What is narcissistic injury

From Human to Monster through RAGE

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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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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