Why Are Narcissists So Good at Psychological Torture?

The reasons may surprise you.

Posted Jan 18, 2019

There is a trend I have noticed where people conflate the ideas of: people with no diagnosis, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, sociopathy and psychopathy, abusive jerks, etc. Assuming someone does suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), it can very helpful to better understand why they react the way they do. For example, when someone wonders why a narcissist would be “so good at psychological torture” or how they “just know how to hurt others,” it is important to clarify some information about this complicated diagnosis in order to answer these difficult questions.

Why are narcissists so good at psychological torture?

As a therapist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of personality disorders, I can tell you that most narcissists are not particularly talented at any aspect of interpersonal relationships, positive or negative. They are not inherently better at torturing you than another person, nor are they better at seducing you. In order to torture, seduce, or otherwise manipulate other people, a person has to actually have an acute awareness of the other person, be able to read their emotions, accurately predict how they would respond, plan out how to behave regardless of their feelings in the moment, and remain dead set on someone else’s emotional state, putting it before their own.

In reality, most narcissists are far too focused on THEIR feelings, to be so preoccupied with another person’s. However, I often see narcissists who feel narcissistically injured and want to retaliate against another person when they are feeling threatened, embarrassed, humiliated, or disrespected in some way. Due to their frequent splitting (seeing another person as being either all good or all bad based on their feelings in the moment), they can swing between huge emotional extremes with very little warning, which can absolutely feel like emotional torture for someone emotionally involved with them.

Often this pattern is far more painful than being with someone who is consistently awful because if they were always terrible, the other person would probably end the relationship. When the narcissist is experiencing you as being special and wonderful (because they are feeling special and wonderful in your presence), it can then feel very intoxicating. However, the moment you do something that they find irritating, hurtful, embarrassing, etc, they are likely to suddenly treat you terribly with very little regard for your feelings. This emotional roller coaster tends to be the part of the relationship that other people find the most torturous.

How do they know just how to hurt you?

Usually someone with NPD does not actually know “just how to hurt you.” People who suffer from this disorder are severely sensitive to feelings of humiliation, worthlessness, insecurity, and shame. And when they feel this way, they typically externalize all blame for their feelings onto others, therefore it is “all your fault.” This typically leads them to acting out their negative feelings towards the person who narcissistically inured them, as they now view them as the cause. In addition, they have very little self-awareness about their own role in the situation, little to no emotional empathy when they are angry at you, and struggle to think through their strong feelings without acting them out immediately. This unfortunate combination often leads someone with NPD to be far harsher and meaner than someone without this disorder who has more empathy and is better able to remember their previously positive feelings towards someone, even when they are hurt or angry in the moment.

If someone is acting like this, does that mean they are a narcissist?

No. It’s important to remember that just because someone is hurting you emotionally, does not necessarily mean they a narcissist. They may have another personality disorder like borderline personality disorder, no disorder, simply be an abusive jerk, or any number of other explanations. Regardless of whether or not they have a personality disorder, it does not excuse any emotionally cruel behavior. Understanding the NPD diagnosis can still be helpful though for the people who feel baffled by “how someone could act like this”, or is struggling with the emotional pain of being involved with a narcissist who is acting out in the moment. For those who wish to continue a relationship with someone who has NPD, it can be enormously useful to understand why the person acts the way they do, how to set appropriate boundaries, and how to avoid feeling as deeply wounded by their hurtful behavior each time.

The point is…

Narcissists are not necessarily experts at hurting other people, but that does not mean other people don’t feel hurt. People who suffer from NPD constantly feel narcissistically injured, have very little emotional empathy for others, and struggle to maintain any positive feelings towards someone when they are hurt or angry at them in the moment. So it’s not that narcissists are inherently more gifted at hurting others, it’s usually just that they are more determined.

Originally published on Quora.com.