The Narcissist's True Motivation

Updated on November 21, 2017
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The Little Shaman is a bodywork healer, spiritual counselor, hypnotherapist, and a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders.

One of the hardest things for people dealing with narcissists to understand may be that the narcissist's behavior really has nothing to do with other people. It really is all about them. This is hard to grasp because, of course, if someone does something specifically to you, you will think the motive has to do with you. Most of the time, this is true. With narcissists, it really doesn't, though. They aren't really trying to destroy you because you don't matter. You don't even register. It's a war they are fighting with themselves, and you're just getting caught in the crossfire. That's not to say it's accidental. Not at all. But you are not the motive. Nothing to do with you is the motive. To be perfectly honest, you could really be anybody. Their battle is with themselves, and their only motive is self-preservation. At first, it seems like narcissists are playing games with other people, but the more you really look into it, it comes to light that narcissists use other people to play games with themselves. Other people are just tools narcissists use to either hurt themselves or make themselves feel good. Other people are literally props in their one-man show.

This is something a lot of people don't understand, and that's probably because, for most of us, it's difficult to really grasp that level of self-involvement. It's hard to understand a level of self-focus so deep and exclusive that other people are not only not considered, they are not even seen as people at all. It is perhaps impossible for it to be emotionally understood by non-narcissistic people. We can intellectually understand and we can say the words, we can explain it to each other but emotionally it's probably always going to be a mystery. As feeling, non-narcissistic human beings, we just don't get that. How can it be that the sole motive of abusive behavior is not to hurt the other person? The answer can be found by deconstructing that idea.

For starters, we have to realize that we are seeing the motive through our own eyes, as the person being abused. This is going to be a personal perspective, no matter what. We are entitled to that perspective 100% because when someone hurts you it IS personal -- to you. It is not personal to the narcissist. Not the way we mean it. Why do humans want to hurt people? Because they have hurt us, usually. There are also sadistic people who get off on the pain they are causing to others. While both of these seem to fit the narcissist, the truth is that neither of them really do. It isn't you who has hurt the narcissist, and inside, they do know that. You are simply a stand-in, a representative for their own failure and self-hatred. So although this is the motive they most often claim to have, it is false. The hurt and hatred they feel are coming from within themselves, and they know that. Narcissists can often seem like sadists and while they may at times seem to enjoy the pain they are causing, they are not sadistic. Sadists have to see their victims as thinking, feeling humans to get enjoyment out of torturing and hurting them, but narcissists do not operate that way. The enjoyment they are getting out of it is all self-focused, rather than other-focused. They feel good hurting people because it takes the pressure off of them. It's like going around with your punching bag. It makes you feel good but not because you hurt the bag. The bag has no feelings. You feel good because you blew off steam. Everyone is, of course, different but the main exception to this would be narcissistic psychopaths. They operate on a different level.

Then we would have to understand—truly understand—that narcissists do not see people as people the way we see people as people. We see people as individuals with feelings, needs, desires, motivations, aspirations, dreams, goals... narcissists do not see, understand or care about any of this. And really, just saying that does not convey how empty their understanding of other humans really is. You are one-dimensional to a narcissist and you only matter as far as how they can use you to make themselves feel. Nothing else about you matters. Not only does it not matter, they don't even realize any of these things are true. If they are somehow forced to recognize a need or feeling of another person, they have absolutely no interest in it or understanding of it whatsoever. The only thing they might be remotely interested in is some feelings you might have about them. To the narcissist, every other human being is a mirror they are looking into and either seeing a good reflection of themselves or a bad one. They don't see another person at all.

Thirdly, we would have to understand that when all of these previous things are true, the behavior of the narcissist ceases to be abuse in their eyes. It wouldn't matter anyway, though, because of the way their dysfunction is structured. Narcissists are under internal attack all the time. Therefore, in their mind, they cannot be abusers regardless because they are victims. What we call abuse, they would call "blowing off steam." That is very telling. "Abuse" involves the acknowledged, purposeful hurting of other people. "Blowing off steam" doesn't acknowledge anyone else at all. It acknowledges only the narcissist and their feelings and their problems. And that's appropriate since that's how they see things. How can you abuse a punching bag? You can't. So in a very real way, they have no motive to destroy you because as far as they see it, you don't even exist. Their only motive is to save, preserve and protect themselves. We find it so shocking that they can be so callous, but from their point of view they haven't done anything odd or terrible. This is how it is. The only real problems are their problems. The only real feelings are their feelings. The only real person is the narcissist.

Now let's be clear: this does not somehow make their behavior not abusive. It doesn't excuse anything. It doesn't justify anything. It doesn't matter what the narcissist's motive is because the end result is still the same: they are abusive, manipulative and completely, totally focused on themselves - to the exclusion of everything and everybody else. Understanding their behaviors and their motives can not only help you deal with narcissists better, it helps people realize that the problem is within the narcissist, not with them. This helps with letting go of the hurt and the hatred so that people can truly realize it wasn't anything they did, that there was nothing they could have done and they can to move on to a happier, healthier life.

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