Are there narcissists in your life who are just plain mean? Do you ask yourself, “How can someone be so mean?” Do you wonder sometimes how they even come up with their aggressive and vengeful antics? Are you shocked at the power of mean people and their ability to trigger your emotions?
I believe in basic human kindness and goodness. It seems that most people want to be the best person they can be and to treat others with compassion and love. But if you have a narcissist in your life, you will likely experience the darker side of human nature.
Narcissists are kind and good to you only when it works for them. If things don’t go their way, you will see their anger, aggression, and punitive behavior. It can come out of nowhere and take you by surprise.
When blindsided like this, you may scratch your head wondering what just happened and what you did to cause it? Let’s look at this dynamic that happens with narcissists and explains why people often say, “I have to walk on eggshells around that person," who may be your parent, your partner, your boss, your friend, or other connections.
At the root of the meanness in narcissists is what we call the “narcissistic injury.” According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):
“Vulnerability in self-esteem makes individuals with narcissistic personality disorder very sensitive to ‘injury’ from criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow and empty. They may react with disdain, rage, or defiant counterattack.”
So, something happens to the narcissist that creates this reaction. It may be something to do with you or someone else, but you become the target because you are there. They don’t deal with their own feelings but take their feelings out on others. Several dynamics cause the mean reaction:
- Self-Esteem Threatened. Because the narcissist has a shaky and fragile ego, their self-esteem can be threatened easily.
- Jealousy. It’s common for a narcissist to feel jealousy often. If someone is more advanced at some skill, has more success, looks better, gets more attention, is better liked, etc., it can cause jealous aggression in the narcissist. The narcissist is not likely to be happy for someone else doing well.
- Projection. When the narcissist is having a bad day with bad feelings, rather than embrace those feelings and work them out, they will project them onto others. So, if they feel hurt, they will project that hurt by trying to hurt someone else to make themselves feel better. (I know, it’s weird.)
- Competition. Narcissists are fiercely competitive and not in a good way. To feel OK about themselves, they have to feel bigger, better, more accomplished, etc. Competition in narcissistic families is very common. Often siblings are not encouraged to be close or support each other but rather to compete.
- Abandonment. If you abandon a narcissist in a relationship, divorce, or something similar, the narcissistic injury gets triggered and that revengeful counterattack takes off. They will try to hurt you even if it hurts their own children. We see this a lot in high-conflict divorces with narcissists in which children are used as pawns to hurt the narcissist's ex-spouse.
- Not Getting Enough Admiration. The narcissist requires excessive admiration. They demand praise, gratitude, and compliments for anything and everything they do for you. If you don’t supply this, their revenge, disdain, and criticism come raging out.
- Sense of Entitlement is Threatened. The narcissist has unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment and automatic compliance to their every wish and desire. For example, don’t make them stand in line.
When the narcissist comes unhinged and the mean behavior begins, it is important to know it is not your fault and has nothing to do with you. It comes from their own fragile sense of self, insecurities, and self-loathing. But it can be powerful and hurtful especially if they are a partner, parent, or soon-to-be ex-friend.
6 Tips for Dealing with a Narcissist
- Don’t expect empathy. That’s not in their toolbox.
- Don’t expect accountability. That’s also missing.
- Don’t expect apologies. Nope, also missing.
- Don’t blame yourself.
- Do work on any personal shame you might have from past mistakes. If you are feeling bad about yourself, you will be more vulnerable to narcissistic rage.
- Do clean up and process your own trauma. Recovery work is essential if you have been in any kind of relationship with a narcissist.
I have always been fond of this quote by the Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It is common for most of us to keep wishing and hoping the narcissist will change. But remember, we can only change ourselves.
Come join in our discussion and tell us how you have dealt with mean people.