In my article titled How Narcissists Play the Victim and Twist the Story, someone in the comment section asked me about a narcissistic person’s reaction to such an article. Here’s part of the comment:
“Thank you for this article Darius. Spot-on does not describe the article well enough. So, what happens, and I’m afraid I know the answer, when a covert, malignant narcissist reads an article like yours? Do they just ‘split’ it, in their mind, back to the victim?”
So in this article I will share some of the observations I have made over the years while thoroughly studying people with narcissistic tendencies and their behavior in various environments and situations. And while the commenter asked specifically about covert, malignant narcissists, I’ll give a more general overview and talk about various types of reactions to information on narcissism. We will explore the narcissistic person’s psychological, emotional, and behavioral reactions to the situation.
Indifference. Some narcissistic people live in their bubble where they are all-knowing and experts at everything, even though they have never really studied human behavior nor, in many cases, have the capacity to accurately understand it (false superiority, Dunning-Kruger effect). So they see no point in learning about it. They choose to spend their time doing something else instead of trying to understand their life better.
Denial. One of the hallmark traits of highly narcissistic people is that they have little to no self-awareness. As a result, they don’t see themselves as having these traits and acting wrongly. Or if they do see it to some degree, they invent various justifications to feel righteous in their how they feel and act. As a result, they are in denial about it or normalize it.
Delusion. Delusional thinking is closely related to denial and one’s defense mechanisms. People with strong narcissistic tendencies tend to create all sorts of stories, “observations,” “connections,” and “insights.” To anybody who is familiar with the actual situation or who has more knowledge and experience in narcissism and dark personality traits, it is quickly evident that these narratives are not based in reality and are only made up to justify their bizarre tendencies.
Many narcissists don’t see themselves as actual narcissists, even though they clearly are, but rather as a “misunderstood, underappreciated, special person,” which is a part of their grandiose delusion.
Projection. Narcissistic people project incredibly often (narcissistic projection). They may read an article or watch a video on narcissism and think that it’s about everyone else in their life and not them. Meanwhile in reality, it’s more likely than not that the information describes them and not others in their life, unless they surround themselves with other narcissistic people, too. (More on projection later.)
Malignant curiosity. I’ve mentioned it before in a different article, but it’s worth noting that there is a subset of people with strong narcissistic tendencies who like learning about psychology and human behavior. Not because they want to get better or genuinely help others but for two main reasons. One, for status, where they hope to be perceived as smart. And two, in order to use this information to get more efficient at being narcissistic, manipulative, cunning, and get away with it.
Narcissistic people are incredibly fragile and sensitive, even though they like posturing as if they are without weaknesses, strong, and definitely stronger than you. This is a mask they wear to compensate for all the fear, insecurity, self-doubt, and self-loathing they feel deep down.
So when they encounter a piece of information about narcissism they immediately might feel exposed, ashamed, betrayed, or attacked. Moreover, they often take things very personally and think that everything is about them. So they might feel that the author is talking about them personally or calling them out. Especially if it’s by someone they know. In other words, here, they perceive it as a personal attack.
Feelings of deep shame are often followed by strong anger or rage. In psychology, it is sometimes referred to as narcissistic rage because of a narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to a narcissistic person’s self-esteem that now they need to regulate.
Here, they also sometimes project by claiming that people talking about narcissism are just “triggered,” overly sensitive, “complainy,” and reactionary, or that “they are the real narcissists.” Meanwhile, they themselves are incredibly easily triggered and automatically act out to manage those overwhelming emotions, and are trying to justify and normalize it while shifting attention elsewhere.
There are two primary categories of behavioral narcissistic reactions: aggressive and non-aggressive. Sometimes there’s an overlap between their subsets, too.
Aggressive reactions involve antisocial behaviors and can be directed towards the author, the audience, or even someone else who has nothing to do with the information at hand (significant other, coworker, child, animal, inanimate objects).
Sometimes aggressive reactions are one-time occurrences, like a nasty comment, hatemail, or threat. Some use anonymous or fake accounts, numbers, and addresses, while others aim for a direct confrontation and intimidation.
Other times aggressive reactions are continuous, where the narcissistic person continues attacking and stalking their target. It becomes their perceived personal vendetta. It can include other people that the narcissist has turned against you, which in pop psychology is referred to as flying monkeys. Sometimes all of it escalates so much that the legal authorities have to be notified and the perpetrator is forced to stop.
Non-aggressive reactions usually result in the narcissist falling into a depressive state and validation-seeking behavior, where they try to get false validation and narcissistic supply from those around them in order to feel better about themselves and manage their feelings of shame, self-loathing, and inferiority.
You can read more about this in my previous article titled How Narcissists Act When Feeling Upset or Threatened.
Whatever the highly narcissistic person’s reactions to information about narcissism are, they are very rarely healthy. Usually they are destructive, chaotic, dramatic, delusional, and antisocial. Sadly, most highly narcissistic people don’t really change. Actually in many cases they only get worse as they become older and others become more aware and less tolerant of their unhealthy tendencies.
Photo: Angry Face by RLHyde
For more on these and other topics, check out the author’s books: Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults and Self-Work Starter Kit.