Experiencing narcissistic abuse is terrifying. Survivors of narcissistic abuse have been known to have complex PTSD, depression, and/or severe social anxiety. If you combine that with their dangerously low self-esteem and a pervasive state of self-doubt as a result of narcissistic abuse, experiencing narcissistic abuse can be really damaging without qualified therapeutic guidance through the healing process. With all that being said, what do narcissists fear the most? 

With the devastatingly powerful impact they have on people’s lives, it’s hard to imagine that they fear anything, but they most certainly do. Narcissists are one of the most terrified, emotionally stunted, and insecure individuals on the planet. In all honesty, what narcissists fear the most is themselves, but it goes much deeper than that.

The reason a narcissist has such a devastating impact on people’s lives is because they are in a constant state of survival due to their emotional inadequacy. Their behavioral patterns are designed to neglect, and subconsciously protect their vulnerabilities by eroding the emotional stability of others.   

By successfully eroding the emotional stability of others, they’re able to project their self-loathing, insecure, and emotionally unstable aura onto other individuals. 

This coincides with their favorite manipulative tactic, gaslighting. Gaslighting is when they doubt and/or deny another persons’ reality so frequently that their victim becomes consumed with self-doubt and can’t trust their own perception of reality.

When they successfully gaslight someone, projecting their emotional stability onto them is easy because the victim can’t trust their own mind. It’s almost as if the narcissist is saying, “I’m not the damaged one, you are.” And by doing so, they are able to neglect their own deficiencies and continue living a superficial life.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the complexity of narcissism by dissecting what narcissists fear the most.

Narcissists Fear Anything That Contradicts Their Sense of Specialness 

The vast majority of the information and theories pertaining to narcissism was accumulated through the research of specifically grandiose narcissists. If ten people were asked to define a narcissist, nine of them would describe a grandiose narcissist. 

One of the consequences of the somewhat generalization of the narcissistic realm, has a direct correlation with our question, “what do narcissists fear most?”

The Shame-Rage Spiral

A narcissist’s oscillation between shame and rage, also known as the shame-rage spiral, is one of the most peculiar aspects of the narcissistic realm. Because the vast majority of the information on narcissism is based on grandiose narcissists, it has been assumed that narcissistic rage originates from a narcissist’s grandiosity.

However, in a study done by Zlatan Kirzan and Omesh Johar, it was revealed the “vulnerability (but not grandiosity) is a powerful driver of rage, hostility, and aggressive behavior, fueled by suspiciousness, dejection, and angry rumination.”

What Does This Have to Do With a Narcissist’s Fear of Themselves?

Shame is a deeply rooted emotion in the narcissistic realm. On a subconscious level, narcissists are very ashamed of themselves, which is why they work so diligently to create a reality in which they are “perfect.”

When their reality is challenged by anything that contradicts their sense of specialness, they throw themselves into a narcissistic rage because it’s much easier to deal with their pain, and fear of inadequacy by projecting their hatred onto others rather than looking within themselves.

Example of Things That Could Contradict Their Sense of Specialness

  • Criticism
  • Rejection
  • Lack of the validation and/or the admiration they desire

This is a manifestation of the fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, which is a type of response to psychological threats. What’s interesting about this is that one of the leading causes of the development of exaggerated stress responses, like the fight-or-flight response, is childhood trauma.

This is interesting because one of the reasons someone develops Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), is because of childhood trauma. Not everyone who grows up in an abusive environment becomes a narcissist themselves, but for those who do, the environment causes them to neglect the development of important things like emotional stability and focus on the accumulation of materialistic things to build their self-esteem. 

Having your self-esteem formulated by the accumulation of materialistic things rather than things along the lines of emotional stability creates an individual who judges their worth on very immature aspects of life. 

In other words, for a narcissist, telling them that their car isn’t the newest model, or being in the presence of someone more successful, or even something as common as being rejected from a college, job, or intimate partner is the equivalent of a stranger walking up to you and spitting in your face.

It’s very destabilizing for them, it contradicts their sense of specialness, and because of their inability to regulate their own emotions due to their core values, the fear of acknowledging how empty they are inside manifests in narcissistic rage.

A Narcissist Has a Fear of Abandonment 

Many researchers believe that narcissists have an underlying fear of abandonment because of specific attachment styles. 

You may be confused when reading those different characteristics, especially if you’ve experienced a narcissistic relationship yourself, because it doesn’t conform to our perception of narcissistic behavior patterns. 

As I mentioned above, a lot of the information about narcissism is based on grandiose narcissists, who give off a very confident aura. The characteristics in the table you just saw align more with a vulnerable narcissist.

Vulnerable narcissists are very much the black sheep of the narcissistic realm. They are masterful at the victimization of oneself so characteristics like a fear of rejection, low self-esteem, and social anxiety tend to show more dominantly than they would in other types of narcissists. 

To have a comprehensive grasp of narcissism, you should remember that narcissism is a spectrum with many different behavioral patterns and traits, some just show more than others. 

What Does This Have to Do With a Narcissist’s Fear of Themselves?

Abandonment has a strong correlation with the sense of not being good enough and rejection. No matter which type of narcissist is in question, the possibility of abandonment triggers the underlying attachment styles listed above.

To prove this theory in a previous article, How Do Narcissists Feel When You Move On?, we did a study where we asked 36 of survivors of narcissistic abuse the following:

Some researchers believe that narcissists have an underlying fear of abandonment, caused by attachment styles along with other psychological issues. This belief suggests that your abuser would become extremely agitated when you’re separated and angry/distant when you’d reunite. Did you experience these behavioral patterns? If you’re unsure, read the quote below to get a better sense of what the patterns would look like. 

“The days before I’d go visit my friends without my husband, he would get so angry over the smallest things. We fought a lot but whenever we were about to be separated, it was ten times worse. When I came back home, he would ignore me, be passive aggressive, and start senseless arguments. I would try to fix everything by showing a ton of affection, but he would just push me away” – Cassandra 

This study was fascinating because, prior to our knowledge about attachment styles and the Attachment Theory, we heard countless stories about audacious attempts from narcissistic abusers to try to keep their victim from leaving, and we just thought they were anomalies. 

“We had been arguing for days and I wanted to go for a hike to get a breath of fresh air while he was playing a video game. So, I got in my car and started to back out of the garage to go for a hike and all of a sudden my ex-husband jumped behind my car and I hit him by accident. He only had a few scratches and bruises, but it was insane! He told me I made him do it because I was leaving him, then gave me the silent treatment for the rest of the week.” – Amy

After learning about the Attachment Theory and conducting our own study, it’s very clear that narcissists have a crippling fear of abandonment.

Narcissists Have a Crippling Fear of Being Exposed

A narcissist’s fear of being exposed manifests the clearest in a manipulative tactic called flying monkeys, which are people narcissists manipulate into actively participating in a smear campaign against the victim. A smear campaign is a plan to discredit someone’s voice and/or image by making false accusations.

The horrifying part about the usage of flying monkeys is that the narcissist will target close friends and family members of the victim, and even authoritative figures like therapists, doctors, and lawyers. They enlist flying monkeys by spreading demeaning gossip and lies about the victim.

Successfully enlisting flying monkeys is detrimental to victims of narcissistic abuse because it cuts them off from their support groups. This tactic is a fear-based manipulative tactic. It happens when a narcissist is in danger of being exposed.

Flying monkeys occur in every type of narcissistic relationship. Intimate, workplace, friends, and even in family structures. It could be triggered by a person breaking up with a narcissist, reporting a narcissist to HR, getting in an argument with a narcissistic friend, or even leaving a narcissistic household.

Flying Monkey Skit:

April has been in a narcissistic relationship for 3 years now and she’s decided enough is enough. She has been seeing a fantastic therapist, who is qualified in narcissistic abuse, and with her help she has been able to acknowledge that what she is experiencing is abuse, let go of the wish for things to be different, and successfully set boundaries with her abuser.

She tells her abuser that she thinks that they need some space to think about the future of the relationship and goes camping by herself to clear her mind. While she’s away, her abuser is losing his mind over everything. Breaking up means abandonment, abandonment means rejection, and rejection punctures a narcissist’s superficial reality they work so hard to create.

So, he decides to go on the offensive and start enlisting flying monkeys. He shows up to April’s parents’ house all distraught, claiming that she has been drinking a lot and disappearing for days at a time. He says this because April was an alcoholic at one point, so the concern hits home with her parents. 

Now, because some narcissists are so charming and charismatic, April’s parents believe her boyfriend because he has been nothing but fantastic in their presence. April hasn’t said one thing about the abuse because she herself was very confused about the situation until lately.

April comes back from the camping trip and has stuck to her decision; she is leaving her boyfriend. When she goes to finally confide in her parents about what she has been enduring, she is met with disbelief. 

Her parents are angry because they’ve been trying to contact her, but she has been camping and had no service, which validates her boyfriend’s claims that she disappears for extended periods of time, and they are convinced that she has been drinking again. 

They shame her for blaming her boyfriend for the relationship going poorly, ignore her side of the story because they are so angry about the drinking problem her boyfriend fabricated, and tell her that she has always sabotaged good things.

After overcoming the complexity of narcissistic abuse and summoning the courage and strength it takes to escape a narcissistic relationship, being met with flying monkeys can be a traumatizing experience.

Survivors of narcissistic abuse are guaranteed to have some levels of self-doubt and self-blame because of how manipulative the environment they were trapped in was. I’ve met many survivors of narcissistic abuse who felt like they knew that their abuser was abusive, but they still needed others to acknowledge it as well to be sure.

Therefore, being met with flying monkeys in pursuit of validation of their reality has the potential to push victims of narcissistic abuse back into the narcissistic relationship. Flying monkeys is a manifestation of a narcissist’s fear of being exposed, having other people see who they really are, and being rejected by society because of their abusive behavior. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article? 

Narcissists are very emotionally stunted, and it causes them to have a very immature view of the world when building themselves, specifically their core values. When it all boils down, what narcissists fear the most is themselves. 

Their behavioral patterns are a manifestation of their emotional inadequacy, and much like a toddler’s inability to process their emotions, narcissist’s throw tantrums when their fragile egos are damaged, they’re on the verge of being exposed or abandoned, or when their sense of specialness is denied.  

Join Our Free Healing Program

  • A Weekly Group Session With a Psychologist
  • A Weekly Video Lesson From a Therapist
  • Support Groups (Sat. & Sun. 10am-3pm ET)
  • A Daily Trauma Recovery Guide
  • Access to a Supportive Community

    Join Our Free Healing Program

    • A Weekly Group Session With a Psychologist
    • A Weekly Video Lesson From a Therapist
    • Support Groups (Sat. & Sun. 10am-3pm ET)
    • A Daily Trauma Recovery Guide


      This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care. Please consult a health care provider for guidance specific to your case.


      Understanding narcissistic abuse

      Suggested Readings: