Why narcissists can be so mean
In a moment, I will explain what happens when the narcissist shifts into predator mode. First, however, it is important to understand why the narcissist feels the need to fight so doggedly to begin with. In the mind of the narcissist, the social world includes two strict categories: winners and losers. There is no possible outcome they can conceive of in which everyone gets their needs met. There isn’t enough attention and praise for everyone to go around, so according to narcissistic logic, only a few lucky ones will be selected. Because of the way the narcissist was probably humiliated, unnoticed, or subjugated in the past when it mattered most, the narcissist is also motivated by making sure that they are never put down or overlooked again. When the narcissist feels most threatened, it is because someone has said or done something that makes the narcissist feel small, unnoticed, weak, or defective, and the narcissist cannot allow anyone or anything to make him feel like that under any circumstances. The narcissist’s thinking goes like this: Any threat to her or his temperamental ego must be identified and erased immediately. If the threat continues, it must be annihilated by any means necessary.
If you put down the narcissist or humiliate them publicly, you will unleash decades-old rage, and the narcissist will not stop until they feel you have been verbally or emotionally decimated. (Keep in mind that what the narcissist perceives as a slight is rarely objective.) People who haven’t been in close proximity to a severe narcissist would never believe the animalistic, ugly wrath that spews from the narcissist when they are activated. Many boys and girls, or men and women, who have suffered at the hands of an extreme narcissist talk about how seeing such hate-filled “colors” in another human being is traumatic in itself. (These same individuals also find it hard to ever emotionally trust someone again who shows such unbridled, predatory rage.)
If you are in close proximity to a severe narcissist, understand that the meanness and viciousness the narcissist displays when threatened or held accountable is not personal. Narcissists can use words as bullets, zeroing in on anything they can to unsettle and upset you. Being on the receiving end of this behavior is horrifying and confusing. The recipients often turn to self-help books or articles (like this one) to make sense of the experience, because it is so traumatic and disturbing. Recipients often become sort of “armchair therapists,” learning about this personality disorder and trying to become an expert on this type of personality to maintain their sanity. If you are in close proximity to a narcissist, I will highlight what is important for you to understand to move forward. At root, severe narcissists are highly abnormal men and women who have a form of mental illness (a personality disorder). The root of the disorder means that the narcissist, by definition, violates basic social rules and social conventions. When triggered, especially, they don’t show empathy: They are entitled; they create their own reality from moment to moment; and they don’t really care about others’ feelings. The rules or social conventions that most elementary school children have already mastered are absent in the adult narcissist. I use the following expression with clients dealing with individuals like this: “They don’t get it, but they also don’t want to get it.”