Narcissistic Injury – The Agony of the Fragile Narcissistic Ego

When we think of narcissists, what comes to mind are people with grandiose pretensions who believe the world revolves around them. They usually radiate confidence and many people succumb to their superficial charm. However, in truth the reality is the opposite. Narcissists have a very fragile ego that bursts like a delicate soap bubble if anyone challenges them in any way. If you question them, their ego is mortally wounded. They have sustained a Narcissistic Injury.

What causes a narcissistic injury?

There are many things that can trigger a narcissistic injury. It can be something as innocuous as someone not paying attention to the narcissist or not meeting their expectations. It can be a colleague at work who gets promoted instead of them or a family member who refuses to do what they want.

How does a narcissistic injury affect the narcissist?

A narcissistic injury can cause the narcissist to feel threatened, insecure and even paranoid. They may become overly defensive and aggressive. They may also lash out at the person who they perceive to have caused the injury. This can lead to conflict and even alienation from family and friends.

Narcissists perceive contradictions or criticism as an existential threat. The confident persona they present to the world is only skin deep. They live in constant fear that their mask will slip, exposing their true nature to the world.

The narcissistic injury they feel when threatened is excruciating. It also explains why their reactions are so extreme. As far as they are concerned, they are fighting for their life. In order to protect themselves, they unleash a barrage of narcissistic rage in a bid to intimidate their “opponent” into submission.

I mentioned in previous posts that last year I walked out of a very well paid job because of a narcissistic colleague. During the years I worked for that company I had the misfortune to witness a grandiose narcissist and his fragile ego at very close quarters.

Some examples of narcissistic injury in practice:

  • The Narcissist monopolized discussions at board meetings. He embarked on rambling monologues that often did not make sense. If anyone, including the CEO, tried to get a word in, the narcissist got visibly angry. The reaction was so extreme that the person trying to make the point often had to to apologize in order to de-escalate the situation.
  • In a project meeting with our teams, the narcissist told them that if they got it wrong he would let them sink. “I am not going down with you,” he said. “You are on your own.” Obviously, this was an appalling thing to say so I intervened. I did not contradict him or refer to him in any way. I simply reminded them that we were a team and that we would support each other. “Together we will succeed,” I told them. The narcissist became enraged. His narcissistic injury wason full display. He stood up abruptly and stomped out of the room, leaving everyone speechless.
  • In a board meeting one of the directors questioned some data that the narcissist was presenting. It was a genuine question, not an attack. He simply needed more information to come to a well-informed decision. The narcissist unleashed his narcissistic rage, defending himself from the perceived slight. “I am telling you what we should do,” he shouted. “You do not need more information. Are you saying that you do not trust me to make the right decision ?” And sure enough, people stopped asking questions.

Narcissists have fragile egos

As you can see from the above, narcissists do not like being questioned or contradicted. They do not like boundaries. They become furious if they are now shown the respect they believe is their due. If anyone dares laugh at them, they will go for the jugular (check out my narcissist meme gallery to have a good laugh at narcissists).

Any of these challenges threaten their fragile bubble-like shell, exposing their fear and self-loathing.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) gives a very succinct and clear description of the mechanics of a narcissist sustaining a narcissistic injury and their resulting behaviour.

“Vulnerability in self-esteem makes individuals with narcissistic personality disorder very sensitive to ‘injury’ from criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow, and empty. They may react with disdain, rage, or defiant counterattack.”  

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

The impact of this behaviour is extremely damaging, both at work and within the home. Victims end up terrified, walking on eggshells and afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Here are some tips on how to deal with a narcissist at work, in your friend group or in your family.

If you are in this situation please keep in mind that the narcissist will never change. The only thing that will stop the abuse is ending the relationship.

Can a narcissistic injury be healed?

The short answer is yes, a narcissistic injury can be healed. However, it will take time, patience and effort. The narcissist will need to learn to trust again and to let down their guard. They will also need to work on their self-esteem and learn to love themselves. This is not an easy task, but it is possible.

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, be prepared for some bumps in the road. Narcissists are notoriously difficult to deal with. They are also very good at making you feel like you are the one with the problem. However, if they are willing to put in the work, working with a therapist with a background in narcissism, it is possible for them to heal their narcissistic injury and to become a better person.

That said, it is important to keep in mind the fact that narcissists often do not think they need to change. As such, they may not be willing to put in the work necessary to heal their narcissistic wound. If this is the case, then it may be best to walk away from the relationship.

For Further Reading

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