Published on The Huffington Post 3/16/17 9:38 p.m. ET. It’s not nice to call names. But when it comes to narcissists, calling them out is really a matter of survival for those dealing with their abuse, as well as for those who don’t understand the profound harm they do. All narcissists wear a mask, or false persona. And when you strip away the narcissist mask you find weakness and vulnerability that would be pitiable if it weren’t so astonishingly vicious.

The Narcissist Mask

But chances are you won’t ever remove the narcissist mask, because he defends it at all costs with a full arsenal of preemptive controlling and abusive tactics. Whether as a young person overvalued with excessive praise and indulgence or undervalued with neglect and/or abuse (or an impossible combination of those parenting styles), the narcissist is in essence an emotionally stunted child with an adult savvy for ruthless manipulating. The narcissist mask is what he wears to assert a face of superiority and entitlement, protecting himself from intolerable feelings of invalidation, otherwise known as “narcissistic injury.”

The Narcissist Bully

Narcissists are classic bullies. They ambush, attack without cause, and prey on the most vulnerable within their grasp, usually those who love and depend on them, namely their spouse and children, who as a result carry lasting emotional and physiological trauma.

Narcissists often also abuse employees, susceptible friends, and “underlings” such as waiters and clerks. Exploiting their power over others in any way possible feeds their endless need to feel superior, and their lack of empathy gives them free range to abuse without the troubling hindrance of a conscience.

The Narcissist Coward

Many of us come out of invalidating (sometimes severely) home environments, but we do not become compassionless sadists. Narcissists are cowards who are fundamentally terrified of themselves and anyone who might see through their mask. Their driving motivation in life is to shield themselves from threatening emotions that trigger their deep-seated sense of inferiority, or narcissist injury.

Often narcissists strike and run, initiating surprise attacks and retreating before being confronted with the consequences of their rage. Narcissists also may behave passive-aggressively, cloaking their rage in self-pitying performances meant to induce guilt and blame.

Whatever hurtful tactics they use, narcissists virtually never take responsibility for their behavior. Instead, they are masterful at denying and projecting their abuse onto others, most often those they have abused, further exacerbating the harm they do.

The Narcissist Liar

The narcissist mask is a lie designed to protect her from truths she cannot bear. Again, this feels like a pity plea moment, and indeed pity for the narcissist is understandable. But pity for the narcissist is dangerous territory that often leads those already victimized into a position for further abuse.

Narcissists are liars who continuously attempt to control others’ perceptions of them and, when they can’t, resort to nasty, often violent reprisal. The narcissist may cast himself as a highly principled person, but in reality he is only concerned with his own needs and is too weak to face life’s truths, especially those that threaten his defenses. He may talk a good game, but when it comes to the truth, he stonewalls, blames and shames others, and always deflects accountability.

The narcissist may, for example, rage at her son for getting an A- grade instead of an A, because she feels threatened by her son’s academic success, she is angry about a fight she had with her spouse, or she is projecting a self-centered expectation of perfection.

The Narcissist Fraud

Narcissists are by nature frauds who lie, exaggerate, and brag about themselves and denigrate others to bolster their image. They hate themselves but hate others even more, and everything they do is in service of asserting a superior face no matter what reality exists inside themselves or within their family.

A dictionary definition of fraud is

a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.

Narcissists are classic frauds—at love, parenting, friendship, and any other important relationship in life. Because they lack the ability to recognize and empathize with others’ experiences and emotions, narcissists are incapable of authentic intimacy, kindness, or selfless giving.

Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post and PsychCentral.com. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts). 

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Image courtesy of Tony Webster, Creative Commons.