This is an interesting question, because narcissists can be Jekyll and Hyde characters, seemingly very sincere and authentic, and also the most horrible human being you can imagine.
Those of us who have dealt with these personality types may wonder: “Underneath it all, does this person actually have any values? Do they actually stand for anything?”
The messages on this can be confusing and contradictory, since their behavior can be so changeable, but here is the bottom line answer:
Narcissists do not have any real values or principles, since the only real thing they value is being fed narcissistic supply. They will latch onto whatever people, things, values or causes which best provide them with this supply in any moment, but they never hold onto values out of any sense of honor or principle and can change them very rapidly if it serves their own interest.
In other words, any concept a narcissist may appear to have of “values” is glib, superficial and purely transitory and expedient to them. A narcissist can appear to value one thing one year, and the total opposite the next year if it suits them.
Part of the trap which keeps people tied in with narcissists in relationships is that they can appear to be very sincere at times, apparently holding your values just as strongly as you do. Even narcissists we don’t know can appear to stand for something in certain contexts.
However, understanding the supply model of narcissistic personality disorder quickly allows us to see through this nonsense, and reveals how any “values” a narcissist appears to have aren’t grounded in any authentic sense of conscientiousness or care for the world, but to prop up a personality that is fundamentally broken at the core.
Authentic Values Are Unimportant to the Narcissist
Let’s start right off the bat by saying that narcissists don’t care about values for the sake of values, or being a good person who does the right thing. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) falls into the Cluster B category of personality disorders, which are characterized by:
- Low or zero empathy
- A glib and superficial way of interacting with others.
- An inter-personally exploitative style
- A provocative and reaction seeking pattern of behavior
- A tendency to see others not as people, with separate needs and wants, but as objects to be used for their own ends.
- An generally amoral or immoral worldview.
None of these factors bode well for having strong, consistent values, and for those of us who’ve dealt with narcissists over an extended period of time, we start to see this.
There’s can be initial period of charming and love-bombing, where they are walking and talking in rhythm with you, but this sooner or later fades and they turn to the more unpleasant aspect of provoking reactions in you. When the mask slips in this way, you start to see the lack of morality and values, and it becomes more about power and control if they can’t get the adoration and attention they’re used to.
“Never try to reason with a narcissist…..The point is there is no point. The point is chaos, cause chaos. They’ll say whatever they need to say to get the reaction. There are no boundaries for them.”
Richard Grannon/Gary Klein
How a Narcissist May Appear To Have Values
This can be the difficult thing, as some narcissists we see in life can appear to have values, appear to stand for something. Those of us who like to assume the best of people can be taken in by the surface act of a narcissist having values.
Here are some examples of this:
- Hiding behind “causes” – They might run a charity or social enterprise project that appears to stand for something, but they only really do it because it gives them power over others, admiration, good PR, or good pay. It’s self serving.
- Fake friendships – May appear to hold the same values as you in a “friendship”, but only if it remains within the context of a constant back and forth mutual validation and attention process, where they get the supply they need (more on this in the next section). Could also be seen as the intense mirroring that is often part of the Idealize phase of the Idealize-Devalue-Discard cycle.
- Media figures – Again may appear to stand for something, perhaps even getting in powerful people’s faces and challenging them sometimes, but only because it keeps them the center of attention. Think of Piers Morgan and the like.
- “Hoovering” – A crucial one to watch out for when you’ve got rid of a narc, but they’re trying to draw (hoover) you back in. They might pretend to be a changed person, and stand for things like personal growth, change, self awareness, therapy (anything you wanted them to stand for before). All just nonsense to try and draw you back in. Telling you what you want to hear.
You’ll notice a common theme here, and it’s the same for all the Cluster B disorders – the smarter ones can appear to have values and be behind a cause, but it’s only ever self serving when you dig in deeper.
Now let’s turn to the reason why their behavior is only ever self serving, something that was hinted at in some the examples just above – their need for constant “supply”
What The Narcissist Values Most
To best understand a narcissist’s relationship with values, it is perhaps best not the ask what values the narcissist has, but instead what they really value the most – narcissistic supply.
The supply model of personality disorders like narcissism is crucial to understanding why narcissists can behave in such slippery, amoral and transitory ways, because all that matters to them is being fed their “supply”. In other words, they constantly need their fake persona or self image propping up by being fed some kind of reinforcement, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to keep this supply topped up.
This supply can take a number of different forms:
- Being feared
- Control or power over others.
- Constantly being validated and affirmed in their twisted worldview 100% of the time.
- Sexual attention.
- A sense of special-ness, uniqueness and perfection.
- A sense of being the best/number 1/top dog in some field or environment
- A sense of being the smart, enlightened one, while everyone around them is a stupid, inferior servant.
- Constant silly-ness and back and forth humor, jokes, memes, and being fed constant entertainment, as long as they’re the center of attention.
- A back and forth implicit arrangement where you’ll always agree on stuff and never disagree or challenge any of his obvious character deficits.
Whenever they are starved of this supply, they start to fall into depletion, and this can be when the more unpleasant side of their personality can come out, where they start attacking and provoking others. Making others feel bad is the secondary fall back method of making themselves feel good, if their primary sources of supply fall off for any reason.
It Is Impossible For The Narcissist to Hold Real Values
Once we fully understand and internalize the supply model, we understand that it is actually impossible for the narcissist to hold onto any values authentically for their own sake, because in almost all cases, to do so would go against their need for constant supply.
No one who holds to constant values can go through the world without at some point interacting with people who have differing (even opposing) values, who don’t agree with the way you see the world, who don’t fully validate your view on things, and may even challenge you. It’s part of a healthy life (and a healthy society) that we don’t all agree, and sometimes have differences of opinion.
The full blown narcissist can’t tolerate any of this. They need to constantly be mirrored, admired, validated, propped up, ego-stroked, confirmed in their (usually twisted) view of things, where they’re usually on top and everyone else is down below.
To hold onto specific values 100% of the time would directly clash with his need for constant supply and approval. They literally couldn’t survive and have their fake shell self image reinforced if they were to actually have values and morals that they stood up for, because it would they wouldn’t always have their ego stroked by sycophants who never disagree with them.
In today’s world especially, standing up for values, especially virtuous ones, requires going against the crowd sometimes and risking disapproval and invalidation. The narcissistic personality is so broken and fragile that they can’t afford to do this.
So we now can see why holding values is not really high on any narcissist’s list of priorities, since it doesn’t serve their interests in propping up their fake, grandiose sense of self. Hence the amoral and immoral nature of many narcissists, once we see them up close and personal over time.
My Own Experiences With Narcissists and “Values”
I’ll briefly go over my own experience which clicked all these things into place for me, and allowed me to understand how glib and fake the narcissistic personality really is, and how having any real, intransigent values is an impossibility for them.
I had an ex narc friend, who used to get most of his supply off me. There were several different ways this happened, but one of them was a sense of shared non-mainstream values. We leaned more towards libertarian, anti government, anti mainstream media bias/propaganda, and frequently spoke about the BS we were constantly fed through media, education etc.
I was, and still am, completely genuine in those values, and I thought he was too. I (in my naivete) thought was just the shared bond that friends are meant to have, where they have roughly the same outlook. I didn’t know much about narcissism at the time.
Long story short, there was inevitable fallout that there always is with a narcissist when you challenge their character flaws, and I broke off contact for a while (I now know this should have been permanent, but you live and learn).
When I checked in with him again a few years later (this in itself was a mistake on my part), his values had completely changed, firmly back into the fully plugged in, mainstream views, trusting the mainstream media presentation of anything, and branding anyone with any views whatsoever outside the mainstream as a conspiracy wacko.
Why the sudden 180 flip? It puzzled me at first, until I understood the supply model of narcissism, and then it all clicked into place.
He was now around people who embodied these plugged-in, mainstream views, and were also feeding him the supply he wasn’t getting from not being in contact with me. In fact, he was being fed even better supply than he’d ever gotten from me. Because the narcissistic supply source changed, he changed his values in accordance to make sure he could keep getting this new supply.
In other words:
He never cared about the “values” we were discussing, and supposedly mutually held, for their own sake. He only cared about them contextually, in the sense that discussing them was part of a back and forth arrangement that was feeding him the best supply he could get at that time, where he was constantly being validated and propped up. He agreed with me as long as I agreed with him and that fed him his supply.
As soon as he was interacting with others who fed him better supply, he was happy to absorb into their values system, even if it was the complete opposite of what he shared with me a few years before.
Put differently still, context is more important than content for a narcissist in any relationship or interaction. The substance/content of interactions, truth, justice, values, who has the “right” answers and values, is completely unimportant to the narcissist, regardless of the image they present.
Rather, it’s the context of interactions and relationships that matters most to the narcissist (ie. are they being fed their supply in any interaction). As previously mentioned, they latch onto any values system (and very readily switch values) that allows them to be fed this supply. The content of whether these values are true, moral, or right, as well as glaring contradictions with opposing “values” they may have previously held, do no matter to them.
All of that back and forth talk about libertarian values and outlook was all smoke and mirrors for him. It was the just mutual validation (ego stroking) that fed him his supply. He didn’t care about the values in themselves, and was happy to switch over on a dime.
They’re supply addicts, and that’s all. They’re very chameleonic and changeable in this sense.
Let’s finish off with a summary quote that encapsulates all we’ve said:
Narcissists aren’t interested in the values; they’re interested in the supply that comes with holding the values