By Dr. Perry, PhD
” But that’s the thing about narcissists. They can try to fool you, with all their heart, but in the end, they’re just fooling themselves.” ~Ellie Fox
An individual with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has spent most of their life creating the illusion of a confident and self-assured individual. Tightly wound up in this facade is the desperate struggle to maintain this self-created image. Much like a toddler swimming in a grown-up’s suit, a narcissist has a difficult time filling out their personality with the essential characteristics of what they believe to be human. The narcissist’s eggshell ego is dependent on this armor for its very survival.
At the core of this personality disorder, there is a grandiose sense of self-worth, vanity, and entitlement. In order to feed their fragile egos, they seek out constant praise and admiration from others. They are unable to maintain healthy relationships and will deplete a source of positive energy only to move on to another person in order to re-fill their narcissistic supply. When a person is in a relationship with a narcissist there is always the phase of idealization. During this phase not only will the narcissist idealize their partner but they will also present their idealized version of themselves. All of the fantasies about their achievements, intelligence, success, and power get to be played out once again. Alas, this is short lived and it is only a matter of time before the narcissist reveals their true self. Once challenged the narcissist responds with rage that manifests in different ways.
Here are some of the ways a narcissist will react to different challenges:
Challenge to self-image
The key word here is idealization. The narcissist has an inflated sense of who they are and their capabilities. They have learned as a child that in order to be loved they must be perfect. The creation of a perfect alter ego serves two purposes. It is used to gain the admiration and love of others. It also serves as armor to hide how they truly feel about themselves. Underneath this false exterior exists a fragile ego that feels they are not capable of being loved. An intimate relationship is a dangerous place for a narcissist. When someone gets too close it may upset the balance of who they understand themselves to be. When they perceive their partner to be in disbelief about who they truly are, their narcissistic rage manifests itself. They may begin to verbally, emotionally and physically abuse their partner because they feel exposed and vulnerable. If their partner stays in the relationship, this stage may be followed by a re-initiating into the relationship. This will be done by hoovering and love bombing the individual in order to suck them back into the relationship.
The key word here is control. A narcissist needs to control those around them. They will use their control to manipulate others to see them and the world in a certain way. If this authority is challenged the narcissist may resort to aggression to protect their fragile sense of self. They will use all tactics to protect the self-identity they have created. Often times they will gaslight their partners making them feel crazy for questioning their authority. In this case, narcissistic rage can be expressed interpersonally in condescending and overly critical attitudes towards others.
Challenge to superiority
The key word here is special. Appearances are everything to a narcissist. They need to feel special and superior to others in every way. They believe they deserve to be worshipped and recognized for this perceived superiority. Underlying the appearance is a person afflicted with inadequacy and insecurity. A narcissist often places unrealistic demands upon others in the course of their relationships. These demands often lead to being challenged by their partner. When challenged, the narcissist’s fragile ego is unable to accept the idea that they were wrong or seen as imperfect, which ultimately leads to a seething disdain for the challenger. In the instant of a perceived attack, the narcissist will respond with rage towards that person in order to regain feelings of superiority.
Challenge to entitlement
The narcissist believes that they are special and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with other special or high-status people. Narcissists believe they are inherently deserving of special treatment. They will project entitlement and self-importance often to unbelievable extremes. When a narcissist’s failures are observed and pointed out by others, the overwhelming sense of shame causes a backlash towards the person perceived as the perpetrator of the accusation of failure. The narcissist’s rage becomes focused towards getting revenge upon the person who slighted them. This often impairs the narcissist’s ability to think clearly and rationally in handling the situation. The need for revenge often called explosive rage does not subside until the narcissist has placed the appropriate punishment upon the accuser. This often leads to acts of violence.
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