I am a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders who has worked with people with disabilities and mental illnesses for over 10 years.
It can be extremely upsetting and even shocking to go so far out of your way for somebody, only to have them insist it is not good enough, or to treat you as if you owe it to them. This is often the reality for those dealing with narcissistic people. A narcissist being given a ride to a doctor's appointment two hours away may complain the entire time that the person driving is slow, that the music the person is listening to is annoying, that the car is not good enough or big enough, or that it is embarrassing to drive up in because it is ugly or old. Most people would never dream of behaving that way when someone was doing them such a big favor, but the narcissist believes this is just how things are. Of course you're taking time out of your life to drive them somewhere really far away. And? That's what you're supposed to do. That's what everyone is supposed to do. They want something and you give it to them. That's what life is. Trying to explain gratitude to a narcissist is like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man. The words you are using mean absolutely nothing to this person.
There are a few reasons that narcissists are so ungrateful. One is that they believe they deserve whatever they want just because they want it. If you've read the article entitles Why Narcissists Believe They Deserve Everything They Want, then you know there a few different reasons for this, some straightforward and others more complex. The end result though, is that when people feel they are owed things, they tend to be less grateful for them. When people simply take something as their due, it is usually not as appreciated as it could be. If you worked for two years to save up money so you could buy a car, for instance, you'd probably appreciate that car a lot more than if cars were simply given out as a matter of course to everyone your age. Every time you got in it, you might remember that two years spent walking or taking the bus and you might be more grateful for your car than someone who has never experienced that.
Narcissists do not know how to be grateful because they simply expect to be given whatever they want. They take everything and everyone for granted, the same way that young children do. Narcissistic people have never matured enough to be able to attend to their own needs, manage their own lives, or be responsible for their own feelings. They believe these things - and they themselves - are everyone else's responsibility. If they are unhappy or they need something, somebody else is supposed to do something about that.
Another reason they are ungrateful is because they generally have very negative perception. How can you find anything to be grateful for when you're convinced that the whole world is just a pile of crap and so is everybody in it? You will often find that when you try to point out things they could be grateful for, or happy about - or when you mention things you are grateful for or happy about - they will argue that these aren't really good things. For example, if you say they could be grateful to be alive, they will say that living their life is nothing to be grateful for. Some of this is just their contrariness and need to argue and disagree or it may be because they are the type that tries to constantly present themselves as a victim, but part of it is because they really do feel that way. They are miserable people who find no joy in anything and attempts to change that are often seen as hokey, pointless and stupid.
It is not uncommon to find that narcissists have a serious dislike for anything positive. They often look down on happy people, believing them to be either fake or dumb. They usually have a hard time believing any positivity can be genuine and they don't trust good things that happen, either disregarding them as a fluke or re-framing them as actually negative. Inside, narcissists generally believe their problems are the worst problems that exist and therefore they can find nothing to be grateful for. Their internal experience is generally extremely negative and this causes their perception and therefore almost all of their external experiences to be negative, too.
One of the biggest reasons narcissists are so ungrateful is a little more complicated; because they are unable to separate their self from the external world, everything that happens is considered to be coming from them and flowing to them. Gratitude is often about being grateful for things that you had nothing to do with; it's about recognizing that "but for the grace of God go I." In other words, gratitude is about recognizing your good fortune. This is why it helps with being self-centered. It teaches you to look beyond yourself. For example, you may be grateful that you recovered from a very serious illness, or that no one was hurt in a car accident. When someone believes that every single thing that happens is because of them somehow, they can't really look outside themselves. Instead of being grateful that a bad situation was not worse, they will instead often personalize the tragedy, either believing it happened because they are bad or to ruin them.
Narcissists also have a serious problem with magical thinking. Magical thinking is the idea that what you want or believe can cause things to happen in the world. It's often harmless, but with narcissists, it is taken to an extreme degree, the degree we usually only see in young children. We often hear of narcissists who believe they don't have to look both ways because cars will just stop, or think it doesn't matter if they spend all of the money and don't pay the bills because something will come up and money will come from somewhere. This impacts their ability to be grateful because they have no concept or understanding of the negative consequences that could have happened, therefore they cannot be grateful these things did not happen. They simply say, "Of course it went OK. Things like that don't happen to people like me." Things that contradict this magical thinking are ignored or downplayed and things that seem to confirm it are considered proof of their charmed status. There is no room for gratitude—true gratitude—in this personality.
It's a very sad irony that narcissists often insist people are not grateful to them, yet they seem to have no actual understanding of what gratitude even is. As with love, respect, consideration, and many other things, they are insisting they be given something they can't recognize even when it's right in front of them. To a narcissist, the relationship is all about what you are or are not doing for them. Gratitude is not something that they should be engaging in. That's for people to give to them. The good news is that you don't have to be like that. It's not really about being positive, so much as it is about training yourself to be realistic rather than negative. Reality is usually not as black and white as we initially perceive it to be. That's the biggest difference between narcissists and non-narcissistic people: you have a choice. You don't have to be miserable and negative and angry, the way so many people are. You can reflect on things you are grateful for every day, and watch it open your mind up to a whole new way of looking at things.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.