Can Narcissists Be Self-Aware?
Can narcissists become self-aware? What does this mean for them? The basic answer is yes, narcissists can become self-aware, after a fashion. It's not necessarily common but some narcissists can understand that they are narcissists and process intellectually what that means. The deeper question here is, "Does becoming self-aware mean narcissists can change what they are or heal?" and the answer is no, they cannot. The intellectual understanding of what something is does not change its nature. It has no emotional impact on the narcissist as a thing. It's just words strung together. They may understand that they have no true empathy for others, but this does not make it suddenly possible for them to feel feelings they don't have or change this somehow. You might as well ask them to be a foot taller. They still can't understand empathy as an emotion, other than to know it's one they don't have. They can understand the concept of empathy and therefore, the basis of narcissism, but not the reality of these things as it relates to them.
In order for something to stick in a narcissist's mind, it has to have emotional meaning to them. This is why no matter how many times you tell them things about your life and who you are or where you've been, they often don't remember. It's because they don't care. This information has no emotional meaning for them and therefore it means nothing to them. The diagnosis or opinion that they are a narcissist doesn't mean anything to them. If the words are given an emotional meaning, or given a connotation, such as, "You're a narcissist and that's very rare!" or "You're a narcissist and that's really bad!" then it will make more of an impact but it still isn't the word or idea of being a narcissist that is making the impact. It's the idea that something about the narcissist is rare or bad that is making the impact. This may cause the information to be repeated as an excuse or bragged about after a fashion but this still doesn't mean they actually get it.
For example, if you accuse the narcissist of being cruel, they may say something like, "Well, I'm a narcissist, so it's what it is." Or they may say, "I have a disorder, how can you blame me?" These kinds of statements don't denote true emotional understanding of their disorder. They are simply repeating what they've been told, what they know you believe, and using it as an excuse or as a deflection. It's just another thing to hate themselves for, or to use against others, or another way to avoid responsibility, just another attack. It's a dicey situation, because handing a narcissist a diagnosis of illness is like handing them a get out of jail free card, in many ways. They now have yet another way to play the victim, or to think they are special, which means they now have yet another way to avoid responsibility, and yet another thing to blame their behavior on. This is how their mind works, and telling them so is not going to change it.
It is often asked if we should tell narcissists what they are. This is a situational thing. In some situations it may be necessary to do this, and in others it may be a waste of time at the very least. At the worst, it could be the catalyst to some ugly scenes. In the end, it probably doesn't really matter if you tell them or not, because it doesn't really change anything. A self-aware narcissist is still a narcissist. The information will still be used to further their own goals and agenda, or simply cast aside as meaningless. Exposing them as narcissists might make you feel better, but even if the narcissist believes you - which they probably won't - it won't make a difference in their behavior anyway.
This is the disorder. It is a personality disordered. The personality itself is disordered. This means it permeates every facet of their being and every area of their lives. There is no place in their lives where they are not a narcissist, no situation where the narcissistic paradigm does not come into play, just like there is no part of your life where you are not your height, or where you are not your age. This is just what it is, and cluing them into it will not stop that.
People dealing with narcissists are often truly baffled by this. Most narcissists are not stupid people at all. Why don't they get it? There is a disconnect between logic and emotion within the narcissist. In most people, these things work together to make up our perception and create our experiences. In narcissists, they do not. Understanding something intellectually makes no difference to the narcissist, because these two parts of their mind don't work together. In most people, emotions are very powerful and when emotions run high, they can shut the logic out completely. Narcissists' emotions always run high because their emotional development did not progress to the point where they learned to process, understand and control them.
In other words, narcissists do not just experience emotions, the way the rest of us do. Emotions control their entire reality. Emotions are the glasses they see everything through. Emotions are the undercurrent in the narcissist's every waking moment. This therefore makes it very difficult for them to assess, perceive or understand things logically. Without logic and reason to guide them, they rely on emotion. This is why they believe feelings are facts. It's all they have to go by.
Because of this, truly understanding narcissism isn't really possible for a narcissist. It requires an emotional understanding of things that is coupled with and tempered by an intellectual, logical understanding, so that you can see clearly when emotions are illogical, unreasonable or inappropriate. They just don't have the tools necessary to do that. It would be like trying to objectively and logically observe a tornado from inside of it. It's just not possible.
In the end, the understanding of narcissism falls on us. As they cannot change what they are, it is up to us to understand the situation so that we do not become caught up in the sickness too.