Have you ever wondered why defensive techniques like the gray rock method, setting boundaries, or going no contact work so well? It is because they target narcissists’ weaknesses and it is nothing short of genius. 

It can be a shocking and almost unbelievable realization that narcissists have a list of weaknesses longer than train smoke after months, years, and even decades of suffering narcissistic abuse

But the importance of you understanding and believing that narcissists have weaknesses is immeasurable as the success of your healing journey is vitally dependent on it.

This article is going to guide you through three weaknesses that intertwine with each other that are to blame for a narcissist’s inevitable downfall and give you a better understanding of the reasoning behind the gray rock method, setting boundaries, and going no contact and why they work so well.

The Way a Narcissist Builds Their Self-Esteem Is a Weakness

There’s a numerous number of researchers who agree that narcissists are created by an unhealthy/abusive childhood, but the specific dynamics of said childhood vary among the theorists. While their origin story is often sad, it is never an excuse for their abusive behavior. 

  • Heinz Kohut believes that narcissists are created by primary caregivers who are unable to accurately mirror their child’s thoughts and emotions. 
    • In a healthy parent-child relationship, mirroring is when a parent accurately reflects their child’s emotions to reassure them that their emotions were acknowledged. 
    • For example, a child may be incredibly angry that they have to clean up their toys and instead of screaming at them, their parents will acknowledge their anger but remain firm and insist that they do it anyway. 
    • Because children are naturally grandiose, when they don’t have an accurate mirror growing up, they aren’t able to develop a realistic image of themselves and have a very immature worldview.
    • This also means that instead of being validated, admired in a healthy way, and building their self-esteem with their primary caregiver, they search their external environment to get the validation and admiration they couldn’t get from their unavailable and/or neglectful primary caregiver.
    • As the child moves into adulthood, their distorted image of themselves turns into a sense of specialness, arrogance, entitlement and so on. 
  • John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth believe that narcissists are made by primary caregivers who are consistently unresponsive, inconsistent, and unavailable.
    • This is known as the Attachment Theory and it is one of the most fascinating pieces of information that I’ve stumbled across in the narcissistic realm. 
    • The Attachment Theory focuses on the relationships we develop as children with our primary caregivers, specifically when we are separated with them.
    • They define a good primary caregiver as available, consistent, and responsive and they’ve outlined three attachment styles that children are likely to develop depending on whether or not their primary caregiver was able to be available, consistent, and responsive. 
  • In recent years Cynthia Hazan and Phillip Shaver have revealed that these attachment styles carry over into adulthood which also revealed a very strong correlation between the anxious attachment style and narcissism. 
    • For those of you who’ve experienced a narcissistic relationship, I’m sure that the narcissist’s oscillation between wanting to punish you and wanting to be reassured, validated, and admired is all too familiar. 
    • More often than not, people who are narcissistic are anxiously attached. They have a crippling fear of abandonment that manifests in a worry that the people they form a relationship with will not reciprocate the same emotions.
    • In adulthood, this fear transforms into narcissistic behavior patterns. It is almost as if they are taking out their anger at their unresponsive, inconsistent, and unavailable caregiver on the people they interact with in adulthood.   
  • Otto Friedmann Kernberg believes that narcissists are created by narcissistic primary caregivers.
    • Having a narcissist as a primary caregiver is a traumatizing experience. More often than not, narcissists don’t want the responsibility that comes with being a parent so they treat their children as they would anyone else. If they’re a source of narcissistic supply they’ll tolerate them, if not they’ll discard them. 
    • Growing up in an environment where you have to constantly admire and validate your narcissistic parent to be noticed teaches children that the only way they can be loved is if they are a sufficient source of narcissistic supply. 
    • As they get older, their desire to provide their narcissistic parent with enough supply morphs into an insecure need to be accepted by society. I’m sure you’ve noticed but narcissists are attracted to materialistic things like money, appearance, social status and so on over emotional stability, the way they treat others, or genuine core values.
    • This is a manifestation of the emotional immaturity that their narcissistic parent projected onto them throughout their childhood. Meaning they spend their entire lives being terrified of close relationships, incapable of building their self-esteem in a healthy way, incapable of regulating their own emotions, and stuck with an unifiable emptiness that they developed in their emotionally deprived childhood.
  • Alexander Lowen believes that narcissists are created by a childhood full of shame and humiliation. 
    • When a child grows up in an environment where emotions are portrayed as a sign of weakness, it is very dangerous for their cognitive development. 
    • If a child is constantly met with criticism, physical punishment, shame, guilt, humiliation, and/or mockery every time they have an emotion, thought, or feeling, they will develop incredibly convoluted beliefs about relationships. 
    • Over time they will also develop a belief that emotions, thoughts, and feelings are bad while power, toxic masculinity, control, and toughness is good. As they move from childhood to adulthood, these beliefs will follow. 
    • Before we can even blink, the sweet child who needed an empathic parent will morph into a tyrannical adult who is reliving his/her childhood only this time they are the abuser and those they cross paths with are the victim’s.

It’s very unlikely that there is only one correct theory. If you are aware of the different types of narcissism, you’ve probably noticed that each of the theories I listed above has the potential to create a specific kind of narcissist. 

While there are many different theories, it’s very clear that a narcissist’s emotional immaturity, inadequacy, fears, and behavior patterns originate from the unhealthy/abusive childhood they experienced.

What you should take heed of is how not having a healthy primary caregiver causes the narcissist to search their environment for validation, admiration, reassurance, and acceptance. 

In other words, they try to conform to and exceed societal norms to build their own self-esteem. Whether you like it or not, we currently live in an era where social status, money, power, control, appearances, and relationships are what determines one’s worth. 

It is no coincidence that narcissists gravitate towards money, social media, powerful positions, dominance, relationships, and so on. 

This is one of the narcissists weaknesses because it enables their emotional immaturity to sink deeper into their psyche. 

Instead of living a life that builds self-awareness, healthy relationships, and happiness, they blindly try to appease others, conform to insignificant things, and fill the bottomless pit of emptiness that they have embedded within their conscience. 

By building their self-esteem off of the most insignificant things imaginable, they develop incredibly fragile egos that can be injured at any given moment. 

A narcissist’s emotional immaturity makes them incapable of regulating their own emotions, so instead they fabricate a reality that portrays them as admirable, respectable, successful and so on just to be accepted by society, and it works! 

When a narcissist’s ego gets injured it contradicts the reality they’ve fabricated, which forces them to address their suppressed negative emotions. Which again, they’re incapable of doing because of their emotional immaturity. 

The way a narcissist builds their self-esteem is a massive weakness of theirs and is the precursor to many of their behavior patterns, which leads us into their next weakness, their obscured awareness.

A Narcissists Obscured Awareness Makes Their Behavior Patterns a Weakness

One of the most difficult realizations that you could potentially have on your healing journey, is that narcissists know that their behavior patterns are wrong.

When I say “obscured awareness” I’m talking about their ability to: 

  1. Traumatize you one day and act like nothing happened the next. 
  2. Drag you back into the relationship using intermittent reinforcement and/or hoovering because they know you so well.
  3. Be the person you fell in love with, the perfect co-worker or friend, or a loving family member in public, but a monster behind closed doors.

It is hard to comprehend how someone could be so evil and fully aware of it but it is very important that you don’t accidentally identify their behavior with psychopathy. 

Narcissists feel negative emotions like guilt and shame for their behavior, but psychopaths do not. All psychopaths are narcissistic, but not all narcissists are psychopathic. 

As with many other aspects of narcissistic abuse, a misidentification of their behavior patterns could trap you within the abusive cycle for the foreseeable future. 

You might disagree with the idea of narcissists feeling guilty or ashamed for their behavior, which is completely understandable. But you should know that I’m not suggesting that they feel guilty or ashamed for the way they made you feel.

I’m saying they feel guilty and ashamed because on some level they know that they’re living a lie and if they were to be open and honest about their true nature, they’d be rejected and/or discarded by society.

In other words, the reasoning behind their guilt and shame are just as selfish, arrogant, and narrow minded as you would expect from someone willing to erode your emotional stability for months, years, and even decades.

This section is going to break down three aspects of narcissistic abuse that prove narcissists know their behavior is wrong and give you a better understanding about why their obscured awareness is a weakness of theirs.

The Beginning of Your Relationship

Think back to the beginning stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle in your life and try to identify what drew you in

Was it the attention they gave you? Was it how secure they made you feel? Did you find what they were doing to be inspiring/honorable? Did you feel as if you had a unique connection and you were the only one that could help them?

Whatever it may be, the fact that you are reading this article right now means that on some level, you know it was all a lie. That can be an incredibly difficult reality to accept, but it is true. 

A narcissist has enough awareness to know that they need to draw you into the relationship before they throw you into the devaluation phase and project their emotional instability onto you.

The Usage of Flying Monkeys

Flying monkeys are people that a narcissist will manipulate into participating in their smear campaign of you. Narcissists enlist flying monkeys when they feel vulnerable and/or at risk of exposure for their abusive behavior. 

When a narcissist recruits a flying monkey, they specifically target your friends and family to cut you off from those you normally confide in.

How? 

To do this, a narcissist will spread demeaning lies and gossip about you in a pathetic attempt to discredit anything and everything you have to say. 

For example, Brie Roberson, a survivor of 17 years of narcissistic abuse and a domestic violence advocate that we have the privilege of working with, found out that her ex-abuser told her friends that she was bipolar.

So whenever Brie would try to confide in them, all he would have to do is tell them that she was off her medication and they would just disengage with the situation. 

It is an isolating experience to be cut off from the ones you normally confide in, and that is exactly why a narcissist enlists flying monkeys. 

The thing is that when a narcissist enlists flying monkeys, they create a narrative that portrays them as the victim and you as the abuser. 

Why? 

In the previous section we spoke about how narcissist’s build their self-esteem off of societal norms and how it correlates with their insecure need to fit into society. 

They have enough awareness to know that if you were to tell people about their abusive behavior, they would be rejected from society. 

So, instead of risking having their reality shattered leaving them vulnerable to their suppressed negative emotions that they can’t regulate, they enlist flying monkeys to make everything that comes out of your mouth seem like a lie.

The Shame-Rage Spiral

The shame-rage spiral is a very interesting aspect of narcissistic abuse that not many people know about. As I mentioned before, a narcissist’s emotional immaturity makes them incapable of regulating their own emotions. 

This is very problematic because they have so many suppressed negative emotions. 

One of the ways that a narcissist deals with this inadequacy is by fabricating a reality that portrays them as an individual worthy of society’s acceptance. 

They work really hard to protect and maintain this reality at the expense of others, the only problem is that it is an impossible task.

Because they’ve built their self-esteem off of insignificant things, they are very prone to ego injuries. 

For example, a grandiose narcissist is usually the life of the party, loves to be the center of attention, charming, charismatic, intelligent, and desirable. 

If they were in a situation where they weren’t the center of attention because someone more successful, popular, wealthy, or attractive was stealing the show, it would contradict the reality they worked so hard to build, which is essentially like contradicting their identity. 

The insignificance of their ego injuries is an incredibly difficult thing to wrap your head around, but I kid you not, for a narcissist something as small as not being the center of attention for a split second is the equivalent of someone spitting in their face and laughing about it. 

When they are in a situation where their reality is being contradicted, it triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions and their inability to regulate their emotions causes them to throw themselves into a rage. 

Narcissistic rage is actually a form of projection because their vindictiveness converts their rage into a tool they use to make the person who caused their ego injury to feel as bad as them. 

The only problem is that narcissistic rage is not anger, and it is not rage. It is a violent overreaction to an insignificant situation and it is never a justifiable or acceptable response. 

What ends up happening is they explode into a rage but because it is so unacceptable, they realize that they’ve contradicted their own reality which triggers all of their negative emotions again.

But because of their inability to regulate their own emotions, they throw themselves back into a rage to avoid the emotional distress that comes from having their identity contradicted and the cycle begins again. 

I guarantee that everyone who has experienced narcissistic abuse has experienced the shame-rage spiral, but if you’re unsure, this cycle usually manifests in nonstop arguing.

The shame-rage spiral clearly shows that a narcissist is aware that their behavior is unacceptable and wrong.

How Does A Narcissist’s Obscured Awareness Make Their Behavior Patterns a Weakness?

If a narcissist were psychopathic they wouldn’t care about the consequences their behavior has on their public image. 

While it most certainly feels like this is the case while you’re in the narcissistic abuse cycle, when you are able to escape and learn behavior patterns like the beginning of your relationship, flying monkeys, and the shame-rage spiral the truth begins to emerge. 

A narcissist’s obscured awareness that their behavior is wrong sets their agenda of being desirable, powerful, respectable, admirable and so on, up for failure. 

Of course there is always going to be anomalies when dissecting the narcissistic realm, especially when it comes to a narcissist’s obscured awareness. There are narcissists who have a significant amount of psychopathic traits and aren’t bothered by their obscured awareness. Remember, all psychopaths are narcissistic but not all narcissists are psychopathic.

But….

It’s estimated that 1% of the general population meet the criteria of psychopathy so it’s unlikely that you’ll cross pass with a narcissist who has a significant amount of psychopathic traits. 

For the types of narcissist’s who do not have this terrifying attribute, their obscured awareness leads them into their last weakness: their dependence on narcissistic supply. 

A Narcissist’s Dependence on Narcissistic Supply Is a Weakness

Now that you have a clear understanding of two astronomical aspects of narcissistic behavior patterns, it is time to learn about a narcissist dependence on narcissistic supply and how you can use it to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle. 

Narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, reassurance, and acceptance that narcissist receive from others

It is essential for a narcissist’s well-being. 

As I mentioned before, they have a multitude of tactics designed to protect their falsified reality and blindly follow superficial societal norms with the intention of accumulating as much narcissistic supply as possible. 

A narcissist dependence on narcissistic supply leaves them incredibly vulnerable to defensive techniques like setting boundaries, the gray rock method, and the no contact method. 

Why? 

A narcissist’s dependence on narcissistic supply means that’s they are also dependent on the compliance of others. 

Narcissist truly do need your validation, admiration, reassurance, acceptance to enable their behavior and unfortunately they’ve become so masterful at manipulation that 9 out of 10 times they get it. 

What this means is that not only is their dependence on narcissistic supply a weakness, but your knowledge of narcissism and narcissistic behavior patterns is a formidable adversary as well. 

What does this mean? 

The more you learn about narcissism and narcissistic behavior patterns the easier it becomes to dismantle narcissistic abuse. 

The techniques I mentioned before, setting boundaries and the no contact/gray rock method, are designed to significantly reduce the amount of narcissistic supply you give to the narcissist. 

This is a very powerful position to be in because the narcissist in your life is dependent on the narcissistic supply you give them. 

However, those techniques are only achievable if you have a significant amount of knowledge about narcissism and narcissistic behavior patterns. 

Therefore, the moment you’re able to grab the horns of narcissism and wrestle it out of your life with knowledge, is the moment that you’ll be able to start down the path of healing from and becoming indifferent to narcissistic abuse. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

To sum up everything that has been written in this article, a narcissist’s immature approach to building their own self-esteem causes them to have very fragile egos.

Their fragile egos are problematic because they have an insecure need to be excepted, admired, reassured, and valued by society. But because they have so many negative emotions that they’ve suppressed, their obscured awareness causes them to acknowledge on some level that their behavior is horrifying and would be rejected by society if society knew.

Now they’re stuck in between needing societies acceptance but not being able to be themselves.

So, they fabricate a reality that portrays them as acceptable, successful, attractive, admirable, and desirable but the only way they can maintain this reality is through narcissistic supply, which is the admiration, validation, and acceptance by society and others.

Their dependence on narcissistic supply makes them very vulnerable to defensive techniques designed to suffocate the amount of supply they extract from those they abuse like setting boundaries, the gray rock method, and the no contact method.

So the best defense against narcissistic abuse is knowledge but acquiring it isn’t as simple as reading our articles or combing through the content of other platforms. 

For many of you there was a time where you wanted the narcissist in your life to be a loving partner, a friendly coworker, a best friend, or a beloved family member. 

You most likely exhausted yourself trying to find a ways to make the relationship work, but always fell short of happiness. While you may be at a point where you’re ready to move on, you still have a lot of emotions, good and bad, invested in the narcissist in your life. 

To truly understand narcissism and narcissistic behavior patterns, you’ll have to rebuild your identity, self-esteem, and core values which is not an easy task but it begins with knowledge.

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Hare, RD (1994), “Predators: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us”, Psychology Today, 27 (1): 54–61.

THE ORIGINS OF ATTACHMENT THEORY: JOHN BOWLBY AND MARY AINSWORTH INGE BRETHERTON

Hazan, C. & Shaver, P. “Attachment as an organizational framework for research on close relationship.” Psychological Inquiry. 5 1-22, 1994

Suggested Readings:

What Do Narcissists Hate the Most?

Do Narcissists Ever Feel Ashamed?