Crime and Punishment: The Never Repenting Narcissist


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.

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.



next: How to Recognise a Narcissist

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2008, November 24). Crime and Punishment: The Never Repenting Narcissist, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: July 4, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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