Do Narcissists Feel Guilt? 4 Key Insights (2021)

8 min read

“Does my narcissist ex ever feel guilty about how they hurt me?” This is one of the most common questions that break-up coaches and therapists have to deal with.

This post aims at answering this question. By analyzing different insights on the topic, we provide you with the answer to the question, “Do narcissists feel guilt?”

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Let’s get right into it

Who is a Narcissist?

Short answer? Everyone.

According to psychologists, every human being possesses to some degree the characteristics of narcissism.

We all tend to have a sense of self-importance.

However, how inflated this sense of self-importance is what makes some people to be referred to as narcissists.

A narcissist is someone with an inflated sense of self-importance. Narcissists are self-centered, lack empathy and compassion for other people, and are often arrogant in thinking and behavior.

Types of Narcissists

However, not all narcissists are the same. There are two main broad categories of narcissists. These are:

  • Grandiose narcissism
  • Vulnerable narcissism

Grandiose Narcissism

Someone with grandiose narcissism tends to exaggerate their abilities, is highly manipulative, and has high self-esteem.

Vulnerable Narcissism

Someone with vulnerable narcissism has a sense of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

They do not have an inflated view about their abilities but instead feel that they are very inadequate for life or lack confidence in themselves.

While they may want recognition, vulnerable narcissists tend to be withdrawn and act in a passive-aggressive way towards most people.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

At its extreme level, narcissism is considered a psychological disorder referred to as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with narcissistic personality disorder  tend to have an extreme sense of self-importance, a preoccupation with unlimited power, intelligence, or beauty, and a high sense of entitlement. Other traits associated with NPD include:

  • A need for excessive admiration
  • Arrogant behaviors
  • Exploitative attitude and behavior towards others
  • A belief that one is special.

Now that you know who a narcissist is and the types of narcissists, let’s see why narcissists are so hurtful.

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Why are Narcissists So Hurtful?

One of the reasons narcissists do what they do is because life has been unfair to them.

Just as a person who becomes physically disabled due to an accident or illness, someone becomes psychologically disabled after suffering from neglect and abuse during early childhood.

Most people diagnosed with NPD use narcissism as a defense mechanism.

Once a narcissist senses the possibility of a terrible experience occurring to him, their defense mechanism kicks in.

While in this state, this person doesn’t feel any empathy, shame, or remorse since these emotions are likely to act as a weakness.

Without these feelings, a narcissist can act in a hurtful manner without feeling regret or shame.

And that’s not all!

Due to past experiences, a narcissist may feel inadequate or inferior. To compensate for this, a narcissist may become arrogant, disdainful, and critical to people around them.

Inner shame and insecurities may also contribute to the sense of entitlement that narcissists feel. By convincing themselves that they are superior and need better treatment, narcissists hide insecurities and any signs of inner shame.

Now that you know why narcissists act the way they do, let’s see whether their action results in feelings of guilt, shame, or remorse. But before we discuss whether a narcissist feels guilty, let’s first understand what guilt means.

What is Guilt?

Psychology Today defines guilt as a self-conscious emotion that entails reflecting on oneself.

According to the same article, guilt is a natural emotional response that occurs when we act against our core values.

When you violate your core values, your subconscious mind sends you signals to help you keep you on track. These signals are what result in guilt.

But if an action isn’t against your core values, your brain doesn’t send guilt signals.

This is why one person will feel guilty after cheating on their spouse, and another won’t feel anything since fidelity isn’t among their core values.

So, do narcissists feel guilt?

Do Narcissists feel Guilt?

Do Narcissists Feel Guilt?

Insight 1: Narcissists are Less Likely to Feel Guilt.

Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that narcissists don’t feel guilt.

If you’ve ever interacted with a narcissist, you know that they’re capable of hurting people without thinking twice.

How could such a person feel guilty?

A 2018 study on whether narcissists are prone to guilt and shame helped reinforce this central insight on narcissists and feeling guilt.

According to the study, people with both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are less likely to experience guilt.

The main reason why most narcissists aren’t likely to feel guilt is that they lack empathy. This lack of empathy results in a person being less agreeable, self-centered, and irresponsible.

Based on this fact, the study concludes that narcissists are more likely to act in unethical behavior with less likelihood to change.

So, if you hope your narcissist boyfriend will feel guilty and hopefully change their behavior for the better, this first study tells you not to get your hopes up.

Insight 2: Narcissists Feel Guilt

The 2018 study isn’t the only insight on the impact of narcissism on guilt.

Some argue that narcissists can feel both guilt and shame.

One of these is Magnus Van Agteren, an individual clinically diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. Magnus argues that it’s possible for narcissists to feel guilt, remorse, and shame.

Using personal examples, he explains that he feels guilty for being too harsh on an underling at work and unintentionally misleading others.

He argues that most people see narcissists as pure evil, hence don’t think they can feel guilt.

But according to Magnus, narcissists do feel guilt. The problem is that they find it hard to get out of the hurtful patterns that have been ingrained into them over time.

Once a narcissist becomes aware of these patterns and works towards addressing them, it becomes possible for them to feel guilty and to consider their actions towards others.

Insight 3: Narcissists Feel Guilt in Retrospect

Has a narcissist ex ever texted you that they were sorry for treating you so horribly?

While they may be trying to manipulate you, some people feel guilty when they think about how they treat others.

As explained above, a narcissist does hurtful things as a defense mechanism. When a narcissist senses that someone is about to hurt them, they switch off disadvantageous emotions such as empathy, shame, guilt, and remorse.

Without these emotions, this person can do the most hurtful things to people they claim to love.

However, once the narcissist relaxes and goes back to normal functioning, these emotions come back, making them feel guilt in retrospect.

It’s at this moment that your narcissist ex texts you to tell you that they miss you.

Insight 4: Narcissists Feel Guilt When It’s Beneficial to Them

A narcissist could also feel guilty when the benefit outweighs the cost.

Most narcissists rarely admit mistakes. They’ll hurt you but might not apologize and often take a defensive attitude.

However, when the cost of admitting and apologizing for a mistake is smaller than the intended return, most narcissists will show guilt and remorse. For example, a narcissistic boss might do something that affects a business relationship with a client.

If the boss notices that their actions may result in losing a valuable client, they may feel guilty and apologize for their mistake.

And due to the cost, the narcissist boss isn’t likely to make the same mistake again.

Basically, to a narcissist, guilt is usually part of a calculated formula.

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Do Narcissists Feel Guilt? FAQ

Do Narcissists Feel Regret?

Most people’s knee-jerk reaction to this question would be a “NO.”

And they may be right. If a narcissist has hurt you, it may be impossible to convince you that a narcissist feels regret. How could someone with zero empathy feel any regret?

However, as explained above, narcissists may feel regret and guilt when they realize that their actions could hurt them. This is also when they might do something to make amends (e.g., by apologizing or doing favors for you).

A narcissist who’s also aware of their negative habits and patterns could also regret when they think about all the people they could have hurt.

Do Narcissists Ever Feel Remorse?

One of the main reasons people think that their narcissistic ex doesn’t feel guilt and remorse is that they rarely apologize.

They do this to avoid looking weak. Plus, they also see themselves as above others and believe that apologizing will make them look bad in the eyes of other people around them.

However, after inflicting harm on someone, a narcissist might realize their mistake, resulting in feelings of remorse. However, they may not show it to you as this will make them appear weak.

Do Narcissists feel Guilt
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Do Narcissists Know They are Hurting You?

Yes!

In most cases, a narcissist knows that they are hurting you. However, they don’t care. Most narcissists believe that the world revolves around them. Due to this fact, they may see people as objects to be used.

So, they may not care if they hurt you.

A narcissist may also act in hurtful ways as a defense mechanism. As explained in this article, a narcissist shuts downs emotions such as guilt, empathy, and compassion when angry.

They may not notice that they are hurting you during this time and will only realize it once they are off their defense mode.

What Emotions do Narcissists Feel?

Narcissists feel a whole range of emotions.

Psychological studies reveal that most narcissists are extremely sensitive. They do feel emotions such as fear, love, sadness, and even shame.

However, they do not show them in most cases. A narcissist may only do so when it’s beneficial to their image or self-esteem.

However, emotions such as empathy are a bit harder to come by for most narcissists, which is why people assume that they don’t experience any emotions.

How do Narcissists Feel When You Move On?

Narcissists have a certain sense of self-importance. They manipulate their partners to keep this sense of superiority.

However, once you move on, a narcissist ex loses this self-importance. It’s at this point that your narcissist ex might try to contact you in a bid to regain their control.

Do Narcissists Regret Losing You?

Yes! A narcissist will regret losing you.

However, such regret only comes after a while. When a narcissist notices their mistake, they may try to win you back.

But since you know better, don’t get back to them.

How to Make a Narcissist Feel Guilty

If you want to make a narcissist feel guilty, do so strategically.

For example, if your narcissistic ex cheated on you and now wants back into the relationship, do not let that happen. Otherwise, they will think it’s okay for them to do whatever they like without repercussions which means hurting other people.

So do not let them off the hook. Make sure that they understand what their actions mean and how it affects other people’s lives too.

And if you’re looking for more ways to make a narcissist feel guilty and panic, check out this article on tips on how to make a narcissist panic.

Do Narcissists Feel Love?

Yes! Narcissists do feel love.

However, they do not love healthily.

Firstly, narcissists do not see themselves as equals to other people and instead put themselves above everyone else.

They only feel the need to protect those useful for them or whom they can use in their quest for power and control over others. So, when they do feel love, they do not do it in a healthy way.

Want to learn more about how to deal with narcissists, check out our article on how to talk to a narcissist.

Any Further Questions?

There you go.

Four insights on whether narcissists feel guilt. Which of these insights best describe a narcissist you know?

Do you know of any other insights on whether narcissists feel guilt?

Please tell us in the comment section below.

And if you have any questions regarding the topic of narcissism and guilt, please ask in the comment section below. I’ll be happy to answer any question asked.

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