This is the ability to feel another person’s joy or pain. Narcissists lack emotional empathy, so they have less feedback about the other person’s reactions and less reason to care. They do have “intellectual empathy,” the ability to think about what the other person is likely to be feeling. However, in the middle of a fight, they are highly unlikely to do this because of their lack of object constancy.
Most of the hurt that narcissists cause is the result of two basic sets of issues:
1. The need to retaliate to protect their self-esteem
Blame and retaliation:
During any sort of disagreement, or even a fairly neutral situation, as soon as narcissists start to feel bad, they are likely to see whomever they are with as responsible for their discomfort. They quickly move from blaming the other person to angrily retaliating.
They feel justified because, without whole object relations or object constancy, they now see the other person as the all-bad enemy. In addition, they have temporarily lost touch with any positive past history between them and the other person.
Their fragile self-esteem makes it extremely painful for them to become aware of their part in causing a fight. They do not even try to see how they might be at fault because that would pierce their narcissistic defenses and result in them feeling imperfect and deeply shamed.
After they calm down, they may realize that they over-reacted and regret it. Unfortunately, their underlying shaky self-esteem makes it very unlikely they will admit they were wrong and apologize. Instead, they are likely to make a reparative gesture, such as giving the person a present.
However, if the other person wants to talk about what happened, they are likely to become very defensive and feel attacked. Then the cycle of blame and retaliation and reparation may start all over again.
2. Self-centeredness and lack of emotional empathy
Narcissists often unintentionally do things that hurt other people because they are so self-centered and lack emotional empathy. For example, they may make fun of you in front of other people and just think they are being funny. Or you may tell them that you have a stomach virus and instead of sympathizing, they tell you that they had one much worse than yours.
How do we judge them?
Do we give them a free pass to hurt other people because they have a narcissistic personality disorder? I would not. At the very least, most well-intentioned people with NPD:
• Know that they are selfish.
• Know that other people are getting hurt by them.
• Know psychotherapy exists and most are choosing not to go for help to change.
• I have been told that what they are doing is hurtful and continue doing it anyway.
But: This subset of narcissists is not setting out to hurt other people on purpose.
The “Bad Narcissists”
These people are focused on getting whatever they want and are not trying to be “good people.” They really do not care who gets hurt by their actions. Some even enjoy causing other people pain and will go out of their way to make other people feel sad, inadequate, and inferior.
Different theorists call this type of narcissist by different names: “malignant,” “toxic,” or “devaluing.”
It is easy to judge them as bad because they do not express any regrets or make reparative gestures. They are hurting people intentionally to make themselves feel superior.
Bottom Line: People with narcissistic adaptations differ from one another in how much they want to be good people. The ones who want to be good try harder to follow a moral code. However, even when they are trying their hardest, their basic narcissistic issues—self-centeredness, unstable self-esteem, lack of emotional empathy, and lack of whole object relations and object constancy—will cause them to hurt those closest to them.