Narcissists are notorious for getting caught in a lie or something that they weren’t supposed to be doing, but confidently denying everything. You could have all the proof in the world and a narcissist would still deny everything.

Narcissists deny everything to preserve their self-perception because their self-perception is their primary form of emotional regulation. When they are accused of something that doesn’t validate their self-perception, it triggers their negative emotions and they have to deny it to protect their emotional stability. 

This article is a thorough exploration of a narcissist’s tendency to deny everything that contradicts their self-perception. Projection, a topic we will speak more about later, is a huge part of a narcissist’s ability to deny everything. We’ve created a short video (see below) that gives you a much better perspective of projection and what you should do to protect yourself from it.

Should You Try to Defend Yourself Against Projection

Why Do Narcissists Use Denial to Preserve Their Self-Perception

A narcissist’s self-perception is charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous. They spend every second of every day trying to validate and reassure their self-perception because of the importance it has for their emotional stability. 

If you are to understand the reason that narcissists deny everything, you must first understand how a narcissist’s childhood upbringing has made their self-perception so important. 

There are many different theories about a narcissist’s upbringing that we cover in our article How Are Narcissists Made but generally speaking, most people agree that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with primary caregivers who are emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. 

When a primary caregiver is this neglectful, they can’t mirror their child’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. This means that the child doesn’t get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. 

While this lack of validation, admiration, and reassurance is going on, the narcissist began to develop many deeply rooted negative feelings and emotions about themselves

A neglected child feeling many negative emotions about himself.

These negative feelings and emotions that narcissists have would be hard for anybody to manage, but the unhealthy cognitive development that narcissists had left them so emotionally stunted and immature that they are incapable of using healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage their negative emotions. 

To protect their emotional stability from their negative emotions, narcissists turned to their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they couldn’t get from their primary caregivers (e.g. a narcissistic man constructing a false self-perception out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that he got from being the starting quarterback for his college team).

This is the origin of a narcissist’s charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous self-perception. All of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for excelling in their external environment inflates their grandiose self-perception. 

To sum up everything that has been said so far, the charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous self-perception that narcissists have is something that they’ve constructed out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment. 

They use their grandiose self-perception to protect their emotional stability by suppressing all of their negative emotions deep within their psyche. As far as the narcissist is concerned, their negative emotions don’t exist. They believe that they are charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous.

This works relatively well for them until they encounter something that contradicts their self-perception. Contradictions happen all of the time because their emotionally stunted and immature approach to constructing a sense of self has left them extremely fragile.

A narcissistic man feeling fragile and vulnerable.

When their self-perception gets contradicted, it destroys the psychological box that they’ve used to suppress their negative emotions and allows them to roam freely around their psyche. Without their primary form of emotional regulation, their own self-perception, their emotional stability is in danger. 

In a desperate, last ditch attempt to regain control of their emotional stability, a narcissist will fall back on denial, a defense mechanism that the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines as,“a defense mechanism in which unpleasant thoughts, feelings, wishes, or events are ignored or excluded from conscious awareness.”

What Are the Manipulative Techniques That Narcissists Use to Deny Everything?

Generally speaking, a narcissist’s usage of denial manifests in the form of gaslighting. In this section you are going to learn about gaslighting and five other manipulative techniques that narcissists use to deny everything.

Gaslighting

When a narcissist regularly doubts or denies reality, it is called gaslighting. (e.g. “That never happened. You have a terrible memory.”) It is important to note that gaslighting is a pattern. Meaning that just because someone says something that doubts or denies another person’s reality, it doesn’t mean that they are gaslighting them.

You can read more about this in our article 119 Gaslighting Phrases but the reason this is so important to remember is that the phrases that are used to gaslight are extremely common for everyday conversations that you might say. 

You should not allow the narcissist in your life to manipulate you into thinking that you are gaslighting them when you are actually just defending yourself. Gaslighting is a pattern of manipulation that narcissists use to deny everything that contradicts their self-perception.

A narcissistic woman gaslighting her girlfriend

Projection 

Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone takes parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and place them onto someone else. Projection is a huge technique that narcissists use to protect their self-perception. 

Projection can be very straightforward (e.g. a narcissistic man feels lazy and weak but instead of acknowledging his feelings, he belittles his son about being lazy and weak) but it can also be extremely complex. 

Suggested Reading: 8 Examples of Narcissistic Projection

The most common manifestations of a complex form of projection are scapegoat and narcissistic rage. 

A scapegoat is someone that a narcissist targets to be a repository for all of their suppressed negative emotions. A scapegoat gets a disproportionate level of abuse in comparison to the other people that a narcissist abuses. 

Narcissistic rage is an explosive, unpredictable, and unjustified response that narcissists often have when their self-perception is contradicted. 

The reason that these two forms of abuse could be considered projection is because when a narcissist uses them, they are trying to make their victim feel as emotionally unstable as they do inside. 

A scapegoat is someone who accidentally reminds a narcissist about a part of them that they find unacceptable (e.g. a narcissist targeting her quick witted daughter because the daughter’s intelligence reminds the narcissistic mother of how stupid her parents made her feel growing up). By attacking the scapegoat, the narcissist is indirectly attacking parts of themselves that they find unacceptable. 

With narcissistic rage, the narcissist is trying to invalidate, devalue, humiliate, degrade, and dehumanize their victim to project the negative emotions that they feel onto them. They want their victim to feel inadequate, weak, stupid, unlovable, insecure, and vulnerable because they themselves feel  the same way but can’t accept it. 

A quote from Heinz Kohut about narcissistic rage

Both scapegoating and narcissistic rage allows a narcissist to take their emotional instability and project it onto someone else because they are too emotionally stunted and immature to manage them with healthy forms of emotional regulation.

Stonewalling

Stonewalling in a narcissistic relationship is when a narcissist refuses to participate in the communication and connection of the relationship. Some of the subtle/more basic forms of stonewalling in a narcissistic relationship are the following: 

  • They abruptly walk away from a conversation.
  • They pretend to be busy to avoid a conversation.
  • They ignore you to avoid having a conversation.
  • They minimize your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs.
  • They engage in obsessive behaviors (e.g. cleaning, organizing, hoarding, etc) to avoid communicating with you.
  • They have aggressive body language (e.g. folding their arms, eye rolling, muttering, etc.) that makes it hard to communicate. 
  • They give you one word or one-lined answers.

The three major forms of stonewalling that you should be aware of are the silent treatment, gaslighting with ultimatums, and intimacy anorexia. 

The Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is when a narcissist stops verbally and/or electronically communicating with you. A simple example of this would be if you were to say something that contradicted a narcissist’s self-perception and they refused to communicate with you until you apologized or gave them enough validation, admiration, and reassurance. 

One of the many things that is frustrating about the silent treatment is that the narcissist will get extremely petty with it. For example, if you have children with the narcissist who is giving you the silent treatment they might communicate through the children (e.g. “Can you please tell your mother/father that I will not be talking to her/him until she/he apologizes?).

Another example of a petty silent treatment is if you ignore it, they will try to do things to get you to interact with them (e.g. hiding your keys, throwing out food, stomping their feet, breathing heavily, etc.).

Suggested Reading: How to Respond to a Narcissist’s Silent Treatment

Gaslighting With Ultimatums

Gaslighting with ultimatums is when a narcissist denies your reality by punishing you for expressing your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. 

6 Phrases That Narcissists Use to Gaslight With Ultimatums

  • I don’t ever want to hear that come out of your mouth again or we are done!
  • You need to be on my side with this or you’re fired.
  • I’m not going to talk to you if you keep bringing up the past.
  • Listen, you clearly have some unresolved issues but I can’t be with someone that doesn’t trust me. So you need to drop this sh*t right now or we are done.
  • Bring that sh*t up one more time and see what happens.
  • If you continue to interrogate me like I’m a criminal, I’m going to ACT like one.

Intimacy Anorexia

Intimacy anorexia is a term that internationally recognized licensed psychologist, therapist, intimacy anorexic and sex addiction expert, Dr. Doug Weiss, uses to explain why some people “actively withhold emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy” from a partner.

Intimacy anorexia is a very common form of denial that a narcissist will use to protect their grandiose self-perception (e.g. Jane confronts her narcissistic boyfriend about something he lied about. Her boyfriend denies it but then refuses to be intimate with her to punish Jane, and deny her perception of reality even more).

We’ve created a short video (see below) about intimacy anorexia, the connection it has with narcissistic abuse, and a survey that we did among 300 survivors of narcissistic abuse to reveal just how common it is for narcissists to use intimacy anorexia in their relationships.

A Short Video About Intimacy Anorexia In Narcissistic Relationships

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists do not have the emotional skills required to manage their negative emotions with healthy forms of emotional regulation. They have to deny everything that contradicts their self-perception in order to protect their emotional stability.


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

Fernie, Bruce A., Agoston Fung, and Ana V. Nikčević. “Different coping strategies amongst individuals with grandiose and vulnerable narcissistic traits.” Journal of affective disorders 205 (2016): 301-305.

Ronningstam E. Narcissistic personality disorder: a clinical perspective. J Psychiatr Pract. 2011 Mar;17(2):89-99.