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5 Ways Narcissists Compensate for Their Inferiority

A narcissist's outer mask covers up a wounded, insecure inner self.

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“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.”

— Paramahansa Yogananda

"However other people make you feel is always a reflection of how the world makes them feel."

— Anonymous psychologist

The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

Narcissism is often interpreted in popular culture as a person who’s in love with him or herself. It is more accurate to characterize the pathological narcissist as someone who’s in love with an idealized self-image, which they project in order to avoid feeling (and being seen as) the real, disenfranchised, wounded self. Deep down, most pathological narcissists feel like the “ugly duckling," even if they painfully don’t want to admit it.

What are some of the ways narcissists compensate for their inferiority complex? Below are five indicators, with references from my books, How to Successfully Handle Narcissists, and A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. While some people may engage in these behaviors on occasion, a pathological narcissist will habitually dwell in one or more of the following traits on a regular basis, while remaining largely unaware of (or unconcerned with) how his or her behavior negatively impact others.

1. Overinflated Sense of the Self

“It’s not easy being superior to everyone I know!”

― Anonymous

“My fiancé and I each drive a Mercedes. The best man at our upcoming wedding also drives a Mercedes!”

― Anonymous

Many narcissists enjoy bragging about themselves in grandiose and exaggerated terms, be it their physical attractiveness, material (trophy) possessions, social popularity, exciting lifestyle, merit badge achievements, high-status associations, or other envy-worthy attributes. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with describing oneself in positive terms, the pathological narcissist does so in the following unhealthy ways:

A. The self-flattering statements are often exaggerated.

B. The self-flattering statements are often uttered, directly or indirectly, at the expense of others (“I’m better than you,” “you don’t have what I have,” “they‘re nothing compared with me.”) The narcissist’s fragile ego is boosted not by positively affirming oneself, but by putting others down.

C. The self-admiring statements are intended for you to look up to and adulate them. In essence, they want you to worship them, so they feel “special," “exceptional," and “important."

It is with this superficial and compensatory outer “mask” that the narcissist constructs his or her false identity, submerging an insecure, wounded self.

2. Reacts Poorly to Criticism

“How dare her tell me I’m wrong – she’s a nobody!”

― Anonymous

An easy way to spot a narcissist’s fragile ego is to observe the way with which he or she reacts to criticism, even when such comments are offered diplomatically, reasonably, and constructively. Most mature adults are able to take fair criticisms in stride, assess their validity, and use helpful feedback as a valuable learning tool. Chronic narcissists, however, tend to be highly offended by, and ultra-sensitive to even minor criticisms, especially those that have merit, for they fear that the truth will “expose” just how fake and hollow they really are (narcissistic injury).

3. Jealous of Others, Possessive of Attention

“How did she get picked? She must have cheated!”

― Anonymous

Jealously can be defined as feeling envious for not having what someone else has. While some people experience jealously on occasion, many chronic narcissists feel envious and resentful of others’ happiness and success on a regular basis, and pathologically make disparaging remarks in order to make themselves feel better.

Many pathological narcissists are also attention hogs in their personal and/or professional lives. They want you to constantly focus on them and cater to them, for without your attention and appeasement, they feel insignificant.

4. Manipulates to Get What They Want

“There are those whose primary ability is to spin wheels of manipulation. It is their second skin and without these spinning wheels, they simply do not know how to function.”

― C. JoyBell C.

Examples of narcissist manipulation include, and are not limited to:

A. Negative Manipulation - Intended to gain an advantage by causing the victim to feel inferior, inadequate, insecure, and/or self-doubt.

B. Positive Manipulation - Intended to bribe the victim emotionally to win favors, concessions, sacrifices, and/or commitments.

C. Deception and Intrigue - Intended to distort the perception of the victim for easier exploitation.

D. Strategic Helplessness - Intended to take advantage of the victim’s goodwill and guilty conscience.

E. Hostility and Abuse – Intended to dominate and control the victim through overt aggression.

The truth about narcissistic manipulation is that, deep down, many narcissists don’t believe they have what it takes to get what they want in a healthy, reasonable way. To compensate for the inadequacy, they resort to false personas and deceptive machinations to gain a measure of what they desire.

5. Unable to Face the Real Self and Unable to See You as a Real Person

The bottom line of being in a relationship with a pathological narcissist is that your thoughts, emotions, and priorities are constantly invalidated. You exist merely to serve the whims and the pleasures of the narcissist. The flip side of this dynamic is that, in creating and facilitating such relationships, the narcissist is refusing to acknowledge the hard truth: that he or she is incapable of a genuinely loving and respectful relationship. Many chronic narcissists have very little to give and will painfully never admit to this, for it is better to be the phony fake self than the disenfranchised real self.

Can a narcissist change for the better? Perhaps. But only if he or she is highly aware, and willing to go through the courageous process of self-discovery. For narcissists no longer willing to play the charade at the cost of genuine relationships and credibility, there are ways to liberate from falsehood, and progressively move toward one’s Higher Self. For those who live or work with narcissists, perceptive awareness and assertive communication are musts to establishing healthy and mutually respectful relationships. See references below.

© 2018 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.


Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014)

Ni, Preston. A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. PNCC. (2015)

Ni, Preston. Understanding Narcissism’s Destructive Impact on Relationships — An Indispensable Reader. PNCC. (2018)

Bursten, Ben. The Manipulative Personality. Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol 26 No 4. (1972)

Buss DM, Gomes M, Higgins DS, Lauterback K. Tactics of Manipulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 52 No 6 (1987)

Johnson, S. Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)

Johnson, Stephen. Character Styles. W. W. Norton & Company. (1994)

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