A narcissist’s novelty seeking personality, dependence on narcissistic supply, sense of entitlement, arrogance, and a profound lack of empathy makes cheating a core aspect of narcissism, narcissistic personalities, and narcissistic abuse.

To prove this, we conducted a study among 81 survivors of narcissistic abuse to determine three things: the percentage of survivors who experienced cheating in their narcissistic relationship, the attitude their narcissistic ex had towards their own infidelity, and whether or not the narcissist cheated again.

From there, we conducted another study, with the same focus, among 73 people who have been cheated on by non-narcissistic partners in the hopes that our findings would clarify whether or not cheating is a core aspect of narcissism, narcissistic personalities, and narcissistic abuse. 

It was really important that the study zeroed in on the narcissist’s attitude towards his/her own infidelity because it magnifies the difference between non-narcissistic cheating and narcissistic cheating. What we found solidified our certainty that cheating is a core aspect of narcissism, narcissistic personalities, and narcissistic abuse.

The difference between non-narcissistic cheating and narcissistic cheating is that when a non-narcissistic cheater is caught or confesses his/her betrayal, they’re often genuinely apologetic, ashamed, they acknowledge that their behavior has hurt their partner and they have the potential to take their betrayal and use it to become a better version of themselves.

When a narcissistic cheater gets caught they often use a significant amount of gaslighting to minimize and/or deny their betrayal, their lack of empathy prohibits them from being able to truly understand the impact their betrayal had on their partner, and they’re unable to grow from the experience because a majority of narcissist feel as if they’re entitled to whatever they want. 

Narcissistic Cheating vs Non-Narcissistic Cheating Case Study

The definition of cheating that we provided all of our participants with was the following:

“Infidelity (synonyms include cheatingstrayingadulterybeing unfaithfultwo-timing, or having an affair) is a violation of a couple’s emotional and/or sexual exclusivity that commonly results in feelings of anger, sexual jealousy, and rivalry. What constitutes infidelity depends on expectations within the relationship.” Wikipedia

Narcissistic Cheating Study

Were You Cheated on by Your Narcissistic Partner?Do You Think That They Were Genuinely Apologetic/Ashamed for Their Betrayal?Did They Acknowledge That Their Betrayal Hurt You? Did They Attempt to Become a Better Version of Themselves After Their Betrayal Was Revealed? Did They Ever Cheat Again?
71.6% (Yes) N/A15.51% (Yes)6.89% (Yes)77.58% (Yes)
28.39% (No)100% (No)84.47% (No)93.1% (No) 3.44% (No)
N/AN/AN/AN/A18.96% (Not Sure)

Two things that are very important to understand before we unpack all of this data are the last two sections: Did they attempt to become a better versions of themselves?/Did they ever cheat again?

We were REALLY concerned that the answers of the participants who felt that their narcissistic partner tried to change and/or didn’t cheat again would give others hope that the narcissist in their life could change as well.

In all honesty, we have no idea whether or not a narcissist can change. HOWEVER, what we do know is that it is VERY UNLIKELY that they will change. The answers given in this study were from the perspective of the participant. The answers aren’t necessarily reality.

When it comes to narcissism and narcissistic abuse, it is much safer to operate under the belief that the narcissist in your life WILL NOT CHANGE rather than search for reasons to remain in the relationship.

We have had the privilege of collaborating with Dr. Kerry McAvoy, Ph.D., a psychologist, writer and content creator, to provide you with some very valuable advice she wish she had when dealing with her own abusive relationship back in 2017.

Dr. Kerry McAvory, Ph.D., is a FANTASTIC person and an even better resource so please be sure to check out her website where you can find links to all of her platforms.

Alright, let’s unpack all of this data.

The overall objective of this study was to magnify the difference between narcissistic cheating and non-narcissistic cheating.

Question 1

The first step was to find out how many of the participants, who’ve experienced narcissistic abuse, had been cheated on. We found that 58 (71.6%) of the participants were cheated on by their narcissistic ex and removed the 23 (28.39%) participants who weren’t cheated on from the study, leaving us with 58 participants left.

This was an important step in this study because it gave us a really good understanding of how common cheating is among narcissistic relationships.

Victims of narcissistic abuse reporting that they've been cheated on by their narcissistic ex

Question 2

The next step was to focus on the attitude that their narcissistic partners had towards their their own unfaithful behaviors. This is arguably the most important aspect of the study because if we want to come to a logical conclusion on whether or not cheating is a part of narcissism, we need to have a comprehensive grasp of their behavior so we can compare it to non-narcissistic cheating.

Unsurprisingly, all of the participants who experienced narcissistic cheating reported that their narcissistic exes weren’t genuinely apologetic or ashamed for their betrayal. Then we found that 49 (84.47%) reported that their narcissistic ex didn’t acknowledge that their betrayal had hurt them.

This was actually quite interesting because a majority of the participants who reported this mentioned that their narcissistic exes weren’t oblivious to their behavior. Instead they would use various different forms of gaslighting and projection to avoid taking responsibility of their actions.

The reason this is interesting is because it supports the many researchers’ belief that narcissists NEED to believe their own lies. They lie so much that the lies become their identity. If they were to not truly believe their own lies, they’d contradict their own identity on a daily basis.

Narcissist are oblivious to the cost of their actions. They avoid seeing the truth via all sorts of primitive defense mechanisms. Facing the truth would force them to address their hollow or shamed-based inner core- Dr. Kerry McAvoy Ph.D.

A narcissist pretending to be special, admirable, and powerful.

If you’re interested in having a comprehensive grasp on narcissistic lying, be sure to check out the first article in our lying series, Why Do Narcissists Lie?

Question 3

Step three was designed to determine whether or not the narcissist in our participants’ lives had any type of self-awareness whatsoever. Thanks to the shame-rage spiral narcissists experiences almost on a daily basis, we know that they’re aware that their behavior is wrong. If you want a complete guide about the shame-rage spiral, check out our article What Is Narcissistic Rage?

But this third question was designed to validate our suspicions that narcissists are incapable of looking within themselves for self-improvement. You see, if a narcissist were to even consider the possibility that they had room for growth, it would contradict their falsified identity.

Seeing that 54 (93.1%) of the participants reported that their narcissistic exes didn’t make even the slightest attempt to become a better version of themselves solidified our beliefs.

A narcissistic woman in a striped outfit rationalizing her unfaithful behavior to her husband.

Question 4

A narcissist’s novelty seeking, lack of empathy, sense of entitlement, dependence on narcissistic supply and arrogance has let many researchers to believe that narcissists are serial cheaters. So, the fourth part of this study was to see how many of the participants reported that their narcissistic ex cheated on them more than once.

We found that 45 (77.58%) of the participants reported that their narcissistic ex cheated on them multiple times. 11 (18.96%) of the participants were unsure whether or not their narcissistic ex cheated on them.

However, we had a follow up question for the 11 participants, “how long did it take for your narcissistic ex to find the new supply”, and the average time turned out to be 2.4 weeks. When this was combined with the fact that each participant said that they knew the new source of supply already, it strongly suggests that the narcissist had some sort of relationship with their new supply prior to the end of their relationship with our participants.

A woman realizing that her narcissistic ex has started to date the woman that he told her not to worry about.

And finally, we found that 2 (3.44%) of the participants reported that the narcissist in their life did not cheat on them again. However, after further investigation, we learned the the reason was because both participants had left the relationship immediately after learning about the narcissist’s betrayal.

Question 5

The fifth and final step was to compare the data we collected about narcissistic cheating to the data we collected about non-narcissistic cheating.

So, we conducted the exact same study only this time, it was among 73 participants who had experienced non-narcissistic cheating. We found that 45 (62.99%) of the participants felt that the person that cheated on them was genuinely apologetic and ashamed for their behavior.

49 (67.12%) of the participants reported that the partner who cheated on them acknowledge that their betrayal hurt them.

“I knew something was wrong, I just wasn’t expecting to find out that he cheated on me. He was barely eating, he couldn’t sleep, and when he told me, he could barely get the words out because he was an emotional wreck.” -Participant 36 (non-narcissistic cheating study)

46 (63.01%) of the participants noticed that the person who cheated on them made an attempt to become a better version of themselves after their betrayal was revealed.

“Two weeks after I found out that my wife cheated on me, we were in couples counseling. I was still furious but seeing her try so hard to reconnect with me reminded me of how much I love her. I still get upset at times but we’ve worked through everything that we can and we’re stronger than ever before!” -Participant 3 (non-narcissistic cheating study)

And finally, 60 (82.19%) of the participants reported that their partner did not cheat again.

Non-Narcissistic Cheating Study

Do You Think That They Were Genuinely Apologetic/Ashamed for Their Betrayal?Did They Acknowledge That Their Betrayal Hurt You? Did They Attempt to Become a Better Version of Themselves After Their Betrayal Was Revealed? Did They Ever Cheat Again?
62.99% (Yes)67.12 (Yes)63.01% (Yes)13.69 (Yes)
37.01% (No)32.87% (No)36.98% (No)82.19 (No)
N/AN/AN/A4.1% (Not Sure)

What Can We Take Away From Both of These Studies?

There’s a HUGE difference between narcissistic cheating and non-narcissistic cheating. According to the numbers, they’re nearly polar opposites. We believe that the data shows that cheating is a huge part of narcissism.

How?

While there are four different types of narcissism, they all share a handful of characteristics that act as the foundation for their personalities and behavior patterns.

These characteristics are a grandiose sense of self, arrogance, sense of entitlement, sense of superiority, need for power and control, hypersensitivity to criticism, lack of empathy, manipulative, sense of specialness, selfishness, and profound levels of emotional immaturity.

The questions we used to conduct this study were designed to circulate around the characteristics I just listed above.

Someone who is able to acknowledge that his/her behavior is wrong and has hurt others, display a significant amount of shame and/or guilt for his/her betrayal, use the experiences to look within themselves for areas that they can grow, and commit to never making the same mistake again, has a significant amount of empathy, self-awareness, humility, and emotional maturity.

A narcissist realizing that he doesn't have empathy, self-awareness, emotional maturity, and humility.

All things that narcissists lack.

So, what this study tells us is that cheating is a huge part of narcissism because the ideologies behind it are a huge part of narcissism, narcissistic personalities, and narcissistic abuse as a whole.

What does this mean?

Simply put, when a non-narcissistic person cheats, it is usually out of character. They’re able to acknowledge, accept, and grow from their betrayal because they posses a significant amount of empathy, self-awareness, humility, and emotional maturity.

When a narcissistic person cheats, it is not an out of character behavior pattern. They truly believe that they’re entitled to whatever they want, they believe they’re clever enough to get away with it, they are novelty seekers, and they have a constant need for narcissistic supply.

For a narcissist, cheating is just another tool they can use to get what they want which is why cheating is a huge part of narcissism, narcissistic personalities, and narcissistic abuse!


We really enjoy conducting these studies because of how insightful they turn out to be. If you’re interested in becoming an Unfilteredd Study Participant, please click here for more information!

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References

David M. Buss, Todd K. Shackelford, Susceptibility to Infidelity in the First Year of Marriage, Journal of Research in Personality 31 (2) 1997, pp. 193-221.

Benjamin Warach, Lawrence Josephs, Bernard S. Gorman, Pathways to Infidelity: The Roles of Self-Serving Bias and Betrayal Trauma. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 44 (5) 2018, pp. 497-512.

Charles A. O’Reilly, Bernadette Doerr, Conceit and deceit: Lying, cheating, and stealing among grandiose narcissists, Personality and Individual Differences 154 (1) 2020.