Narcissists are thought to be self-centered, arrogant, and aggressive people. While this may be true for some, narcissists can display many different traits and characteristics, and some may appear to be generous and kind. This type of narcissist is known as an altruistic narcissist because of their ‘good deeds’, although they are likely to have an ulterior motive.
What is an altruistic narcissist?
A narcissist is someone with some or all the traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People with NPD often feel that they are superior to others, believe they are worthy of special treatment, and are in constant need of admiration and attention. They also typically have an impaired ability to empathize with others and may exploit or deceive others for personal gain .
An altruistic narcissist is someone who meets some or all of these criteria but also displays kind and generous actions, appearing to be altruistic. However, unlike true altruists, they only behave this way in order to be admired, revered, or to expect a favor in return .
Types of altruistic narcissists
Altruistic narcissists may use varying tactics in the ways they demonstrate prosocial deeds, such as :
Hero or rescuer: This type of altruistic narcissist attempts to save others from challenging situations, arguments, or mistakes. They do this so that others feel dependent on them, so they can feel like a hero who is to be admired and respected. When using this tactic, they might insult or condescend those who need saving for being unable to defend themselves.
Martyr: This type of altruistic narcissist may sacrifice their own time, well-being, or finances to help others. Similar to the ‘rescuer’, they wish to be seen as a hero and demand admiration and appreciation. When using this tactic, they might regularly remind others of the sacrifices they have made to exert control or cause feelings of guilt.
Giver: This type of altruistic narcissist appears very generous and may shower others with gifts and attention, similar to the manipulation tactic of ‘love bombing’. They do this so that others appreciate them and show gratitude, believing they are kind and generous. When using this tactic, they may become rude or aggressive if they do not receive the gratitude they feel they deserve.
Signs of an altruistic narcissist
Initially, an altruistic narcissist may appear very charming, friendly, generous, and caring. As such, it can take some time before signs become apparent. Some signs of an altruistic narcissist include :
Giving someone lots of gifts, affection, and attention early in a relationship
Trying to ‘fix’ or ‘save’ others by giving constant unwarranted advice and rules that must be followed
Appearing to be very caring in public but less so when behind closed doors
Demanding favors in return for past generosities
Attempting to control people and situations
Needing validation and admiration for their kindness
Becoming angry or upset if they don’t immediately receive gratitude for gift giving or kindness
Generosity and kindness appear to be limited, and any requests for help or favors beyond the narcissist’s limits or self-interest may be met with contempt, impatience, or frustration
Superficial attempts at altruism, such as posting on social media about a charity requiring donations but making no donation themselves
Taking advantage of or exploiting others for their kindness and not returning these favors
Calling others selfish or inconsiderate, usually to highlight their own good deeds
Inability to admit mistakes or wrongdoings, often blaming others instead
Attempting to divert attention back to themselves if others receive admiration for altruistic actions
How do altruistic narcissists differ from other types of narcissists?
As research into the condition develops, it is increasingly thought that NPD presents in a variety of ways. For example, studies highlight two prominent types of NPD :
Covert or vulnerable narcissism, in which individuals have low self-esteem, are socially withdrawn, and are sensitive to shame and criticism.
Overt or grandiose narcissism, in which individuals have high self-esteem, are very entitled and arrogant, and can become verbally or physically aggressive when challenged or criticized.
In many cases, NPD is believed to originate from childhood trauma, resulting in a low sense of self-worth and a need for validation from others. While vulnerable narcissists continue to experience low self-esteem, overt narcissists develop grandiosity and high self-esteem to validate themselves, although they continue to require admiration from others to feed this belief .
Altruistic narcissists can be seen within either category, although they may differ from stereotypical narcissists in several ways, such as :
They may be more difficult to spot, as they seem caring and generous, with a genuine desire to help others. Generally, other types of narcissists do not appear to be kind and generous, often only demonstrating a desire to help themselves.
They may be more able to empathize and understand emotions than other types of narcissists.
They can appear to be less arrogant, aggressive, and entitled than other types.
They may be less likely to steal, lie, or use violence, as this can harm their altruistic persona.
They may be more likely to work as a teacher or in a caring role, such as a nurse or social worker. In contrast, other types may be likely to be leaders, such as CEOs or presidents, or people in the public eye, such as actors.
Their self-esteem comes from being seen as a ‘good’ person, while other types receive validation from being seen as successful, attractive, or powerful.
They may develop friendships with people who need ‘fixing’ or ‘rescuing’, so they can be seen as a hero. Conversely, other types might form friendships with people who are successful or powerful in order to boost their status and reputation.
How to deal with an altruistic narcissist
If you think that someone in your life is showing signs of being an altruistic narcissist, you may wish to use the following tips to manage your relationship and communication with them :
Learn more: By learning more about traits and tactics used by altruistic narcissists, you can equip yourself with the necessary knowledge to recognize ulterior motives and manipulation techniques and avoid being taken advantage of.
Set boundaries: Be clear with the narcissist and yourself about what actions, language, or attitudes you will not tolerate or accept. For example, let them know you will decline any gifts or favors they offer.
Limit communication: Keep conversations with the narcissist to a minimum and only engage with them when necessary. This way, they cannot use anything you have said against you or try and force you into engaging with their tactics.
Avoid them if possible: If you can, avoid any communication or engagement with the narcissist. However, this may not always be possible, especially if you have a social or professional relationship with them.
Take care of yourself: Interacting with a narcissist can be emotionally and physically draining and damaging. Remember to take care of your own well-being, such as looking after your mental and physical health, communicating with friends and family, and seeking professional support.
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Published: Oct 25th 2023, Last edited: Oct 25th 2023
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Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Oct 25th 2023