A narcissistic Injury is a real or perceived threat to a narcissist’s ego, which usually results in them going into attack mode, known as “narcissistic rage.” This attack mode can happen subtly and behind the scenes, or it can happen with them exploding and going on a verbal or physical attack. A narcissistic injury could occur in any number of ways. Perhaps the most common are challenging the narcissist’s decisions or abilities, criticizing them, questioning them about their behavior, setting boundaries, or talking positively about good things or others.
Everyone gets jealous or envious of others from time to time, and no one likes feeling challenged or questioned. This is all normal to an extent. What’s not normal is to fly off the handle or to have a meltdown when things don’t go our way. Narcissists have a paper-thin ego, and any criticism of them, or something good that is happening to someone else, is perceived as an attack. Because narcissists go into attack mode when their ego is threatened or start to lose power over their target, a target of abuse needs to be careful when they leave them, as this is when they are the most dangerous. It is always a good idea to anticipate how you think they might respond and then to err on the side of caution. Even if a narcissist has never been physically violent before, they can quickly become violent during this time.
Examples of Narcissistic Injury
Julio tells his work buddy Todd that he is excited about his new promotion. As he talks about how he’s so relieved to be able to pay off some debt with the money from his pay raise, Julio notices a sneer briefly flash across Todd’s face. This strikes him as odd since they are friends and work in different departments—it’s not like Julio got the promotion over Todd. Soon after Julio had told Todd about his promotion, Todd’s behavior radically changed. He became cold and critical of Julio and began making snide comments about his choice in clothing, his weight, and how easy his job was compared to Todd’s. He would say things like, “Now that you’ve got some extra money, maybe you can get a tie that’s not from the 1980s,” or once when Todd passed his office, he made a comment about how Julio’s pizza smelled good, but that he worked too hard at the gym and didn’t want to let himself become fat. During this time, Julio began noticing that faxes from his clients began to go missing. The first few times this happened, he chalked it up to the fax machine being on the fritz. It wasn’t until paperwork began to go missing from his office that he began to wonder if he was going crazy. Still thinking that Todd was his friend, he mentioned this to him, and Todd told him that maybe he was under too much stress with his new promotion. Julio began to wonder if Todd was right.
About a week later, Julio overheard Todd telling their supervisor that Julio was very unprofessional with clients and had also been making many mistakes at work and that he was concerned about him. Maybe he had a drinking problem, as Julio had always been such a great employee. None of this was right, and Julio realized that Todd wasn’t his friend and was out to get him fired. He also began to wonder if Todd was responsible for all of his missing paperwork. Julio realized he needed to distance himself from Todd and talk to his supervisor to let him know what has been happening.
Linda always felt as though her mother competed with her when it came to men. Linda’s mother had always dressed overly sexy and acted immature and flirtatious around men. She had to be the center of attention, and growing up, Linda had dreaded her mother showing up to her school for any event or parent-teacher conference.
Linda recently began dating, and her boyfriend had commented on Facebook that Linda was “the most beautiful girl in the world.” When Linda’s mother read this comment, she began accusing Linda of being a whore, and demanding that she stop seeing him. When Linda protested, her mother started yelling at her, calling her names and belittling her.
When Jane’s verbally abusive husband, Ryan, came home from work, she told him she was filing for divorce. Ryan began yelling, cursing at her, and calling her names. He threw keys at her and told her to get out of his house, and she better watch her back.
Scott recently broke up with his girlfriend, Kim. He couldn’t handle any more of her psycho behavior and controlling ways. Ten minutes later, she began sending him a barrage of texts, calling him names and threatening to tell everyone that he had raped her if he didn’t respond. Scott became enraged and scared that she would accuse him of raping her, but still, he knew he needed not to respond. His friends told him to keep all the texts from her in case he did wind up in court and block her number, which he did. Later on that night, Kim showed up at his house, screaming on his front lawn, demanding he talk to her. He immediately called the police, and when they got there, they told her to leave, which she did. As he was leaving work that next week, he discovered that his car had been keyed.
Example of projection and a perceived narcissistic injury:
Sam and Karen had been dating for five months. Up until recently, things had been great. Over the past few weeks, Sam began accusing Karen of cheating on him. Karen was shocked by these accusations and was confused as to why he’d even think that. He began insisting that she not wear makeup and stop going to the gym because he accused her of making herself attractive to other men. He started texting her often during the day and would become upset when she couldn’t text him back right away. He began accusing her of being too busy having sex with her coworkers. He started going through her laundry and insisting he smelled cologne on her clothes. What Karen thought was so strange was that Sam had quite a few women texting him and sending him sexy pictures. If anyone was cheating, it was most likely him. No matter how much she tried to convince Sam that she was faithful, nothing seemed to help, and his behavior was getting worse with time, not better. Karen knew she should probably break up with him, but she was scared to do so, as she knew he’d think she was leaving him for another man even though she wasn’t.
Sam was most likely cheating on Karen, projecting his behavior onto her, and then lashing out at her for what he was doing. If Karen were to point out to him that he was most likely projecting, in an attempt to give him some insight into his behavior, Sam would likely become enraged. When a person is projecting their uncomfortable or bad thoughts, feelings, and actions onto others, they are doing so to distance themselves from what they are doing. In other words, if a person can’t handle the truth about their behavior, and then they are confronted with that truth—especially by their target/scapegoat—they will most likely only make their defenses escalate, and the abuse becomes worse.