I don’t like how some authors describe narcissists as insensitive human beings incapable of feeling some emotions such as guilt and remorse. While that description is correct to some extent, it only gives half truth about narcissists and guilt. That makes it harder for people to understand the narcissist they are dealing with correctly. One of the emotions that are misunderstood about narcissists is guilt. Narcissists are capable of feeling guilty like any other person but the way guilt functions for them is very different from normal people.
In a certain study, narcissists were asked to rate how they felt guilty about the suffering they had caused to their ex whom they had just broke up with recently. As expected, most of them never felt guilty at all. But does this mean that narcissists cannot feel guilt or remorse?
What is Guilt Anyway?
Guilt (not to be confused with shame) like other emotions from our unconscious mind, is sent when we are going against our values. When you violate any of your core values, your mind sends you guilt to keep you on the right track. Examples of these values are: “I’m not a liar, I can’t cheat, I can’t abuse someone”. People have different values hence different reasons for feeling guilty. If you are a religious person and one of your core values is to never lie, you will feel guilty whenever you lie.
On the other hand, someone who does not believe that lying is bad will never feel guilty when he lies, simply because you have different values. This also explains why some people would feel guilty upon cheating on their spouse while others don’t. (See: understanding psychopaths)
Why are Narcissists Less Likely To Feel Guilty or Remorseful?
From the explanation above, you may have concluded that narcissists don’t feel guilt because they are evil or lack common values, but that’s not true. Most of them do have common values like normal people. What makes them insensitive and remorseless of their cruelty is how they view themselves.
As I said in some of my earlier articles, every narcissist is someone who has been through a lot of suffering for him to be the way he is. Narcissism is a defence mechanism to protect the person from future harm.
When a narcissist is hurt or when he senses that his bad past experience is about to be repeated, his defence mechanism gets activated. Once they are in this mode, some feelings such as guilt, remorse and empty are temporarily blocked because they would be disadvantageous. This works the same way we feel less physical pain when we are in fight or flight mode.
You don’t have to do something really cruel to trigger a narcissist’s defence mechanism. A narcissist who suffered because he was abandoned as a child may become defensive as soon he senses that he is about to be abandoned by his partner.
Another thing that makes narcissists less likely to feel guilty is their vindictiveness. When a narcissist feels that he is wronged in any way, he usually seeks revenge with passion. Because the person they are revenging on is considered an enemy, they feel not guilt for abusing him/her.
What Makes a Narcissist Feel Guilty?
If a narcissist believes that he is responsible for someone else’s suffering, he can feel guilty like anybody else provided that his defence mechanism is not activated. The reason why they feel no guilty for making their ex suffer after a breakup, is because breakups are most likely to happen after some fights, putting the narcissist on the defence.
Narcissists can also feel remorse once they find that they need the person they harmed. For example, If they made their ex’s life miserable out of rage, they may start feeling remorseful once they start missing them. Of course this is because the self-defence mode would have shut off. When a narcissist starts behaving remorseful when trying to bring back their ex, some people usually think that it’s a manipulative tactic but that’s not true, simply because they would not want their ex back if they are still on the defensive. See: 5 things that make a narcissist panic)