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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jon

Self-Centered Kindness: Understanding Compassionate Narcissism

“I strongly recommend you take that black.”

I had just ordered a pour over[1] at a local coffee shop. The barista who said this looks like she had just been popped out of the hipster mold they make every other barista in: randomly colored hair, covered in tattoos and facial piercings, aimlessly dressed. She’s looking back at me with a cheap self-righteous smile. It’s the type of smile that you’d expect to see if you could buy them in packs of 50 at the local dollar store.


I smile back and respond, “Well, I’m not grown up enough to drink black coffee, so I’ll take it with cream and sugar.” I’m trying to joke with her and lighten the mood. She’s having none of it.

“Well, it won’t taste good with half and half and sugar, so I recommend you take it black.”

Is a 20-something barista who I’ve never met really arguing with me over how I like to drink my coffee!? Is this real!?

“I get that, but I’ll take it how I like it.”

“It’s just going to be more expensive. We have a great Columbia on drip that would be better for you.”

Unbelievable. She’s passively refusing to make me a pour over because I won’t commit to drinking it the way she wants me to drink it.

I shake my head in disgust, “Wow. I guess I’ll do a Columbia.”

“Great.” She says with the same press-on plastic smile.

I think there must be very few things more pleasurable than being fully committed to the idea that you’re always right. Few things more gratifying than believing your knowledge of literally everything is beyond the grasp of anyone else - down to coffee.

Being fully convinced that you’re a measurably better and smarter person than 99% of people has got to be a god-like feeling. No wonder more and more people are succumbing to the lie.[2] 

Hello, My Name Is: Compassionate Narcissism

Compassionate Narcissism is a form of narcissism disguised as altruism.

It's self-centeredness disguised as selflessness. Compassionate Narcissism is a very clever way Narcissistic types interact with those around them. Compassionate Narcissists are individuals who exhibit both narcissistic and compassionate traits, but in a way that can be confusing and paradoxical.[3]

Compassionate Narcissism can be difficult to recognize because these people come across very caring and empathetic on the surface. But their actual behaviors betray their true motives, which are ultimately fueled by a pathological need to control others. Compassionate narcissists don’t really have compassion for other people, instead they use the sense of compassion others have as a way to get what they want.

Most often they don’t have any real authority or power in life, so, they brood and fantasize about how to get what they don’t have. This leads to all manner of Machiavellian[4] behaviors. Thus begins their intentional construction of hell on earth.

Narcissistic types have the confidence of the competent without the competence.

They fake having compassion or empathy or concern for others this is often driven by their own need for control, attention, and recognition. How they go about fulfilling their needs for control, attention, and recognition is that they weaponize compassionate traits and utilize these traits as a way to manipulate and exploit other people. Their narcissistic traits can also manifest themselves through gaining some sense of power or advantage over others.

They use what they see as ‘weaknesses’ or ‘vulnerabilities’ as a way to exploit others. What they claim to be fighting against or protecting in one situation will be completely abandoned under different circumstances. They don’t see the hypocrisy in their flip-flopping attitudes because they are largely controlled by their emotions. Emotions change depending upon their situations, so why can’t their ideals?

When you point out the hypocrisy, they will oftentimes revert back to their true narcissistic selves. This usually manifests itself as some form of character assassination to put you back on the defensive berating tirades, intense blaming, hurling accusationsat you, etc., etc. This highlights their lack of real empathy and compassion.

They feel completely justified attacking people who resist their attempts to correct you. Remember: the compassionate narcissist truly believes that they know best. What they want you to do is in your best interest you’re just too dumb to realize it that’s why they need to correct you. If you resist what they want you to do they feel perfectly justified in berating or attempting to force you to do what they want you to do. It’s this strong-handed approach of getting a desired behavior that’s particularly dangerous because it reveals neo-Marxist ideological roots. That’s beyond the focus of this article so I won’t get into that.[5]

Even though they feign compassion, they’re really very arrogant and self-righteous. If they really were compassionate, they wouldn’t ruthlessly attack others when they disagree with them. They would respect other people’s choices and opinions even if they disagreed with them.

Ignore What You See, Believe What I Tell You

A key aspect of compassionate narcissism is the denial of reality. These types want you to completely give up any sense of personal autonomy or freedom of choice. They manipulate and force others to do this so they can feel powerful.

The compassionate narcissist sees life in terms of hierarchies of power, not hierarchies of competence.

This means that they see everyone they come in contact with as either more powerful or less powerful than they are. They always want to be top-dog so they’re always looking to climb the 'ladder of power.' They assume they’re morally superior to everyone who doesn’t share their viewpoints, fueling their appetite for power.

A common approach of compassionate narcissists is to use what I call ‘unregulated empathy.’ It’s a form of empathy that’s lost its power and effectiveness because it’s been radically overused. Accurate empathy can be very helpful in counseling. But it loses its power when it’s overused. The compassionate narcissist uses empathy like a 3-yr old uses maple syrup: let’s put it on everything because it makes it taste better.

But if everything is special and unique then nothing is. If everyone is guaranteed an A in the class, then an A means nothing.

That dog won’t hunt.

Enforce Iron Boundaries

Question: How do you reason with someone who’s unreasonable?

Answer: You don’t. You state your position and watch the fit-throwing commence.

Friends, watch out for these types of people and interact with them cautiously. These people are pathologically broken and they simply do not deserve a seat at the table of decision-making. They will use your sense of kindness, generosity, and empathy to achieve their own ends. What motivates them to weaponize your healthy personality traits against you is an insatiable sense of superiority.

Narcissistic types look for ways to inflate themselves by claiming unearned moral virtue. 

They crave unearned respect and admiration. It’s their drug of choice. They’re addicted to it. They want you to regard them with unquestioning admiration but they’ve done nothing to warrant the designation. They think that the mere act of feeling sorry for someone constitutes real moral virtue without having to do any of the work to be a genuinely good person.

If you allow the compassionate narcissist any level of authority it will inevitably lead to authoritarianism as soon as they feel they can get away with it. By allowing them to have power, you have enabled their destructive behaviors, rather than helping them grow and mature in their understanding of how true compassion works.

True compassion cooperates with an individual’s personal sense of responsibility to foster a deepening of that individual’s overall maturity.

True compassion involves holding people accountable for their actions. It involves helping them take responsibility for their lives, rather than catering to their emotionally-driven whims. If you cater to them, they’ll end up exactly how you’d expect them to end up: an unhinged, entitled monster. A tyrannical 2-yr old that has gotten old but never grown up.

True compassion requires a deep understanding of human nature including developing an understanding for our capacity to be manipulative and self-serving. Manipulating people to get your way isn’t compassionate, neither is allowing the compassionate narcissist to get away with their behavior.

A few days later I went back to that coffee shop and got my pour over.

With cream and sugar.

It was great.



[1] For those of you who don’t speak fluent coffee, a pour over is a fancy cup of coffee. The preparation method produces a really smooth cup of coffee. If you like coffee, you’ll love a good pour over.

[2] This article – written back in 2011 – says that, “One study found that 30 percent of young people were classified as narcissistic according to a widely used psychological test. That number has doubled in the last 30 years. Another study reported a 40 percent decline among young people in empathy, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism, since the 1980s.”

[3] Compassionate Narcissism is a very new evolution of NPD. For more on Compassionate Narcissism, see:

[4] Machiavellianism is part of the “Dark Tetrad” set of personality traits. The four components of the dark tetrad are: Machiavellianism, Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Sadism. Machiavellians use manipulation to achieve their personal ends. Narcissists are driven by a strong desire to obtain unearned status. Psychopaths are nonempathetic predators who are callous to all of humanity. Sadists take positive delight from the suffering of others. For further study, I recommend personality research psychologist Dr. Delroy Palhaus, who has written much on the subject.

[5] Here’s a useful article I wrote on the inherent flaws of neo-Marxism and why its ideas are incompatible with Christianity:

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