crash. BiPolar, etc can be a misdiagnosis of someone who's just HSP and getting overwhelmed.

      There was a show on here talking specifically about BiPolar vs HSP, but I can't find the specific show: http://sensitiveandthriving.com/sensitive-sunday-live

      HSPs need to learn skills similar to what Kim advocates. If your partner is HSP, you have to remember they will run out of gas and need time alone to recharge. There are plenty of books, but disorder tends to require the help of an expert. If they are disordered and HSP, perhaps they would be more amenable to getting help with the HSP (not a disorder, but rather a special talent which will sound more appealing). Any decent HSP aware therapist should know how to handle things from there.

  16. i've been working with your materials for a few years. my boyfriend has many aspects of NPD. we work together, which has been challenging. After he hurt himself by smashing out a window during a fight, he was hospitalized and has been withdrawing from me more and more. After a month of no contact, he has begun to speak to me again. when we do speak now, he tells me things like 'i love you and miss you' and also expresses anger about things he perceives to have been wrong with our relationship (I took a business trip without inviting him months ago and went home for christmas last year without inviting him). i am very sad because i miss him and he still has feelings for me and is very lonely. i'm wondering if i should just leave him alone or if i should try to engage him?

    1. Are you still wanting to continue in a relationship or not? Only you can decide that. If you do want a relationship you need follow the exercises in the Love Safety Net. You will see the first chapter is on attachment and you will not build trust and rapport by simply leaving him alone!


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