How do narcissists react to being humiliated?
As do normal people - only more so. The narcissist is regularly and strongly humiliated by things, which, normally, do not constitute a humiliation. It would be safe to say that the emotional life of the narcissist is tinted by ubiquitous and recurrent humiliation.
Any event, action, inaction, utterance, or thought, which negate or can be construed to negate the uniqueness or the grandiose superiority of the narcissist - humiliate him. Living in a big city, belonging to a group of peers, any sign of disapproval, disagreement, criticism, or remonstrance - reduce him to a state of insulted, sulking agitation.
The narcissist interprets everything as addressed to his person ("ad hominem") rather than to his actions. The list of things, real or imagined, by which a narcissist might be slighted is dizzying indeed. When contradicted, when deprived of special treatment, when subjected to an attitude or comment which he judges to contravene his grandiose, superior self-image or his sense of entitlement - he is beside himself with indignant rage.
It is as though the narcissist has a need to be humbled, reduced, minimised and otherwise trampled upon. It is the eternal search for punishment that is thus satisfied. The narcissist is on a neverending trial, which, itself, constitutes his punishment.
The initial reaction of the narcissist to a 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 of 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 these are usually merely stopgap measures. The disturbing data is bound to impinge on 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 sources of his frustration.
It is through fantasy that the narcissist seeks to redeem his pride and dignity 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 or to draw more attention to his person.
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, or if they transform him into a public figure - the narcissist tries to encourage such behaviours and to elicit them from others.
In this case, he fantasises how he defiantly demeans and debases his opponents by forcing them to behave even more barbarously than before, so that their unjust conduct is universally recognised as such and condemned and the narcissist is publicly vindicated and his self-respect restored. 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 waves of self-hatred and self-loathing, the outcomes of helplessness and of realising the depths of his dependence on Narcissistic Supply. These feelings culminate in severe self-directed aggression: depression, destructive, self-defeating behaviours or suicidal ideation.
These self-negating reactions, inevitably and naturally, terrify the narcissist. He tries to project them on to his environment. He may decompensate by developing obsessive-compulsive traits or by going through a psychotic microepisode.
At this stage, the narcissist is suddenly besieged by disturbing, uncontrollable violent thoughts. He develops ritualistic reactions to them: a sequence of motions, an act, or obsessive counter-thoughts. 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, hill.
This metamorphosis is very typical: the narcissist has only an inner world. He does not accept, nor does he recognise reality. To him, reality is but a shadow cast by the fire, which burns inside him. He is consumed by it, by the wish to be loved, to be recognised, to control, to avoid hurt. And by succumbing to this internal conflagration, the narcissist all but cements his inability to attain even the modest goals that are achieved by others at a minimal cost and almost effortlessly.
- Created: 22 November 2008
- Last Updated: 23 August 2014