One of the most confusing parts of narcissistic abuse that victims often experience is when the narcissist in their lives goes into a depression. It can be so destabilizing to see someone who has so much power and control over them, in such a vulnerable position so it is really important for them to understand why narcissists go into a depression.

Narcissists go into a depression when they can’t use projection to place their negative emotions onto their victim, when they don’t get a sufficient amount of narcissistic supply, and when they are trying to remain in power and control of their victim by making them feel guilty or ashamed through manipulation.

This article is going to guide you through the different circumstances in which a narcissist could go into a depression and we’ve also created a short video below that contains a ton of valuable information that explains why some narcissists go into a depression from a study conducted by Aaron L. Pincus, Ph. D.

A Short Video That Explains One Reason That Narcissists Go Into a Depression

Narcissists Go Into a Depression When They Can’t Use Projection

Projection is a defense mechanism that everyone uses from time to time that occurs when we take aspects of our own identity that we find unacceptable and place them onto someone else. A simple example of this would be a husband who is attracted to a female friend but won’t admit his feelings, so when his wife talks about a male friend, he gets really jealous and accuses her of being attracted to the other man.

The emotional stability of a narcissist is heavily dependent on their ability to use projection and it is really important to understand why. It is believed that narcissism originates from an abusive upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers who don’t mirror the child’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. 

This means the primary caregivers don’t give the child validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self so the child will begin to construct their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they can accumulate from their external environment instead.

A simple example of this would be a child of unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers building their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from being a really good baseball player instead of through healthy skills one develops from an upbringing in a healthy environment with available, responsive, and consistent primary caregivers.

This causes the child to develop a deeply rooted hatred for themselves because the emotional neglect of their primary caregivers has led them to believe that their true identity isn’t worthy of the love, acceptance, and acknowledgment of others. 

a child of a narcissist feeling worthless

Unfortunately, the child is too emotionally inadequate and immature to manage all of the negative emotions that they have about themselves so they use the sense of self that they constructed out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance from their external environment to compartmentalize all of their negative emotions and suppress them deep within their psyche.

One of the many problems with this emotionally inadequate and immature form of emotional regulation is that it makes their sense of self extremely fragile. So fragile that any form of authenticity, like someone giving a narcissist constructive criticism, contradicts their sense of self and triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions. 

We spoke about this a lot more thoroughly in our article Why Do Narcissists Use Projection but when narcissists experience a contradiction so “severe” that they can’t use their sense of self to suppress their negative emotions, they use projection as a form of emotional regulation. A really common example of this is narcissistic rage. 

When a narcissist goes into a narcissistic rage because of a contradiction to their sense of self, they are trying to make the person or thing that contradicts their sense of self and triggered all of their suppressed negative emotions feel as badly as they do. It is for this reason that narcissistic rage is so invalidating, devaluing, dehumanizing, and chaotic. 

If a narcissist were to experience a contradiction to their sense of self and wasn’t able to use projection to regulate all of their negative emotions, they would be forced to manage their sense of inadequacy, self-hate, fear of their vulnerabilities and insecurities, sense of being unlovable and unwanted, and fear of abandonment all on their own. 

Their emotional inadequacy and immaturity makes them incapable of doing this so it is very common for them to go into a depression when they can’t use projection to regulate their negative emotions after they’ve experienced a contradiction to their sense of self.

If your choices in living a life you value is leading the narcissist in your life to unravel because they have less control and power over you as a result, it is not your fault. It is important to know that it is not your job to rescue and alleviate their apparent suffering. You are not the cause of their suicidal ideation, their health problems, their hysteria. Each human has to walk their own path towards self-compassion and self-love. You cannot do this work for them, and it is not for you to show them how either.

Your job is to focus on living a life you value with no intention to hurt or harm others. If others are affected by your choices and show hurt and harm that is their journey to overcome what they are faced with. In the same way if the narcissist or others in your life leave you, it is your journey to overcome what insecurities you are faced with. No one can do your work for you and in the same vein you can’t do the narcissists work for them. –Dr. Daksha Hirani, Clinical Psychologist Specializing in Trauma Informed Psychotherapy and Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

A Narcissist Will Go Into a Depression If They Don’t Get Enough Narcissistic Supply

The validation, admiration, and reassurance that narcissists accumulate from their external environment so that they can construct their sense of self out of is called narcissistic supply and it also plays a massive role in the emotional stability of a narcissist. 

You should think of narcissistic supply as a distraction that narcissists use to avoid all of their suppressed negative emotions. When narcissists get the validation, admiration, and reassurance of others, it allows them to “forget” that they’re nothing more than a fragile, insecure, vulnerable, self-loathing, emotionally inadequate abuser that never got the support needed to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development.

The tricky part about narcissistic supply is that it can manifest in so many different ways. It could be something quite obvious like a narcissist receiving an award or recognition for something that they’ve done but it can also be the chaos that they cause in other people’s lives because seeing others struggle and be emotionally unstable distracts them from their own emotional instability. 

When a narcissist doesn’t get enough narcissistic supply they are forced to manage their negative emotions by themselves. But again, they’re too emotionally immature and inadequate to do so. It is very common for narcissists to be consumed by all of their negative emotions and drift into a depressive state when they don’t have enough narcissistic supply. 

a narcissist showing signs of depression

It is really important for victims of narcissistic abuse to recognize when the narcissist is depressed because it offers them a rare opportunity to “manipulate” the narcissist in their life into discarding them to find a new source of narcissistic supply. This will allow the victim to expel the narcissist from their life and begin their healing journey. 

To do this, victims of narcissistic abuse have to identify the different ways that they provide narcissistic supply to the narcissist and use the grey rock method to destroy those sources of supply. We’ve written a lot about the grey rock method in our articles Does the Grey Rock Method Work, How to Use the Grey Rock Method on a Narcissist, and How Do Narcissists React to the Grey Rock Method so be sure to familiarize yourself with that content for more information. 

But to use the grey rock method on a narcissist victims of narcissistic abuse have to refuse to have significant interactions with them. When they use the victim’s vulnerabilities against them, they won’t engage. When they criticize them, they won’t try to defend or explain themselves. The victim will not share any good news or try to have a good interaction with the narcissist, they will always be very neutral around them like a boring grey rock.

Narcissists are not going to be able to stay in an environment where they can’t get a sufficient amount of validation, admiration, and reassurance for long periods of time so there’s a very high chance of them discarding you and moving on to find a new source of supply, leaving you to take the necessary steps towards a happier and healthier life.

Narcissists Pretend to be Depressed to Manipulate You 

It is very common for a narcissist to come off as depressed when they are using self-victimization to manipulate their victims into feeling guilty or ashamed. They do this to remain in power and control of the relationship and the narrative. 

The reason for this is that when a narcissist is able to manipulate you into staying in the relationship, not setting a boundary, giving them another chance, etc., through guilt and shame, it makes it much harder for you to protect yourself because they’ll be able to portray you in a very negative light if you don’t do exactly what they say. 

“Mike showed up unannounced to my parents’ house with a thoughtful gift that he made chronicling our time together. He put on an amazing display in front of my entire family. This was the performance of his life. He talked about how he had gone to therapy for his mistakes. He detailed how he had worked hard to change his habits, and he told us that he could not imagine a life without me, and on and on. There were tears, and his grand gestures succeeded in winning me over. Perhaps of even more importance to him, he succeeded in winning my family over as well.” Heather Kent, Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist In Her Book Heal from Your Narcissist Ex: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Safety and Sanity

If Heather Kent were to reject Mike’s victimized hoovering attempt, he could create a narrative that portrays him as a very vulnerable, depressed, and confused man who is working really hard to be a better person and Heather Kent as someone who is abandoning him when he is at his lowest. 

For victims of narcissistic abuse who haven’t been able to learn enough about narcissistic abuse to know that the narcissist is just manipulating them, self-victimization can be a powerful tool that narcissists use to remain in power and control of their victim.

10 Things That a Narcissist Will Say to Manipulate You Through Self-Victimization

  1. Nobody knows what I’ve been through.
  2. I’m better off on my own because you can’t rely on anyone these days.
  3. If you had believed in me, I could have had a chance.
  4. I wish I had the same opportunities that you had!
  5. You haven’t been through as much as I have.
  6. Even though everyone is against me, I’ll show you that I have what it takes.
  7. You never really loved me, nobody ever has.
  8. Promise you won’t leave me like everyone else has.
  9. It’s not my fault, I was just never shown how to love someone. 
  10. I just feel so depressed but don’t worry about me, I don’t want to ruin your mood.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

What a narcissist’s depression comes down to is their emotionally immature and inadequate approach to constructing a realistic sense of self. It is really important that victims of narcissistic abuse do not allow the narcissist’s depression or self-victimization drag them back into the narcissistic abuse cycle.

Healing and rebuilding yourself requires you to prioritize your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs, and the fact of the matter is that you won’t be able to do when you’re still emotionally connected to the narcissist.

This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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Gu, Xinyu, and Myoung-Ho Hyun. “The associations of covert narcissism, self-compassion, and shamefocused coping strategies with depression.” Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal 49.6 (2021): 1-15.