Verified by Psychology Today


The Destructive Force of Narcissistic Injury

What is it? How does it affect relationships?

Narcissists suffer from what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines as narcissistic injury:

“... vulnerability in self-esteem which makes narcissistic people very sensitive to ‘injury’ from criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow and empty. They react with disdain, rage, or defiant counterattack.”

The narcissist may act arrogant and haughty and put on a show that nothing bothers them, and this facade makes it difficult for you to see their inward self-loathing. You may be thinking, “Are you kidding me? He or she thinks they are the hottest thing on earth and no one can measure up to them!” But as they do not have a solid, developed sense of self, narcissists swing from depression to grandiosity with little in-between. This presentation deceives others until those people get to know the narcissist. When the narcissist's facade of charm and deception gets cracked, their whole world bursts apart. They will blame you for their feelings of inadequacy, lack of happiness, and lack of love.

When narcissists feel that they have lost, or when they feel rejected or abandoned, they don’t forget it. We have all felt abandoned or rejected at times in our lives, and most of us get over it with a little time and processing of feelings. We move on. But the narcissist does not. Narcissists are not enough in touch with their own feelings to move on. The issues remain in their mind as “It’s all your fault" and, "How could you do this to me?” They want to strike back.

The counterattacks and force of disdain and rage from the narcissist can make you feel bullied with no restraint. It can come in the form of emails, texts, letters, verbal abuse, social media attacks, or in-person abuse. This narcissistic rage seems to come out of nowhere and can leave you feeling confused and afraid. “What will they do next?” “Why did that person do this?” It really makes no rational sense because it is clearly the projection of their own feelings onto others.

The lack of accountability in the narcissist is astounding. When you expect they will see the error of their ways and apologize, you will find them defending themselves. Somehow, they find a way to make it all about you and it becomes your fault: “You made me react that way.” “You did this or that to create my rage.”

It is important to understand the concept of narcissistic injury so that it can be identified in everyday life. It may be found in our relationships, our leaders, our bosses, and our families. It affects us because it is harmful and abusive. It leaves one self-doubting and wondering what they did to cause the chaos and destructive behavior.

I see people struggling to come to terms with narcissistic behavior in the media, politics, families, and love relationships. Because the narcissist also does not have the ability to give empathy, issues related to them rarely get resolved.

More from Karyl McBride Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
Most Popular