If you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse at any point in your life, you’ve probably noticed that narcissists deliberately invalidate, devalue, humiliate, and degrade you on a daily basis. It is a very traumatic experience that creates a lot of negative emotions that can hold you back in life, but by understanding the reason that narcissists try to upset you every chance that they get, you’ll be in a much better position to manage those negative emotions.

There are four reasons that narcissists try to upset you. First, they want to prevent you from setting a boundary with them. Second, they want to feel superior by making you upset and angry. Third, they want to bait you into a confrontation so they can victimize themselves. Fourth, they want more narcissistic supply.

This article is going to guide you through the four reasons that narcissists try to upset you that we’ve listed out above. That said, there’s also a possibility that narcissists try to upset you because they have sadistic traits. To better explain this we’ve created a short video below so that you can get as much helpful information as possible from this article!

A Short Video About Narcissists With Sadistic Traits

Narcissists Try to Upset You to Prevent You From Setting a Boundary With Them

It is very common for narcissists to try to prevent you from setting a boundary with them by purposely saying and doing things that they know will upset you. Narcissists hate when people set boundaries with them because boundaries contradict their sense of specialness, challenge their grandiose sense of self-importance, and impede their insecure pursuit of power, control, validation, admiration, and reassurance. 

Boundaries pose such a threat to narcissists because their emotional stability is heavily dependent on their ability to accumulate as much validation, admiration, and reassurance, also known as narcissistic supply, as possible to support their false sense of self. 

The reason for this is that they have many negative emotions about their true identity that they are too emotionally inadequate and immature to manage on their own. So, they use the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from others to create a false sense of self that they find acceptable to suppress all of their negative emotions deep within themselves until they “forget” about them. 

When a narcissist suppresses their negative emotions and replaces them with narcissistic supply, they are able to remain relatively stable as far as their emotional state goes. But when they experience something that contradicts their false sense of self, like someone setting a boundary with them, it triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions and compromises their emotional stability. 

One of the methods that narcissists use to regain power and control over their emotional stability is to upset the person that set a boundary with them. If they are able to upset you every single time that you set a boundary, they will be able to manipulate you into associating setting boundaries with emotional and/or physical pain. 

If you aren’t aware of this form of manipulation, over time they will bully you into feeling uncomfortable or scared to set a boundary with them. When a narcissist upsets you, they are often trying to prevent you from setting a boundary with them which is why it is so important that when you set boundaries, you try your hardest to maintain them as well.

For more information about a narcissist’s disdain for boundaries, check out our article Why Do Narcissists Disrespect Boundaries and then Is It Abusive For Narcissists to Ignore Boundaries for all the motivation you need to set and maintain boundaries with a narcissist.

A victim of narcissistic abuse learning how to set boundaries so the narcissist in her life can't upset her

Narcissists Try to Upset You So That They Can Build Their Sense of Superiority

One of the reasons that narcissists try to upset you is to build and preserve their sense of superiority over others. When a narcissist devalues, invalidates, degrades, and/or humiliates others, they use the pain that they cause as a tangible representation of their superiority and this allows them to regulate their suppressed negative emotions. To best understand this incredibly destructive form of emotional regulation, you have to understand where it originates from. 

It is believed that narcissism originates from an abusive upbringing. This upbringing has primary caregivers who are emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent with their child. What this means is that the child doesn’t get the validation, admiration, or reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. 

What this does is it forces the child to search their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they can’t get from the interactions with their primary caregivers. A simple example of this would be a child with neglectful primary caregivers constructing their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being a really good hockey player. 

Under these circumstances, the child develops a deeply rooted hatred for their true identity because the neglect that they are experiencing form their primary caregivers has led them to believe that their true identity makes them weak, unloveable, unwanted, and inadequate. This is dangerous because those negative emotions are extremely powerful ones that require a certain level of emotional intelligence that the neglected child doesn’t possess. 

Instead of being consumed by their negative emotions and imploding on themselves, the child will use the false sense of self that they constructed with the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment to help them suppress all of their negative emotions deep within themselves until they “forget” about them.

What this means is that the narcissist’s false sense of self that they’ve constructed out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance they get from their external environment is the only thing that is preventing their negative emotions from slipping out of the psychological box that they placed them in and jeopardizing their emotional stability.

Unfortunately, the combination of the intensity of the negative emotions and emotionally inadequate/immature approach to constructing a sense of self means that the narcissist’s sense of self is extremely fragile. When it gets contradicted, all of their suppressed negative emotions escape their psychological box and compromise their emotional stability. 

One of the ways that a narcissist will attempt to regain control over their negative emotions so that they can feel emotionally stable again is by projecting them onto others. Projection is a defense mechanism that we all use from time to time where we take parts of our identity that we find unacceptable and place them onto others.

A victim of narcissistic abuse projecting their rage onto others.

When a narcissist uses invalidation, devaluation, degradation, and/or humiliation to make you upset, they are trying to project their emotional instability onto you. We spoke about this a lot in our article What Do Narcissists Want In a Relationship but narcissists want their victims to be repositories for their negative emotions. 

By making you upset, they are able to figuratively point their finger at you and think to themselves, “They are the insecure, alone, inadequate, weak, and worthless ones, not me!” It is a really immature form of emotional regulation that allows them to project their emotional instability onto you. Narcissists try to make you upset to project their negative emotions onto you. This allows them to regain control over their negative emotions and protect their emotional stability.

Narcissists Try to Upset You to Create a Confrontation That Allows Them to Victimize Themselves and Get Narcissistic Supply

When a narcissist tries to upset you to make you angry, they are trying to push you into having a reaction that allows them to victimize themselves. By making you angry, they are able to take your response and use it to justify their own abusive behavior. 

For example, if a narcissist were to invalidate, devalue, humiliate, and/or degrade you until you snapped and yelled at them, they would use your response to say things like, “Oh and I’m the one with the anger problem right? So it is okay for you to express your emotions that way but when I do it, you call me abusive and narcissistic.” 

Narcissists are skilled at portraying you in a negative light which is why it is so important to use the gray rock method with them as much as possible. To use the gray rock method on a narcissist you have to refuse to have significant interactions with them. When they use your vulnerabilities against you, you won’t engage. When they criticize you, you won’t defend or explain yourself. Your demeanor will always be very neutral like a boring gray rock.

We highly recommend that you read our article How to Use the Gray Rock Method on a Narcissist for more information about this awesome technique! Learning about the gray rock method is beneficial for anyone who wants to prevent the narcissist from baiting them into a confrontation that they can use to victimize themselves.

Another reason that a narcissist will try to upset you is to manipulate you into giving them narcissistic supply. If you were to set a boundary with them or ask them to do something that they didn’t like, it would contradict their false sense of self and trigger their negative emotions. 

Under these circumstances, it is common for narcissists to try to make you upset, to bully you into apologizing, backing down, doubting yourself, etc., so that you feel like you’ve done something wrong and have to “make up” for it. A simple example of this would be if a narcissist were to victimize themselves and give you the silent treatment to try to manipulate you into apologizing and comforting them.

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

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

A narcissist will try to upset you to prevent you from setting a boundary with them, to build their sense of superiority, to bait you into a confrontation that allows them to victimize themselves or to get narcissistic supply from you. It is also possible that narcissists upset you because they have some sadistic traits that cause them to derive pleasure from causing others physical and/or psychological harm.

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  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • 4 Helpful Tips for a Successful Healing Journey

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:

Sadistic Personality Disorder

Weiss, Brandon, et al. “A trifurcated model of narcissism: On the pivotal role of trait antagonism.” The handbook of antagonism. Academic Press, 2019. 221-235.