When we are rejected from someone we care about, we tend to take the rejection particularly hard. What tears us apart is the blow that this rejection leaves on our ego. We tend to, perhaps subconsciously, value ourselves through our partner’s ‘acceptance’ or ‘non-acceptance’ of us. So if he or she rejected you for another, we take it personally – believing that somehow we, ourselves, are flawed. The narcissist has that kind of enormous reaction to even the slightest (perceived or real) criticism or disagreement as if it were outright rejection. The narcissist is constantly on the lookout for slights. He is hyper-vigilant. He perceives every disagreement as criticism and every critical remark as complete and humiliating rejection: nothing short of a threat.
‘Narcissism’ includes a person’s idea that he or she is superior to others. A narcissist believes that he has attained perfection and has strong feelings of entitlement. Narcissists seek attention by whatever means possible in order to boost their self-perception. The term for this attention seeking is Narcissistic Supply because the compliments, fear, and admiration are supplying the ego.
When there is any kind of threat to his belief about self, a defensive stance is taken. Narcissistic Injury is any threat, real or imagined, to the narcissist’s grandiose self-perception (known as the False Self) as perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and entitled to special treatment and recognition, regardless of his actual accomplishments (or lack thereof). Narcissists invariably react with Narcissistic Rage to Narcissistic Injury. Contrary to common opinion, Narcissistic Rage is not a reaction to stress – it is a reaction to a perceived slight, insult, criticism, or disagreement-all considered acts of rejection in the mind of a narcissist.
Facing Narcissistic Injury can cause people with narcissism to act aggressively. Narcissistic Rage is the term used to describe this aggression which can include violence. The anger that comes out as a response to criticism can be directed toward others or to the self.
Self-directed Narcissistic Rage is a common reaction to Narcissistic Injury. The narcissist turns the rejection and criticism inward. Shame, anxiety, and sudden depression occur with the merest slight or criticism. Outward rage is usually directed specifically toward the people who criticized the narcissist. In extreme cases, a narcissist singles out anyone who resembles the critical person.
The narcissist actively solicits Narcissistic Supply – compliments, admiration, subservience, attention, being feared – from others in order to sustain his fragile and dysfunctional ego. Thus, he constantly courts possible rejection, criticism, and disagreement. The narcissist is, therefore, dependent on other people. He is aware of the risks associated with such all-pervasive and essential dependence. He resents his weakness yet dreads possible disruptions to the flow of his drug: Narcissistic Supply. He is caught between the rock of his ‘habit’ and the hard place of his frustration. No wonder he is prone to raging, lashing and acting out, and to pathological, all-consuming envy (all expressions of pent-up aggression).
Narcissists perceive every disagreement – let alone criticism – as nothing short of a threat. Most narcissists react defensively to this. They become indignant, aggressive, and cold. They detach emotionally for fear of yet another Narcissistic Injury. They devalue the person who made the disparaging remark, the critical comment, the unflattering observation, the innocuous joke at the narcissist’s expense. By holding the critic in contempt, by diminishing the stature of the harsh conversant – the narcissist minimizes the impact of the disagreement or criticism on himself.
Like a trapped animal, the narcissist is forever on the lookout… Was this comment meant to demean him? Was this utterance a deliberate attack? Gradually, his mind turns into a chaotic battlefield of paranoia and ideas of reference until he loses touch with reality and retreats to his own world of fantasized and unchallenged grandiosity.
Interestingly, when the disagreement or criticism or disapproval is public, the narcissist tends to regard it as Narcissistic Supply! (“Any publicity is good publicity”). Only when they are expressed in private – does the narcissist rage against them.
Types of Narcissistic Rage
Narcissistic Rage is a reaction to Narcissistic Injury. Rage has two forms:
I. Explosive – The narcissist erupts, attacks everyone in his immediate vicinity, causes damage to objects or people, and is verbally and psychologically abusive.
II. Pernicious or Passive-Aggressive – the narcissist sulks, gives the silent treatment, and is plotting how to punish the transgressor and put her in her proper place. These narcissists are vindictive and often become stalkers. They harass and haunt the objects of their frustration. They sabotage and damage the work and possessions of people whom they regard to be the sources of their mounting frustration.
Anxiety and Rejection
The narcissist has a limited and underdeveloped spectrum of emotional reactions. Anxiety characterizes all his interactions with the opposite sex and any situation in which there is a remote possibility that he would be rejected or abandoned. Anxiety is an adaptive mechanism; it is the internal reaction to conflict. The anxiety is because he needs the relationship more than others do.
The termination of a relationship represents rejection and abandonment, which the narcissist fears most. The narcissist would rather pretend that a relationship is still valid than admit to the demise of it. He doesn’t violate the relationship “contract” because he is afraid of the reprisals and of the emotional consequences. But this is not to be confused with developed morals. When confronted with better alternatives – which more efficiently cater to his needs – the narcissist annuls or violates his contracts without thinking twice.
Moreover, not all contracts were created equal in the narcissistic twilight zone. It is the narcissist who retains the power to decide which contracts are to be scrupulously observed and which offhandedly ignored. The narcissist determines which laws (social contracts) to obey and which to break.
The narcissist regards abandonment or rejection by his emotional-sexual partners as a final verdict concerning his very ability to have such relationships in the future. He is assured that his partner was uniquely equipped to succeed in their relationship and he becomes frightened.
Why the fear? Because if this partner, as qualified as she was, as desirous of him as she was, failed to sustain the relationship – surely, no one else is likely to succeed. The narcissist believes that he is doomed to an existence of loneliness and destitution. He stands no chance of ever having a resilient, healthy relationship with another partner.
The narcissist would do anything to avoid this conclusion. He begs his partner to return and re-establish the relationship, no matter what transpired. Her very return proves to him that he is worthy, the preferred alternative, someone with whom maintaining a relationship is possible.
The narcissist is mortally terrified of being abandoned by his partner. This fear drives him to minimize his interactions with his partner to avoid the inevitable pain of rejection. This, in turn, leads exactly to the feared abandonment. The narcissist knows that his behavior instigates that which he is so afraid of. In a way he is happy about it, because it gives him the illusion that he is in exclusive control of the relationship and of his own fate.
Ultimately, the narcissist loses his partners in all his relationships. He hates himself for it and is enraged. This constant inner turmoil generates unremitting fear manifested in the form of anxiety attacks, or an anxiety disorder. In the course of such life crises, the narcissist briefly believes that he is intrinsically defective and dysfunctional when it comes to establishing and to maintaining relationships (which is true!)
Disclaimer: In this article I chose the Narc to be Male but of course this can also be the other way around. Narcissism is not gender specific.