How A Narcissist Thinks (Warning: It's Pretty Messed Up)

Knowing how the narcissist thinks can help you understand toxic individuals.

How A Narcissist Thinks (Warning: It's Pretty Messed Up) Focus and Blur / Shutterstock

We often hear the term “narcissist,” but in reality, what does that mean? Does it merely describe someone who likes to be the center of attention or likes the way he or she looks, or is there more to it?

The psychiatric literature defines narcissists as having specific traits such as having a sense of entitlement or requiring excessive admiration, to name a few. But what are narcissistic individuals really like on a day-to-day level?


How a narcissist thinks:

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Anyone who has lived with or worked for a narcissist will tell you how a narcissist thinks: Narcissists view themselves entirely differently — i.e., preferentially — compared to others, making those around them less valued. And there’s the rub: everything must be about the narcissist.

We don’t mind that a two-year-old needs constant attention. That’s appropriate for the developmental stage of a two-year-old. But we do mind when a forty-year-old needs that level of appreciation — and achieving it comes at our expense.


Narcissists victimize those around them just by just being who they are, and they won’t change. That statement may seem extreme until you listen to the stories of those who have been victimized by a narcissist. Then you realize just how toxic these individuals are.

Work for a narcissistic boss and I can guarantee that he or she will make you physically or psychologically ill. Live with one and I fear for you. I can say that because in researching my book Dangerous Personalities, I talked to scores of individuals who have been victimized by narcissistic personality disorder.

In doing the research, in talking to the victims and listening to story after story of stolen childhoods, destructive marriages, and burdensome relationships, I heard the same tragic refrain: narcissists see themselves as being so special that no one else matters. No one. Over time, the behavior resulting from their defining pathological traits will cast a wide debris field of human suffering.

But don’t take it from me. Listen to the victims. Here's what I have learned about how a narcissist thinks and the lessons that no medical book can teach you. They are lessons for all of us.


1. I love myself and I know you do, too; in fact, everyone does — I can’t imagine anyone that doesn’t.

2. I have no need to apologize. You, however, must understand, accept, and tolerate me no matter what I do or say.

3. I have few equals in this world, and so far, I have yet to meet one. I am the best (manager, businessman, lover, student, etc.).

4. Most people don’t measure up. Without me to lead, others would flounder.

5. I appreciate that there are rules and obligations, but those apply mostly to you because I don’t have the time or the inclination to abide by them. Besides, rules are for the average person, and I am far above average.


6. I hope you appreciate all that I am and everything that I have achieved for you—because I am wonderful and faultless.

7. I do wish we could be equals, but we are not and never will be. I will remind you with an unapologetic frequency that I am the smartest person in the room and how well I did in school, in business, as a parent, etc., and you must be grateful.

8. I may seem arrogant and haughty, and that’s OK with me. I just don’t want to be seen as being like you.

9. I expect you to be loyal to me at all times, no matter what I do; however, don’t expect me to be loyal to you in any way.

10. I will criticize you and I expect you to accept it, but if you criticize me, especially in public, I will come at you with rage. One more thing: I will never forget or forgive, and I will pay you back one way or another because I am a “wound collector.”


11. I expect you to be interested in what I have achieved and in what I have to say. I, on the other hand, am not at all interested in you or in what you have achieved, so don’t expect much curiosity or interest from me about your life. I just don’t care.

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12. I am not manipulative; I just like to have things done my way, no matter how much it inconveniences others or how it makes them feel. I actually don’t care how others feel; feelings are for the weak.

13. I expect gratitude at all times, for even the smallest things I do. As for you, I expect you to do as I demand.


14. I only associate with the best people, and frankly, most of your friends don’t measure up.

15. If you would just do what I say and obey, things would be better.

As you can see, it is not easy living with or working with someone that thinks and behaves this way. The experience of these victims also teaches us the following and if you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: narcissists over-value themselves and devalue others, and that means you. You will never be treated as an equal, you will never be respected, and you will in time be devalued out of necessity so that they can over-value themselves.

Tolerating the Narcissistic Personality

Knowing the traits of the narcissistic personality and how narcissists view themselves is useful, but so is knowing what will happen to you if you continue to associate with them. I say this while being well aware that in many cases, children, the elderly, or the infirm may not have a choice. In those cases, it is up to all of us as friends, relatives, teachers, coaches, associates, and co-workers to assist as best we can.


Also, there are those who, for reasons of finances, circumstances, or because they are in a complicated relationship or marriage, will choose to stick it out. To them I say beware: you will be victimized and you will pay a price, be it physically, psychologically, or even financially.

I say that from experience and from talking to many victims whose stories still burden my heart. If you do choose to live with or work with a narcissistic personality, be prepared to accept the following:

1. Accept that you are not equals because narcissists feel that they have no equals.

2. Those feelings of insecurity, dismay, disbelief, or incongruity that you are experiencing are real and will continue.


3. Because narcissists overvalue themselves, you will be devalued in time and at all the times after that.

You will, in essence, become the narcissist’s chew-toy. Gird yourself to be repeatedly degraded.

4. You will be talked to and treated in ways you never imagined, and you will be expected to tolerate it.

5. The narcissist’s needs, wants, and desires come first above all others, no matter how inconvenient to you.

6. Be prepared on a moment’s notice for them to turn on you with reptilian indifference at a moment’s notice...

As if any positive interactions in the past did not matter. You will question your own sanity as they turn on you, but that is your reality when involved with a narcissist.


7. When narcissists are nice, they can be very nice; but if you still feel insecure, that is because it is a performance, not a true sentiment.

Niceness is a tool for social survival—a means to get what they want, like needing a hammer to hang a picture.

8. You will lap up the narcissist’s niceness, poodle-like, because it doesn’t come often, but niceness for the narcissist is perfunctory; merely utilitarian.

9. Be prepared for when the narcissist lashes out not with anger, but with rage.

It is frightening! You will feel attacked and your sense of dignity will be violated.

10. Morality, ethics, and kindness are mere words.

Narcissists master these for their practicality, not for their propriety.


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11. Narcissists lie without concern for the truth because lies are useful for controlling and manipulating others.

When you catch them in a lie, they will say that it is you who is lying or wrong, or that you misunderstood. Prepare to be attacked and to receive counter-allegations.

12. If it seems that they can only talk about themselves, even at the oddest of times, it is not your imagination.

Narcissists can only talk about what they value most: themselves. That is their vacuous nature.

13. Narcissists will associate with individuals you would not trust to park your car because they attract those who see narcissism as something to value.


E.g., the power-hungry, the unscrupulous, profiteers, opportunists, and social predators.

14. Never expect the narcissist to admit to a mistake or to apologize.

Never! Blame is always outward toward you or others, never inward. Narcissists have no concept of self-awareness or introspection. But they are quick to see faults in others.


15. They expect you to forgive and forget and above all never to challenge them or make them look bad in public.

You must remember that they always want to be perfect in public. Don’t embarrass them or contradict them publicly, or you will pay the price.

16. Get used to losing sleep, feeling anxious, restless, less in control, becoming increasingly worried, perhaps even developing psychosomatic ailments.

That is what happens when you live with or associate with a narcissist. Those insecurities are your subconscious talking to you, telling you to escape.

17. Lacking both interest and true empathy in and for you, narcissists absolve themselves of that pesky social burden to care, leaving you deprived, empty, frustrated, or in pain.


18. They will be unwilling to acknowledge even the smallest thing that matters to you.

In doing so, they devalue you, leaving you feeling unfulfilled and empty.

19. You will learn to deal with their indifference in one of two ways: you will work harder to get their attention — with little reward to you because it won’t matter to the narcissist — or you will become resigned and empty psychologically because narcissists drain you, one indignity at a time.

20. You will be expected to be their cheerleader at all times, even when it is you who needs encouragement the most.

This is the sad, unvarnished truth about how a narcissist thinks, how they will behave, and how they will make you feel. I wish it were a better picture, but talk to the survivors of these personalities and they will tell you: it is that bad, it is that toxic. Why? Because, as Stuart C. Yudofsky explained in his book Fatal Flaws: Navigating Destructive Relationships With People With Disorders of Personality and Character, the truly narcissistic personality is “severely flawed of character.”


For those who ask, “What can I do?” Conventional wisdom advises seeing a trained professional for guidance. That is wise but not always available. In my experience, there is only one solution that works.

Distance yourself from these individuals as soon as you recognize them for what they are and as soon as it is practical. Get as far as you can from them and as your wounds heal, you will see your life change for the better and your dignity restored. As painful as distancing yourself may be, it is often the only way to make the hurting stop and to restore your own physical and mental well-being.

Curious about how to spot a narcissist? Check out the video below for the can't-miss signs:

Joe Navarro, M.A. is a 25-year veteran of the FBI and is the author of the international bestseller, What Every Body is Saying, as well as Louder Than Words and Dangerous Personalities. Joe can be found on Twitter: @navarrotells or on Facebook.