One big problem narcissists have is that they perceive people (including themselves) negatively. This is part of being out of touch with reality. Suppose you act like a jerk. In order to feel good about yourself, you convince yourself others have it coming to them, by distorting reality. Or you’ll goad others so that they’ll retaliate, allowing you to convince yourself that others are the bad guys.
The solution is to act on your good impulses so you have no need to self-justify:
To the extent you have impulses to be helpful or nice to others or yourself, you should try to carry out the impulses. E.g. if you see someone that needs help and you think, “I should help,” you really should. The reason: if you don’t, you’ll find a way to blame the other person so that you can feel you did the right thing by not helping. You’ll see that person negatively. As before, you may even goad them into attacking you, so that you can feel better about yourself.
The solution is simple: when around other people, pay attention. If you have an impulse to help them, do it. Do this again and again. If you forget and catch yourself not paying attention, just start over.
He also recommends zen meditation and some other interesting advice about how to recognize and process feelings of shame. And more specifically about cultivating self-awareness:
Try to develop a friendly curiosity about yourself. Somehow you got to the present without paying much attention. Now is a good time to start paying attention. Try to notice your thoughts. Try to feel whatever you feel. Watch yourself making judgments. See how you spend your time. The key here is the attitude. You aren’t studying yourself coldly. You are, in a friendly way, trying to observe what you do. The reason is that “friendly” is less-threatening than “cold”. You are more likely to see all aspects of yourself if you observe yourself with friendly curiosity.
Pay attention to things as you act. That way after the fact, you’ll be able to look back and remember what happened. The goal is to get away from reacting and instead become someone that acts deliberately.
The neat thing here is that you get to catch yourself deluding yourself. You are routinely lying to yourself. You’ve got the chance to catch yourself and watch it happen.
The alternative to self-awareness is being asleep and living a life of self-delusion and misery.
This post about self-deception is also very interesting, in which he cites this article (see also this book):
Humans are invested in seeing themselves as ethical creatures. We want to believe in the rightness of our own conduct, to see our lives as a series of mostly well-intentioned decisions. And it appears that we'll go to great lengths to feel that way, even if it means warping our own sense of morality to suit our needs.
This is why I don't want people to feel indebted to me. I have narcissists and other self-deceived people in my family, circle of acquaintances, and group of business associates. Those type of people cannot stand to feel indebted to someone else -- it goes against their own sense of self worth. So what they will do is try to make up a story in which they are not really indebted to me, perhaps because what I gave them was not really worth much, or perhaps by imputing some sort of ulterior motive to me. Or maybe they might imagine a story in which I am really just paying them back for something that I have long been ungrateful for. Whatever the means, the purpose is always the same: to make them feel like they are in the right, even if it means convincing themselves that I am in the wrong. It is not at all worth it to me, so I am very careful to preemptively downplay anything I might happen to do for them.
I have to say that I hate self-deceived people. Sometimes they email me or I see them commenting on posts. I wonder if they realize how obvious they are. Maybe they can, in the way that we sometimes suspect we have bad breath but can never really be sure.