The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Narcissists often have this reputation for being very smooth and cagey; they are often seen as master manipulators and well-oiled machines who could talk anybody into anything. This is undoubtedly true about some of them - especially when you consider that most people are easy to fool because they're not listening to someone with the idea that they are being tricked or lied to and are therefore not evaluating people in this way, but even the most calculated narcissist is prone to magical thinking and this magical thinking often causes them to be very gullible and easy to manipulate. They can come across as almost shockingly naïve in some situations.
For example, it's not uncommon to hear that narcissistic people are the victims of scams or have been preyed upon by con artists. When speaking with clients, this author hears it all the time. It seems ironic that a personality which can be so paranoid and suspicious would be relatively easy to fool, but it's actually pretty common.
We've all heard the saying "If something is too good to be true, it probably is." Pathologically narcissistic people have never found something too good to be true, at least not initially. They become seduced by the reward and focus on that to the exclusion of everything else. It isn't that they don't know unscrupulous people exist, or that humans sometimes manipulate other humans; of course they know that. Not only do they do it, but even if they are unaware of their own behavior, they often believe others are doing it to them (or attempting to do it) all the time. It's that they want it to be true or real, and in the world of the narcissist, feelings equal facts. It's real because they feel it is. It's true because they feel it is.
People with very strong narcissistic pathology are like children in many ways. Children are very easy to manipulate not just because they have no experience or wisdom to draw upon or with which to know better, but because their feelings overwhelm their reason easily. The desire to see a cute puppy overwhelms the continuous warnings they've been given about not talking to strangers. The difference is that most children will learn from experience as they mature. Pathologically narcissistic people don't seem to mature in this way and therefore, they do not learn from their experiences. They rarely seem to master control over impulses and feelings. They will get into the stranger's car to see the puppy 50 times, even if all of the other 49 times resulted in something bad happening. They want to see the puppy and that's more important than anything. Consequences are not considered.
They do have adult cognition, but it's so affected by their perception that it's often useless in these situations. Nothing that disagrees with their desires or feelings will be acknowledged, and if it is pointed out, it will be justified, rationalized or otherwise made irrelevant if it gets in the way of their pursuit of what they want. This is dangerous, as we can see in the often constant self-sabotage and crises these personalities manage to provoke in their own lives. All they can see is what they want and in many situations, this results in a kind of gullibility that seems to contradict their suspicious nature.
When they are legitimately played for fools, this can be devastating to them. Not only is the shame of this perceived failure absolutely titanic for the pathologically narcissistic personality - especially if it's something others will find out about, but they now have to face the fact that they're not going to get what they want. In some cases, this can lead to a collapse or what we call "decompensation" and even suicidality.
As a side note, many people question the idea that narcissists feel shame, and we often find that this is because people are confusing shame for remorse. Remorse requires empathy, and shame does not. Shame is not remorse. Remorse is for others and shame is for the self. Remorse is "I did something bad," and shame is "I am bad." Narcissists feel they are bad without really acknowledging that they've done anything wrong. In other words, instead of feeling, "I feel bad because I did something wrong," which would be a remorse-related feeling, it is "I did something wrong because I am bad," which is very different. It is shame for the self that is very deep-seated and is not related to anything they've actually done in any real sense. It is much deeper than that and goes back much further than that.
Some narcissists are so disconnected from their own feelings that they may not even be aware that this is what they are feeling, but this deep-seated, ever-present shame is a central feature of the pathologically narcissistic personality structure. It is, in many ways, the driving force of nearly all of their behavior in one way or another: almost everything is a reaction to it somehow, either because they are overwhelmed by it or because they are desperately trying to combat it or avoid confronting it.
When their gullibility is exposed in some way, when they've been taken advantage of, narcissistic people often react very poorly to this. Their weakness has been put in public for all to see. Worse, they've been forced into a situation where they cannot pretend it isn't there. Remember, the narcissist is putting on a show for no one more than themselves. The shame attached to this exposure is intolerable for the truly pathologically narcissistic personality. There may be rage, hysteria, complete and utter denial, discard, and even decompensation that can lead to psychosis and death. It is a very serious situation for this fragile personality structure that must be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, this is often where other people get caught in the situation. They can see that the narcissist - for all of their bluff posturing and grandiose saber-rattling - really isn't capable of navigating the world on their own or of watching out for themselves, and they take it upon themselves to be the narcissist's self-appointed guardian and protector. It doesn't take long, though, for people to realize that the narcissist resents this enormously. They don't want this kind of help, nor do they want to be taught how to do it for themselves. All anyone receives for all of their caring is abuse and misinterpretation of their motives. Until the narcissist needs something, of course.
If you find yourself in this situation, realize two things: one, you're probably not wrong in your assessment of their abilities to naivete the world, but two, it's not your responsibility to control the behavior of another adult and that is what this is. As hard as it can be to accept, we are not responsible for others in this way and we have no right to impose ourselves on others this way. This is not about "tough love." It's about reality. They don't want your help and even if they said they did, they obviously are unable to take it.
If the narcissist in your life is making decisions that put your or your children in danger or causing crises in your life, trying to manage or control them is not the answer. Not only is it toxic and infantilizing, it doesn't even work. You can't control the behavior of other people. You can't stop them from making bad decisions or keep them from being taken advantage of if they are bound and determined that this is what they are going to do. All you can do is decide whether you can allow the things they are doing in your life.