A narcissist’s insufferable need to engage in negative confrontations is exhausting because it means that they are constantly picking fights with the people around them. One of the best ways that you can protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs from the antagonistic narcissist in your life is to understand the reason that narcissists pick fights with you. 

Narcissists enjoy picking fights with others because negative confrontations give them an opportunity to validate their grandiose self-perception by creating scenarios where they can invalidate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, and dehumanize others, while simultaneously victimizing themselves.

This article is a thorough exploration of the reason that narcissists pick fights with you and offers a unique perspective of narcissism and narcissistic abuse. 

Narcissists Pick Fights With You to Validate Their Grandiose Self-Perception

The grandiose self-perception that narcissists have is their public persona, which is also known as their falsified identity. It is the person that they pretend to be in public in order to hide all of their abusive behaviors and painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions. More often than not, a narcissist’s public persona is charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous.

As we mentioned before, one of the ways that narcissists validate their grandiose self-perception is by picking fights with others and to truly understand this emotionally stunted, inadequate, and immature approach to self-validation, you have to learn about their childhood upbringing. 

A Narcissist’s Grandiose Self-Perception Came From an Abusive Childhood Upbringing Full of Emotional Neglect

There are a lot of different theories about a narcissist’s origin story that we cover in our article How Are Narcissists Made but it is believed that narcissism originates from an abusive upbringing. 

This upbringing was plagued with emotional neglect because the narcissist had primary caregivers who were emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent with them. 

This means that the narcissist never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self because the neglect prevented them from having their thoughts, feeling, emotions, and needs mirrored by their primary caregivers. 

a narcissistic child feeling neglected

This is where a narcissist’s grandiose self-perception originates from because to develop a sense of self, narcissists try to mirror society to get validation, admiration, and reassurance through a falsified identity. 

When speaking about a narcissist, mirroring is referring to their ability to absorb an extraordinary amount of information about a specific person, a group of people, or as we mentioned before, society, and use that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to portray themselves as “perfect”.

While narcissists are very good at pretending that they are charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous, they are so emotionally inadequate, stunted, and immature that they weren’t able to look past society’s superficial exterior when creating their falsified identity. 

So they don’t understand the true meaning of being charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous. In other words, they pretend to truly believe in their falsified identity but deep down they still have the unfillable emptiness that the emotional neglect from their primary caregivers gave them.

Narcissists Need to Constantly Validate Their Grandiose Self-Perception Because It Is Weak

A narcissist’s inability to truly adopt their falsified identity is a huge problem because of the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that their neglectful childhood upbringing gave them. When the narcissist’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs weren’t mirrored and they went without validation, admiration, and reassurance, they started to blame themselves. 

They started to believe that the reason they weren’t getting the validation, admiration, and reassurance was because they were unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, weak, and worthless. 

This caused them to develop a deeply rooted hatred for themselves but because of their unhealthy cognitive development, they didn’t have the emotional intelligence needed to manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions with healthy forms of emotional regulation. 

a narcissistic child with all their painful emotions

To protect their emotional stability, narcissists suppress their negative emotions with the grandiose self-perception that has been built by the validation, admiration, and reassurance that their falsified identity attracts. 

However, this suppression barely works and needs a consistent flow of validation, admiration, and reassurance, which is also known as narcissistic supply, to stay intact.

This dynamic is where their need for power, control, dominance, and superiority to validate their grandiose self-perception comes from. You see, they have a ton of painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they want to get rid of, but to get rid of them they would need to acknowledge that they are there in the first place. 

This isn’t an option because acknowledging that their painful emotions exist would destroy their grandiose self-perception, which is the only thing that is protecting their emotional stability from the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they’ve suppressed. 

To escape this conundrum, narcissists use the power, control, dominance, and superiority that they have over the people they abuse to project all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto other people so they don’t have to acknowledge that they exist. 

a narcissist trying to project her emotions onto her partner

Projection is a defense mechanism that happens unconsciously and it occurs when someone takes parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and places them onto someone else. A simple example of this would be a man who was very angry at himself accusing his wife of being angry at him because he can’t accept the fact that he is angry at himself. 

When it comes to narcissists, the parts of their identity that they find unacceptable are their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions. So a narcissist will pick a fight with you so they can “win”, which gives them a sense of power, control, dominance, and superiority. 

Doing this allows them to figuratively point their finger at you and think to themselves, “they are the unlovable, unwanted, insecure, and inadequate ones, not me.” It is by far one of the most emotionally inadequate, immature, and stunted forms of emotional regulation you’ll ever come across but it allows them to attack the parts of their identity that they find unacceptable without ever truly acknowledging them.

Narcissists Use Narcissistic Rage to Pick Fights With You

Narcissistic rage is an unpredictable, unjustifiable, and explosive response that narcissists often have when they experience something that contradicts or threatens their grandiose self-perception. 

The reason for this is that when a narcissist experiences a contradiction or threat to their grandiose self-perception, all of their suppressed painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions get triggered. 

To protect their emotional stability, they use narcissistic rage to invalidate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, and dehumanize their victim so they can attack parts of their identity without truly acknowledging it and figuratively point their finger and think to themselves, “they are the unlovable, unwanted, insecure, and inadequate one, not me.”

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 

A Short Video About What Happens During Narcissistic Rage

Narcissists Use Baiting to Pick Fights With You

When a narcissist uses baiting, they use your vulnerabilities and insecurities to try to bait you into a negative confrontation that allows them to portray you in a negative light, or make you appear emotionally unstable. 

4 Examples of Baiting

Romantic Narcissistic Relationship- “Are you seriously going to eat all of that? I mean you still haven’t lost the baby weight even though you claim to be going to the gym 3 times a week. I just wish you were someone that I could be proud of.”

Narcissistic Friendship- “I’m not going to lie, you are lucky to be a part of our friend group. You honestly might be the ugliest woman I’ve ever had to be in the presence of but don’t worry bestie, when you are around us nobody notices.”

Narcissistic Family Structure- “We aren’t laughing at you, it is just funny when you try to dress up and look nice because it almost always goes wrong haha. But seriously, it is the effort that matters haha.”

Narcissistic Workplace- “Listen, I don’t have time to listen and pretend to care about your sob story. You are late because you aren’t disciplined. Honestly, it is probably why your wife left you. I’m not your therapist so I won’t get into that but if you’re late again, you’re fired, now go get me my coffee with some urgency for the first time in your life.”

Suggested Reading: How to Respond to Narcissistic Baiting

Narcissists Use Self-Victimization to Win Fights That They Pick With You

A narcissist will use self-victimization to fabricate or exaggerate their victimhood to justify their abuse towards others, manipulate others, seek attention, avoid taking responsibility, and ensure that the fights that they pick never go wrong.

If you were to respond to narcissistic rage or baiting with any type of aggression or defensiveness, a narcissist will victimize themselves to support their grandiose self-perception, specifically the innocent, honest, virtuous, and goodhearted aspects of it. 

They will do anything to portray you in a negative light so they can run to mutual friends, family, or colleagues and show them how “bad” you are. If they are able to successfully convince them of your “maliciousness” they will provide the narcissist with the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to validate their grandiose self-perception.

A narcissistic man talking with a flying monkey

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

When a narcissist picks a fight with you they are looking for an opportunity to validate their grandiose self-perception by creating scenarios where they can invalidate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, and dehumanize others, while simultaneously victimize themselves.

To prevent this from happening, you should read our article How to Respond to an Angry Narcissist for a complete guide to the Gray and Yellow Rock Method. They are two of the best techniques for dealing with an antagonistic narcissist!


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

Kohut, Heinz. “Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage.” The psychoanalytic study of the child 27.1 (1972): 360-400

Kwiatkowska, Maria Magdalena, et al. “Narcissism and trust: Differential impact of agentic, antagonistic, and communal narcissism.” Personality and Individual Differences 137 (2019): 139-143.