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What Do Narcissists Want?

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When most people hear the term “narcissist,” they’re not asking themselves, “What do narcissists want?”  They’re envisioning someone who talks about themselves too much or takes a lot of selfies.  

That’s obvious, they’re likely thinking. Narcissists want attention.

So the stereotype goes. These traits are essentially harmless and may even be amusing when portrayed in pop culture.

However, some narcissists carry other more sinister traits.  

Pathological narcissists lie excessively, wear different masks around different people, have secret lives, and fake positive emotions.

The heart of narcissistic abuse is the deliberate manipulation of others into willingly making themselves vulnerable enough so that they can be exploited. It results in an extraordinary amount of psychological damage.

It all sounds very Shakespearean.

And yet, still, it remains difficult to explain narcissistic abuse to someone who has never been in a relationship with a narcissist. 

How do you explain what someone gets out of exploiting people when there’s nothing to gain other than someone’s dignity and humanity? 

We have no frame of reference in our culture for that type of abuse. Abuse, to be abuse, must be direct. Abusers punch, insult, coerce sexual behavior, stalk, and harass. 

They don’t play mind games. At least–not according to the way we define abuse. 

The Film Version of What Narcissists Want

We can turn to hundreds of Hollywood films for understanding some of what narcissistic sociopaths do. 

For example, two graphic films, Natural Born Killers and The Wolf of Wall Street, were both so successful at portraying narcissistic sociopaths who respectively killed and conned money out of innocent people, that the movies were accused of glorifying the behavior. [Read Watch These Movies about Narcissists]

But where in pop culture do we turn to understand how and why narcissists prey upon people’s minds and emotions?

Narcissistic abuse is not just about being a player.

It’s not just about breaking someone’s heart.

It’s not even just about someone who has a temper problem and lashes out abusively.

“Somebody being an asshole is not a personality disorder.  If somebody is being an asshole consistently every moment of the day through multiple contexts and multiple scenarios even when you’re saying, ‘Please stop being an asshole, it hurts and you’re ruining my life,’ that’s a personality disorder.” – Richard Grannon

I mean, what is it that narcissists, as psychological abusers, even do?  And, more importantly, why do it at all?  What do they get out of it?

Larceny without a Story

We can also understand intellectually that those who have the desire to kill and hurt others may have one of many motivations: they desire vengeance, may stand to gain something through someone else’s murder, or maybe they, perversely, enjoy it.  

Swindlers, we understand, con people out of their money. 

We at least have a mental construct that provides reasons for what they do even while we are disgusted with the behavior and can’t put ourselves in their minds.

However, the things survivors endure in pathological love relationships–double lives, love bombing, brainwashing, smear campaigns, gaslighting, hoovering, silent treatments, trauma bonding, and so many other abuses– comprise a mystifying and horrifying-sounding jargon that, from an outsider’s perspective, likely seems dramatic and outrageous. [See The Narcissistic Abuse Dictionary to review unfamiliar terms]

The survivors come from all over the world and the stories of what they survived may differ, these same tactics appear again and again. 

Yet we have no socially-recognized go-to blueprint for explaining what happened to us and why much less for understanding it ourselves. 

It’s like a black hole exists where our experiences are concerned.

One of the reasons that socialized psychopaths are so successful is that normal people don't believe that such evil exists.

One of the reasons that socialized psychopaths are so successful is that normal people don’t believe such evil exists.

What Do Narcissists Want?

One of the keys to explaining the harm narcissists cause is to explain what it is they want. 

Is it just that they get pleasure out of watching the chaos around them when they triangulate people against one another?  Do they enjoy seeing people in emotional pain? 

This too sounds like something straight out of a movie.

It is important to know:

Yes, there really are monsters walking around in human skin who orchestrate social mayhem for no other reason than to do it. It makes them feel powerful murdering souls instead of bodies. 

However, the answer is more nuanced than that because these narcissists are the ones who share some of the traits of antisocial personality disorder. 

What about the rest?

Narcissists Want Control

What narcissists want is control.  Not just a little. 

They want to wrap their love around you until it turns into their hate. They make you believe it’s directed at you, when really–it’s their own self-loathing with which they’re choking you.

A normal relationship won’t do it for them. They need people to focus all of their attention on them. They need to have total control because they are threatened by anything in their partner’s lives that isn’t them. Their motto is:

“Anything good that happens to you better be because of me… or else. Anything bad that happens to you is never because of me… or else.”

To protect their own image of themselves as perfect and avoid the shame and worthlessness they feel at their core, they feel entitled to perform all possible actions on the range of human behavior. Nothing is off-limits.

Angry desperation drives them to drain you until you feel nothing and they feel something. Then they blame you for having done it to avoid feeling criticized for it.

Narcissists violate their partners’ basic human rights to elevate their fantasies of greatness.

They want to become your liberator and your executioner.  Over and over and over again.

Narcissists want to be gods.

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Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.


  1. Sarah,
    When a gifted writer like our host writes an article as informative and compelling as this one, what a nice thank-you gift she got with your comment. When you articulated your experience dealing with your narc, or in therapeutic terms, your assclown, you created a template that could closely fit all our miserable times spent with them.
    It took me years to shake off my ex and all that narcissistic hoo-doo, but l’m happy to say my undying love finally died. And now all l feel is indifference.
    Simple tools helped me. I learned them on this site.
    1. Enforce four simple boundaries: love, care, trust and respect. Give what you get, and no fair giving more and expecting the narc to one day reciprocate. Ha! As if.
    2. Follow the No Contact rule to the letter. NC serves to clear the gaslighting, diminish the fugue state, and turn your lights back on.
    Part of me wants to stop learning about it and talking about it. Another part knows the feeling of being flushed into the sucking abyss of need these wicked, soulless social nuisances show. Shared NPD experiences often are affirming, healing and endearing.

    Loved your comment.
    Loved the article…best ever.

  2. I think it’s important to note that a narcissist in a relationship wants everything that you have and believes that they are entitled to it and you are not! They will do anything to you or anyone else to get it all but want to acquire it without effort. They prefer that you commit suicide, become incarcerated or institutionalized and will lie to you, the police and the courts to accomplish these goals. Other people do not hold any value to a narcissist it’s only what they can provide that interests the narcissist.

  3. Hi Kristen. Many thanks for your blog. This explains a lot. Can u maybe give me some answers into what you think about this scenario.

    In March 2015, I got divorced, the relationship was over etc and I needed a lawyer as I have a daughter and we had some issues etc.

    End of March 2015, I walk into Mr Narc’s office seeking a lawyer at a kind of a low point in my life.
    I’m not phased by him, his not my type at all.

    Another associate helps me and on my way out Mr Narc introduces himself to me. I politely greet without thinking anything of it and go on.

    About a week or two later the associate calls me and says Mr Narc needs help with something (within my profession ) and I agree to help.

    I help him and from talking about work that one time, he starts texting me daily.
    Simple things like if I need divorce advice or anything I can talk to him blah blah.

    I find out his married for 9 years, his not happy in his marriage, so he says.
    I leave it as that.
    Fast forward weeks of texting daily. I go to his office for a consult one day. He himself helps me after hours (I only finish my work at 5pm)

    After the consult he flirts with me etc and the next occasion I go there, he kisses me and yes I kissed him back.

    Fast forward few months of talking on the phone daily and texting and him saying he likes me and is falling for me. My answer always is- you’re married.

    During the course of this period , my ex husband wants to reconsider the divorce but I am so entrapped into this guy that it seems so easy and uncomplicated that I end up saying no.
    He buys me expensive gifts, flowers at work.
    I meet him a few times and we have coffee and make out (I am not innocent and I am ashamed I was secretly seeing someone else’s husband )

    I was the best thing since sliced bread. His soul mate. We were meant to meet. I was meant to walk into that office that day and meet him.

    It almost felt like a dream to good to be real. Little did I know.

    Anyways DEC 2015, he says to me that he wants to be with me and his in love with me and his going to tell his wife. He actually does tell her.

    Buys me a fancy car for my birthday and he sells mine so now I don’t need to pay a car since he bought the new one. I say no but the deal is done and he meets my father, saying he wants to marry me but needs to sort a few things out in his life first.

    Can I keep my car in the meantime? (My whole family is against this car)

    It’s a big mess as she doesn’t want to end her marriage.
    During this he is back and forth with me and I am constantly anxious.

    Eventually secretly meeting me during this period he gets divorced in March 2016.

    Now we can be together in reality.

    Once he gets divorced (he gave her mostly everything she was due and I said he should including their apartment etc)

    Things are great between us for a while. I go overseas to visit family. Suddenly he starts bringing up everything personal I told him about my divorced and picking on my flaws and what a bad person I am.
    I felt I was always trying to cover for myself. My vacation was terrible.

    He would make up these things his ex wife is doing for attention and saying I’m using him and that would make me paranoid.

    Everything started being an argument at that point. I get back after two weeks. We are ok now.

    We go away together, it’s dreamy again.
    The next weekend he starts accusing me of talking to other guys, suddenly my best friend was an issue and I was sleeping with him or something.

    Sends me these long texts how he gave up his life for me and I’m fcuking around and all this.

    Again, even being innocent and doing nothing with any guy- I feel like shit. He puts me down and I find myself begging him to be the guy I met again.

    He ignores me for few weeks. Then sends me msgs on how much he misses me but he can’t be with me cos I’ll destroy him and hurt him.

    I end up begging and pleading and telling him over and over how much I love him. I used to drive far when he was working late to take him food and be there at any hour he needed me.

    For months this dragged on like this. We are together but we also not together since he can’t do this. He doesn’t trust me. He has trust issues.

    There is a lot of gas lighting and silent treatments and shit in between.
    He controlled me 100%
    I gave up social media, My friends, changed my dressing to how he liked it.

    In August, things are finally back to what they were. Madly in love. His attentive , sweet. I meet his parents and friends and go to events with him and things are finally on track.

    And it’s now a year and half since I met him but he never made an effort to meet my daughter, barely asked about her. The weekends I had her- he wouldn’t see me since he wasn’t ready to meet her.

    In Nov 2016 I go on vacation with a friend of mine. We spend the whole week seeing each other before I leave. He tells me how much he loves me over and over. And how when I get back he wants to ask my dads hand in marriage.
    He wants to meet my daughter. His ready. He proposes to me a week before I leave and once there texts me all the time whilst there for the first 5 days. He loves and misses me.
    Day 6- makes a huge argument because my friend posts a picture of me with her on vacation.

    He blows up saying how I am a slut who couldn’t keep myself from being out there. And I use other people’s things to speak to men and he can’t deal with me and it’s over.

    I beg and plead with him.

    I arrive back home. It’s a day before my birthday. He fetches me at the airport where he tells me he will give me a lift but we are done and he wants nothing to do with me.

    The entire way home I’m crying and trying to talk to him. He keeps saying his sorry and I’m not worth it.
    He drops me home (even though he was supposed to stay with me as per the initial plan as it’s my birthday) and leaves.

    Calls me at midnight, says happy birthday, I love u. I’ll talk to u later.
    On my bday, he doesn’t show up for bday lunch- sends me a text saying- I’m done with this. I don’t want to have anything to do with you. Don’t contact me ever again. We are done. Have a nice life.

    I cried the entire day.
    And the next day.

    Two days later I try contacting him again- he tells me to leave him alone and I’m annoying him and I must move on with my life. At this point he is everything to me. My whole world, my best friend. Everything.

    I never called him for 6 days.
    I went to a mall. I see him holding some other girl and kissing her. I throw an ice cream at him. He swears me and tells me I’m making a scene.

    He married her 7 days later.

    It was like I never existed. I found out he met her 15 days before the marriage and he liked her and they decided to get married.

    I am utterly devastated. Broken. Shattered. Heart broken. You name it, I felt it.
    I couldn’t breathe.
    How could someone who proposed to me a month before- marry someone else?

    Takes her overseas on a fancy honeymoon.

    Anyways- New Years was empty. I cried a lot.
    End of January I get to finally talk to him via a friend. He tells me he made a mistake and his so sorry but now his married and he now has feelings for her and must make it work. But he loves me sooo sooo much.

    He stayed married but she never lived with him at all. They started having issues as soon as the honeymoon was over (btw the same place we first met)

    The entire 2017, was him calling and texting me while being married saying his stuck but now he loves us both and his confused and she treats him so badly and constant bullshit.

    I meet someone nice around August 2017, his sweet amd Kind and sincere and I know he loves me. He meet s my family and my daughter.

    Mr narc finds out about this because I tell him. He flips out. Shouts me and now making me feel guilty.

    Anyways he always threatens me about taking the car back and how can other men sit in the car he pays for ? I tell him This isn’t the case and his married anyway.

    Months go by wih the constant calls and msgs and in dec 2017 he gets divorced exactly one year later.

    Now I’m in a relationship but I still have feelings for me narc who always twists reality and lies to me about how he feels for me and in Jan 2018 he asks me to meet him.

    I say no- I cannot do this to someone else. I love my boyfriend. He is good to me. He know she about all my shit and my car but loves me anyway.

    Mr narc tells me he found out his dying and he needs to see me. I’m his best friend and he just needs me. I say no.

    Guilt eats me all week. Since I still have feelings for him. I end up seeing him a week later. He tells me how’s sorry he is for everything and we can only be together now if I break up with my boyfriend and how we were so good together.

    Then I’m confused and ask him what he wants. He Says husband damaged (from his second marriage) and he has nothing to offer me right now.

    The next week. Starts treating me like shit again. Ghosts me. We argue.
    I block him.
    He calls me Friday saying – I want to see u. We need to talk.
    I mentally prep myself and find myself going again.

    Same lies about how he loves me and kisses my face and holds me and doesn’t want me to go.

    The next day. Again an ass hole. Telling me I’m cheap since I cheated on my bf by even coming to see him but he put me in that position and normally I would never do it.

    I must fuck off and we done.

    I found out two days ago his in a new relationship. Same story. He went to meet her parents already in two weeks and is smitten.

    Telling her he saw me and I’m running after him still.

    I call him and swear him and tell him to stop lying. He says to me- aren’t u in a relationship? Did u expect me to sit and wait around for u?
    Go to your bf. Go. We are done.

    I was done a long time again but he kept working on my emotions and now I just feel foolish for always giving him a chance over everything and anyone. And for 5 seconds I was considering leaving my kind sweet boy who loves me and my child.

    Is something wrong with me?

    1. Hi Sarah – Sarah here. ???? There is nothing “wrong” with you. You are being emotionally manipulated and it’s a very difficult chain to break. I am in the process of the same myself, so I know it is so much easier said than done. The best thing you could do is find a way to cut this man completely out of your life. Again, a million times easier said than done. I see your comment was posted over tel months ago, I hope you are doing ok. Update if you can.

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