Narcissistic individuals tend to project a haughty persona. They do this whether they’re the more “vulnerable” (i.e. neurotic) or “grandiose” (i.e. character disturbed) type of narcissist. But whether the lofty image they put forth is an unconsiously constructed facade compensating for feelings of inadequacy or is rooted in a conscious but nearly delusional over-assessment of their self-worth, sometimes life circumstances can deal that image a major blow. And when such a narcissistic injury (other professionals prefer the terms “wound” or “insult”) occurs, the “meltdown” that can happen in the aftermath is never pretty.
Classical psychology paradigms teach that the two prime ways narcissists handle insults to their self-image (i.e. reality and situationally-based challenges to their delusions of grandeur) are through denial and projection – denial being construed as the very primitive and unconscious ego defense mechanism by which folks block out of their conscious awareness what would be too anxiety-evoking or emotionally painful to accept, and projection being the nearly equally primitive defense mechanism by which folks attribute to other people, places, and things motives, behaviors, or feelings they find too anxiety-evoking or emotionally painful to accept about themselves. As I have long insisted in my books and other writings, these classical interpretations have their limits of validity and applicability, especially when it comes to the character disturbed. Nevertheless, the behaviors described above are well-known to anyone who’s ever had to deal with a narcissistic person. And as disturbing as the behaviors are in themselves, the frequent fallout from them is often even more disturbing.
Perhaps nothing is as frustrating as trying to “get through” to someone who simply won’t hear what you have to say. You can use example after example or make point after point trying to get them to see something that seems as obvious as the nose on your face and the narcissist simply won’t concede. When what you have to say challenges the grandiose image they have of themselves, they simply won’t give it any validity. And this is not usually because they have so much anxiety or are in such conflict of conscience over matters that they simply can’t bear the truth. Rather, it’s their defiant attitude toward anything but the truth as they insist on seeing it and their determination to maintain both the image they’ve constructed and the position of superiority they believe they deserve that motivates them to resist accepting what they actually know to be the real truth. This is the difference between really being in the psychological state of denial as opposed to engaging in denial as a tactic of impressiona management, image maintenance, and responsibility avoidance (I have a lot more to say on this topic in my books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome as well as several articles here on the blog including: Denial – What It Is and What It Isn’t, Traditional Therapy Biases and “Denial”, Denial – Manipulation Tactic 4, and “Denial” Top 5 Misused Psychology Terms – Part 1). But sometimes the reality of circumstances, and especially of someone’s failure, becomes too patently self-evident for a narcissist to successfully deny. And that’s when things with them can get really dicey.
Narcissists will do almost anything to preserve their grandiose self-image. So when circumstances make it all-too-clear that they’re not as great as they claim and also that it’s folly to try and deny it, they will reliably blame everyone and anything else. If they didn’t attribute fault to others, “bad luck,” or various other circumstances, they’d have to fault themselves and reckon with their illsions. And that’s not only unpalatable but also necessarily a lot more work than the “entitled” among us are generally attitudinally prepared to do. And depending on how serious a mess they made of things, and how image-shattering and depressing it would be to admit their shortcomings and failures, when they vent their rage it can have profoundly serious consequences to those upon whom it is directed.
Those who’ve been victims of narcissistic rage (prompted by narcissistic insult) know very well how brutish, bullying, and cruel a “wounded” narcissist can be. In next week’s post I’ll be sharing an example or two. I’ll also be presenting some vignettes in which this kind of behavior was confronted, once with a modicum of success, and the other time with none. Anyone wanting to provide examples they think would be helpful for me to share with the readers (in abridged form) can do so by sending their stories along through the “Contact Dr. Simon” feature.
Character Matters will again be a live program this Sunday evening at 7 pm Eastern (4 pm Pacific) time, so I can take your phone calls.