How a Person with Narcissism Responds to a Perceived Offense

Person with long hair tied into ponytail sits and waits at table aloneMany people are simply not educated on the concept of the “narcissistic wound,” also known as the narcissistic injury, and are in for a wrath beyond comprehension when they offend a person with narcissism.

When offended, a typical person might experience hurt feelings or feel insulted or angry. However, the offended person might ultimately talk it through with the individual who committed the transgression, with a willingness to repair the relationship and move on. This can take time.

In general, bonds are developed and strengthened through the process of “rupture and repair.” People learn to handle insecurities in a relationship by building trust over time as they see each rupture or conflict in the relationship eventually leads to a deeper connection or repair.

Not so in the narcissistic relationship. Offending a person with narcissism can lead to immediate, lasting, and perhaps irreparable fallout.

When dealing with a person with narcissism, the rules are different. This is true in all aspects of the relationship, but for this article, the focus is on the narcissistic wound. These types of wounds are unlike other types of interpersonal ruptures. These differences are listed below:

Typical Rupture Narcissistic Wound
Hurt feelings Shame attack
Reaction tends to match offense Extreme overreaction
May result in anger Results in rage
May take time to repair Causes existential threat to relationship
Is eventually resolved Is never resolved
Normal Pathological
Same personality, just more angry Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde
Offended person may react with anger, withdrawal, or repairable retaliation Person with narcissism reacts with punishment, banishment, devaluing, or discarding of offender

 

Why People with Narcissism React Differently

Why do people with narcissism react so vehemently when threatened by a seemingly minor offense? The answer is complicated:

  • Their grandiose views of themselves are threatened by perceived attacks. These grandiose views of themselves are necessary for their self-preservation. When threatened, they are not merely offended, but their entire sense of self is at stake. Their grandiosity was developed as an over-compensatory, albeit protective, means to defend the person from feeling any sense of vulnerability.
  • People with narcissism do not operate within the realms of “normal” human interaction, but rather in a relational “barter system” that generates “narcissistic supply”—also known as narcissistic food—which includes admiration, attention, praise, accolades, being perceived as superior, being seen as special, or any other means of being viewed as “top dog.” When others feed them these types of “food,” people with narcissism may have a false sense of satisfaction, but they are generally never fully content because they are still lacking in true connection and intimacy with another.
    Whenever suppliers of narcissistic food fail to maintain their end of the barter system—which, by the way, is ultimately one-sided—people with narcissism experience a “wound” because their fragile and dysfunctional ego is left unfulfilled. Their feelings of dependence may get triggered as a result, and they may be incapable of facing any sense of need for another (perhaps because of early childhood attachment injuries).
  • Since people with narcissism have distorted views of themselves, they tend to perceive any positive interactions as expected and any negative interactions as personal attacks. They are particularly sensitive to perceived negative attacks because they live in a pseudo-reality or delusional state about themselves in relation to others. They may genuinely believe they are superior to others, so when positive reactions come their way they may take them for granted.
    People with narcissism generally feel an inner emptiness and thus need positive input from others in order to maintain their delusional sense of reality. When anyone contradicts their fantasy views of themselves, they get close to those unbearable empty feelings and react strongly in order to stop their impending sense of inadequacy.
  • People with narcissism tend to have a chronic inner rage. Most people experience anger, usually a response to a perceived threat of some kind. Anger helps us realize when we need to take action, and quickly. Usually when people are angry, they temporarily suspend their cognitive functioning and empathy to a large degree and tend to operate in immediate terms.
    Since they are continually full of rage (the flip side of their internal shame), people with narcissism may use any slight as an “excuse” to release some of the pressure of this inner rage/shame struggle. Since narcissistic wounds seem to be triggered by rather innocuous events, it is helpful to understand the true root of the problem is neither caused by the target nor solved by the reaction of the person with narcissism. The true root of the anger of a person with narcissism has to do with a deep-seated inner rage that is in place as a countermeasure to their deep-seated inner shame.

What to Do If You Are Involved in Narcissistic Wounding

Since people with narcissism have distorted views of themselves, they tend to perceive any positive interactions as expected and any negative interactions as personal attacks.

Since people with narcissism have distorted views of themselves, they tend to perceive any positive interactions as expected and any negative interactions as personal attacks.

If you are involved in a narcissistic injury, perhaps the best thing you can do is learn to step back and observe the person with narcissism with objective curiosity, making silent statements to yourself such as, “Wow, how interesting that this person is going completely ballistic over something so miniscule,” or, “Hmm, it’s a shame we can’t have a healthy conversation or resolve problems together,” then simply excuse yourself and go on with your day.

Of course this is not easy, but it’s a lot easier than involving yourself in the discussion and trying to reason with the individual. This may just set you up for verbal abuse. There will likely be no good end to that, as you both may end up saying and hearing regrettable things.

If the person with narcissism gives you the silent treatment in response to your having wounded them, you must learn to walk away. A person with narcissism can be expected to want to hurt you as you have supposedly hurt them.

The best way to cope with a person with narcissism is to understand they have a condition, one that manifests in creating a dysfunctional interpersonal relationship. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to have a healthy relationship with a person with narcissism. Once you accept this and learn to not need the person to change, you may be free.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sharie Stines, PsyD, therapist in La Mirada, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 23 comments
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  • Don

    Don

    March 9th, 2017 at 8:11 AM

    Why is it that people like this always take everything as an offense, something that is personally directed toward them even when it isn’t?? They think that everyone is out to get them and to make them look bad. What they don’t understand is that for the most part it is this narcissism that makes them look bad, not someone being just slightly critical.

  • Gerald

    Gerald

    March 21st, 2017 at 11:02 AM

    Because in their world everything is about them, and if they don’t look good, the spaghetti noodle foundation ilof their reality gets wet and starts to sag, making their world tip over, much like a 3 year old who is told, “no.”

  • Anonymous 1

    Anonymous 1

    October 27th, 2018 at 4:30 PM

    What if I recognize that I am the narcissist in a relationship? I understand I have this problem and could relate to a tee everything this article has talked about. I do want to change. Is it possible? That question just shows my grandiose view of lethal my view is. Of course it’s possible. I admit I need help.

  • Unlikely

    Unlikely

    November 5th, 2018 at 4:42 AM

    It would be surprising for a narcissist to recognize that they had the problem. Narcissists almost never present for therapy because they believe everyone in the world is their problem rather than their interpersonal ways of relating. They would probably reframe the incident to be the other person’s fault. They are unlikely to attribute any blame to themselves, because they need to preserve their fragile self-esteem.

  • beth

    beth

    March 11th, 2017 at 6:53 AM

    Looking at the list of how someone like this is wounded, kind of reminds me of someone who holds a high position of power right now in this country.
    It is scary that he has made it this far and to such a high level of power and yet he reacts by going on some crazy twitter rage in the middle of the night.
    I know that there have probably been others who have shared some of these traits who have also held this office, but he makes his so VISIBLE… how are there still those who can’t see that?

  • John

    John

    April 16th, 2017 at 10:55 PM

    Beth, You are referring to President TRUMP,correct? Once upon a time not so long ago the USA was tough. Tough, disciplined, hard working contributing members of society. Fortunaly the wussifaction of America has ended. We are the greatest nation on the planet. Why do you think all the dictators want to take the land of the free and home of the brave? What Trump did in Syria was the leftover dirty work that Pookie AKA Obumer did not enforce the red line he threatened to do while holding. The most revered position in the world. So to sum it up Trump did the job left behind by the worst President this country has ever seen. Mr President Trump has a lot of messes to clean up, left behind by a traitor to this country. If you are a believer in GOD pray to the good lord above he can undo what has been done to this country. Please enlighten me on how Mr President Trump can undo the most ingnorant deal Pookie made by giving Iran Nuclear secrets. Iran is not and will not use as it was sold to Americans by a dicey character put in the office by the NWO thugs. If you are one of the brainwashed that believe in global warming. Look up in the sky see the chemtrails, that date back to the 1960’s concocted by the Rothchilds and other vermin, who hold patents on GEO ENGENDERING. Killing our planet by weaponizing the weather with cancer causing agents.

  • Suzanne

    Suzanne

    October 27th, 2017 at 12:54 AM

    Amen! John!!

  • Ruth

    Ruth

    April 12th, 2018 at 8:25 AM

    A second Amen to John! President Trump inherited a bunch of problems created by a puppet put into office by people who have an agenda to take down this nation all for their own gain. Thank God we have someone (who of course is a human and capable as we all are of having faults and failings) that is now in office who cannot be bought and is willing to do what is right instead of what is easy! We all need to be praying & hoping it is not too little, too late.

  • doru m.

    doru m.

    December 11th, 2018 at 5:41 PM

    thank you,John

  • Nate

    Nate

    May 7th, 2018 at 4:08 PM

    I think Hillary is very, very narcissistic, in a covert way. Look at how she blames everybody but herself for her loss in 2016. The “inside” word from people who know her is that she has intense violent rages when things don’t go her way. Why do you think it took her so long to concede defeat?

  • Marie

    Marie

    October 12th, 2018 at 12:55 PM

    Hmmmmm, I simply don’t see it. Me and many others. Time to turn the page and quit bellyaching over the current political situation. It ain’t gonna change until “we the people” elect the next president. Get happy…😁

  • Sharie

    Sharie

    March 11th, 2017 at 5:27 PM

    Suffice it to say, that people with narcissism are capable of offering a promise to his “victims.” Look at Hitler. Look at Jim Jones. These sociopaths were able to appeal to people’s greatest needs – to feel like they were making a difference. Most presidents are on the spectrum of narcissism because it takes a lot of self-confidence (or sense of grandiosity) to even run for a political position. If you look into the history of many of our most charismatic leaders, you will see many traits of narcissism. There really is nothing new under the sun going on here.

  • zane

    zane

    March 13th, 2017 at 7:26 AM

    You know, reading through this I just had a thought… why are we as the victims of this nonsense always the ones trying to make things right?
    Do you think that the person who has little sense of how they treat others gives a rat about how they treat another person? Nope

  • John

    John

    April 16th, 2017 at 10:57 PM

    Great Point

  • TwilightlostB

    TwilightlostB

    November 4th, 2017 at 12:55 AM

    I once was involved with a therapist who had narcissistic syndrome. He went on a crusade to rule and ruin my life. He spoke to everyone around me, about me, behind my back!!! He was successful in using his psychological tactics to persuade everyone that I had some kind of mental problem because I sought therapy. Seeking help led to the destruction of my life. In my case, the therapist believed himself to be some kind of god who could manipulate everyone around him. He was successful much of the time. This only empowered him more. I had many weak minded people in my life who were easily influenced by him. I feel like this article did not do justice to people who have been severely traumatized by a narcissist.

  • Sarah Lynn

    Sarah Lynn

    July 26th, 2018 at 5:02 PM

    Just triggered my narcissistic mother, she would typically abandon the relationship but getting along with me is essential to her identity of a good loving mother. I’m left wondering what her next move will be, it could be anything from showing up raging at midnight, to stoney silence for weeks before showing up with some useless, extravagant guilt gift. Meanwhile tomorrow I go to seek medical attention for a condition imposed on me by her which I can’t afford to pay for because she was so threatened by college she sabotaged every attempt I made to go. Basically she screwed over my entire life, but the small community that is my childhood home and family think she is some kind of saint abused by the negligence of her daughter. Despite the fact I work full time, go to college and am raising my young family. It’s like a twilight zone or something, waiting for the villain that no one believes in. Just needed to say that outloud so to speak.

  • Colbie

    Colbie

    July 28th, 2018 at 5:01 PM

    I was unknowingly involved with a narcissist for the better part of a year. He was classic about it, I was hooked on him the first week, he was over the top, insane chemistry, so attentive, I felt like we had this intense connection early on. But he did odd things after that. We’d be chatting on the phone, and he’d just hang up. Confused, I’d call back and he wouldn’t pick up. Like he wouldn’t say bye, just, hung up with no warning. And he’d never compromise, he was never wrong, and everything was on his terms, his timeline, his schedule. I started feeling like I had a script and if I missed my line by saying what I actually thought instead of what he was expecting me to say, I’d be punished with 10 or 20 hours of no texts back. Then silent treatments, leaving and returning, mind games, negative comments about my appearance, I could never do anything right but I was desperate to please him. I would tell a story about something that happened at work that bothered me and he’d respond with “Wow I just wanted to talk to you, and instead I have to hear you complain.” I felt slapped, like what are we supposed to talk about if not our days? He dominated every conversation. I hurt him and wounded his ego by dumping him at one point, which I later regretted-he was like a drug to me, I just wanted him. In spite of how he treated me, I was addicted to who he was in the beginning.. He spent the next 4 months playing this hateful game with me. He would reach out, saying all these amazing things about what I meant to him, then right when I’m hooked, suddenly I “hurt him too badly” and he needed time to think, and was gone. This behavior continued despite his being in a new relationship, and culminated in his reaching out after 6 weeks of no contact, telling me he loves me and can’t get me out of his mind, making me think I had him totally wrong, that we were meant to be, we had this Epic Love that was so powerful it was hard to handle. He told me he wanted to take me out on a date, and I hadn’t seen him in months. I was so excited. The day came, and my phone was silent. I broke down and texted, asking when we were meeting. He texted me from a barstool next to his girlfriend (who I thought he dumped) basically laughing at me. She had no idea. I screen-shotted her all of the texts and emails he’d been sending. I have no idea what became of them after that, because I am all done. But I’m also afraid of retaliation. It still blows my mind that he held such a grudge against me that he’d bother playing that game, tricking me into thinking we were going to meet up when he had no intention of doing so, just for the pleasure of flopping me on my face. I mean, we broke up in March and it’s July…who is that psycho? I felt so foolish and stupid.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    August 2nd, 2018 at 2:53 AM

    My father is a narcissist and an alcoholic. My brother left home at 14 years old and I at 15 years as we were unable to take the emotional and sometimes physical abuse by that point…my mother found the courage to leave sometime after that. Prior to us all leaving him, we walked on eggshells and dreaded hearing the tires of his truck pull in the driveway at night for years. I still get anxious to this day if I hear tires running over gravel. We lived in an old farmhouse, 100 acres away from any neighbours that could hear the dysfunction . Would he come in drunk and wake my brother up to yell at him over toothpaste left in the sink from that morning and hit him with the belt? Or would he accuse my mother of trying to flirt with other men because she had worn a dress of a certain colour that day…and let the object smashing begin? Or would he dump my basket full of folded clothes and tell me I was fat and could use the exercise to do it again? Many things that happened even when he was sober, would be cause for him to unleash some level of anger. On the coldest winter nights I would sneak my dog in the house to curl up in my bed without him knowing…because he believed all dogs should live outside even though this one had short hair and had trouble with that. One night the dog made a noise in the house and he heard him, came and grabbed the dog roughly by the collar and threw him outside. Once he passed out that night, I was so distraught I stood over him with a baseball bat, playing it out in my head that I was bashing his face in with it…but I didn’t- instead I put on my snow suit and grabbed blankets to go sleep outside with my dog. He would belittle my mothers family endlessly, belittle us- we were idiots, retards or dunces, throw things around the house and yell, telling us how much everyone else loved him but his own family didn’t…so we were the problem. He always treated strangers and friends much better than us. But I guess that was a step up from his own father…who once tried to run my dads brother over with a car in a drunken rage. As I got older I could only handle contact with him in small doses…because inevitably his true colours would come out like clockwork and he would always go back to ruminating about the same people and things he has for years, the grudges still held and then he would pick a fight with me as it suited him. He was on constant repeat. It took a long time of intermittent no-contact (5 years at a time) to finally realize that he will never change and that no-contact until death is the best way to go. He is 61, still a ‘functioning alcoholic’, does not have one solid interpersonal relationship to show for his age and continues to blame others for HIS reactions and HIS feelings. He harbours resentment towards everyone who no longer talks to him, makes no apologies for never having met his only grandchild- who is now 6 years old, or for the emotional abuse he put our family through and how his actions directly affected all of us. He has never made efforts to move forward in a positive direction despite the attempts we made as adults to try and repair a relationship with him….even though it was him that should have been making the attempts. Anyways, my brother and I are both no contact with him now. My brother and I grew up to be decent people with decent jobs, we both have issues with anxiety and depression. My brother abused hard substances during most of his 20’s and quit in his early 30’s, he is on no medication and has never had therapy but will binge drink occasionally and sometimes has anger issues, owns his own landscape company. I have a general aversion to alcohol and substances except I smoke. I take Latuda, Clonazepam and Trazadone as daily meds. I have never had therapy, am a nurse. My brother is 39, in a 6 year relationship with someone who is very superficial and has had substance issues. He has one child. I am 40, have been married for 7 years to someone who has never touched a substance, is caring and emotionally grounded with a hair of narcissism (does not cause issues within our relationship or with others). I have no children. It feels good to write this out here, I don’t talk about that part of my past ever to anyone except my brother or my mom….guess we think we’re the only people who ‘get it’ despite that not actually being true. I think we also have much embarrassment and shame with that part of our lives. We moved on but there will always definitively be a lingering affect from that period in life. None of us walked away unscathed from that.

  • Terri

    Terri

    September 20th, 2018 at 7:23 AM

    Thank you for being here to remind me that I am not the one who is crazy. You nailed the condition perfectly. It took me 22 years to put a name on it. And you are right. The only way to survive it is to talk to yourself constantly. I am a strong person and can do it some of the time. But I feel like I am cut off at the knees every two weeks when the perceived injuries randomly come up. Wish I would have got out of this toxic marriage a long time ago. I am truly half the person I could have been. Half of my life was spent listening to false accusations, trying to argue logically as to why they are not true, days of silent treatment and never, ever an apology. If you are in such a relationship, know that they will never change. In 25 years, the best I’ve been able to do is get 4 days of silent treatment instead of 8. He hurts so much inside, and I cannot fix it, love it away, logic it away, therapy it. It will be hard to leave his wonderful family, our social group and home. NOBODY suspects anything is wrong and I cannot tell them because who really believes such people exist? Only their victims get to see it. But I think about leaving all the time. If you are in love with an extreme Narcissist, get out ASAP. Any life is better without him. You deserve more!

  • Erika

    Erika

    October 8th, 2018 at 2:10 AM

    Love the articles

  • Petra

    Petra

    October 19th, 2018 at 10:32 AM

    Most of this article resonates with me. How is one to deal with an ex-partner who is a narcissist and persists for months after separation? It is hard to keep denying him as there are , despite everything feelngs of love.

  • Christine C.

    Christine C.

    December 11th, 2018 at 7:10 PM

    Reading this article makes me sad and frustrated. I copletely shut down when dealing with people like this. I could never make my mother happy and it was a relationship a lot like Joan Crawford in “Mommy Dearest” and I was a lot like the character “Carrie” (yes, in the horror movie fro the 70’s) My dad was ahigh ranking officer in charge of an airforce base and in charge in da’ nang (during the Vietnam war) so I could always put his..rage and anger into perspective since very small..because I do remember when he came back at the end of the war after 3 tours. I would time him on the clock on his rants and raves..the nonstop verbal tirrades and I would stear clear (for the most part) though sometimes I was called a “Stupid son of a —–!!!” or “——- —–!!!” over and over..there was maybe one or two days where he would be calm and just..not go on a tirade. My mother was one of the first female Communications Officers ever in the marine Corp. and I find myself thinking back on how she would constantly berate me, point out any and all “faults” when i was a child..and I could never compare to my genius, older brother (by 14 months) who had a sever Napolean Complex as he grew older and control issues..almost drowning me in the fmaily pool twice and once throwing a small hatchet at my head..which I ducked and it stuck into the garage wall..the entire time my mother making excuses for his abusive behavior..anything and everything could set him off..one time I said: “Isn’t the lavender sky pretty?” …I was about 8 and he found this as an excuse to get very abusive..twist my arm back and almost break it while demanding I state it is a “blue sky!!!”..anyway…I don’t usually respond to these posts but..just had an incident with one of my roommates and I would say she responded very..offensively and even cried..(which I saw as a narc response) but I know I am not being unreasonable….she had left dishes in the sink for 2 weeks (literally 2 weeks) and I had intially said I don’t mind dishes in the sink for a few days like 2 but not for 2 weeks..so I had cleaned them and she got really defensive…after she said “They were not in the sink for 2 weeks!” and then she cried..and she went in and put allof her stuff in one corner of the kitchen..called her boyfriend and cried to him…I..look at the way I respond to abusive people now a days and nothing really scares me or intimidates me. How I ended responding to her what I call..game playing..was to just take all my stuff out of the kitchen and told the other 1 male roommate who seems respectful (he just moved in) after he asked..why I took my dishes out I said: “Well..I have a lot of ptsd and anxiety and ..after she got so angry and did a crying thing when I came off very nice and nonargumentative..because I am VERY snesitve to others feelings..I have decided it is best for my mental health if I just remove myself from the kitchen and just use your stuff, instead of everyone using my stuff, because then I won’t have anxiety and you know I clean up my stuff as soon as I make it so there won’t be a problem.” and he insisted we all talk and now..I am just ..sad..and stressed out. I know this has to do with my family I grew up with and now have nothing to do wiht because of the over the top abuse, screaming, berating..etc…I just wish….there was a way to get over how I feel and to be able to communicate, for example, wiht this person, but now I have shut down and don’t wan’t to. Just all or nothing for me after my childhood…

  • The GoodTherapy Team

    The GoodTherapy Team

    December 12th, 2018 at 8:38 AM

    Dear Christine,

    We’re sorry to hear that you’re feeling this way. But there are people who can help. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, you can start finding therapists in your area by entering your city or ZIP code into the search field on this page: https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. You may click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. If you need help finding a therapist, you are welcome to call us. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time, and our phone number is 888-563-2112.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy Team

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