How To Identify A White Knight Narcissist
Not all narcissists are easily identifiable. When we think “narcissist,” we tend to think of someone who is preening, vain, hogging the spotlight; someone who doesn’t have a care in the world for anyone but themselves.
Narcissists are not capable of deep empathy, but they are very much keen observers of people. Some of them learn to hide their true selves behind a mask of altruism.
Today we will take a look at White Knight narcissists, people who do quite a bit of good in the service of others — but who are still narcissists.
White Knight narcissists
Narcissists have a deep emptiness inside them, a void that must constantly be filled by the attention and admiration of others. This external validation that the narcissist is special and perfect is known as narcissistic supply.
Elinor Greenberg, a psychologist, lecturer, and author on narcissistic disorders, coined the term “White Knight narcissist” for narcissists who spend considerable time, energy, and/or money in the service of others. Another term is “pro-social narcissist.”
These people might spend time volunteering in the community. They might work for a nonprofit or other organization that puts them in the service of others. The White Knight is a person who might offer to help a neighbor with a household project, or watch their pet while they’re away. The White Knight is often thought of as a really nice, charming, generous soul.
These acts, however, are how this type of narcissist draws their supply. They believe they deserve unending admiration and praise for the good deeds they perform. They mask themselves in altruism to become the center of attention whenever they get the chance.
They may throw money around, donating considerable money to causes or leaving oversized tips at restaurants — but rest assured, these donations are never anonymous. They are always made with the intention of impressing someone, setting the White Knight narcissist up as someone to be admired, as a pillar of the community.
White Knight narcissists are still narcissists
Like all narcissists, the White Knight variety lacks object constancy, which means they are not capable of seeing a person (including themselves) as possessing both good and bad qualities at the same time. To them, a person is either all good or all bad.
This can cause them to turn on you in an instant, if they feel you are not giving them the attention and admiration they believe they deserve. They can become dismissive and condescending toward you, shifting blame onto you, projecting their own worst qualities onto you. One minute they may call to invite you out to brunch, and the very next minute, they’re bashing you, trashing you, calling you the very worst names.
Like all narcissists, White Knights are capable of smear campaigns, creating false rumors (often based in a smidgen of truth) to damage your reputation among your peer group. Often, the victim of such a campaign will have no idea until it is well underway.
If your admiration for all that a White Knight narcissist does for you leads to a relationship with them, don’t be surprised if they become less and less helpful and generous as time goes on — at least to you. They will get bored with you and look for new sources of supply, new people to admire them for their good deeds.
What to do if you find a White Knight narcissist in your midst
Although you may be tempted to confront and expose the narcissist, this is generally a very bad idea, whether White Knight or other variety. Because of their fractured self-esteem, their reaction will likely be explosive. They might launch a smear campaign, take false legal action against you, or even threaten you with physical harm.
It is preferable to be pleasant to the narcissist, but from a distance. It’s fine to say, “Hey, great job on that fundraising campaign,” but avoid being effusive in your praise which could lead to them seeing you as a source of supply.
Keep someone you identify as a White Knight narcissist at the friendly acquaintance level. If you begin to see them as a true friend — which is easy to do because they are so charming and helpful — you may begin to open up to them, to share things that are personal, to confide in them. That is a mistake. Narcissists see that as a weakness and remember the things you tell them in case they ever need to use those things against you.
Avoid electronic communications such as text messages, PMs, or emails with narcissists when possible. They will use those against you at a later date if provoked. They will show them to mutual friends to prove that you are the “crazy” one, and could even show them to the police or use them against you in court.
If you work with a White Knight narcissist, again, be pleasant but be distant, and try to communicate face-to-face rather than by email whenever possible. If the White Knight narcissist is your boss, be pleasant and respectful, and if you’re lucky you’ll become one of your boss’s favorites. Even then, though, you should be cognizant that they could turn on you at any time, and be looking for ways out.
If you find yourself around someone who does a lot of good for their friends, neighbors, and their community, but who seems to do it as a device to get attention and admiration, you may be dealing with a White Knight narcissist.
Although outwardly altruistic, White Knight narcissists are still narcissists. They can still engage in the behaviors found in other forms of narcissism. These include projection, denial, gaslighting, playing the victim, devaluing, and discarding.
If you have a suspected White Knight narcissist in your peer group or office, don’t confront them. Pleasant but detached is the best air to project when interacting with them. Avoid sharing personal details of your life with them, and avoid electronic communication with them as much as possible.
I hope this introduction has been helpful. See the sources below for more information, and if you would like to read more of my work, join my tribe for weekly updates.
Psychology Today: White Knights & Black Knights: Pro-Social & Anti-Social NPD
Abuse Warrior: Traits of the White Knight Narcissist