The Benevolent Narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

After last week’s post, I began to think about responses. I could hear people thinking, “Well maybe he’s a narcissist, but he/she really cares about our country/state/district.” A phrase popped into my mind at that point and I did what I often do, I googled it. Sure enough, there’s a lot of discussion about “benevolent narcissism.”

A benevolent narcissist.

Just doesn’t sound right, somehow. Sounds like an oxymoron.

I read something recently where the writer suggested that God is the ultimate narcissist. After all, this person said, God thinks that everything is about Him. He takes care of us because He is benevolent. If He were malevolent, like many narcissists, he thought, then God would be very dangerous. Okay. More later. (Next week.)

Can a narcissist be benevolent? Let’s ask a different question first. Can he/she do things that benefit you? Of course! In fact, one of the reasons narcissists get by with so much is because their actions benefit more than just themselves.

I can think of two ways a narcissist’s goals and actions might benefit you and me. First, as the narcissist woos people into relationship, he/she is quite willing to create benefits. Narcissists are often influential. They can help you make that sale, get that job, gain that privilege. Your desires and goals can be greatly helped by the narcissist. Yes, you might end up owing him/her, but you got what you needed. And, yes, he/she will think you are now a servant, but you still got what you needed.

Second, the goals of the narcissist are not necessarily evil, they are just self-serving. That means the goals of the narcissist might be the same as yours, at least for a while. Your boss might want the store to look good so that he gets promoted. At the same time, you might get promoted. Your husband buys a nice car so that others will see him as successful, and you get to enjoy the car as well. As the narcissist rises, sometimes others rise with him/her.

Let’s say you have an illness. The doctor has wanted to try a new procedure so he can write a paper on it. He tries the procedure on you and it works. You have received a benefit. You are cured. The doctor writes his paper citing your case and gets accolades from the medical community. If you had died or your suffering was extended, he would have written about that and maybe changed tactics on the next case.

In other words, not everything a narcissist does will hurt you. Sometimes the narcissist will benefit you. But that does not make him benevolent. He has no intention to benefit you as a person. His only goal is self-promotion. If you happen to benefit at the same time, he doesn’t care. If it takes benefit to you to get what he wants, he will do that. Again, he really won’t care. As easily as he benefits you, he can hurt you.

A “benevolent dictator” is still just a dictator. He may want the people to love him, and he may seek to accomplish that by doing good things for them, but he may still persecute certain people or require certain restrictions without regard to how that will cause harm to some. Many of the German people considered Hitler to be benevolent. Those who were born Jews or handicapped or who dared to disagree found him to be something else.

Of course, narcissistic methods make the benefits a little less acceptable. If you own stock in a company, you might benefit when the CEO fires a large number of older employees. If you want to sell your house, you might benefit from a real estate agent who stretches the truth to get the sale. The goal isn’t wrong, even if the methods are not what you would do.

Is it benevolent when others are hurt in the process of benefiting you? Not really. We would not call someone benevolent who made others suffer even if we gained at the same time. So it could be beneficial without being benevolent. That’s an important distinction.

Benevolence is a matter of the will, or the volition. The words are connected. When someone chooses to do good for you, that’s benevolence. When someone chooses to do evil to you, that’s malevolence. The point is the volition. The narcissist does not really choose to do good for you. He chooses to do good for himself, and part of the cost is the benefit to you.

Benevolence and narcissism really cannot be connected as “benevolent narcissism.” To do so is to ignore the depersonalization of the narcissistic relationship. Others don’t matter as the narcissist strives to bless himself.

If the narcissist is driving in the same direction as you are walking and stops to offer you a ride, don’t get too excited. He may expect you to help pay for the gas.


Filed under Narcissism

14 responses to “The Benevolent Narcissist

  1. Thank you. This is one of the top reasons I’ve struggled so intensely with denial, etc – because my person peppered everything with gestures that appeared generous. Thoughtful. Benevolent. But they were never actually about me, and that’s the part I have to keep in mind; they were always about that individual, and that’s part of what made everything so insidious. Anyway, thanks. Thanks for every week, I always feel validated.

  2. Irene

    Yes! This is kind of my situation. My husband is generous with his time and money toward everyone else–people in jail or just out of jail, seniors who need house repairs or care, and anyone he comes in contact with– anyone except me. He withholds everything from me. He can’t give me a compliment me or go somewhere i would like to go. He once told me that I was a waste of his time. Mostly be seems to believe that I am here just to help him with whatever he wants to do. We received a handmade paper towel holder for a wedding gift 31 years ago. My husband said we could put it up as soon as he finished remodeling the kitchen. It has never been used. I raised our kids as a single parent–needing to both provide for them and care for them. I can’t actually think of anything he has specifically done for me. When my grandmother was dying I asked him to take work into the office for me (it was 2 hours away). He had to be paid for doing it before he would stop bragging about how he had do it and I owed him. Life is not ever fun with him, and I wonder what God means when he says he will rescue the oppressed or that we will reap what we sow.

    • Cecilia K

      Dear Irene, my heart cries for and goes out to you. I know how painful that situation must be. I don’t have an answer for your last statement or anything, but I just wanted you to feel understood and validated. No one should be treated that way.

    • Kate

      Irene, all I can offer is my empathy and more validation. I believe you. My husband is so very helpful to everyone in the community who has a need that he hears about. Roofs, siding, carpentry jobs, sheds, computer help, car breaking down – you name it and he’s there. At the same time, when the streets were slick due to weather, he wanted to take the good and safe family vehicle to help a woman in his church instead of allowing our child (with a driver’s license) to use it. I had to intervene and he was visibly perturbed. When our basement flooded, he went to work the following days while I and my family of origin cleaned it up – me and three family members – two of whom have health issues (heart and back issues). When his coworker’s basement flooded, he was ready to help, even though that man’s family is extremely wealthy and could hire any help they need. And on and on. Now that he has filed for divorce (and is making it a nightmare) because I stood up for myself and stopped giving him narcissistic supply, I am left with trying to figure out how to sell a house that has job after job ignored and other jobs half done, which may be even worse than undone. It’s a mess, and just about everyone that knows us would think that I was so, so blessed to be married to a guy like him. I am so sorry for your experience.

  3. AnneG

    This is very helpful. I have struggled with this for so long; trying to explain to myself and others how my ex-husband could have been so nice and done much good yet be a narcissist. Of course, almost no one else ever saw the verbal abuse and gaslighting, either, so never saw him with his mask off. Thanks, Pastor Dave.

  4. As I read this, I kept thinking “oh another control strategy”. Keep the compliant/brainwashed close and they will protect you (the narc) for the truth seers & truth sayers, because the compliant will say what a great person you (the narc) are and use your generosity as evidence. Always some hook :/

  5. Kathleen Wirth

    Great insight as always. In my experience, many love to cultivate a benevolent saintly image – giving lots to strangers, but nothing to their immediate family. I think for most, appearing as good people is really important to them, as it’s painful to face what they really are. Or their benevolence is a way to lure in the un-suspecting – classic predatory behavior. The mask eventually falls off of course. Often you’ll see that mask slip when they deal contemptuously with those in a more vulnerable position, such as wait staff.

  6. The One

    Depersonalization is the great distinction between normal and abnormal relationships. My ex boyfriend told me he’d marry me, but all that he had accumulated in his life was his! He said that he would allow me to build my own life and what I had is mine, but yet he still expected romance to be a mere formality, or something to be used for his pleasure only, regardless of what I thought or felt! Although I’m an independent woman, something felt off. I left him…cold turkey.

  7. The One

    The price one has to pay in dealing with a narc in any type of relationship is far more than we could ever pay, or have time to play. They will cost you your mind, your will and your emotions. In some extreme cases, they will cost you your life!

  8. This post really hit the mark for me. I have and continue to struggle at times because of the ‘many’ benevolent narcissists in my life. They are all working at attempting to destroy me but in a very ‘nice’ way, of course. So many think ‘they’ are ‘good’ people. Oh yes, very good at deceiving others as to just how selfish they are and I’m the scapegoat. 😦

  9. Penny

    “Help is the sunny side of control”.

    The same can be said for benevolence, in the hands of a narc.

    I learned long ago the painful lesson to decline the “benevolence” of my narc. It was simply another sleight of hand, a predatory behavior designed to control.

    God’s benevolence is pure & undefiled by the lust for power & control, like “the sun that rises on the just and the unjust”. God does it b/c HE is just, not b/c we are.

    There is beauty in God’s sunrise.

    But the narc would allow the sun to rise only if there was something to be gained by it, some intrinsic benefit to the narc, some way to blackmail you into submission. There is always a hidden agenda in the narc’s sunrise….and it ALWAYS benefits the narc.

    There is no beauty in the narc’s sunrise.

    Thus, there is no benevolence. Ever.


  10. I am reminded of altruistic Narcissists. My once beloved late husband died in 2014 after permanently scarring me in his last months of his life with confessions that he was a Narcissist and sociopath who had lied to, conned and cheated on me our entire 18+ year marriage. He is still adored by scores of people for his completely fabricated benevolent personality and “lifelong champion of human rights” persona. Another friend of mine told me the story of his late friend, a dentist who had often traveled to Mexico and given many poor people free dentistry. This “sainted” person confessed on his deathbed to a lifetime of adultery perpetrated on his seven wives. Both of these individuals confessed on their deathbeds not out of guilt or empathy for their victims, but out of terror of possible unpleasant consequences in the afterlife. There are no benevolent or altruistic Narcissists. All their good deeds are done only to be seen by men and to sustain their false images of kindness, goodness and abject selflessness. Everything they do is to feed their insatiable greed and need for self gratification and adoration by people they use and con. Their ultimate high would be to get it from a crowd of cheering people whom they charm, mesmerize and completely bamboozle. Other human beings to them are nothing more than stage props to assist in their shameless self promotion. Four years have passed since the death of my husband. I’ve since discovered he did many other evil things besides adultery in his lifelong secret life of cruelty and perversion. His manufactured outward persona of sainted false goodness and truism live on in people who never suspected his evil and will never see him as the monster he actually was. He was by profession a performer and was always on stage, literally or figuratively. For him, lying was as effortless as breathing.

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