How much you reveal about yourself depends on all sorts of variables.  How well do you know the other person?  Do you have time to explain what needs to be explained?  Is the topic necessary?  Do you want or need to invest emotionally in the other person?  In other words, while openness and authenticity can be good, discernment is needed.

Narcissists do not reveal key aspects about themselves, but for less pensive reasons.  Being secretive and sinister, they are constantly in service of oneself, and their revelations inevitably are part of a larger strategy for staying one-up over you.  With the False Self fully in charge, they are inclined toward dishonesty and cover-up.   What they reveal about themselves is often inconsistent with who they truly are.

You might ask: “Is it worth the risk to be chronically secretive and sneaky in your relationships?”  And if the narcissist were frank, the answer would be: “Yes, that’s how I choose to be.  Keeping secrets has plenty of advantages…at least for me!”

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the “advantages” narcissists seek as they keep secrets within primary relationships.

  1. They must maintain image control.  Secrets are part of a massive inclination toward image building.  As they interact, they harbor the thought: “You’ll know about me only as it suits my public relations campaign.”
  1. They like their deviousness.   Narcissists take delight knowing they are “pulling one over on you.”  They gain an emotional rush each time they find ways to keep an edge over you.
  1. They think they are setting boundaries.  Healthy boundaries are for the purpose of blending well with each other.  As individuals define who they are and educate one another about their standards, higher levels of coordination are possible.  What narcissists refer to as boundaries, though, are little more than thick, impenetrable walls that detract from relational harmony.
  1. They sidestep examining the shame that has filled them throughout the decades.  As they accuse others of being judgmental, they excuse themselves from openness.  In reality, they have already judged themselves.  Knowing there in much to dislike within, they cover up.
  1. Secrets allow them to maintain double standards.  As part of the shame game, narcissists cover up all sorts of priorities like: sexual aberrations, addictions, lack of reliability, money manipulations, pervasive selfishness, and general laziness.  They will call you out for the same issues while rationalizing that you are not entitled to know about their improprieties.
  1. They have no regard for you.  Many of their secrets are linked to behaviors and attitudes that diminish your quality of life.  Keeping you in the dark about pertinent matters is their way of indicating: “I truly don’t care about you.”
  1. Compromise and blending have been deemed unprofitable.  Narcissists recognize that the more you know about their pluses and minuses, the more the relationship will be on equal footing, and they want nothing to do with that.  Their secrets are part of the plan to remain falsely superior.
  1. They cannot trust.  Because they have a deep history of unresolved psychological pain, they feel temporarily soothed when they do not have to connect on a personal level. 

Let’s reiterate that high levels of openness require realistic discernment, but narcissists are not constituted in ways that allow that to happen. 

If relationships are to be minimally secretive, certain ingredients would need to be prioritized. 

While narcissists are not able to embrace the following ingredients, you can treasure them:

  • You can appreciate humanity’s inter-connectedness, creating a team mindset.
  • Dropping the cynicism accompanying secrets, you’ll have a better handle on anger in general.
  • You’ll feel psychologically clean as you have nothing in your life that you must hide.
  • Your egotism will be held in check, creating a greater appeal in your relationships.
  • Shunning phoniness, you’ll be able to respect yourself.
  • Being reliable, you’ll also become a giver of respect to others…which then is rewarding to you.

Everything you think, say, and do communicates something about who you are.  When secretive narcissists play major games with truth, they communicate: “I’m an unhappy, pain-riddled person who cannot manage relationships maturely.”  Despite the obvious down sides to being devious, they nonetheless rationalize how necessary it is, meaning they cannot be considered psychologically safe.

As you live differently, you can conclude: “It’s no secret that your secretiveness is both pitiable and unworkable.  I’ll a person who prioritizes integrity.  I’ll choose authenticity.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.