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Do Narcissists Feel Guilty About Abusing Loved Ones?

It can be hard for people to realize how shallow narcissistic love is.

Key points

  • Narcissists do not feel guilty about abusing their loved ones because they convince themselves that whatever they do is justified.
  • Narcissistic defenses are designed to distort reality and protect narcissists from seeing their flaws and mistakes.
  • Narcissistic love is more transactional and shallow than it appears to be.
Vera Arsic/pexels
Source: Vera Arsic/pexels

The sad truth is that the people I know who qualify for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder are highly unlikely to think about the moral implications of whatever they have done to other people. They only care about themselves. Even when they claim to be madly in love with you, their feelings are quite shallow and will quickly disappear if you stop meeting their needs.

Note: I use the terms narcissist, narcissistic, and NPD as shorthand for someone who qualifies for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder—not just narcissistic traits. I am using the terms adaptation and disorder interchangeably.

Narcissistic relationships are transactional.

By transactional, I mean that narcissists like you and want you around when you serve their needs. They lose interest in you when you do not. No matter how much they claim to love you, the reality is that it is not you, the individual, that they love. They love the functions you perform for them.

This makes their attachment to you much shallower than it appears. If you lose the attributes that they value, their loving feelings about you are likely to disappear. This means that if you get ill, lose your looks, your money, or your ability to have sex. Your narcissistic lover will not be sympathetic. Instead of feeling bad for you, they are likely to become impatient, complain, and eventually lose interest in being with you.

Example: When exhibitionist narcissist Bill and his girlfriend Sherry got married, everyone remarked on what a beautiful couple they made. They looked like a magazine advertisement for young love. Bill enjoyed posting pictures of the two of them on social media and took great pleasure in his friends’ envious compliments about his wife’s beauty.

When Sherry developed a serious health issue that required her to take steroids, her looks changed. Her face became puffy, and her figure became fuller. She no longer looked like the slender young woman with whom he had fallen in love.

Bill’s response was to tell Sherry that she needed to lose weight. When the doctors told them that she needed to stay on her medication and that the weight was an unfortunate and unavoidable side effect, Bill felt cheated. He bluntly told Sherry, “I didn’t sign up to have sex with a fat woman.”

Do narcissists regret hurting people whom they claim to love?

Narcissistic defenses are designed to keep the narcissist’s flaws and mistakes out of awareness. Narcissists do not focus on anything that contradicts their inflated view of themselves. Unless they have had a lot of successful psychotherapy for their NPD, they do not feel guilt, shame, or self-doubt so long as their narcissistic defenses hold. This means that they do not think there is anything for them to regret, no matter how hurt you feel. In their mind, if something goes wrong in the relationship, it is all your fault.

Do narcissists regret discarding or losing someone?

It is common for people with a narcissistic personality disorder to regret discarding or losing someone, but it does not mean what you might think. If they feel regret, it is not because they hurt you. It is for losing something that they value. You are a possession, not a real person. They do not care how you feel, even though they may pretend otherwise.

For example, the fact that they may want you back after discarding you has very little to do with who you are as a person. It does not mean that they care about you or feel guilty for treating you badly. And it certainly does not mean that, if they get you back, they will act differently than last time. Narcissists who miss their ex have not usually changed in any significant way.

What does the narcissistic person’s regret over discarding you actually mean?

Here are some of the usual meanings. Take your pick.

  • I feel needy, horny, lonely, and I want company right now.
  • If I hadn’t dumped you, I could use you to meet my needs.
  • I always miss anything I no longer have.
  • I thought I could do better than you, but I haven’t—so I might as well go back to you.
  • I know you have someone else now, and I still consider you mine to do with as I wish. How dare you have a happy life without me!
  • You look better from a distance.

Narcissistic defenses are designed to minimize negative feelings and support the narcissist's self-esteem.

The whole point of developing an NPD adaptation is that it is designed to keep negative feelings at bay—to not feel shame, guilt, self-doubt, and remorse and instead maintain the sense that the narcissist is special, perfect, and always right.

Narcissists lack emotional empathy.

In addition, people with NPD never developed emotional empathy. If they have any, it quickly disappears when they feel hurt, disappointed, frustrated, or angry with you.

Narcissists do not willingly decide to reflect on their bad behavior.

The only self-reflection that most untreated narcissists do is about what is in their self-interest. Here is an abbreviated example of what one of my clients with the exhibitionist subtype of NPD said to me in therapy about his girlfriend:

I actually find her somewhat disgusting. She is not all that physically appealing to me. I sometimes walk out of the room when she enters because I don’t want to really be with her. But she wants me so badly that she will literally do anything for me. She also puts up with whatever I want to do.

She loves me and wants to marry me. I might actually marry her or stay with her, despite how I feel about her. I know this is unfair to her, but I am unlikely to ever find anyone who loves me like that and is willing to let me have my way about everything. I can always get rid of her later.

Summary

When narcissists say, “I love you,” they really mean something closer to the following: “I will love you as long as you fulfill my needs and make me feel good.” As a result, untreated narcissists do not feel guilty about abusing you because they view whatever they do to you as justified.

Their narcissistic defenses are designed to protect them from seeing their flaws and to allow them to shift all the blame onto you. If everything is your fault, then they have no reason to feel guilty about hurting you.

Based on two Quora posts.

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