Altruistic Narcissists: Surprising Insights into Selfless Partners

Narcissism has many shades, and while some are more obvious, others are more disguised, such as altruistic narcissism. Altruistic narcissists have an antagonistic and egocentric core but hide it behind a façade of generosity and selflessness.

Narcissists are characterized by an inflated sense of self and believing they are superior, brilliant, and entitled. In altruistic narcissism, this manifests as the belief that they are especially empathetic, giving, and caring. Their entitlement and need for validation means they require other people to view and treat them accordingly.

Once you get to know them, their kind façade quickly fades and you experience their hostile, aggressive, and immoral nature. Given their outward presentation, it can be especially confusing and shocking when an altruistic narcissist turns on you.

Their façade also makes it more difficult to spot them so here are some of the signs you might be dealing with an altruistic narcissist.

Signs of Altruistic Narcissism

The signs of altruistic narcissism can be there from the start, but they are often subtle. You may be in awe of their generosity, and of all the things they do for other people and their community

You slowly start to notice behaviors that do not match their public image and question your perceptions. Here are some of the signs you should pay attention to:

Subtle Narcissistic Behaviors

Although they portray an image of humility, you may notice some narcissistic behaviors when their façade inevitably slips up. These are often subtle behaviors that become more obvious over time.

You may notice that they constantly need to be the center of attention and often talk about how envious other people are of them. When they do not get the special treatment they feel entitled to, they might become aggressive or sarcastic, e.g., towards wait staff.

You might notice that they can switch their charm on and off depending on whom they are interacting with. For example, they might be extremely charming towards people who can elevate their position or give them something they want. But they are unkind and dismissive if the other person holds no value to them.

Public vs Private Image and Behavior

Partners and family members of altruistic narcissists often experience a different version of them compared to the outside world. In public, they are charming, kind, generous, and fun to be around but in the privacy of their home, their narcissistic colors surface.

They never apologize and constantly blame others for mistakes and bad outcomes. If they are questioned, they become aggressive and accuse others of being ungrateful for “everything I do”.

They use manipulation tactics, such as gaslighting, stonewalling, and playing the victim, to get what they want and do not show any remorse.

Experiencing this side of them versus how they are perceived by the outside world can be confusing and hurtful. You may blame yourself and question whether you are “ungrateful and too demanding”, as the narcissist may tell you.  

Knowing them well, you notice that they exaggerate their accomplishments and that their shiny exterior is a lie.

Lack of Patience

Like all narcissists, altruistic narcissists believe they are superior to others and that everyone around them is incompetent and slow.

They become visibly impatient when others do not meet their impossible demands or do not give them the validation and applause they feel entitled to.

They might berate others, roll their eyes, make sarcastic comments, or become angry and hostile.

Conditional Support and Help

Altruistic narcissists provide conditional support and help to create dependence. They want you to depend on them as this will give them power over you. It is conditional because they expect you to submit and provide narcissistic supply in return. 

If, for example, they give you an allowance, you may come to depend on them for money. However, in return, they expect you do what they say and never question them. If you do, they may become enraged, threaten to take away your allowance, and call you ungrateful and spoilt.

That means, their “altruism” is not about helping and nurturing you, it’s about increasing the control they have. 

Demanding Gratitude

For altruistic narcissists, doing good deeds is only worthwhile if they receive praise and gratitude. If you express gratitude and admiration, they get a boost of narcissistic supply, and you will see their face light up.

Most people feel honored and humbled when they receive gratitude but altruistic narcissists feel entitled to it.

Some may demand it openly like “Hey, that was good what I did today wasn’t it?” while others may become hostile or sullen if others are not showing enough gratitude. But it’s a bottomless pit and they can never get enough praise and thank yous. 

In their eyes, others undeserving of “all the good” they do if it is not recognized and praised. 

Enforcing Strict Rules

Narcissists need to feel in control of their environment and other people. One way they achieve this is by setting strict rules and standards that are applied arbitrarily and when it suits them.

A parent might change the rules depending on their mood. A manager might be particularly strict with one employee and more forgiving towards another depending on how much narcissistic supply they provide.

The punishment for breaking the rules can be particularly harsh or unreasonable, especially if the “offense” challenges the narcissist’s inflated sense of self. For example, if a child questions their parent’s authority, the parent may resort to physical violence.

The narcissist feels entitled to punish those who break the rules because they are expected to submit and adhere to their authority. This can make the people around them feel like they are walking on eggshells.  

Posing as the Savior

Altruistic narcissists tend to surround themselves with people who are vulnerable or in need of help so they can claim the status of “the savior”. They may help and support them but not because they are genuinely selfless or giving, but rather to boost their own self-esteem. 

Their help is not offered altruistically but to be seen, appreciated, and admired. It is a way to exert control because, in return for their support, they expect their rules and guidance to be followed.

If the other person does not do what they say or is not grateful enough, the narcissist may become angry and derogatory.

Absence of Genuine Connections

Despite their façade, altruistic narcissists lack genuine empathy and cannot form deep and meaningful connections with people. 

Others are only useful when they provide narcissistic supply (attention, admiration, a sense of control). 

That means, they use other people for personal gain and to further their own position. Their interactions and connections are shallow and insincere.

Types of Altruistic Narcissism

There are different types of altruistic narcissists but they all share the need to be seen as supremely caring and selfless.

The Giver

This type of altruistic narcissist is very giving but for self-serving purposes: they want to be appreciated and seen as a good person. For example:

Carla is a business executive who donates money to charity regularly. She spends a lot of time attending forums and meetings and speaking to vulnerable individuals and leaders of organizations.

Whenever there is an opportunity for a picture, she places herself in the foreground and ensures she shares it on her social media profile.

She expects plaques with her name to be hung up where everyone can see them. If she feels she is not getting the recognition and appreciation she deserves, she slams the charity or organization publicly and portrays herself as the benevolent victim.

The Rescuer

This type of altruistic narcissist always comes to other people’s rescue but they do it for attention, to be seen as the hero, and to make others dependent on them. For example:

Trey prides himself on helping his friends. Whenever they are in any difficulty, he is the first person to offer his help. Recently, his friend Daniel could not pay his rent so Trey paid it for him.

Whenever other people are around, Trey boasts about it and says, “What would you do without me?”

Although Daniel is upset with Trey for telling others about his situation, he feels indebted to Trey and unable to speak up about it. He knows that Trey would react badly, call him ungrateful, and threaten to never help him again.

The Martyr

This type of altruistic narcissist sacrifices their needs and time to help others, but they expect to be admired and heralded as the hero in return. It is a way for them to exert control and make others dependent on them. For example:

Mary is a mother, wife, and teacher. She is always busy helping her children, cleaning the house, preparing lessons for school, and ensuring her husband has everything he needs. From the outside, she seems to have the perfect life and family.

But her children live in fear of her, and her husband ensures he is on business trips as often as possible. Anyone who makes a mistake or leaves a mess will be severely punished. Her words can be cruel and sarcastic and she often resorts to physical violence.

She is impatient and demanding, but if anyone confronts her about this, she starts crying and says “I just want to make people happy. I do so much for everyone else, it would just be nice to feel a bit appreciated”. 

The Good Samaritan

This type of altruistic narcissist helps everyone but only when other people are watching. Their desire and aim is to be famous and known for being a good person. For example:

Matt is a politician and likes to portray himself as a man of the people. He does a lot of work in the community and holds speeches about welfare and equality.

However, in the privacy of his office or home, he expresses disdain for the “poor and uneducated parasites that are sucking this country dry”.

He spreads rumors and lies about his opponents behind their backs while he can be seen wishing them well when the cameras are turned on.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

Anna Drescher

Mental Health Writer

BSc (Hons), Psychology, Goldsmiths University, MSc in Psychotherapy, University of Queensland

Anna Drescher is a freelance writer and solution-focused hypnotherapist, specializing in CBT and meditation. Using insights from her experience working as an NHS Assistant Clinical Psychologist and Recovery Officer, along with her Master's degree in Psychotherapy, she lends deep empathy and profound understanding to her mental health and relationships writing.