Skip to Content

Can a narcissist be a nice person?

Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy. Narcissists tend to have an exaggerated sense of superiority and entitlement, and seek constant validation from others. Their behavior is often perceived as arrogant, self-centered, and manipulative. This raises the question – can a narcissist actually be a nice person? Or are they inherently toxic and abusive? This article will explore the nuances of narcissism and analyze whether narcissists have the capacity for kindness and consideration.

What is narcissism?

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, ranging from a normal, healthy amount of self-confidence to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is a serious mental health condition. Here are some key characteristics of narcissism:

  • Grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement
  • Exaggerated sense of superior talents, intelligence, and achievements
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, and brilliance
  • Belief they are special and should only associate with other high-status people
  • Need for excessive admiration and attention
  • Sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
  • Tendency to exploit others and take advantage of them
  • Lack of empathy and inability to recognize others’ needs

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, with NPD at the extreme end. NPD affects only about 1% of the general population. Mild to moderate narcissistic traits are more common, affecting up to 6% of people.

Narcissistic traits vs full blown NPD

There is an important distinction between simply having some narcissistic personality traits, and having a full diagnosis of NPD. Most people display some mild narcissistic traits at times. But with NPD, the symptoms are severe enough to impair functioning and relationships.

Some key differences:

Narcissistic traits

  • Some arrogance, need for validation, and lack of empathy
  • May be self-absorbed but can reflect on their behavior
  • Able to maintain relationships despite flaws
  • Respond to feedback and criticism, though may be defensive
  • Don’t necessarily exploit or manipulate others


  • Extreme arrogance, excessive need for admiration, and severe lack of empathy
  • Cannot tolerate criticism and is unable to reflect honestly on their behavior
  • Relationships are superficial, intended to boost self-esteem
  • React badly to any criticism and will devalue source
  • Willingness to exploit and manipulate with no remorse

So while we all may display some narcissistic traits, having full NPD is relatively rare and represents dysfunctional behavior patterns.

Do narcissists care about others?

A lack of empathy and exploitative tendencies are hallmarks of narcissism. But research shows narcissists are capable of caring about select people. Typically, this caring is limited to:

  • Themselves
  • Their romantic partner (early in the relationship)
  • Their children
  • Family members
  • High-status friends or celebrities

Narcissists idealize and overvalue people they deem important. But they rapidly devalue and dismiss people once they cease to provide validation. Their caring is often contingent on what the person can do for them.

Moreover, narcissists generally struggle to care about the needs, emotions, and wellbeing of people they consider inferior. Their arrogance and sense of superiority result in a dismissing attitude.

Lack of empathy

One of the most problematic traits of narcissism is a deficiency in cognitive empathy – the ability to understand another person’s perspective. While they may express care towards valued people, they cannot extend empathy widely.


Narcissists display extreme self-centrism and egocentrism. Their exaggerated sense of self-importance colors their worldview. They filter everything through a lens of how it relates to and impacts them. This leaves little room to consider others’ needs and feelings.


Even when narcissists express care, it may be a means of manipulation. By pretending concern, they can more effectively exploit and control the person. Any warmth usually only lasts until the narcissist has extracted what they want.

So in summary, while narcissists can care about select inner circle people, they struggle with broader empathy and genuine concern for others. Their egocentrism and manipulation further undermine their capacity for kindness.

Can narcissists be nice?

Given their orientation towards the self and deficiencies in considering others, can narcissists demonstrate niceness and goodwill? Research indicates it is certainly possible, but superficial and contingent.

Performative kindness

Narcissists are often skilled at turning on the charm when they want to impress someone. They can be exceptionally charismatic, complimentary, exciting to be around, and the life of the party. But this is a performance intended to feed their ego and serve their agenda.

They crave positive social feedback. Being nice and likeable provides narcissistic supply – the validation and admiration they so desperately require. But their niceness is not genuine, sincere kindness. It is an act to benefit themselves.

Love bombing

In new relationships, narcissists will often “love bomb” prospective partners through excessive flattery, gifts, promises, and displays of affection. This is designed to secure the partner’s attachment and devotion. Once hooked, their manipulative behavior typically emerges.

So narcissists are adept at fake niceness via charm and love bombing. But this is not true compassion – it’s love bombing, flattery, and performance.

Fickle kindness

Narcissists may demonstrate situational kindness towards those they wish to impress or enlist for their agenda. But this is inconsistent and contingent, not steadfast goodwill.

Once someone disappoints or criticizes a narcissist, or no longer enhances their ego, any kindness vanishes. Their warmth is entirely dependent on getting their needs met and receiving validation.

Overall, while narcissists can put on a nice façade, their kindness is superficial and self-serving. For true caring to emerge, it requires sincerity, empathy and respect for others – qualities notably lacking.

Can narcissists change?

NPD represents maladaptive personality traits formed in childhood. Narcissistic patterns can start as adaptive coping strategies but become problematic over time. The pervasive, enduring nature of narcissism makes it challenging to change. However, growth is possible through intensive therapy.

Overcoming defensive mechanisms

Narcissism is reinforced by defense mechanisms like denial, distortion, and projection. The narcissist defends their fragile self-esteem by denying flaws, exaggerating strengths, and projecting blame. Progress requires breaking through these defenses.

Developing self-awareness

Therapy aims to increase self-awareness of narcissistic patterns and how they damage relationships. By recognizing their interpersonal impact, motivation may build for change. But progress is slow given limited self-reflection skills.

Working through underlying shame

Narcissism often develops as a mask against deep feelings of inadequacy and shame. Therapy addresses these vulnerabilities so the need for a superior facade lessens. As shame is worked through, genuine self-esteem can develop.

Building empathy

With effort, narcissists can learn cognitive empathy through coaching in therapeutic settings. Exercises build perspective taking and recognizing others’ emotions. But translating insights to real-world empathy remains challenging.

While difficult, if narcissists commit to intensive therapy over years, development of self-awareness, vulnerability tolerance, and empathy is possible. This enables kinder, less self-centered behavior patterns to emerge. But change requires tremendous time, effort, courage, and persistence.

Signs of growth and change

For narcissists sincerely dedicated to change, some signs of progress include:

  • Admitting faults and taking responsibility for hurtful behavior
  • Recognizing the validity of others’ perspectives
  • Apologizing and making amends for past actions
  • Tolerating criticism and reacting calmly
  • Expressing genuine interest in others’ lives
  • Being able to laugh at themselves and take jokes good-naturedly
  • Feeling fulfilled by emotionally intimate relationships
  • Finding validation from within, not needing constant external praise

Growth requires moving beyond a self-centered orientation to valuing interpersonal intimacy. With extensive self-work, narcissists can cultivate self-awareness, empathy, and a willingness to put others’ needs first. But change is an uphill battle against ingrained defenses.

In summary:

  • Mild narcissistic traits are common, while NPD is rarer and more severe.
  • Narcissists struggle with empathy but can care about select inner circle people.
  • They can mimic niceness through charm and flattery but lack sincerity.
  • Meaningful change is very difficult but possible with intensive therapy over years.
  • Progress involves increasing self-awareness, building empathy, and finding inner validation.

So in conclusion, while narcissists prioritize their own needs and struggle with being genuinely nice, change is possible. But it requires tremendous commitment to challenging therapeutic work. With that dedication, those on the narcissistic spectrum can cultivate self-awareness, empathy and considerateness. But for most, the egocentric patterns persist, limiting their capacity for sincerely kind behavior.