Narcissists are some of the most self-centered people on the planet. There are a million different ways that their self-centeredness has a negative effect on the people around them, but one of the most hurtful ways is when they “forget” birthdays.

Narcissists “forget” birthdays because the celebration of others prevents them from getting the excessive amounts of narcissistic supply, also known as validation, admiration, and reassurance, that they need to feel emotionally stable. 

While the reason that narcissists “forget” birthdays seems to be pretty straightforward, there are a lot of moving parts to their selective memory that are really important to understand. This article has all of the information that you need to truly understand the reason that narcissists “forget” birthdays.

Narcissists “Forget” Birthdays Because Celebrating Others Doesn’t Give Them Any Narcissistic Supply 

There are many different theories pertaining to the origin of narcissism that we guide you through in our article How Are Narcissists Made but it is widely believed and accepted that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive childhood upbringing with primary caregivers who are emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. 

This childhood upbringing plays a massive part in a narcissist’s selective memory when it comes to important dates for other people, like birthdays. The reason for this is that the emotional neglect that narcissist’s experienced from their primary caregivers prevented them from having their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs mirrored. 

This means that they were unable to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to construct a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. As the lack of validation, admiration, and reassurance intensifies, narcissists begin to develop an insane amount of deeply rooted negative emotions about themselves. 

A child of a narcissistic mother feeling negatively about himself.

The powerful negative emotions that narcissists have would be a challenge for just about anyone to manage but it is even harder for narcissists to manage because the unhealthy cognitive development that they had has left them without the emotional skills needed to use healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage the negative emotions that they have. 

To protect their emotional stability from the negative emotions that narcissist’s can’t manage, they turn to their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they can’t get from their primary caregivers. 

They do this because the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment allows them to construct a charming, special, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, virtuous, and grandiose self-perception that they use to suppress all of the negative emotions that they have about themselves. 

A very common example of this would be a narcissist who has constructed their self-perception out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from being popular amongst his/her peers. 

The combination of the powerful negative emotions that narcissists have and the emotionally stunted/immature forms of emotional regulation that they use to manage them makes their grandiose self-perception extremely fragile. 

If it gets contradicted or damaged in any way (e.g. being told no, being criticized, not being the center of attention, being overlooked for a job, etc.) all of their negative emotions get triggered. When their negative emotions are triggered it serves as a constant reminder that deep down they feel inadequate, weak, worthless, unlovable, abandonable, unwanted, stupid, and vulnerable. 

This is known as a narcissistic injury or ego injury. The fragility of a narcissist’s self-perception makes them vulnerable to them on a daily basis and is part of the reason that narcissists “forget” birthdays. They are so insecure, fragile, and vulnerable that if they were to genuinely take time out of their day to celebrate your birthday, it would contradict their grandiose self-perception. 

A narcissist getting upset at a birthday party.

While they may design their public persona to portray themselves as charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous, they are nothing more than an insecure and abusive person who needs a consistent flow of validation, admiration, and reassurance to feel emotionally stable

They “forget” birthdays because they need to be the center of attention at all times so they can get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to protect their emotional stability from the negative emotions that they have about themselves.

Narcissists’s “Forget” Birthdays to Validate Their Sense of Specialness

One of the traits that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlined as a major personality trait for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is, ” A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.”

This sense of specialness that narcissists have is very real and often to blame for their ability to “forget” birthdays. One of the clearest manifestations of just how fragile, insecure, and emotionally stunted/immature narcissists are is their need for tangible representations of their grandiose self-perception.

They need to earn a lot of money so they can buy the house, car, jewelry, etc., that is associated with success. They need to have multiple partners so they can feel charming, desired, attractive, and valuable. The need to “win” at everything so they can maintain a level of confidence in their superiority. 

The list can go on and on but one of the reasons that a narcissist might “forget” birthdays is because they need to reject the celebration of others to maintain a belief that they are special and/or unique. 

In their mind, special/unique people don’t celebrate others, they celebrate themselves. In a very twisted and convoluted way, by “forgetting” birthdays, narcissists are able to indirectly validate, admire, and reassure their grandiose self-perception by figuratively pointing their finger at you and telling themselves, “They aren’t the special one, I am because they wanted me to celebrate their birthday but I am too important.”

Narcissists “Forget” Birthdays to Invalidate, Devalue, Degrade, and Humiliate Others

One of the most disturbing aspects of narcissism and narcissistic abuse is that narcissists don’t view the people they abuse as humans with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of their own. They view them as tools and objects that they can use to fulfill their insecure need for validation, admiration, and reassurance and project their emotional instability onto

Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone takes parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and place them onto someone else. A narcissist’s negative emotions are the parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and they project them onto others through abuse.

A narcissist projecting his anger onto his wife

Projection can be quite straightforward (e.g. a narcissistic man who cheated on his wife and feels ashamed because cheating damages his grandiose self-perception so instead of acknowledging his feelings, he projects them onto his wife by accusing her of cheating) but it can also be extremely complex.

The two most common manifestations of a complex form of projection are scapegoating and narcissistic rage. The information that you’re about to learn is extremely important to pay attention to if you want to fully understand the reason that narcissists “forget” birthdays. 

A scapegoat is someone that a narcissist purposely subjects to a disproportionate level of abuse in comparison to the other people that they abuse. It is common for a scapegoat to be ridiculed, mocked, and punished for the shortcomings of the narcissist. 

The reason that scapegoating is a form of projection is because a scapegoat is not randomly chosen. Some parts of their identity trigger the narcissist’s negative emotions and therefore they are chosen as scapegoats. (e.g. a narcissistic mother targets her daughter as a scapegoat because she views her daughter as ugly and this triggers her negative emotions that are attached to the memories of how ugly her own mother made her feel)

Suggested Reading: How Do Narcissists Choose Their Scapegoat?

Narcissistic rage is an explosive, unpredictable, and unjustified response that narcissists often have when they experience a narcissistic injury, also known as an ego injury. The reason for this is because narcissistic injuries (e.g. a narcissist being criticized) trigger a narcissist’s negative emotions. 

Suggested Reading: What Happens During Narcissistic Rage (Survey With 100 Survivors)

Since narcissists lack the emotional intelligence required to manage their negative emotions with healthy forms of emotional regulation, they rely on abusive behaviors like narcissistic rage and scapegoating to protect their emotional stability. 

The reason that scapegoating and narcissistic rage are forms of projection is because they allow the narcissist to indirectly attack parts of their identity without acknowledging it. Both narcissistic rage and scapegoating are all about the narcissist making the person that they are abusing feel emotionally unstable through invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, and dehumanization.

When a narcissist sees that they’ve made someone that they feel threatened by (e.g. a scapegoat who triggers their negative emotions or a person who causes a narcissistic injury) emotionally unstable, they can figuratively point their finger at them and think to themselves, “They’re the unlovable, unwanted, insecure, vulnerable, weak, inadequate, and worthless one, not me!”

A narcissistic woman projecting her emotional instability onto her friend

When a narcissist “forgets” birthdays, they are using a very passive-aggressive/psychologically abusive form of invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, and dehumanization to help them project their negative emotions onto someone else.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists need a consistent amount of validation, admiration, and reassurance to keep their grandiose self-perception intact and their negative emotions suppressed. They “forget” birthdays because the celebration of others takes away too much attention from their fragile sense of self.


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References:

Vaknin, S. “Self-awareness and introspection in Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).” Ann Psychiatry Treatm 5.1 (2021): 019-022.

Kelso Cratsley, Revisiting Freud and Kohut on narcissism. Theory & Psychology 2016, Vol. 26(3) 333–359.