Do They Hear Themselves?

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The brazen character of the type of narcissist I characterize as grandiose can leave people around them wondering: do they hear themselves? Are they even aware of how others perceive them?

Some narcissists are prone to saying the most outrageous things. For example, they’ll say things that seem completely devoid of any sensitivity. Or they might say things that appear to demean and denigrate others. They’ll also say things that come across as inordinately boastful — extolling their brilliance, their special capabilities, their outstanding achievements. Many times the level of their braggadocio seems over the top. This leads others to wonder whether they really even hear themselves or appreciate how others perceive them when they’re carrying on about themselves. Many simply assume these egotistic characters lack awareness. While that might be true to a certain extent for a particular kind of narcissist, there is another kind of narcissist for whom awareness is not the issue at all. Some narcissists, unfortunately, are of the variety who are very aware but simply don’t care what others think or feel.

Several weeks ago I posted “Two Types of Narcissism and How to Tell the Difference” contrasting the vulnerable or “neurotic” variety and the grandiose or more purely character-disordered type of narcissist. While once we commonly believed narcissists were all the same, recent research has been confirming what many practicing clinicians have long suspected, namely that narcissistic individuals can vary considerably in their makeup. Vulnerable narcissists put on a front of confidence and self-importance while underneath it all they struggle with insecurity and a fragile self-image. These are the folks who always seem to need to prove their worth. And because they both need and value adulation, approval, and positive regard, it bothers them to think that in their bids to impress others they’ve somehow come across in a manner that has only invited disfavor. With grandiose narcissists, it’s a different story altogether. These are the folks who are already convinced of their own greatness and their “special” status, and they don’t need others to validate them. Not only do they care little what others think of them, but they also dismiss as ignorant or inferior those who don’t see things their way or who don’t hold them in the same high regard they already hold themselves. They are truly legends in their own mind, convinced of their superiority. If others don’t recognize their brilliance, greatness, etc., well, that’s just their problem!

Many years ago a couple on the verge of divorce came to see me for counselling. (As always, essential details of this story have been altered to preserve anonymity.) At the time, I was just beginning to realize that there must be a type of narcissism very different from the kind about which I’d always been taught. I was also beginning to realize that this type of narcissism might well be the more prevalent type in our culture of growing self-interest and entitlement. But it took this couple’s situation to provide me with the kind of confirmatory evidence I needed about grandiose narcissism.

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The husband in this marriage had engaged in several failed entrepreneurial schemes. But early on he’d also had one stunning and shining success — an enterprise that made him an incredible amount of money, most of which he recklessly spent in a self-indulgent manner. In his determination to repeat his success, he came up with a multitude of schemes, all of which failed miserably. Each time, he found someone or some impossible to anticipate circumstance responsible for his failure. After all, it couldn’t be him, the soundness of his plan, or the validity of his ideas! To me, it seemed particularly interesting that he was so willing to point the finger everywhere else when it came to his failures but also wanted all the credit, attributing absolutely nothing to good fortune, good luck, fortuitous timing, or especially, any “higher power.”

Despite the emotional and financial costs of his repeated entrepreneurial failures, and despite the fact that he’d turned down many potentially lucrative and stable employment opportunities, thanks in large measure to his wife securing a teaching job with good benefits (especially health insurance), this couple had managed to save enough money to pay down their substantial debts and set aside some funds to put their two sons through college. What was straining the marriage to the breaking point was that he now wanted to confiscate all those funds and mortgage themselves to the hilt to finance what would likely be the riskiest venture to date, and his wife was livid. She wasn’t just upset that he appeared to have little appreciation for what she’d done to hold things together or that he felt so little obligation to avail himself of all the stable income opportunities he’d been afforded over the past several years. What really upset her was that he both blamed and criticized her for not fully supporting him and his great plans. She was upset that when all was said and done, it always seemed to be about him. And she had had enough. She didn’t care if they made another million dollars. She wanted her home, her children’s welfare, and a husband to share her life with. She was content with what they had. But she had come to believe that the only thing that really mattered to him was restoring an image he’d seemed to crave all of his life. So, during their session, she let him know where she stood. Still, his manner of reply startled her. He went on and on about how he had done such great things, “making millions” in the process, which was why they had the very house they lived in and the creature comforts they enjoyed. Looking at me, she remarked “I don’t think he hears himself or how discounting of me he comes across.” So my confronting the real issue with him and his unabashed acknowledging yet utter dismissal of the concerns I expressed to him would be a major turning point for her. He was clearly telling her who he was, what his values were, and where his priorities lay. He was stating emphatically what he was willing to do in the service of his own desires in total indifference to the concerns of others. So, she would have a choice: remain in denial, or face the truth about him and firmly set and enforce necessary limits to regain control of her life. In the end, fortunately, she chose the latter.

For grandiose narcissists, it’s not so much that they don’t hear themselves, it’s that they don’t care much about hearing others. It’s all about them, what they want, and their image. While such an attitude is hard to fathom, the failure to accept this reality has been the doing-in of many a relationship. When it comes to the character-disturbed, as opposed to the more “neurotic” among us, it’s important to remember that it’s not that they don’t see, it’s that they disagree. It’s not that they’re not aware enough but that they don’t care enough. They hear themselves, alright. They just don’t value you enough to really hear you.

I explore this type of character disturbance in more detail in my books:

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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