Morality is a necessary ingredient for those seeking to blend well with others.  In general, we each need a fundamental appreciation of right versus wrong.  As we ground ourselves in a well-conceived value system, we are poised to develop discernment and consideration.  

Narcissists struggle in setting their moral compass since they are prone to extremes. 

On one end of the moral spectrum, some insist upon an overly rigid adherence to rules.  Acting as self-appointed judges, they can be unbending and insistent as they emphasize duty and obligation.  Conformity is paramount.  On the other end of the spectrum, narcissists can be reflexively rebellious against any imposition of moral values.  They operate with the attitude: “No one tells me what to do.”  Embracing non-conformity, they are guided by simmering anger, strongly resisting any rule that might inhibit their cravings of the moment.  Defiance is paramount.

Then, complicating matters, some narcissists flip between the two extremes, sometimes acting as the moral police, while at other times pushing against the very rules they pretend to represent.

With either extreme, an “us versus them” mindset is very strong.  Narcissists illustrate an almost complete inability to accommodate the many nuances undergirding personalities, and they can quickly turn relational transactions into contests for control.

Narcissists inevitably and repeatedly illustrate how fixated they are in pre-adolescent thinking.  Being indoctrinated early with powerful teachings about “should and supposed to,” they presumed that morality is tied to a system of shame.  The judgmental narcissists determine to become the givers of shame, while the rebellious narcissists will mock shame messages.  And those who float between the two extremes illustrate how they have learned to play both sides against the other.

Lost on narcissists is the why of maintaining standards and values.  Either extreme is typified by a lack of pensive, analytical thinking about the purpose of moral codes.

For morality to be beneficial, two ingredients are necessary:

  1. Empathy.  Inside any relationship it is helpful to ask: “Who is this person in front of me?  What needs, desires, and motives drive them?  How can I parlay my understanding of this person into choices that will enhance goodness and civility?”
  1. A sense of community.  We can seek balance between the pursuit of individual preferences and standards while simultaneously appreciating the freedom that is required for each person to buy into the greater good.

Perhaps the best trait that undergirds morality is conscientiousness, which is typified by thoughtfulness toward others when pursuing personal initiatives.

The pattern of narcissism is antithetical to morality since it is grounded in self-absorption.  These individuals have such a powerful attitude of entitlement, accompanied by a willingness to exploit, that their moral compass is haywire. They are imbalanced since they persistently connive to gain an advantage over those who differ.  They are also held captive by the False Self, meaning they are secret keepers who are not trustworthy.  Likewise, being compatible is elusive since they are emotional reactors who cannot contain emotional urges.  

All the while, narcissists think of themselves as the ones who should actually tell others how life should be prioritized.  Trying to agree upon a considerate middle ground is virtually impossible.

That understood, let’s consider some guiding thoughts associated with a viable moral compass:

  • Open-mindedness is essential.  Within any relationship system, individuals will be prone toward differing preferences and tendencies.  We are each the result of many influences arising from cultural, familial, social, and religious patterns.  We each have been impacted by successes, failures, pain, and joy.  So, as we attempt to blend, such nuances need to be appreciated.
  • Balance is needed regarding conformity.  A certain amount of conformity is required as individuals seek harmony.  Not every impulse or desire will be perfectly satisfied since one person’s preferences could interfere with another’s inclinations.  Self-restraint is built into moral codes.  That said, obedience is ruined when it is tied to rigid commandments.  Free choice has its place as we attempt to blend.
  • Appreciate the fluidity of standards.  Some moral principles or societal norms shift over time.  For instance, interracial marriages are now more prominent than fifty years ago, or families can change opinions about alcohol or tobacco habits, or beliefs about divorce.  While narcissists struggle to flow with changes, balanced individuals can adjust.
  • Understand that morality is much more than regulatory.  In its best sense, morality is tied to a yearning to love and honor others.  When it flows from the heart, morality is seen as a privilege, not just a duty.

As you approach the topic of morality, the most prominent challenge is not in declaring right from wrong, but in knowing how to apply wisdom as you discern right from wrong.  That requires contemplation and maturity.  Narcissists lack those traits, but you can make them central as you calibrate your moral compass.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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