Can a narcissist feel guilty? Is it possible to make a narcissist feel guilty? Before I answer these questions let me first explain why narcissists don’t feel guilty when they abuse their loved ones.
Contrary to popular beliefs, narcissists are actually capable of feeling guilt and empathy under certain circumstances. The reason why narcissists don’t seem to feel guilty when they abuse their others is because their ego defense mechanism is usually active at that moment. An ego defense mechanism is an unconscious process the mind uses to prevent a person from experiencing bad emotions such as guilt, shame, and fear.
This is how an ego defense mechanism helps a narcissist feel less guilty
To understand well how an ego defense mechanism works, let me give you an example on how it works on normal people. Yes, normal people do have unconscious defense mechanisms as well.
Let’s say you were overspeeding and suddenly hit someone’s dog on the road. At first you may be shocked and feel a lot of guilt but later on, you may start rationalizing what has happened by telling yourself something such as; “it’s the dog owner’s fault for letting it roam freely in the streets. At least I didn’t run away after hitting it, I took it to the nearest veterinary clinic, and I will take care of all medical expenses”. This is an example of a healthy defense mechanism meant to help you feel less guilty. However, not all defense mechanisms are healthy.
Narcissists are so good at employing defense mechanisms, especially unhealthy ones whenever they do something wrong such as abusing their loved ones. However, this does not mean that they never experience negative emotions such as guilt, shame, and anxiety.
A narcissist can feel guilty under the following circumstances
1. When they violate their core values
In my article: Do narcissists ever feel guilty, I said that any person feels guilty when they violate their core values. If honesty is one of your core values, you will feel guilty whenever you lie. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t value honesty will not feel guilty when they lie simply because honesty is not one of their core values.
The reason why narcissists don’t feel guilty is not because they don’t have core values. In fact, most narcissists have good core values just like normal people. The fact that they try to use a defense mechanism such as justification when they do something wrong is because they are already feeling bad about what they did. Otherwise if they were not feeling bad, they wouldn’t use a defense mechanism.
2. When they overreact to their anger
For example, if a stranger insulted a narcissist and the narcissist punched him in the face, the narcissist may not feel guilty. But, if the narcissist violently attacked the stranger and broke his neck, he will not feel relieved, instead he will feel guilty.
This does not mean that narcissists feel guilty only when they do something gruesome. As long as they believe that the punishment exceeds what they believe you deserve, that’s enough to make them feel guilty. Every narcissist has a different threshold that they have to pass in order to feel guilty. As I said in my article, why are some narcissists so mean, depending on how mentally unstable a narcissist is, they can sometimes be so mean to others without feeling guilty.
3. When they can identify with the victim
For example, when everything is going well for a narcissist, or when they are succeeding in life, they tend to see people who aren’t as lucky as them as stupid, inferior, and deserving of what they are going through.
On the other hand, when they are going through the same unpleasant life experience, they are able to identify with others who are going through the same experience and feel for them. However, this only happens if you’re on good terms with the narcissist, otherwise, they may blame you for what is happening to them and make you the scapegoat. See: why narcissists blame you for everything.
How to make a narcissist feel guilty
To make a narcissist feel guilty, you should first let their defense mechanisms shut off. As I said, a narcissist won’t feel guilty as long as their defense mechanisms are active. For example, if you just had a fight with them, they will be on the defensive and see you as a threat. That’s why you have to dissolve this tension between the two of you first by convincing them that you are not angry at them or planning any kind of revenge.
Now, to make the narcissist feel guilty, you will have to convince them that they are responsible for your suffering. Don’t make direct accusations such as telling them how they hurt you. Instead let them realize by themselves how their actions affected you.
Why making an abusive narcissist feel guilty should be your last resort
While guilt can stop a normal narcissist from hurting you, an abusive narcissist may not stop abusing you even if they felt guilty about it. This is because abusive narcissists usually have other underlying psychological problems that make them become abusive.
For example, a narcissist who has extremely low self-esteem will be afraid that their partner will leave them for someone better. This will make them take extreme measures to prevent their partner from ever leaving. These measures may include destroying their partner’s self-esteem to convince them that no one will ever find them desirable.
Making this type of narcissist guilty won’t change anything, instead you should learn to make them fear you and respect you instead.