Narcissistic Humiliation and Injury

Uploaded 6/29/2011, approx. 5 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

So, how do narcissists react to humiliation? Exactly as normal people do, only more so.

A narcissist is regularly and strongly humiliated by things which normally do not constitute a humiliation. It would be safe to say that the emotional life of the narcissist is tinted by ubiquitous and recurrent insults, humiliations and slights. Any event, any action, inaction, utterance or thought which negate or can be construed to negate the uniqueness or the grandiose superiority of the narcissist's humiliating.

Living in a big city, belonging to a group of peers, any sign of disapproval, disagreement, criticism or remonstrance, all these reduce the narcissist to a state of insulted, sulking agitation.

The narcissist is constantly on the defensive, constantly being targeted. He is a kind of paranoid. Other people fish for compliments, the narcissist fishes for insults. The narcissist interprets everything as addressed to him, to his person, ad hominem. He doesn't make a distinction between criticism of his actions and criticism of his self.

The list of things, real or imagined, by which a narcissist might be slighted is dizzying indeed. When contradicted, when deprived of special treatment, when subjected to an attitude or comment which he judges to contravene his grandiose superior self-image or his sense of entitlement, the narcissist is beside himself with indignant rage.

It is as though the narcissist has a need to be humbled, to be reduced, minimized and otherwise trampled upon. It is kind of a masochistic streak. It is the eternal search for punishment that is satisfied in this way.

The narcissist is on a never-ending trial, which in itself constitutes his punishment.

The initial reaction of the narcissist to a perceived slight or humiliation is a conscious rejection of the humiliating input.

The narcissist tries to ignore this input, talk it out of existence, or belittle its importance or its source.

If this crude mechanism of denial and cognitive dissonance fails, the narcissist resorts to a repression of the humiliating material. He forgets all about it. He gets it out of his mind and when reminded of it, he denies that it ever existed.

But these are usually merely stopgap measures.

The disturbing data, the humiliating input, the disagreement, the criticism, the commentary is bound to impinge on the narcissist's tormented consciousness.

Once aware of its re-emergence in his mind, the narcissist uses fantasy to counteract and count to balance it.

So first there's cognitive dissonance.

The humiliation comes from a low-level source. It's not important. Anyhow, I don't mind it and so on.

And then when this doesn't work, there's denial, it never happened. And when then this doesn't work, there is fantasy.

The narcissist imagines all the horrible things that he would have done or will do to the sources of his frustration.

That is one form of fantasy. It is through fantasy that the narcissist seeks to redeem his pride and dignity and to re-establish his damaged sense of uniqueness and grandiosity.

Paradoxically, the narcissist does not mind being humiliated if this humiliation were to make him more unique or more famous or draw more attention to his personal or to his actions.

So there's a trade-off. He doesn't mind being humiliated if it brings narcissistic supply.

For instance, if the injustice involved in the process of humiliation is unprecedented or if the humiliating acts or words place the narcissist in a unique position or if they transform him into a public figure, the narcissist tries to encourage such behaviors and to elicit them from others.

In this case, the narcissist fantasizes how he defamed and debased his opponents by forcing them to behave even more barbarously than before so that their unjust conduct is universally recognized as such and condemned.

The narcissist is publicly vindicated and his self-respect is restored. He wishes to attain the high moral ground. In short, martyrdom is as good a method of obtaining narcissistic supply as any.

Fantasy, though, again has its limits. And once these limits are reached, the narcissist is likely to experience waves of self-hatred and self-loathing, the outcomes of helplessness and of realizing the texts of his dependence on narcissistic supply.

The narcissist hates to be dependent on other people. These feelings culminate in severe, self-directed aggression, clinical depression, destructive, self-defeating behaviors, or even in extreme cases, suicidal ideation. These self-negating reactions inevitably and naturally terrify the narcissist.

He tries to project them onto his environment. He may decompensate by developing obsessive-compulsive traits or by going through a psychotic micro-episode, losing completely touch with reality and abnegating the reality test.

At this stage, the narcissist is suddenly besieged by disturbing uncontrollable violent faults and urges. He develops ritualistic reactions to them, a sequence of motions, actions, or obsessive counter-falls. Or he might visualize his aggression or experience auditory hallucinations.

Humiliation affects the narcissist very deeply. Luckily, the process is entirely reversible once narcissistic supply is resumed. Almost immediately, the narcissist swings from one pole to another, from being humiliated to being elated, from being put down to being reinstated, from being at the bottom of his own imagined pit to occupying the top of his own imagined hill.

This metamorphosis is very typical. The narcissist has only an inner world. He does not accept nor does he recognize reality. To him, reality is but a shadow cast by the fire which burns inside him.

Reality either conforms to how he perceives himself or it does not exist. He is consumed by this fire, by the wish to be loved, to be recognized, to control, to avoid hurt, to garner attention. By succumbing to this internal conflagration, the narcissist all but cements his inability to attain even the modest goals that are achieved by others at a minimal cost and almost effortlessly.

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Narcissist Never Sorry

Narcissists sometimes feel bad and experience depressive episodes and dysphoric moods, but they have a diminished capacity to empathize and rarely feel sorry for what they have done or for their victims. They often project their own emotions and actions onto others and attribute to others what they hate in themselves. When confronted with major crises, the narcissist experiences real excruciating pain, but this is only a fleeting moment, and they recover their former self and embark on a new hunt for narcissistic supply. They are hunters, predators, and their victims are prey.

Negative, Fake, Low-grade Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists crave attention, both positive and negative, and use it to regulate their sense of self-worth. They construct a false self and project it onto others to elicit admiration, adulation, and fear. Negative supply can become narcissistic supply when positive supply is scarce. Narcissists also crave punishment, which confirms their view of themselves as worthless and relieves them of the inner conflict they endure when they are successful.

Narcissist's Cycles of Ups and Downs

Narcissists go through cycles of mania and depression, which are caused by external events or circumstances known as triggers. The cycles are different from manic depressive cycles in bipolar disorder, which are endogenous. The narcissist is addicted to narcissistic supply and seeks admiration, adoration, approval, attention, and so on. The narcissist goes through ups and downs, including a depressive phase, a hibernation phase, and a manic phase, which are all part of the process of obtaining and securing narcissistic supply.

Zombie Narcissist: Deficient Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists are constantly seeking praise, adoration, admiration, approval, applause, attention, and other forms of narcissistic supply. When they fail to obtain sufficient supply, they react much like a drug addict would. They become dysphoric, depressed, and may resort to alternative addictions. In extreme cases of deprivation, they may even entertain suicidal thoughts. Narcissists also have a sense of magical thinking, believing that they will always prevail and that good things will always happen to them, rendering them fearless and cloaked in divine and cosmic immunity.

Narcissists Have Emotions

Narcissists do have emotions, but they tend to repress them so deeply that they play no conscious role in their lives or conduct. The narcissist's positive emotions come bundled with very negative ones, and they become phobic of feeling anything lest it be accompanied by negative emotions. The narcissist is reduced to experiencing down-steerings in their soul that they identify to themselves and to others as emotions. Narcissists are not envious of others for having emotions, they disdain feelings and sentimental people because they find them to be weak and vulnerable.

When the Narcissist's Parents Die

The death of a narcissist's parents can be a complicated experience. The narcissist has a mixed reaction to their passing, feeling both elation and grief. The parents are often the source of the narcissist's trauma and continue to haunt them long after they die. The death of the parents also represents a loss of a reliable source of narcissistic supply, which can lead to severe depression. Additionally, the narcissist's unfinished business with their parents can lead to unresolved conflicts and pressure that deforms their personality.

Narcissist Reacts to Criticism, Disagreement, Disapproval

Narcissists are hypervigilant and perceive every disagreement as criticism and every critical comment as complete and humiliating rejection. They react defensively, becoming indignant, aggressive, and cold. The narcissist minimizes the impact of the disagreement and criticism on himself by holding the critic in contempt, by diminishing the stature of the discordant conversant. When the disagreement or criticism or disapproval or approbation become public, the narcissist tends to regard them as narcissistic supply.

Narcissist's Routines

Narcissists have a series of routines that are developed through rote learning and repetitive patterns of experience. These routines are used to reduce anxiety and transform the world into a manageable and controllable one. The narcissist is a creature of habit and finds change unsettling. The narcissist's routines are often broken down when they are breached or can no longer be defended, leading to a narcissistic injury.

Narcissist Grooms Sources of Narcissistic Supply: Exploits Tragedy, Crisis, and Misfortune

Narcissists are callous and ruthless enough to exploit the tragedy of others. They are obsessed with the maintenance of their delicate inner balance through the ever-increasing consumption of narcissistic supply. The narcissist regards and treats his sources of narcissistic supply as full-fledged human beings, but only as long as they can provide him with what he needs. The narcissist always evaluates the victims of tragedies to see if they can become sources of supply or can be used as props in the theater of his life.

Narcissist Re-idealizes Discarded Sources of Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists keep discarded sources of supply in reserve and seek them out when they have no other supply source. They frantically try to recycle their old sources and re-idealize them without admitting to having been mistaken in the first place. To preserve their grandiosity, they come up with a narrative that accommodates both the devaluing content and the re-idealized image of the source. If you are an old source of narcissistic supply, simply ignore the narcissist as indifference is what they cannot stand.

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