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What do narcissists lack?

Narcissism is a personality disorder 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 to exploit relationships for personal gain. Underneath their grandiose facade, narcissists often struggle with deep-seated insecurities and fears of inadequacy. What exactly is it that narcissists lack that drives their problematic behaviors?

Lack of empathy

One of the core deficits in narcissistic personality disorder is a lack of empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Narcissists struggle to see beyond their own desires, needs, and feelings. They are often oblivious or indifferent to how their behaviors affect other people. Narcissists may even exploit and manipulate others in pursuit of their own self-serving agendas. This lack of empathy allows them to mistreat people without remorse. Healthy relationships require mutuality, compromise, and consideration of a partner’s needs – things that are difficult for narcissists because of their empathy deficit.

Fragile self-esteem

Although narcissists outwardly act arrogant and self-assured, they are often masking deep insecurities and fragile self-esteem. Their bombastic public persona is an attempt to convince themselves and others that they are special and superior. In reality, narcissists lack a solid sense of identity and a stable self-image. Their self-esteem is highly dependent on external praise, success, and recognition. Any criticism, failure, or lack of attention can be devastating. Narcissists’ fragility necessitates that they uphold their inflated self-image at all costs, leading to extreme defensiveness and efforts to self-promote.

Feelings of emptiness

Narcissists often feel a sense of emptiness or hollowness inside. Their flashy external personas conceal an inner void. No matter how successful, wealthy, attractive or accomplished the narcissist is, they remain dissatisfied. Narcissists lack a strong sense of self, so they struggle to feel comfort with who they are inside. Their ceaseless boasting and competitive drive to outdo others are vain attempts to fill their inner emptiness. But money, fame, beauty, and praise only provide temporary relief from core feelings of worthlessness. Narcissists are unable to develop a solid sense of identity from within, so they relentlessly chase external markers of achievement and superiority.

Inability to bond

Narcissists are unable to form deep, meaningful bonds with others. Their relationships tend to be exploitative, devoid of intimacy, and limited in emotional depth. Narcissists lack fundamental relationship skills like compromise, vulnerability, and reciprocity. They are too focused on themselves to engage in open, honest exchanges with a partner. Narcissists’ emotional withdrawal and game-playing cause relationships to become cold and distant. They struggle to be authentic and present with a romantic partner, which prevents true bonding. Their sense of superiority also keeps them from showing affection, valuing others, and committing long-term. Narcissists tend to eventually devalue and discard romantic partners once the intimacy requirements become too great.

Addiction and substance abuse

There is a strong link between narcissism and addiction. Narcissists are more likely to develop addictions to substances like alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling and shopping. These addictive behaviors provide a powerful, immediate method to regulate their fragile self-esteem and inner emptiness. Substance abuse can numb narcissists against feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy. Addictive behaviors also allow narcissists to avoid introspection, maintain their fantasies of superiority, and cope with interpersonal problems. However, relying on addiction forfeits genuineness. Narcissists lacking in authenticity and inner purpose are vulnerable to compulsive, self-destructive addiction patterns.

Difficulty with failure or criticism

Healthy adults can accept failure and criticism without falling apart or lashing out. But for narcissists, any kind of failure or critique is devastating because it shatters their fragile self-image of perfection. Narcissists lack internal resilience and the ability to self-soothe. They rely entirely on others for validation, so negative feedback or failure is utterly intolerable. Even constructive criticism can be perceived as a personal attack. Narcissists’ inability to handle anything less than praise leads them to blame others, retaliate against critics, exaggerate accomplishments, and distort facts to cast themselves in an unrealistically positive light.

Inability to take accountability

Narcissists struggle to take accountability for mistakes and misdeeds. Their egocentrism leads them to blame others and externalize fault when anything goes wrong. Even if someone has concrete proof of a narcissist’s wrongdoing, the narcissist will insist they did nothing wrong or somehow justify their actions. Narcissists lack humility and the inner maturity to admit fault. Taking accountability requires vulnerability and ownership of one’s impact on others – things that are impossible for narcissists who avoid the shame of being wrong at all costs. Narcissists’ refusal to accept responsibility makes it very challenging to have adult conflict resolution.

Lack of emotional regulation

Problems with emotional regulation and coping are common in narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists may fly into rages or sink into depressive episodes when their ego is threatened. Minor frustrations provoke intense, disproportionate emotional reactions. Their outbursts can seem unhinged and unreasonable to outside observers, but make sense when considering the fragility of the narcissist’s self-concept. Narcissists lack the ability to calm themselves down, work through emotional hurt, or sit with painful feelings. They may try to repress rage or hurt through substance abuse. Their rollercoaster emotions and knee-jerk reactions are signs of a poorly regulated internal landscape.

Feelings of boredom

Narcissists often complain of feeling bored in relationships. They quickly become dissatisfied with new partners, jobs, groups, or activities that formerly interested them. Narcissists lack the attention span for routine daily tasks and commitments. Their thrill-seeking ways lead them to constantly pursue excitement – even at the cost of stable relationships. What underlies their perpetual boredom is an inability to appreciate simplicity. Life always has to be aggrandized and dramatized. Normal activities, household duties, and steady companionship bore them because it fails to adequately inflate their egos. Narcissists live in a state of restless search for validation and stimulation from the external world.

Inability to trust

Narcissists have a lifelong pattern of broken relationships and disappointments that lead them to distrust and avoid intimacy. Getting to know a narcissist on a deeper level is virtually impossible because they are so guarded and fearful of being betrayed, criticized, or abandoned. Narcissists sabotage relationships with their need to control everything and compel admiration. In the process, they destroy the very intimacy they crave. Learning to trust another person requires vulnerability, honesty, and empathy – all things that do not come naturally to narcissists. Their own destructive behaviors and distorted thinking are largely to blame for their pervasive feelings of distrust.

Sense of entitlement

Narcissists possess an excessive sense of entitlement. They firmly believe they deserve special treatment, glory, prestige, high social status, admiration, and compliance with their expectations. Of course, all human beings deserve basic rights, but narcissists have grandiose notions about what they should receive from the world without necessarily earning it. Their inflated sense of deserving leads them to exploit others, overstep boundaries, make unreasonable demands, and become enraged when others do not accommodate them. Beneath this sense of entitlement lies insecurity – narcissists overcompensate by feeling they deserve disproportionately high status and recognition.

Extreme self-focus

Narcissism essentially means self-love. Narcissists exhibit an extreme, nearly exclusive focus on themselves and what benefits or impacts them personally. They filter everything through the lens of how it affects them rather than considering the broader perspective. Their self-absorption is evident in conversations where they monopolize airtime and steer discussions back to themselves. Their selfishness means they put their needs and desires first most of the time. Narcissists lack the mature coping mechanisms and perspective-taking to break out of this self-centered focus and consider what others are experiencing.

Fragile ego

Though they seem arrogant on the surface, narcissists actually have quite fragile egos. Any perceived threat to their grandiose self-image can provoke intense rage reactions. Even well-intentioned, minor criticisms make narcissists feel inadequate or defective. Their equilibrium is thrown off easily by challenges or negative feedback. Narcissists can dish out criticisms and insults, but they cannot handle even a taste of their own medicine. Their fragile ego is protected by a defensive shell of false bravado that lashes out or shuts down when facing anything that makes them feel flawed, unimportant, or imperfect.

Extreme competitiveness and envy

Narcissists have an excessive need to compete and win. They are constantly comparing themselves to others and seeking evidence of superiority. Even within their own families and social circles, they vie for supremacy and attention. When narcissists are outperformed or someone else receives accolades, they become envious. But the envy is not admiration that motivates self-improvement – it is bitterness over the fact that they were outshone. Narcissists cannot stand for anyone else to take center stage and eclipse them in some area of life. Anyone who demonstrates excellence or receives praise for an accomplishment is seen as threatening competition.

Lack of authenticity

Authenticity involves owning all aspects of oneself – both good and bad. Narcissists reject the parts of themselves that feel shameful, weak, or unimpressive. They exaggerate their positive qualities and deny negative traits. When you meet a narcissist, you are really only seeing their ‘false self’ – the exaggerated, manufactured persona they have crafted. There is a big disconnect between this outward image and the real person within. Narcissists also appropriate other people’s stories, credentials, and interests in an attempt to be more impressive. Underneath their pretentious facade, they feel inadequate and phony. Their posturing conceals a lost inner self.

Emptiness and sadness

Though narcissists seem upbeat and arrogant, many secretly suffer from pervasive sadness and gloominess. Their lives tend to become emotionally empty. They spin through meaningless experiences in futile attempts to feel admired and significant, only to end up feeling hollow inside. The emptiness often manifests as depression or mood swings. Narcissists lack a strong values system; their only real commitment is to themselves. Without a clear purpose guiding their choices, their lives can quickly lose meaning. Beneath the surface, narcissists wrestle with sorrow that no applause or distinction can cure.


In summary, despite their grandiose posturing, narcissists struggle with debilitating inner vulnerabilities like fragile self-esteem, extreme sensitivity to criticism, rageful reactions to perceived slights, an inability to genuinely connect with others, and difficulty feeling fulfilled internally. Their development was likely arrested at an immature stage of emotional growth, stunting their capacity for empathy, accountability, emotional depth and intimacy. Sadly, the things narcissists lack imprison them in a lonely, shallow existence. Though prone to self-deception outwardly, deep down most narcissists realize that money, fame, status, and acclaim ultimately fail to create a purposeful, joyful life.