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How to Look Behind a Narcissist’s Facade

People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder tend to have distorted worldviews and dwell behind shiny but flimsy facades.

Believing others are their enemies, narcissists are suspicious and live endlessly on defense. To cope, they manipulate, test others, posture, preen and construct elaborate facades for self-protection and self-aggrandizement.

Needing to appear better than anyone else, narcissists seek praise and admiration from others. When it is not forthcoming, narcissists simply praise themselves.

Desperate to win, they view themselves as superior and hold others as less-than. At the same time, they hide, attack or distract from anything or anyone that would put them in a bad light.

As blogger Karla Grimes wrote, “A narcissist paints a picture of themselves as being the victim or innocent in all aspects. They will be offended by the truth. But what is done in the dark will come to light. Time has a way of showing people’s true colors.”

It can take some work, but to effectively cope with narcissists, it is important to see through their deceptions and pretenses.

Here is a table listing some of the key views narcissists hold of themselves versus others on several traits, followed by some truths about narcissists:

How narcissists view themselves

How narcissists view others

In truth, narcissists tend to be

Blameless At fault Troublemakers
Winners Losers Cheaters
Superior Inferior Dysfunctional
In the know Clueless Confused
Gifted Flawed Deeply wounded
Right Wrong Liars
Content Troublesome Irritable
Adored Undeserving Desperate for attention
Smart Stupid Myopic
Strong Weak Needy
Desirable Undesirable Disliked
Clever Ignorant Phony
Special Unimportant Pretentious
Magnanimous Lacking Petty
Worthy Unworthy Obnoxious
In control Inept Manipulative

Author and advocate Tina Swithin wrote, “I am convinced there is a Narc-ish dictionary or manual hidden deep in a dark, musty hole somewhere in a faraway land with step-by-step instructions on how to inflict fear, confusion and despair. . . . Their secret language can only be decoded by those who aren’t fooled by the narcissist’s stealth ability to inflict confusion and chaos with it.”

To decode narcissistic behavior, think of a narcissist you know. Observe or remember a situation involving that narcissistic person. Then refer to this chart. Ask yourself:

  1. Do the narcissist’s words and actions seem designed to portray one or more of the positive qualities in the left-hand column?
  2. Do the narcissist’s attitudes about or treatment of others seem to mirror one or more of the negative views in the middle column?
  3. As you step back and reflect on the situation or interaction, looking beyond the narcissist’s posturing, does the underlying truth match one or more of the qualities in the right-hand column?

If you are unsure about the third question, simply scan down the entire left-hand column, then scan the entire right-hand column. Ask yourself: Which column of descriptors better describes who the narcissist really is?

As Gloria Steinem said, “The truth will set you free — but first it will piss you off.”

Truth/lie photo by Bakhtiar Zein
Happy free person by Austin Schmid / Unsplash

How to Look Behind a Narcissist’s Facade

Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

Dan Neuharth, PhD, is a marriage and family therapist and best-selling author based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has more than 25 years’ experience providing individual, couples and family therapy. Dr. Neuharth is the author of If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. He writes two blogs for PsychCentral: Love Matters and Narcissism Decoded. He is licensed as a marriage and family therapist in California, Florida, Texas and Virginia. His website:

Please note: Dr. Neuharth's posts are for information and educational purposes only. These posts are not intended to be therapy or professional psychotherapeutic advice, and are not a replacement for psychotherapy. I cannot give psychotherapeutic advice about your individual situation outside of a therapist-client relationship. The posting of these blogs and the information therein does not constitute the formation of a therapist-client relationship. Please consult your physician or mental health provider for individual advice or support for your health and well-being. If you are in crisis, please call your local 24-hour crisis or mental health hotline or dial 911.

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APA Reference
Neuharth, D. (2017). How to Look Behind a Narcissist’s Facade. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Aug 2017
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