Abusing the Narcissist

Narcissists attract abuse. Haughty, exploitative, demanding, insensitive, and quarrelsome - they tend to draw opprobrium and provoke anger and even hatred. Sorely lacking in interpersonal skills, devoid of empathy, and steeped in irksome grandiose fantasies - they invariably fail to mitigate the irritation and revolt that they induce in others.

Successful narcissists are frequently targeted by stalkers and erotomaniacs - usually mentally ill people who develop a fixation of a sexual and emotional nature on the narcissist. When inevitably rebuffed, they become vindictive and even violent.

Less prominent narcissists end up sharing life with co-dependents and inverted narcissists.

The narcissist's situation is exacerbated by the fact that, often, the narcissist himself is an abuser. Like the boy who cried "wolf", people do not believe that the perpetrator of egregious deeds can himself fall prey to maltreatment. They tend to ignore and discard the narcissist's cries for help and disbelieve his protestations.{

The narcissist reacts to abuse as would any other victim. Traumatized, he goes through the phases of denial, helplessness, rage, depression, and acceptance. But, the narcissist's reactions are amplified by his shattered sense of omnipotence. Abuse breeds humiliation. To the narcissist, helplessness is a novel experience.

The narcissistic defense mechanisms and their behavioral manifestations - diffuse rage, idealization and devaluation, exploitation - are useless when confronted with a determined, vindictive, or delusional stalker. That the narcissist is flattered by the attention he receives from the abuser, renders him more vulnerable to the former's manipulation.

Nor can the narcissist come to terms with his need for help or acknowledge that wrongful behavior on his part may have contributed somehow to the situation. His self-image as an infallible, mighty, all-knowing person, far superior to others, won't let him admit to shortfalls or mistakes.

As the abuse progresses, the narcissist feels increasingly cornered. His conflicting emotional needs - to preserve the integrity of his grandiose False Self even as he seeks much needed support - place an unbearable strain on the precarious balance of his immature personality. Decompensation (the disintegration of the narcissist's defense mechanisms) leads to acting out and, if the abuse is protracted, to withdrawal and even to psychotic micro-episodes.

Abusive acts in themselves are rarely dangerous. Not so the reactions to abuse - above all, the overwhelming sense of violation and humiliation. When asked how is the narcissist likely to react to continued mistreatment, I wrote this in one of my Pathological Narcissism FAQs:

"The initial reaction of the narcissist to perceived humiliation is a conscious rejection of the humiliating input. The narcissist tries to ignore it, talk it out of existence, or belittle its importance. If this crude mechanism, the cognitive dissonance, fails, the narcissist resorts to denial and repression of the humiliating material. He 'forgets' all about it, gets it out of his mind and, when reminded of it, denies it. But this is usually only a stopgap measure. The disturbing data is bound to float back to the narcissist's tormented consciousness. Once aware of its re-emergence, the narcissist uses fantasy to counteract and counterbalance it. He imagines all the horrible things that he would have done (or will do) to the source of the humiliation. It is through fantasy that he seeks to redeem his pride and self-respect and to re-establish his damaged sense of uniqueness and grandiosity.

Paradoxically, the narcissist does not mind being humiliated if this were to make him more unique. For instance: if the injustice involved in the process of humiliation is unprecedented, or if the humiliating acts or words place the narcissist in a unique position - he often tries to encourage such behaviours and elicit them from his human environment. In this case, he fantasises how he demeans and debases his opponents by forcing them to behave even more barbarously than usual, so that their unjust deeds will be universally recognised as such and condemned and the narcissist be publicly vindicated. In short: martyrdom is as good a method of obtaining Narcissist Supply as any.

Fantasy, though, has its limits and once reached, the narcissist is likely to experience a wave of self-hatred and self-loathing. These are a result of feeling helpless and of realising the depths of his dependence on Narcissistic Supply. These feelings culminate in severe self-directed aggression: depression, destructive, self-defeating or suicidal ideation. These reactions, inevitably and naturally, terrify the narcissist. He tries to project them on to his environment. The way from this defence mechanism to an obsessive-compulsive disorder or even to a psychotic episode is short. The narcissist is suddenly besieged by disturbing, uncontrollable thoughts whose violence cannot be harnessed. He develops ritualistic reactions to them: a sequence of motions, an act, or an obsessive counter-thought. Or he might visualise his aggression, or experience auditory hallucinations. Humiliation affects the narcissist this deeply.

Luckily, the process is entirely reversible once Narcissistic Supply is resumed. Almost immediately, the narcissist swings from one pole to another, from being humiliated to being elated, from being put down to being reinstated, from being at the bottom of his own, imagined, pit to occupying the top of his own, imagined, ladder."


next: The Two Loves of the Narcissist

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2008, December 28). Abusing the Narcissist, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Last Updated: July 3, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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