Narcissistic insults occur when a disturbed character’s grandiose self-image is challenged. Narcissists style themselves as superior creatures. Sometimes, the haughty image they project is a merely a facade. That is, some narcissists unconsciously compensate for feelings of low self-worth. That’s the case with “vulnerable” or compensatory (i.e. “neurotic”) narcissists. (See: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.) (See, also: pp. 85-95 in Character Disturbance.)
Not all narcissists are of the vulnerable type. Some firmly believe in their superiority. Their haughtiness is neither a facade nor a compensation. They’re convinced of their own greatness. So, they see any challenge to their view as an insult. And they can take such perceived insults quite seriously and personally. Naturally, this can spark considerable rage in them.
The Roots of Rage
Narcissistic insults often stem from clashes with reality. Sometimes, reality sends the disturbed character a loud and clear message: “You’re simply not as great or powerful as you think you are.” Grandiose characters don’t take such challenges lying down, however. They see them as both and affront and an insult. Internally, they respond: “Oh, yeah?!. Just who do you think you are to challenge me? I’ll show you!” And that’s typically when they unleash their rage. (See also: Narcissistic Insult: When Reality Shatters Illusion.)
You can expect grandiose narcissists to lash out when wounded. The more insulted they feel, the more rage they’re likely to feel. And the more intense their rage, the more viciously they’re likely to attack. The problem with them is as insidious as it is tragic. They simply can’t own fault. They won’t accept blamed for their own missteps. If they did, and directed their rage in its rightful direction, it could mean the end of them. Therefore, they have to find other targets.
Sometimes wounded narcissists blame only “bad luck” or circumstances. But most of the time they find scapegoats. They villainize others. And when they do, anything is possible. They’ll demean, bully, punish – even torture those they hold responsible. It’s a way to vent their rage without shattering their delusions of grandeur.
No Time to Reason
Narcissistic insults inevitably prompt the disturbed character’s rage. And when someone is blind with rage, it’s no time to try and reason with them. Moreover, grandiose narcissists loathe feeling vulnerable. So, when they face one-down positions, they’ll do their best to reclaim a position of power. Everyone knows you need to be careful approaching a wounded animal. Even if you’re only trying to help you could easily get bitten. When reality has challenged a narcissist’s delusions, it’s no time to help them “see” the error of their ways. Best to keep your distance and let them rest with the consequences of their actions.
If you’re determined to try the reasoning approach, the time to do so is before the inevitable happens. The way grandiose narcissists operate, potential narcissistic insults are always lying around the corner. You certainly don’t have a duty to warn them of impending falls. But you can sometimes make some headway with them by predicting those falls in a benign and empathetic way. You don’t want to come across in a “See, I told you so!” manner. A matter-of-fact approach works best.
My books In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, The Judas Syndrome and How Did We End Up Here? all address narcissistic insults and what can stem from them. And, of course, there are several other articles on the blog that speak to the issues addressed today, including:
Another pilot episode of the new Character Matters program was recorded yesterday. I’ll put a link up to the podcast as soon as it becomes available.