Being in the presence of a narcissist is a nerve-racking ordeal. To avoid humiliating them, you have to constantly be coddling their thoughts, feelings, and emotions by thinking deeply about everything you say and do. Sadly, the fragility of their ego makes this nearly impossible so it’s important to be aware of what happens when a narcissist gets humiliated.
When a narcissist gets humiliated they experience a narcissistic injury. This triggers their suppressed painful emotions and compromises their emotional stability. To stabilize themselves, narcissists could use narcissistic rage, self-victimization, and/or discarding to regain control of their painful emotions.
This article is a thorough exploration of the different responses that narcissists have to humiliation. It is our hope that the information provided will help you stay emotionally and physically safe from the narcissist in your life.
How Do Narcissists Respond to Humiliation?
The main objective that narcissists have on a daily basis is to accumulate as much narcissistic supply as possible. The term “narcissistic supply” refers to the validation, admiration, and reassurance that narcissists get from their external environment.
The reason that the accumulation of narcissistic supply is so important for a narcissist is because they use it to construct their self-perception.
You should read our article How Are Narcissists Made for a much more thorough explanation of this but it is believed that a narcissist’s need to construct their self-perception with narcissistic supply stems from an abusive childhood upbringing with emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers.
As a result of this level of emotional neglect, narcissists never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. Instead, they were forced to search their external environment for validation, admiration, and reassurance.
While they are accumulating all of this external validation, admiration, and reassurance, they are also developing the painful emotions that we mentioned before. These are powerful ones like a belief that they’re inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, weak, and worthless.
Because of their unhealthy cognitive development, narcissists don’t have the emotional intelligence that is required to manage these painful emotions. What they do instead is use the self-perception that they created out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment to suppress all of their painful emotions.
When a narcissist experiences something that contradicts their self-perception, like humiliation, it triggers all of their suppressed painful emotions and jeopardizes their emotional stability. Without a solid self-perception, narcissists are left without a form of emotional regulation that they can use to manage their painful emotions.
It is for this reason that when a narcissist gets humiliated they rely on rage, projection, self-victimization, and discarding to stabilize themselves.
Narcissistic Rage & Projection
Narcissistic rage is an explosive, unpredictable, and unjustified response that narcissists often have to things that contradict their self-perception, such as humiliation. It can manifest in a variety of different ways (e.g. physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and neglect) but it is really important to remember that narcissistic rage should not be equated with anger.
When an emotionally healthy person is angry, they might say or do hurtful things, but they have enough self-awareness and emotional maturity to acknowledge when they’ve gone too far and apologize for doing so.
Narcissists are too emotionally stunted and immature to have this level of awareness so when they go into a narcissistic rage, they are trying to project the emotional instability that they feel onto the person they are abusing.
Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when we take parts of our identity that we find unacceptable and place or “project” them onto other people. A very simple example of this could be a woman who is very angry but doesn’t know/understand why so instead of figuring it out, she projects her anger onto their husband by accusing him of being angry.
Narcissists rely heavily on projection when they experience contradictions to their self-perception because it allows them to deny reality. It is very common for them to do so through narcissistic rage.
To do this a narcissist will invalidate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, dehumanize, and possibly even physically abuse their victim until they feel like they can sit back, figuratively point their finger at their victim and think to themselves, “I’m not the weak, inadequate, worthless, unwanted, and unlovable one, they are.” This allows them to “project” their emotional instability onto their victim.
The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury – these other features which are characteristics for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all its forms and which sets it apart from other kinds of aggression – Heinz Kohut
There’s a possibility that narcissists respond to humiliation with self-victimization. It is pretty straightforward, it is when a narcissist says or does something to create a narrative that portrays the person who humiliated them as the abuser and themselves as a “victim” of their behavior.
There are two forms of self-victimization that we want to bring to your attention: deliberate self-victimization and instinctual self-victimization. When a narcissist victimizes himself/herself on purpose, it is called deliberate self-victimization and it usually manifests in the form of flying monkeys or manipulation designed to create a lot of guilt and shame for the person who humiliated them.
For example, when humiliated the narcissist might run to mutual friends, family members, or colleagues that they share with the person who humiliated them and tell them lies to create a falsified narrative where they are the “victim” and the person who they are abusing is the aggressor.
Instinctual self-victimization is actually very interesting.
When you’re learning about narcissism, it is so important that you keep in mind that narcissism is on a continuum. A continuum is a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, but the extremes are quite distinct.
What this means when we are speaking about narcissism is that narcissists who are on the extreme end of the continuum for one personality type (grandiose narcissism) are clearly different from narcissists who are on the extreme end of a different personality type (malignant narcissism).
However, not all narcissists are on the extreme end of grandiose, communal, covert, or malignant narcissism. Meaning that there tends to be a lot of overlap among narcissists who display milder traits of the different narcissistic personalities.
The reason that this is a relevant piece of information is because self-victimization is a characteristic of covert narcissism:
- They victimize themselves.
- They are very vulnerable and needy.
- They are socially inadequate and anxious.
- They are very resentful, irritable, and hostile.
- They often come off as depressed.
- They’re passive-aggressive, hypersensitive to criticism, and argumentative.
If you were to humiliate a narcissist who doesn’t fit the criteria for covert narcissism, it is possible that they will begin to victimize themselves because narcissism is on a continuum and they have some covert personality traits woven into their system. Meaning that it is not intentional, it is just part of who they are.
To further explain this, we created a short video (see below) that outlines a study conducted by Aaron L. Pincus PhD. about covert narcissism and grandiose narcissism existing side-by-side within the same individual.
A Short Video About Covert and Grandiose Narcissism
Discarding is when a narcissist abruptly ends the relationship that they have with you and moves onto another source of supply. If you were to humiliate a narcissist in such a manner that they felt like you were no longer a viable source of supply, there’s a possibility that they would decide to discard you to protect their own emotional stability and get “better” narcissistic supply.
We highly recommend that you read our articles Why Do Narcissists Discard So Easily and Will a Narcissist Come Back After the Discard to learn more about discarding but the three main reasons that narcissists discard someone are:
- To punish them for setting a boundary.
- To feed their insecure need for superiority by proving that they’re still in power and control of the relationship.
- They’ve found a new source of narcissistic supply.
If something that you did were to humiliate a narcissist (e.g. set a boundary, call them out on their behavior, reject them, criticize them, ignore them, etc.), it could cause them to discard you for any one of those reasons.
What Should You Take Away From This Article
If you humiliate a narcissist, it is going to cause them to experience a huge narcissistic injury. This “injury” will trigger their suppressed painful emotions and compromises their emotional stability. To regain a sense of stability, narcissists could use a variety of narcissistic behavior patterns such as narcissistic rage, self-victimization, and/or discarding to regain control of their painful emotions.
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Gore, Whitney L., and Thomas A. Widiger. “Fluctuation between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism.” Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment 7.4 (2016): 363.
Kohut, Heinz. “Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage.” The psychoanalytic study of the child 27.1 (1972): 360-400.