Crime and Punishment: The Never Repenting Narcissist

Frequently Asked Question # 57

The narcissistic personality is dissociative and discontinuous, split among the False and the True Self.

Consequently, when punished for his misdeeds, the narcissist feels hurt and shocked. He rages against the perceived injustice.

His sense of entitlement, his grandiose omnipotence, and his self-imputed immunity all suffer when the narcissist is held accountable.

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Do narcissists feel guilty and if so, do they ever repent?


The narcissist has no criminal intent (“mens rea”), though he may commit criminal acts (“acti rei”). He does not victimise, plunder, terrorise and abuse others in a cold, calculating manner. He does so offhandedly, as a manifestation of his genuine character. To be morally repugnant, one needs to be purposeful, to deliberate and contemplate the options and then to prefer evil to good, wrong over right. No ethical or moral judgement is possible without an act of choice.

The narcissist's perception of his life and his existence is discontinuous. The narcissist is a walking compilation of "personalities", each with its own personal history. The narcissist does not feel that he is, in any way, related to his former "selves". He, therefore, does not understand why he has to be punished for "someone else's" actions or inaction.

This "injustice" surprises, hurts, and enrages him.

The narcissist is taken aback by society's insistence that he should be held accountable and punished for his transgressions. He feels wronged, hurt, the victim of pettiness, bigotry, bias, discrimination and injustice. He rebels and rages. Unable to link his act (perpetrated, as far as he is concerned, by a previous phase of his self, alien to his "current" self) to its outcomes – the narcissist is constantly baffled. Depending upon how pervasive his magical thinking is, the narcissist may develop persecutory delusions making him the quarry of powers cosmic and intrinsically ominous. He may develop compulsive rites to fend off this impending threat.

The narcissist is an assemblage. He plays host to many personas. One of the personas is always in the "limelight". This is the persona, which interfaces with the outside world, and which guarantees an optimal inflow of Narcissistic Supply. This is the persona which minimises friction and resistance in the narcissist's daily dealings and, thus, the energy which the narcissist needs to expend in the process of obtaining his supply.

The "limelight persona" is surrounded by "shade personas". The latter are potential personas, ready to surface as soon as needed by the narcissist. Their emergence depends on their usefulness.

An old persona might be rendered useless or less useful by a confluence of events. The narcissist is in the habit of constantly and erratically changing his circumstances. He switches between vocations, marriages, "friendships", countries, residences, lovers, and even enemies with startling and dazzling swiftness. He is a machine whose sole aim is to optimise its input, rather than its output – the input of Narcissistic Supply.

To achieve its goal, this machine stops at nothing, and does not hesitate to alter itself beyond recognition. The narcissist is the true shape-shifter. To achieve ego-syntony (to feel good despite all these upheavals), the narcissist uses the twin mechanisms of idealisation and devaluation. The first is intended to help him to tenaciously attach to his newfound Source of Supply – the second to detach from it, once its usefulness has been exhausted.

This is why and how the narcissist is able to pick up where he left off so easily. It is common for a narcissist returns to haunt an old or defunct PNS (Pathological Narcissistic Space, the hunting grounds of the narcissist). This happens when a narcissist can no longer occupy – physically or emotionally – his current PNS.

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Consider a narcissist who is imprisoned or exiled, divorced or fired. He can no longer obtain Narcissistic Supply from his old sources. He has to reinvent and reshape a new PNS. In his new settings (new family, new country, different city, new neighbourhood, new workplace) he tries out a few personas until he strikes gold and finds the one that provides him with the best results - Narcissistic Supply aplenty.

But if the narcissist is forced to return to his previous PNS, he has no difficulty adjusting. He immediately assumes his old persona and begins to extract Narcissistic Supply from his old sources. The personas of the narcissist, in other words, bond with his respective PNS's. These couplets are both interchangeable and inseparable in the narcissist's mind. Every time he moves, the narcissist changes the narcissistic couplet: his PNS and the persona attached thereto.

Thus, the narcissist is spatially and temporally discontinuous. His different personas are mostly in "cold storage". He does not feel that they are part of his current identity. They are "stored" or repressed, rigidly attached to four-dimensional PNS's. We say "four dimensional" because, to a narcissist, a PNS is "frozen" both in space and in time.

This slicing of the narcissist's life is what stands behind the narcissist's apparent inability to predict the inevitable outcomes of his actions. Coupled with his inability to empathise, it renders him amoral and resilient - in short: a "survivor". His daredevil approach to life, his callousness, his ruthlessness, his maverick-ness, and, above all, his shock at being held accountable – are all partly the results of his uncanny ability to reinvent himself so completely.

Denial Mechanisms of Abusive Narcissists and Psychopaths

Abusers regularly deny the abuse ever took place – or rationalize their abusive behaviors. Denial is an integral part of the abuser's ability to "look at himself/herself in the mirror".

There are many types of denial. When confronted by his victims, most abusers tend to shift blame or avoid the topic altogether.

Total Denial

1. Outright Denial

Typical retorts by the abuser: "It never happened, or it was not abuse, you are just imagining it, or you want to hurt my (the abuser's) feelings."

2. Alloplastic Defense

Common sentences when challenged: "It was your fault, you, or your behavior, or the circumstances, provoked me into such behavior."

In other words: abusers blame the world - circumstances, other people - for their defeats, misfortune, misconduct, and failures (alloplastic defenses). The abuser firmly believes that his life is fully controlled by currents and persons over which and whom he has no influence whatsoever (external locus of control.)

Sometimes, the abuser would say: "I made a mistake because I am stupid", implying that his deficiencies and inadequacy are things he has no control over and cannot change. This is also an alloplastic defence because it abrogates responsibility.

Many abusers exclaim: "I misbehaved because I lost my temper." On the surface, this appears to be an autoplastic defence with the abuser assuming responsibility for his misconduct. But, it could be interpreted as an alloplastic defence, depending on whether the abuser believes that he can control his temper.

An individual's alloplastic and autoplastic defences should not be confused with blame and guilt which are social constructs for social control.

3. Altruistic Defense

Usual convoluted explanations: "I did it for you, in your best interests."

4. Transformative Defense

Recurring themes: "What I did to you was not abuse – it was common and accepted behavior (at the time, or in the context of the prevailing culture or in accordance with social norms), it was not meant as abuse."

Abusers frequently have narcissistic traits. As such, they are more concerned with appearance than with substance. Dependent for Narcissistic Supply on the community – neighbors, colleagues, co-workers, bosses, friends, extended family – they cultivate an unblemished reputation for honesty, industriousness, religiosity, reliability, and conformity.

Forms of Denial in Public

1. Family Honor Stricture

Characteristic admonitions: "We don't do dirty laundry publicly, the family's honor and repute must be preserved, what will the neighbors say?"

2. Family Functioning Stricture

Dire and ominous scenarios: "If you snitch and inform the authorities, they will take me (the abusive parent) away and the whole family will disintegrate."

Also Read

Is the Narcissist Legally Insane?

Narcissist vs. Psychopath

The Psychopath, Sociopath, and Antisocial

The Narcissist

The Psychopath

On Empathy

Narcissistic Immunity

Narcissism and Evil

The Accountable Narcissist

The Narcissist in Court

The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Discontinuous Narcissist

Narcissism in the Boardroom

Is the Narcissist Ever Sorry?

 Responsibility and Other Matters

Serial Killers as a Cultural Construct

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