What is Narcissistic Injury?
Those individuals that suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder are prone to Narcissistic Injury. Narcissistic Injury (NI) refers to any threat (whether real or imagined) that the narcissist perceives is being done to their grandiose false-self in any given moment. With every narcissistic injury experienced by the narcissist’s fragile ego, they will exhibit a reflexive urge towards a violent rage (it would seem that the quality of the narcissistic injury is related to the earlier parent-child relationship). With Narcissistic Personality Disorder, one cannot talk about Narcissistic Injury (Freud) without mentioning narcissistic rage (Kohut). That is because they (narcissistic injury & narcissistic rage) are like two sides of a coin, they are intrinsically linked together. Narcissistic rage is the reaction to narcissistic injury whenever there is a perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth.
Sources and Symptoms Of The Narcissistic Wound
The raging violence may be triggered from a number of sources, but the narcissist is especially hyper-sensitive to any perceived sense of betrayal or abandonment, which is guaranteed to open old parental childhood wounds (i.e. childhood experiences of sudden loss of self-esteem, pride, or shame). As an infant, through a combination of disappointments in the way they receive love from the primary carer (usually the mother), they suffered a severe injury to their infantile narcissism, which they experienced as the loss of attention from their essential narcissistic supply (mother, which they depend on for life itself). The loss of narcissistic supply experienced as an infant becomes a pathological and pervasive fear in the adult narcissist, a fear that makes them hypervigilant to any further narcissistic injury. As a consequence, they are always in a vigilant state against attack, constantly on the lookout for any form of slight towards them (real or imagined), and if detected, it is sure to provoke their narcissistic injury and violence. You don’t get one without the other.
With such a fragile ego as a result of narcissistic injury, the narcissist is easily hurt and humiliated. Even the most innocent remarks or acts can be misconstrued as an attempt to belittle, criticize, or put them down in some way. As well as having a fragile ego, they also suffer from an inflated ego. They perceive themselves as some sort of superior genius that entitles them to special treatment wherever they go. They also have a deep-rooted conviction that most other people are inferior to them, and these people are jealous and envious of their prodigy. They perceive that these inferior people are out to “pull them down”, so they have to be alert at all times to protect themselves from such contempt. So, at the first sign of the possibility of narcissistic injury, they become arresting, antagonistic, and detached. Mortally wounded, they take flight into fantasy of grandiosity and they become fixated on getting revenge. Their need for revenge is paramount, because each narcissistic injury fills them with shame and self-loathing. In an attempt to rebuild their false self and self-worth from the blow of shame, they turn to their rage to restore their sense of safety and power. The narcissist’s rage is made up of two components; the first layer is rage towards the other person, while the second layer is rage towards their own self. The rage, of course, is the uncontainable and fractious anger that results from narcissistic injury, and even though it has many faces, all rage pertains to one thing, revenge.
This cycle of events are re-enacted time and time again by the narcissistic personality. The behaviour serves psychodynamic purposes. For example, with a wall of protection around their fragile ego, they are able to fend of intimacy. Intimacy for the narcissist is too threatening. They avoid it venomously, because in intimacy we are called to reveal our true selves to one-another. Because the narcissist operates out of a false self, they cannot afford the luxury of intimacy, to enter into any form of intimacy they put themselves at risk of being “found out” wanting.
The Narcissists False Self:
The False Self plays an important function in the life of the narcissist. Because the narcissist’s True Self was virtually obliterated by the abuse they received in childhood, and they were forced to develop a False Self (as an adopted reaction to pathological circumstances). In order to protect itself, this False Self dominates and represses the functioning of the True Self to the point that the personality is prevented from functioning as a whole. It is the False Self that cloaks them from the shame felt by the True Self, and it is this shielding that allows the narcissist to flaunt themselves in a way that they seem all powerful and special in the world. It is the False Self that is totally responsible for their huge sense of entitlement. If you like, the False Self is a tough emissary for the True Self that shields and protects the narcissist; without its protection, they would be exposed to too much pain and hurt which would more than likely annihilate them.
Unfortunately, if you are around a narcissist for any amount of time, the chances are that you will cause them to experience some narcissistic injury, triggering their shame and rage. Don’t even bother to try to work out what you did wrong, because it is senseless. All you need to know is, that if you find yourself on the wrong side of the narcissist as a result of causing them narcissistic injury, then prepare yourself to be punished.
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I wonder if their perception of injury in childhood could be due to premature birth and spending a long time in an incubator (ie, deprived of human contact, most significantly deprived of maternal bonding). Maybe the infant felt abandoned even though it was necessary to isolate them to save their lives. I am only suggesting this because I am trying to understand how loving parents can produce malignant narcissists. Thanks for sharing your expertise and insights. Geraldine (psychology student, writer, etc)
Well I got the rage and thankfully just via email. I suspected the man I was involved with was a cerebral narcissist and I firmly believe I’m correct. I lasted 30 days with him and got out. I saw the frustration in him start to boil and suggested I leave. At first he was good with it until I found a new place and then he was mad I was leaving. Luckily I kept my distance in the house until I was able to leave. Tried to talk to him about it after I was gone and he wouldn’t have it. It was his way or no way. That stance he took was matter of fact and if I didn’t comply he wanted nothing to do with me. Then the name calling came out via email. I turned that around and threw it right back in his face and brought out his “true self” and the rage was full force all the way to calling me a nasty name and I had to sit back and laugh. I know the disorder well and for every woman who crosses his path I wish them the best and to run, run and run.
I was the victim of a narcissistic rage it was surreal, deliberate & timed to suit me.having no escape. The blame was later placed on a remark I’d made a month prior to the sting.
The remark was my thought about a politician, a viewpoint I had expresssed several times previously during the grooming (idealisation) phase of this relationship. Narcissists suppress the urges to rage until they feel secure enough to carry out an attack. Rage is not preventable, it’s deliberate once they gain the confidence to express it. The narcissist uses hints, manipulation & tales of abuse to distract victims early on, the rage is dangerous they can kill in a controlled scenario which facilitates this urge to rage.
Wow, this is dead-on. Last year, a narcissist got me fired.
I called in to a meeting instead of coming in person because I was helping a co-worker with mindless computer work. The guy running the meeting, Dave, repeatedly asked me to come in person, but I explained why I couldn’t. He wasn’t my boss or superior in any way. Same rank. I’ve been thinking that I might as well have turned to him and said, “Your meeting sucks, and so do you.”
A month later, I had to leave another of his meetings to go home. It had nothing to do with him or the quality of his meeting. That was Friday. On Sunday, he sent a challenging email demanding an explanation. It caused a minor argument where he kept criticizing my work ethic and attitude with me telling him to back off.
A week later, I was fired. Me “being a problem” in those meeting was the first reason given. I was floored.
Thankyou for writing that. You have helped me beyond words. I’m suffering, due to Narc mother and boyfriend who I’ve just left, But have some strength now that I understand better from reading your article.
Just wanted to say how grateful I am to you . I’m to depressed at the moment to write more.
But I could cuddle you.
Thankyou so much.
Wow, I feel your truth. After 26 years of marriage the tables have turned. He secretly decided to leave but when he did only then did he realise we were what he wanted but it was too late. We no longer wanted him. He is back and his behavior has changed some what and he seems to be getting better, no real intimacy, but less victimization. This is because he wants the family and my creature comforts. But as you say deep down he is still the same sad person. To hear him say he wishes he had been more likable to people saddens me, but in reality he makes no effort and ultimately chooses to be who is, alone except for our closeness in proximity. I think it is all he knows. i sense injury in him but he is closed and so I do not know from where it came.
When I first realsied the insidious abuse i had suffered for so long, when my eyes were opened to it, I sobbed and felt shame. Me a strong intelligent woman didn’t even recognise the lies and the manipulations on every level. I have healthy wonderful children as i vehemently protected them from him as best i could. If there is any effect it is that they will have the wisdom to recognise IT.
In my family I have 5 brothers and 2 sisters. My mother was schizophrenic and my father was a rageful abusive alcoholic. Both actually tried at times to be good parents when they were capable. But I would say all of us experienced narcissistic injury in various ways. In our adult lives however each one of us have dealt with that injury in different ways. Probably only one out of 8 of the children would be considered a truely pathological narcissist.
The problem I see is Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often conflated with people who experience narcissistic injuries. Some of us are capable of recovering to varying degrees depending on personality while others are not capable in recovering and are perpetually stuck in warding off the pain of the injury.
Kohut mapped out the false self, symptomatic self, and authentic self. The problem is if a person goes towards the authentic self they will need to pass through and objectively look at and subjectively re-experience the symptomatic self which is sheer rage from the abuse which mimics the abuser.
I think when the victim realizes that they can be potential abusers, or have been abusers coupled with a deep empathy for their victimization change can happen. But that requires a person to see and feel the situation in the third person and not all people have the capacity to develop a strong objective observer as well as experience all the subjective “parts” of the experience.
If they can safely do this they can begin a long arduous grieving process which comes to terms with the reality of the abuse. But many can not. And our culture is often not equipped to help people. And the most severely injured will avoid being helped.
Annie, my husband was a raging narcissist. I had a narcissistic father and just assumed I deserved to be treated with utmost contempt. I did everything I could to love my husband, make him feel important and respected, and not make him “mad” at me (which he seemed to be all the time, since he was a closet chain smoker but couldn’t get himself to admit that part of his true self to me). After twelve years, I had enough, and told him I was taking our kids and leaving. And he began making small changes, then bigger ones, and has really come to be a pretty decent human being.
However, he cannot “love” anyone or let anyone close to him in any way. We feel like distant acquaintances, even though we’ve now been married nineteen years. I don’t know who he is, what his likes and dislikes are, or anything else that one should know about someone you’ve known even a short time, let alone nineteen years.
So my experience would lead me to believe that people who are narcissists can behave better, but deep down, they’re still the sad, same people.
My husband experienced his injury, btw, when his mother was disappointed that he was a boy instead of the girl she wanted, and rejected him from birth.
@Annie, the problem is related to the stage of development that the individual sustains the original narcissistic injury, and according to currently accepted theories of attachment and object relations, among others, this is though to occur during the first 2-3 years when the young child is learning to differentiate between itself and Other (primary caretaker usu. Mother). In essence, this is when child learns the fundamentals of Self, love and empathy, qualities which are then refined subsequently. If there is disruption of appropriate mirroring between Mother and Child during this time, and instead, the messages to child are that Mother’s love is conditional upon what Mother envisages child to be for her (instead of unconditional love for child as Child within its own right, the Real Self), then Child we begin to cobble together an image (False Self) for the purposes of evoking love from Mother. This is never completely successful and the Child continue to fortify the False Self as a way to wall itself off from painful feelings of rejection, abandonment, shame, etc. Over time, the True Self shrinks without nourishment. The original walls designed to protect become walls of imprisonment. Love cannot be felt or given as they require the investment of and commitment to vulnerability, a risk too costly for the narcissist to endure. The simple answer therefore is NO amount of love from outside of Self will ever be enough, and it is not only naive, but dangerous to assume that without the willingness of this person to engage in therapy, that you will not be eaten alive in the process. I would also say that using the word “love” in this context is incorrect. It is not love for either party, but emotional addiction.
If the narcissist is acting in a “false self” because they feel too much pain to be his or her “true self”, then would massive amounts of love, patience, and acceptance help the narcissist to reveal his or her “true self”? Does anyone have experience with this?
After reading your article i found myself understanding whats wrong with my wife. Shes a control freak and isnt ashamed to admit it. I have often wondered if Narcissim was the root of her psychotic outburst and rage when the slightest of things dont fit her needs or inconveince her in any way. .My wife was adopted as a young child , but had a very loving home. Her Father ( adopted ) was a succesful pharmicist and her mother was a home maker. They were both very good people. She also has an adopted ( No biological connection) brother thats the complete opposite of her and I could never figure out why they are so different coming from the same home, until now.. At this point all I am left with is to figure out how to survive the unwarrented mental abuse and subsequent emotional and physical neglect that seems to be a daily occurence.
Interesting. I have an adult daughter that is a Narcissist (age24) and this is her profile, no doubt. My only recollection of infantile ‘abuse or neglect’ was at age 2 when her younger brother was born–and I was soon after hospitalized for 3 weeks for severe pneumonia. Is age 2 still considered an infant? Other than that she had an absolutely beautiful and almost perfect family. I may never understand her disease, but it has all but KILLED our precious family… the ‘family’ we once had.