A narcissistic injury is when a narcissist experiences a contradiction to their falsified identity that triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions and damages their fragile sense of self.

Unfortunately, the emotional inadequacies that a narcissist possess make their falsified identity vulnerable to any form of authenticity, like someone calling them out on their lies, holding them accountable for their behavior, failing to see their “greatness”, or even giving someone else more attention than they gave to the narcissist.

It’s the fragility of their sense of self, vulnerability, and insecurity that causes narcissistic injuries to be a daily occurrence so it is important that you familiarize yourself with the five examples of narcissistic injuries below if you want to avoid triggering their fragile sense of self as much as possible.

a victim of narcissistic abuse learning about narcissistic injury

A Narcissist Gets Overlooked For a Promotion at Work

The unhealthy or abusive upbringing that narcissists had didn’t consist of parental mirroring which is when a primary caregiver reflects or “mirrors” the child’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. When primary caregivers don’t mirror their children, it doesn’t give the child the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self. 

Children are naturally grandiose so the grandiose sense of self that narcissistic adults possess is simply a manifestation of their primary caregivers inability to reflect or “mirror” their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs consistently enough to where the narcissist would shed the grandiosity that they naturally have and develop a realistic sense of self.

Example:

Jonathan, a narcissistic man, has been working at a trucking company for four years. He started out as a driver, worked his way to a lower level management position, then found himself in a middle level management position, and now he is being considered for an administrative role in upper management. 

In his mind he is the best candidate for the job. He has worked harder than anyone else and he feels like he can do a better job than the upper level management that is already in place. Unfortunately, he gets overlooked for the position for a quick witted colleague and is forced to remain in a middle level management position. 

A narcissistic co-worker having his sense of specialness contradicted

The thought of having to report to someone who he believes to be far less qualified than he is contradicts his grandiose sense of self and causes him to experience a narcissistic injury.  

Someone Hasn’t Lived up to the Narcissist’s Expectations

One of the reasons that narcissists have extraordinarily high, and often unrealistic, expectations of others is because of their preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the ideal love.

The fantasies that a narcissist will have and openly share are often thought of to be in the future but they can also apply to the narcissist’s past. The most common manifestation of a narcissist’s fantasies for the past is their tendency to live vicariously through their children.

Example:

Olivia, a narcissistic mother, was a really good basketball player growing up and had dreams of making it to the WNBA but was told she wasn’t good enough to play professionally. She fantasizes about going back in time and proving her coaches, the scouts, and her teammates wrong and forcing them to see how they failed to see her greatness. 

Olivia can’t go back in time to live out this fantasy but she can live vicariously through her daughter who has begun to play basketball as well. Olivia is at every single one of her daughter’s practices, games, and she is training her outside of the team training. 

From the outside looking in, Olivia looks like a fantastic parent who is supporting her daughter’s dreams. But the truth is that Olivia isn’t doing it for her daughter, she is doing it for herself. She wants to feel great and she wants to feel like she finally showed everyone that they failed to see her greatness. 

A narcissistic mother living vicariously through her daughter

One day Olivia’s daughter tells her that she doesn’t plan on continuing basketball in college because she lost her passion for it. Instead of supporting her daughter, Olivia experiences a narcissistic injury because she has been living vicariously through her daughter to fulfill her fantasy for so long that her daughter’s decision feels like an attack on her falsified identity. 

A Narcissist Gets Corrected or Criticized by Someone Else

We spoke about this much more thoroughly in our article What Causes Narcissistic Injuries but the abusive or unhealthy upbringing that narcissists had has led them to believe that their true identity is unloveable, abandonable, disposable, weak, and worthless. 

Sadly, a narcissist’s upbringing has left them so emotionally inadequate that they can’t regulate or manage the negative emotions they have about themselves so they compartmentalize them deep within their psyche and hide them behind a falsified identity. 

The problem with this strategy is that because they’re incapable of acknowledging their shortcomings and negative emotions about themselves, they’re unable to truly grow as a person. So, instead of managing their emotions in a healthy way and growing as a person, they develop an extraordinarily fragile sense of self.

To keep their negative emotions trapped within their psyche, maintain their falsified identity, and attempt to repair their fragile sense of self, they require a continuous flow of narcissistic supply which is the validation, admiration, and reassurances of others

When a narcissist is in a situation where they aren’t being validated, admired, or reassured, it contradicts their falsified identity, triggers their suppressed negative emotions, and challenges their falsified sense of self, causing them to experience a narcissistic injury. 

Example:

Emily, a narcissistic teenager, has always done extremely well in school. She has always been recognized by the school as an outstanding student with a bright future which allows her to accumulate the validation, admiration, and reassurance that she desperately needs. 

It’s her senior year in high school and she has been tasked with doing a presentation to welcome the freshman to high school. She spends weeks preparing an inspiring and captivating video that subtly flashes her achievements as a student in the hopes that she’ll be validated, admired, and reassured by everyone watching.

A group of narcissist enablers applauding the narcissist

After Emily is done giving the presentation there’s a light applause, not the standing ovation that she was hoping for, and the principal takes the microphone from her and asks her to go back and sit in the audience. This is not how things were supposed to go and the lack of validation, admiration, and reassurance triggered Emily’s suppressed negative emotions and caused her to experience a narcissistic injury.

A Narcissist Gets Embarrassed by Someone in Public

Narcissists have a belief that they’re special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions. The most common manifestation of this belief is their disdain for healthy boundaries. 

Narcissists hate boundaries because they contradict their falsified identity and impedes their insecure pursuit of validation, admiration, and reassurance. Their sense of specialness and uniqueness drives them to believe that the world revolves around them so the concept of healthy boundaries is both offensive and a foreign concept to them. 

Example:

Jason, a narcissistic man, is out on a date with a woman he has been love bombing for a few weeks now. He has been pulling off these spontaneous and grandiose dates, mirroring her so she feels like they have a strong connection, and has even asked her to meet his mother. 

On this particular night, Jason has had a bit too much to drink and is starting to get loud and obnoxious. He is disrespecting the waiters who are trying to serve them, he is handing out large tips and claiming that money has no value to him, and he is flirting with other women in the restaurant.

His date gets up, calls his behavior disgusting, and leaves the restaurant. The entire restaurant begins to applaud her actions and encourage Jason to leave the restaurant. The manager of the restaurant comes over to Jason’s table with security and tells him that he has to leave and he’s not allowed to come back. 

a narcissist getting kicked out of a restaurant

This causes Jason to experience a narcissistic injury because in his mind, he is the king. He is so special and unique that something like this should never happen. The restaurant should be begging him to come back because he is the main attraction of every environment that he steps into. 

A Narcissist Loses a Competition

A narcissist’s sense of entitlement is nauseating. They believe that they’re entitled to having what they want and when they want it at all times. For example, it is very common for narcissists to believe that they are entitled to success, good fortune, and greatness regardless of the effort they put forth to achieve such things. 

Example: 

Rachel, a narcissistic woman, is a professional boxer with a fantastic career. She has remained undefeated for years and people had been calling her the greatest of all time until another boxer emerged who appeared stronger and faster. 

Rachel was relentless about boxing this new boxer to prove that she was truly the greatest of all time and the boxing commission eventually granted her wish. The fight was ten two minute rounds within a sold out stadium. Rachel couldn’t wait to get her victorious hand raised and feel all of the narcissistic supply coursing through her veins. 

a narcissistic woman having fantasies of success and power

Unfortunately, her opponent was a really good boxer as well and the fight made it all the way to the judge’s decision who decided to award Rachel’s opponent with the win. Rachel was furious with the decision and felt entitled to winning the match because she truly felt like the greatest of all time. 

For years people have been feeding her narcissistic supply but now that she lost, all of the attention was now focused on her opponent which triggered a narcissistic injury and made her feel inadequate, unloveable, abandonable, disposable, weak, and worthless.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

When dealing with a narcissist, knowledge is always going to be your most powerful defensive technique that you can use to protect your emotional stability. It is our hope that these five narcissistic injuries that you read about today help you grasp a comprehensive understanding of just how fragile a narcissist’s sense of self is because they are not as powerful and mighty as they pretend to be!


This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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References

Zamostny, Kathy P., Susan L. Slyter, and Peggy Rios. “Narcissistic injury and its relationship to early trauma, early resources, and adjustment to college.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 40.4 (1993): 501.

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