As some of the most self-loathing people on the planet, narcissists have shockingly fragile egos. Their manipulative nature originates from a state of fear and is designed to protect these fragile egos. If you’re wondering what happens when you hurt a narcissist’s ego, it’s called narcissistic injury, and manifests in narcissistic rage and/or passive aggressive behavior. 

Hurting a Narcissist’s Ego Causes Narcissistic Injury

Narcissists live in a crippling state of insecurity, which makes them very vulnerable to ego injuries. An ego injury is common for everyone to experience from time to time, not just narcissistic people.

It could manifest in a history teacher being outwitted by a bright young student. It could be a prominent artist being outshined by another artist. Or it could be a struggling mother of two, who envies her pompous sister who appears to flawlessly manages her four children. 

A healthy response to a blow to one’s ego would be to realize that it’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t make them any less of a human being. And most importantly, it means there’s room for growth. Yes, they may feel defensive or disappointed at first, but eventually an emotionally healthy person will be able to see the bigger picture. 

There’s a strong correlation between ego injury and narcissistic injury. What makes narcissistic injuries so peculiar, is how easily they can occur and how insignificant they appear.  Narcissistic injuries are really just an overreaction.

narcissistic rage

Why Are Narcissistic Injuries Nearly Unavoidable? 

Narcissists have a very insecure need to fit in and look good to the world. Which is why their behavioral patterns are design to embody societal norms.

In an era characterized by superficiality, narcissists tend to accumulate materialistic things like social media followers, money, or physical objects that attribute to one’s appearance, to determine their worth. On the contrary, those who are emotionally healthy tend to build from within before accumulating the materialistic things we all desire to some extent.

Because this behavior has been normalized not only in the narcissistic realm, but in society as a whole, narcissistic injury could be created by anyone or anything. 

“We were at my parents’ house for dinner and my father made a joke about being more attractive than my husband when he was his age. It was a classic, harmless, old man joke but I could see it irritated my narcissistic ex. The joke happened at the beginning of the dinner party, so when we left a few hours later, I had assumed that my husband had gotten over it. Boy was I wrong, he exploded with anger in the car on the way home. So much was flying out of his mouth. I couldn’t understand why he was so offended until I learned about how fragile his ego is.” – Paige

Narcissists have an amazing ability to hide their shortcomings. They’ve developed this ability because of their need to be perfect for society. It’s because of this that narcissistic injury can also originate from insecurities. 

“I met my narcissistic ex at work back in 2002. At the time we worked in different departments but knew him very well, as did the rest of the office because of his performance and young age. We were always friendly, but one day it just became really flirty. I felt so special. I’m horrible at flirting so I tend to harmlessly pick on people instead. One day I made a joke about his handwriting, which is horrendous, and from the outside looking in on his response, you would have thought I spit in his face or something. I later figured out that his handwriting was something he’s deeply insecure about.” – Roshae 

Narcissists are masters of preemptive strikes. They are so insecure and vulnerable that they view anything and everything as a threat.

Their manipulative tactics designed to erode their victim’s emotional stability, are in place to protect themselves from the judgement of others. Their relentless accumulation of materialistic things is a manifestation of their crippling fear of being not good enough. Their emotional instability makes the most benign comments very destabilizing for them.  

Narcissistic Injury Morphs Into Narcissistic Rage

Narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage are synonymous in the way that they both are overreactions. Narcissistic rage is utterly terrifying because of how quickly it comes. When you’re staring narcissistic rage right in the face, it feels so explosive. But when you’re taking a look at it, out of harm’s way, it’s honestly nothing more than an adult temper tantrum. 

The oscillation between narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage is nearly inescapable. The insignificance of the cause for their narcissistic injury and ultimately, narcissistic rage, can be really destabilizing for whoever the rage is directed at. It’s important to remember, narcissistic rage isn’t because someone spit in their face, or slapped their mother. Narcissistic rage is honestly just an adult temper tantrum. They could be upset that their partner didn’t like the restaurant they picked out. Or a co-worker called out sick from work. Or even their siblings getting more attention from their parents in adulthood. Narcissistic rage is a manifestation of narcissistic injury. 

Here’s an example of the oscillation between narcissistic injury and rage and how confusing it can be.

John and Mary have been married for almost a decade now, and for their anniversary they decide to do something special. So, John tasks Mary with booking a vacation for the following month.

The next day Mary comes back with a fantastic trip to Paris, where they first met, but doesn’t know that John lost a fortune gambling the month before. When John looks at the price, he gets ashamed because he can’t afford the trip, but it manifests in hesitation, contempt, and anger.

To which Mary responds, “Well I have no problem paying for the trip, we are a team! I’d do anything for us…” John explodes, he is furious that his wife would assume that he can’t provide for his family. In a confused panic, Mary tells John about another option. It’s an all-inclusive getaway one state over.

Not expensive, whatsoever, and also holds some sentimental memories for the couple. John, consumed with shame, gets really defensive and tells Mary to book the Paris flight. When Mary asks if he’s sure, he becomes irate again and cancels the whole trip, blaming Mary for being a gold digger.

The Oscillation Between Narcissistic Injury and Rage Associates Communication With Fear

As you can imagine, constantly being met with contempt, and rage every time you communicate with your abuser, is terrifying. Constantly trying to coddle their emotions but being punished either way, will create high levels of anxiety. But the fear of communication runs much deeper than that.

narcissist's rage can cause a victim to associate fear with communication

When victims of narcissistic abuse are ridiculed for their delivery in any given situation, they’ll eventually learn that by limiting the amount of communication, the chance of experiencing their abusers’ terrifying rage is less. This is very dangerous because it’s the precursor for enabling narcissistic behavior.

Narcissist Enabling 

In the narcissistic realm, an enabler is someone who ignores and subsequently allows narcissistic behavior. Enablers usually have a significant lack of knowledge regarding narcissism, however there are different motives behind enabling, which we outlined in What Are Narcissist Enablers? 

One of these motives is fear. Fear-based enabling is simply someone who remains silent in the face of narcissistic behavior because they’re afraid of the narcissist’s reaction if they speak up against them. Existing in an environment where your emotions and well-being are associated with fear, is detrimental to one’s mental health and makes them very susceptible to abusive relationships in the future. 

Why?

The normalization of abusive behavior is never healthy, however the normalization and the inevitable rationalization and/or justification of having your emotions and well-being ignored, is the glue that holds narcissistic relationships together for months, years, and even decades. 

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself From the Narcissistic Injury and Rage Cycle?

Narcissists have mastered the art of victimization, which is a core aspect of narcissistic behavior. Their ability to project their shortcomings onto others, while maintaining a belief that the world is out to get them is astonishing, and the narcissistic injury/rage cycle is a manifestation of this ability. So, what can you do if narcissistic injury and rage is essentially unavoidable? 

Indifference

An individual who is indifferent shows a significant lack of interest, concern, and/or sympathy for everything. It’s important to understand that being indifferent towards society is not what I’m suggesting at all. Being indifferent towards narcissistic abuse could make or break a victim’s emotional stability. 

For victims of narcissistic abuse, maintaining indifference for the narcissist in their lives while simultaneously showing empathy towards those who deserve it, can be very difficult for so many reasons, but absolutely necessary.

Victim Can’t Be Indifferent to the Narcissist Because of Trauma Bonds

A trauma bond is a term used when someone cannot leave an abusive relationship, even if they tried.

causes of trauma bonds
  • Intermittent Reinforcement is the delivery of rewards at irregular intervals.
    • Johnathan’s narcissistic partner randomly has moments where she is empathic towards him. This makes Johnathan want to stay in the relationship because he believes that these random moments will last forever some day. This also makes him fear that if he leaves, she’ll be better for the next person.
  • Idealization is a psychological or mental process of attributing overly positive qualities to another person or thing.
    • April and Jack have been in a relationship for 10 years now. Jack is extremely abusive but April doesn’t want to acknowledge the abuse. Instead, she forces herself to believe the intensity of Jack’s rage and abuse is passion.
  • Power Imbalances are when the victim of narcissistic abuse is very dependent on their abuser because of a disturbing lack of power over oneself.
  • Childhood Trauma often corrupts a child’s perception of a healthy relationship, forcing them to equate love with abuse.
    • Sandy has been in abusive relationships her entire life because she grew up in an emotionally abusive environments. So, abusive relationships is what she gravitates towards.

Victim Can’t Be Indifferent to the Narcissist Because of Guilt

Guilt has a huge role in the continuation of many narcissistic relationships. Whether it be because of flying monkeys, enablers, or the narcissist themselves, guilt is the superglue of narcissistic relationships. 

Flying monkeys are people a narcissist will enlist to manipulate the victim. They tend to be close friends and family members of the victim, but they can also be authority figures like doctors, therapists, or even law-enforcement. Narcissists recruit flying monkeys by spreading lies and gossip about the victim. 

Example:

Johnathan lies to his wife’s family by saying she’s been very abusive lately; he even goes as far as to give himself a black eye. So, when his wife goes to confide in her family about the abuse she’s actually experiencing, she’s gaslighted and made the perpetrator instead of the victim. 

Example Explained:

The complexity of narcissism and their manipulative behavior often causes victims to question their own reality, which is known as gaslighting.

Therefore, there are many times when victims of narcissistic abuse are confiding in others about the abuse that they think they’re enduring. An emphasis on think because we’ve been told many times by a numerous number of victims of narcissistic abuse that when they confide in others about the abuse, they weren’t sure themselves, they were just looking for reassurance.

So, when Jonathan’s wife is reaching out to her family to have her reality validated, and is met with gaslighting, it’s almost certain that she will be consumed with guilt because of what she’s accusing her husband of. 

Narcissist enablers are people who lack a significant amount of knowledge pertaining to narcissism. Because of their ignorance, they enable narcissistic behavior because they approach the situation as they would a healthy relationship. 

Example:

Sarah confides in her friend Amy about how abusive her mother is. Instead of being sympathetic with Sarah, Amy shakes her head in disbelief and tells Sarah she can’t speak about her family that way. 

Example Explained: 

This falls into the same boat as the flying monkey’s explanation but it definitely has its own attributes as well. We currently live in a narcissistic enabling society. The normalization of dominating others in the workplace to move up enables narcissistic behavior.

The way they were taught from a very young age to just go with the flow and not create conflict, enables narcissistic behavior. And finally, the normalization of creating superficial lifestyles to showcase on social media also enables narcissistic behavior. In an enabling world, victims of narcissistic abuse, who are already confused as it is, are constantly fighting an uphill battle.

Narcissists are masters of self-victimization. 

Example

Rebecca summons up the courage to leave the abusive relationship once and for all. Right before she’s able to execute her escape plan, her husband creates a sob-story about how he’s been working so hard in therapy to be a better man and it would be incredibly selfish for Rebecca to “run away from her problems” while he’s the only one trying to “fix” them…

Example Explained: 

Victims of narcissistic abuse are relentlessly shamed and punished for simply existing. This type of environment often creates an individual who doesn’t feel like they have the right to have emotions and feelings.

Therefore, doing something as obvious as leaving an abusive relationship, is a very gut-wrenching decision to make for victims of narcissistic abuse. Just because they’ve acknowledged that what they are experiencing is abuse, doesn’t mean the self-doubt and self-blame within them has gone away. So, when Rebecca tries to leave and her abuser creates a sob-story designed to riddle her with guilt, it works. 

Final Thoughts on What Happens When You Hurt a Narcissist’s Ego

Being indifferent to narcissistic abuse means that they don’t care when a narcissist weaponized their insecurities and vulnerabilities to provoke them into an argument. They don’t care if their abuser has somehow managed to manipulate the judicial system in their favor.

The victim of narcissistic abuse doesn’t care when their abuser moves on too quickly with another partner. An indifferent victim of narcissistic abuse has an irresistible opportunity to safely move on from the trauma they endured and live a meaningful, happy, and inspiring life. 

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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:

Green, Ava, and Kathy Charles. “Voicing the Victims of Narcissistic Partners: A Qualitative Analysis of Responses to Narcissistic Injury and Self-Esteem Regulation.” SAGE Open, Apr. 2019, doi:10.1177/2158244019846693.

Suggested Readings:

How to Protect Yourself From a Narcissist

Do Narcissists Ever Feel Ashamed?