Why They Pretend to Be Someone They Aren’t
People with narcissistic and otherwise dark personality traits (hereafter narcissists) pretend to be many things by twisting the truth and creating falsehoods. This self-serving, self-referential behavior accomplishes a few things for them. For instance, by manipulating others into believing that the malignant narcissist is actually a good person, they can more easily achieve the results that they want. This is how they achieve power, influence, wealth, connections, sex, and so on. Pretending to be better than they genuinely are also lets them get away with abusing and hurting others.
On a deeper psychological level, denying and hiding their abusive, predatory, exploitative, and otherwise disturbing tendencies allows the malignant narcissist to regulate their shaky sense of self-esteem by getting narcissistic supply. They convince themselves and others that they are not responsible for their problematic behavior and, in doing so, they can preserve their fantasy that they are a good, strong, noble human being—much better than everybody else—while, in fact, they are rotten to the core, often beyond redemption.
How They Pretend to Be Noble Martyrs
In order to be perceived as a noble martyr, the malignant narcissist slowly constructs their image in the minds of others. Mostly, it involves lying about what they believe and what they did, do, or have done. They like to pretend that they have strong principles that they heroically follow, such as standing up for what’s right, speaking the truth, protecting others, or being kind and helpful.
In reality and to the detriment of others, they have no real principles and don’t really care about anything or anyone but their own needs. They are not decent people, they are pathological liars, they only protect themselves and other horrible people when it benefits them, and they routinely abuse and exploit those who are in need or in a disadvantaged position.
For instance, they claim to care about children but never do anything genuinely that would validate their claim. If they have done something, it is all about public image, posturing, and lying about how they care and what they’ve done. In their hearts, they don’t care about children at all, and may even defend child abuse or are child abusers themselves. These are the people who tell others about how caring they are, they may talk about donating money or time to noble causes involving children, but abuse their own children either openly or behind closed doors as soon as the opportunity presents itself. They are hypocrites of the highest order.
Or they say that they care about equality and justice, but if you observe them consistently, it becomes painfully obvious that they only say that when they themselves want exceptional treatment while pretending to be mistreated, all while they mock and bully actual victims of abuse. Or they exclaim how they believe in being generous and caring, and how much they help others while actually never helping anyone and only exploiting others, or saying it only to appeal to that virtue in others in order to manipulate them into giving the narcissist their resources.
What They Do When Caught
“For Your Own Good”
Sometimes it may take a while for the narcissist to get their comeuppance, but when they finally have to face the consequences of their horrible behavior, they usually have several predictable responses, some of which they have already used on those whom they have wronged.
One such tactic is claiming that it’s “for your own good,” or “out of love,” or “it’s all for you,” or “it hurts me more than you,” and so on. What it means is that you have misunderstood them. What appears to be harmful and manipulative behavior, is actually “loving” and “caring” behavior. You see, they did all it for you, and it was good, actually. It is a common way abusers dump responsibility on their victim.
“I’m the Real Victim Here”
Another tactic a malignant narcissist uses as a response to being held responsible is pretending to be the victim. Here, they pretend to be the one who is wronged. They try to obfuscate what actually happened by lying, deflecting, minimizing, smearing and attacking others, etc., often without even addressing the real issue at hand.
They talk about how they are martyrs because they just wanted what’s best for others, that they sacrificed so much for others, that they gave so much despite not being appreciated for it. They’re just so noble and self-sacrificing, and now they’re being punished for their virtuous, brave, and selfless actions that have benefited others so much. So. Much. Goodness.
And now they’re the victim of injustice because they were wrongfully accused and punished simply for being a noble, virtuous, and caring person. What injustice.
I write more about this in the article titled How Narcissists Play the Victim and Twist the Story.
Where It Happens and Its Consequences
We can encounter this manipulative behavior in families, schools, churches, and similar institutions where there’s a clear power disparity. Here, caregivers abuse children and other weaker members by justifying their behaviour out of love and care. It is also prevalent among cult leaders, in certain organizations and workplaces, in the helping, teaching, and self-help fields, and can even be observed in online celebrities, influencers, and communities, where there’s a clear cult-like dynamic psychologically. And, of course, it happens in romantic relationships and other daily interactions, too.
Besides the obvious negative consequences to the narcissist’s direct victims, who then have to heal from it for years sometimes, it can also have a broader societal effect. By representing a certain social category and abusing or otherwise taking advantage of others, narcissists make more people distrustful of others who share the same role or position in society.
Here, it hurts those who are truly caring, genuinely helpful, and are trying to make the world a better place. Narcissists damage people and society by spreading cynicism and mistrust, by being horrible people, which, consequently, makes others trust all members of certain categories of people less (e.g., psychologists, parents, doctors, teachers, internet celebrities, and so on).
Photo by Florian Schwalsberger