tl;dr It’s usually a personality disorder designed to protect them from abuse whose aversion to trauma is so powerful that they are locked in their harmful behaviour and they should be kept at the very least at arms’ length and in conversations that have very limited scope and rigid boundaries. It’s important not to let them get you doubting yourself or feeling bad for not being able to find a convincing argument to counter theirs. They often start arguments just to make your lose your cool or make you feel powerless and get the upper hand. They’re locked in a vicious circle created by trauma and nothing you do will ever change that or change how they treat you. Labelling them as “bad” does nothing to help you. It’s best to walk away and forget them. Their life is already worse than anything you could wish on them.
Personality disorders are most often a response to trauma. And narcissistic personality disorder is almost impossible to cure because it tends to cause the person afflicted with NPD to play mind games with therapists. It’s a really awful personality disorder. Sadly, it means that whilst their interpersonal communication skills are top-notch from a marketing/PR perspective their relationships tend to be very superficial and built on finding a supply to feed their ego with in a vain attempt to feel better about themselves. They’re really tied up quite tightly by their personality disorder and it’s almost impossible to treat NPD because narcissists play mind games with therapists and aren't capable of being vulnerable enough for therapy to be helpful.
Unfortunately, society not only normalises narcissistic behaviour (whilst also shunning and blaming victims of trauma) but it encourages it. Capitalism is a narcissist’s dream because the only rule is “Die with the most toys.” The only way to deal with a person suffering from narcissistic personality disorder is to stop feeding it by reducing your contact with them and limiting their ability to do harm in your workplace.
I personally have struggled with narcissistic abuse from my family as well as landlords and roommates and I believe that cutting them off was the best decision I ever made. It became crystal clear that they were only arguing with me to get me to lower myself to their level and fight back and had no interest in actually discussing or resolving the issue they were raising. They were just systematically going through a list of my insecurities and seeing what would make me lose my cool which is their only goal. It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so sad. And they did it because I tried to hold them to the same standard that they held me to. They were triggered. And I realised that all of the nice things they did for me was grooming and something to put in the bank and use as emotional blackmail later. I was finally able to see that nothing they did or said had anything to do with anything that was “wrong” with me and everything to do with this personality disorder they were trapped in. It was freeing but it also made me sad that there was really nothing I could do to break them out of it. In a way, NPD is similar to OCD because the compulsion they have for self-preservation, which includes their very fragile ego, will, like capitalism, will stop at nothing to keep their heads above water regardless of ethics.
I feel like hating narcissists is a waste of my energy and the best strategy is to see them for the disabled people that they are (which require accepting that personality disorders, as well as all mental health challenges, are a valid and significant disability and not a sign of weakness or something that simply involves making better choices), stop engaging with their mind games by limiting the information you give them and the scope of your conversations in general and adjusting your expectations.
Unmet expectations are the source of many bad feelings and, where they concern narcissists, will be a perpetual thing especially since they love to bait and switch people. That is not to say that narcissists shouldn’t face consequences for what they’ve done but there should be no expectation that there will be remorse for anything except getting caught. Some are even proud of how many people they have abused. To paint narcissists as villains who "should know better" and "should act better" but just choose not to is like telling a bulimic person all they need to do is stop binging and purging. Not only is it ableist, but it involves giving your power away to them by waiting for them to change and letting their choices dictate your emotional state. The best way to take back your power is to stop playing their game, take a big step back and see them for who they really are:
A person whose brain decided that the best response to their trauma and their best defense against more trauma is to:
- rope people in with charm and nice gestures which turn gets used to blackmail their prey
- start arguments for the sake of making others angry or scared or sad but with no intention of actually having a good faith debate when they’re unhappy so they can feel powerful
- gaslight people and make them doubt themselves and their grasp on reality which makes the narcissist even more powerful and
- to ignore any appeals to empathy or ethics despite expecting others to be ethical, compliant and empathetic because they view empathy as a weakness that can be exploited which would allow more trauma to occur and which is why they’re like this in the first place and they view compliance with rules and ethics to not only be beneath them but as a form of surrender that their trauma has made very scary and is, therefore, something they have a very high and thick wall around.
It’s unlikely that a narcissist will ever reveal their trauma to anyone, assuming they haven’t repressed it altogether, because they’re ashamed of it and they blame their now-disabled empathy and trust in authority figures for it.
All in all. narcissistic personality disorder is really just an awful and impenetrable prison/vicious cycle narcissists are locked in and cannot break out of because their drive to avoid trauma is their most powerful instinct which makes it impossible for them to ever to be vulnerable enough to get help. We cannot ever expect them to change because they only change temporarily to suck you right back in so they can continue to play with you. We can only see them for who they are and limit our contact with them and be very rigid about boundaries when we have no choice but to interact with them.