One of the many reasons that having a healthy relationship with a narcissist is impossible is their tendency to get extremely angry, antagonistic, and/or stand-offish when other people have some type of success in their life. A narcissist’s determination to see other people fail must be understood if you are to protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs from their negativity. 

Narcissists want you to fail because their self-esteem and self-perception is so fragile that seeing others succeed destroys their emotional stability by serving as a constant reminder of how unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, weak, and worthless they feel on the inside.

In this article we are going to explore this strange aspect of narcissistic abuse so you can have the information needed to make conscious and well-informed decisions that protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs from their negativity. 

Narcissists Have a Fragile Self-Perception and Self-Esteem

The root cause of many abusive, toxic, and unhealthy behaviors that narcissists have is the fragility of their self-esteem and self-perception. We are going to guide you through the complexity of a narcissist’s fragility so you can grasp a comprehensive understanding of the reason that narcissists want you to fail.

Narcissists Have a Fragile Self-Perception Because They Never Experienced Healthy Parental Mirroring

The origin of a narcissist’s fragile self-perception is their childhood upbringing. It is believed that narcissism originates from an abusive/unhealthy childhood upbringing with emotionally inconsistent, unavailable, and unresponsive primary caregivers. 

A child being neglected for failing

Our article How Are Narcissists Made goes through this in detail but before you go any further, it is important that you are aware of just how broad the concept of narcissism originating from an abusive/unhealthy childhood upbringing is. 

When we hear the words “abusive” and “unhealthy” it is common for us to automatically assume that it means very obvious behaviors like hitting, slapping, yelling, neglect, etc., but that isn’t always the case when it comes to a narcissist’s abusive/unhealthy upbringing. 

It can also mean primary caregivers whose emotional availability, responsiveness, and consistency was abusive/unhealthy (e.g. too much pampering, being overprotective, lack of boundaries). The point is that narcissists experienced a lot of emotional neglect during their childhood upbringing that created a significant amount of problems for them.

Because the narcissist had emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers during their childhood upbringing, they never experienced healthy parental mirroring. 

Healthy parental mirroring is a primary caregiver’s accurate reflection of a child’s expressed thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs (e.g. attempting to comfort an upset child instead of punishing them for being upset).

Healthy parental mirroring

Without a healthy parental mirror, the narcissists never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic self-perception and have a healthy cognitive development. Meaning that the narcissists were left to figure out both their internal and external environment on their own. 

To construct a self-perception, narcissists turned to mirroring to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance from society that they couldn’t get from their emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers.

When speaking about narcissism and narcissistic abuse, the term “mirroring” refers to a narcissists ability to absorb an extraordinary amount of information about someone’s or a group of people’s (society) identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that allowed them to appear “perfect” to others. 

The problem with this approach to getting validation, admiration, and reassurance is that the unhealthy cognitive development that narcissists had left them so emotionally stunted and immature that they couldn’t look past society’s superficial, materialistic, and trivial exterior.

So instead of building a solid self-perception, they ended up building an extremely fragile self-perception out of the most superficial, materialistic, and trivial forms of validation, admiration, and reassurance that life has to offer. 

A narcissist being superficial and materialistic

A simple example of this would be a narcissistic teenager who built their self-perception out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that he/she gets from their external environment for being very popular amongst their peers.

Suggested Reading: Why Are Narcissists So Popular?

Narcissists Have a Fragile Self-Esteem Because of Their Suppressed Painful Emotions and Self-Loathing Attitude

Two of the consequences that narcissists have to face because of their unhealthy/abusive childhood upbringing are their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude. When their primary caregivers emotionally neglected them, the narcissist developed a belief that their identity is unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak. 

These painful emotions led to them developing a powerful self-loathing attitude. Their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude would be difficult for anyone to manage but it is even harder for narcissists because of how emotionally stunted and immature their unhealthy cognitive development left them. 

They are incapable of using healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude so the self-perception that narcissists create out of the superficial, materialistic, and trivial forms of validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment acts as their primary form of emotional regulation. 

This is a maladaptive coping strategy,  the methods a person uses to attempt to reduce their stress or anxiety, but in an ineffective, unhealthy way, and is to blame for their fragile self-esteem because they use their fragile self-perception to suppress their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude.  

A very anxious person

In the very, very short term, this approach to emotional regulation works because it makes them feel better, but in the long term it destroys their self-esteem and emotional stability because their self-perception is too fragile to manage the power of their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude.

Narcissists Want You to Fail So They Can Protect Their Fragile Self-Perception and Self-Esteem

The emotional stability of a narcissist is heavily dependent on their self-esteem, and their self-esteem is heavily dependent on the stability of their self-perception. Meaning that when their self-perception is compromised, their emotional stability is too. 

It is for this reason that the single most important thing that narcissists have to do on a daily basis is to feed their self-perception with narcissistic supply, which is the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that they get from their external environment. 

The biggest threat that narcissists face are contradictions to their self-perception, also known as narcissistic injuries. Because of how fragile a narcissist’s self-perception is, they experience narcissistic injuries on a daily basis. 

10 Things That Could Cause Narcissistic Injuries

  1. Healthy Boundaries 
  2. Being Held Accountable
  3. Being Told “No”
  4. Being Ignored
  5. Being Rejected
  6. Emotional Closeness
  7. Losing 
  8. Criticism
  9. The Happiness of Others
  10. Being Overlooked for a Job

Suggested Readings: 5 Examples of a Narcissistic Injury and What Causes Narcissistic Injuries

As you can see, narcissists can experience narcissistic injuries from just about anything. However, one of the biggest narcissistic injuries that they can experience is seeing others succeed. 

If they see you succeed, it challenges their grandiose self-perception of being special, unique, the best, superior, powerful, in control, etc., and compromises their emotional stability.

A narcissist feeling like a failure for losing

You see, your success serves as a constant reminder of just how unlovable, unwanted, weak, worthless, and inadequate they really feel. It triggers their self-loathing attitude and destroys their emotional stability. 

But, if they see you fail, they can use your failure to project their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude onto you. Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when we take parts of our identity that we find unacceptable and project them onto others. 

Suggested Readings: 8 Examples of Narcissistic Projection and Why Do Narcissists Use Projection?

They can do this because your failure gives them someone to figuratively point their finger at and think to themselves, “They are the unlovable, unwanted, insecure, vulnerable, pathetic, weak, worthless, and inadequate one, not me!”

In other words, your failure allows them to attack parts of their identity that they find unacceptable without ever truly acknowledging that they exist, that is why they want you to fail so badly.

A narcissist ignoring his negative self-perception

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists are some of the most fragile, insecure, and vulnerable people on the planet. Seeing you succeed serves as a constant reminder of how weak, unlovable, unwanted, worthless, and inadequate they feel about themselves. They want you to fail to protect their self-perception, self-esteem, and emotional stability. 

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  • 1 Educational Video From a Mental Health Professional
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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:

Holtzman, Nicholas S., Simine Vazire, and Matthias R. Mehl. “Sounds like a narcissist: Behavioral manifestations of narcissism in everyday life.” Journal of Research in Personality 44.4 (2010): 478-484.

Irwin, Harvey J. “Codependence, narcissism, and childhood trauma.” Journal of clinical psychology 51.5 (1995): 658-665.