Narcissists suffer from narcissistic injury – a fragile vulnerability in self-esteem which makes them very sensitive to ‘injury’ or feeling hurt by criticism from others or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism (real or perceived) haunts these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow and empty. They typically react with disdain, emotional and verbal abuse, rage, or defiant counterattack.
While the narcissist may act arrogant and haughty and put on a show that nothing bothers them, this facade makes it difficult for you to see their inward self-loathing. You may be thinking, “Are you kidding me? He or she thinks they are the hottest thing on earth and no one can measure up to them!” But as they do not have a solid, developed sense of self, narcissists swing from depression and anxiety to grandiosity and inflated importance with little in-between. Their presentation deceives most people until they get to know the narcissist. When the narcissists’ facade of charm and deception gets cracked, their whole world bursts apart. The illusion of having it all together is only a thin veneer. They will blame others for their feelings of inadequacy, lack of happiness, and lack of love.
When narcissists feel that they have lost, failed or they feel rejected or abandoned, they don’t forget it. We have all felt abandoned or rejected at times in our lives, and most of us get over it with a little time and processing of feelings. We move on. But the narcissist does not do this. Narcissists are not enough in touch with their own feelings to move on. The issues remain in their mind as “It’s all your fault.” “How could you do this to me?” They want to strike back – they maintain the scoreboard, but only collect points for your mistakes, not theirs – largely because they feel justified in all their actions and don’t see them as ‘mistakes’.
The counter attacks and contempt and rage from the narcissist can feel like you are being bullied with no restraint. It is emotional and verbal abuse and at worst, can escalate to physical abuse. It can come in the form of emails, texts, letters, verbal abuse and put downs, social media attacks. Their narcissistic rage seems to come out of nowhere and can leave you feeling confused and afraid – walking on eggshells. “What will they do next?” “Why did that person do this?” “I had no idea that comment or situation would get them so upset”. It really makes no rational sense because it is clearly the projection of their own feelings onto others.
The lack of accountability in the narcissist is astounding. When you expect they will see the error of their ways and apologise, you will find them defending themselves. Somehow, they always find a way to make it all about you and it becomes your fault. “You made me react that way.” “You did this or that to create my rage.” “You’re behaviour will not be tolerated.” “If you had been a better wife and given me the attention I need, then I wouldn’t have had an affair.” “If I had been paid what I deserve, then I wouldn’t have taken the money from the till.”
It is important to understand the concept of narcissistic injury so that it can be identified in our everyday lives. It may be found in our relationships, our leaders, our bosses and our families. It does affect people because it is harmful and abusive. It leaves one self-doubting and wondering what they did to cause the chaos and destructive behaviour.
People struggle to come to terms with narcissistic behaviour in the media, politics, families and love relationships. Because the narcissist does not have the ability to give empathy, issues related to them rarely get resolved. The most harmful impact tends to occur within the marital relationship, because it often unfolds behind closed doors, leaving the partner feeling alone and insecure in their own sense of self.
The more we share experience and educate others about narcissistic injury and how it is experienced for the person and those around them, the more people, organisations, and relationships we can help.