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The Altruistic Narcissist: How To Spot Them and Protect Yourself

Have you ever met someone who was always out there signing up for the newest charity event, volunteering, or writing checks to organizations in need? 

They seem to have a magnanimous aura about them, and they’re truly everywhere. If there’s a charitable event or function, they’re front and center. 

But behind the scenes, there’s another side to them. They’re weirdly obsessed with acknowledgement for their good deeds. It’s as if their generosity is a type of capital they trade on as they move through life. 

Maybe you get to know a person like this more intimately. 

You see cracks in the facade. 

In private, when the mask drops, you wonder if there is any genuine goodness in them at all. 

If this strikes close to home, you may know an altruistic narcissist. We’ll explore what altruistic narcissism is. But first, let’s explore how it differs from classic narcissism.

Altruistic Narcissism Different vs Classic Narcissism

So, when you think about classic narcissism, you probably picture someone who’s openly self-centered and craves attention, right? They’re like the peacock in the room, always showing off. 

But altruistic narcissism is a bit sneakier. 

Imagine someone who seems super generous and always ready to help, but deep down, they’re not doing it out of kindness. They’re actually looking for applause and recognition. It’s like they’re playing the role of a hero, not because they genuinely care, but because it makes them look good and feeds their ego. 

So, while classic narcissists are pretty upfront about their self-admiration, altruistic narcissists wear a disguise of generosity to get the admiration they crave.

 It’s like comparing a loud, boastful rock star to a seemingly humble philanthropist who secretly loves the spotlight just as much.

The top of a woman's head as she puts on a crown
Altruistic Narcissism

What is an Altruistic Narcissist?

As you may have picked up on by now, an altruistic narcissist is a type of covert narcissism that combines seemingly self-sacrificing actions with the egocentric nature of narcissistic personality disorder.

Outwardly, they embody the role of a helper or caregiver. But their actions are not as selfless as they appear. It’s all a strategy for personal gain—whether that’s praise, attention, or power.

Key Characteristics of Altruistic Narcissists:

  • Excessive involvement in charitable activities
  • High need for acknowledgement and appreciation
  • Behaviors only maintained so long as they’re in the spotlight or receiving credit

Your encounter with an altruistic narcissist might leave your head spinning (or questioning yourself). 

In public, their reputation often hinges on tangible generosity and kindness. However, in more private settings, the constant expectation of reciprocity or acknowledgement paints a different picture. 

Recognizing an altruistic narcissist involves observing this dissonance between their public persona and private interactions. And that’s not easy to do! Which is why I want to help.

We’ll start by looking at signs and examples of altruistic narcissism. 

I learned a lot from this video, so have a quick watch if you’re interested in diving deeper.

5 Signs You’re Dealing With An Altruistic Narcissist

If you’re worried there’s an altruistic narcissist in your life, there are a few behaviors you may notice about them. Do any of these sound familiar?

1. Excessive Generosity with Ulterior Motives

Altruistic narcissists are always first to volunteer for charity events or make large donations, but they have ulterior motives. You may notice they only participate in things that are high-profile, and they often brag about their contributions. This behavior isn’t about the cause; it’s about gaining admiration and status.

2. Seeking Recognition for Altruistic Acts

You might know someone who’s always helping out at local charities or community events. Commendable, right? Pay attention to how they react to recognition. If they seem upset or frustrated when their efforts aren’t publicly acknowledged, there’s a good chance their primary motivation is recognition, not the act of helping.

3. Manipulating Through Kindness

Consider how some people use their past acts of kindness as leverage. They might help you with something, but then repeatedly remind you of that favor when they need something in return. This tactic of using kindness to create a sense of obligation is a manipulative strategy often employed by altruistic narcissists.

4. Inconsistency Between Public and Private Behavior

There might be people who are publicly known for their charitable work and kindness, but in private, they speak negatively about those they help and show little genuine empathy. (Spoiler: they don’t have any!) This stark difference between how they present themselves publicly and how they behave privately is a huge warning sign.

They may be excellent storytellers who can (at least outwardly) appear to connect with others on deep, emotional levels. But in private, there’s none of that. Those closest to them notice that their empathy and good deeds are for public display only. 

You may even wonder if they truly can connect with people emotionally. But since everyone knows them as this giving, charitable person, you question your own instincts about them. 

5. Using Altruism to Deflect Criticism

Imagine someone who is actively involved in social causes. When confronted with personal issues or criticisms, they quickly deflect by highlighting all the good they do in the community. How dare you criticize them after all the good work they do! This behavior suggests they use their altruistic actions as a shield to excuse or overshadow their personal shortcomings.

These signs can be subtle, often hidden behind seemingly positive behaviors. It’s crucial to look deeper and understand the motivations and consistencies in someone’s actions. True altruism is selfless and doesn’t seek rewards or recognition.

What Do Altruistic Narcissists Want?

With the caveat that we can’t generalize everyone in this group, let’s just say that altruistic narcissists crave recognition and affirmation for their outward generosity. Although they might seem selfless, their desires are often deeply rooted in personal need for external validation.

They wouldn’t do these things if no one could know about them. 


Beneath their seemingly kind actions lies a strong need for validation. They want assurance that their contributions are recognized and appreciated. They perform charitable acts, not fundamentally for the benefit of others, but to affirm their own self-worth and to maintain a self-image of being a ‘good’ person.


Beyond validation, altruistic narcissists crave admiration. They might volunteer extensively or donate generously with the expectation that their actions will earn them a high status in the eyes of others. Their acts of kindness are a currency used to buy admiration and respect, and their charity often comes with strings attached—they expect to be seen and treated as superior, almost saint-like, in their social circles.

The Danger of Altruistic Narcissism

The real danger with altruistic narcissists lies in the fact that many of them believe their own BS.

We know they’ve got this incredible knack for justifying anything they do wrong by leaning on their charitable acts.

On the one hand, they’re the ones always raising their hands for community service or organizing charity events. But here’s the catch – it’s not about the cause for them. It’s all a show to boost their ego and make everyone see them as these amazing, selfless beings.

Now, if you’re close to someone like this – maybe they’re your partner, a parent, a friend, or even your boss – you might find yourself in a tough spot.

It’s like everyone around you is under their spell, totally buying into this ‘perfect’ image. If you try to point out their true nature, you might end up looking like the bad guy.

It’s incredibly isolating.

People might even think you’re overreacting or being ungrateful for wanting to distance yourself from such a ‘great’ person.

And here’s a scenario that really puts things into perspective: Imagine this altruistic narcissist is someone everyone looks up to, like a respected firefighter. If you ever had to challenge them or bring up their true behavior, their public image could overshadow your words.

It’s like their good deeds create a shield, making it hard for your experiences and feelings to be taken seriously. This can leave you feeling voiceless, hesitant to share your story for fear of not being believed or being labeled as jealous or irrational.

An altruistic narcissistic woman accepts an award from a man as admirers look on
How to handle an altruistic narcissist

What To Do If There’s An Altruistic Narcissist in Your Life:

If you find yourself in a relationship with an altruistic narcissist, it can be a challenging and isolating experience. Here’s some advice to help you navigate this situation:

  • Trust Your Feelings: First and foremost, trust your own experiences and feelings. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to acknowledge that. Your emotions and perceptions are valid, even if they are not validated by others.
  • Seek Support: Find a support system outside the influence of the narcissist. This could be friends, family members, or a support group who understand narcissistic behavior. Professional counseling can also be incredibly beneficial in providing you with the tools to cope and understand what you’re going through.
  • Educate Yourself: Learn as much as you can about narcissism. Understanding the traits and behaviors of altruistic narcissists can help you make sense of your experiences and give you clarity.
  • Set Boundaries: Establish and maintain clear boundaries with the narcissist. This might be difficult, especially if they’re used to having control, but it’s crucial for your mental health. Be firm and consistent with these boundaries.
  • Document Everything: Keep a record of incidents and behaviors that you find troubling. This can be useful for your own sanity check, and it’s also important if you ever need to present your case in a legal or therapeutic setting.
  • Avoid Confrontation About Narcissism: Directly confronting a narcissist about their behavior, especially in terms of their personality disorder, often leads to more conflict and manipulation. Focus instead on specific behaviors and how they affect you.
  • Plan for Gaslighting: Be prepared for gaslighting – when the narcissist tries to make you doubt your own reality. Hold onto your truth and don’t let their manipulation sway your perception.
  • Consider Your Options: Reflect on the relationship and what it brings to your life. Sometimes, distancing yourself or leaving the relationship is the healthiest option, though this decision should be made carefully and with support.
  • Self-Care: Prioritize your own well-being. Engage in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself. Self-care is crucial in maintaining your mental health in a challenging environment.
  • Seek Legal Advice if Necessary: If you’re dealing with issues like custody, divorce, or workplace harassment, it might be wise to consult with a legal professional who understands the dynamics of narcissistic behavior.

Remember, you’re not alone, and it’s okay to seek help. Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it’s necessary.

If you’re struggling right now, feel stuck, or don’t know what to do next, talk therapy can help. Getting started with BetterHelp is easy!

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