Charming or abusive, seductive or abandoning, the narcissist fears herself most. Surrounded by terrors that reside within and can never be tempered or resolved, the narcissist is haunted by fears of her own unworthiness, and at all cost she seeks to avoid them by wearing a face of invulnerability, superiority, perfection. She protects her false face at the expense of anyone who is within her power of influence—her partner, children, employees, friends.

A person with Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD) despises himself and feels so devoid of value that everyone around him either represents a threat of emotional injury or potential leverage for his ego—either through winning their esteem or asserting his superiority over them. Either way, he only ab/uses others to pacify himself and cannot genuinely give, love, or empathize, which further isolates him within his own sphere of emptiness.

Narcissist Fears: The Big Three

1. Being Seen While emotionally healthy people want to be truly “seen” by others and seek partners who are able to give them that recognition of self, the narcissist is in deep hiding. Although the narcissist thrives on attention (good or bad), everything she does is in service to protecting her mask, a false self that she wears to hide her shameful black hole within.

To support his constructed self, the narcissist views his family as a manipulable source of “supply.” He will do whatever it takes to secure their cooperation in sustaining his fabricated reality, typically using a “divide and conquer” strategy to pit family members against one another. Often he manipulates his spouse as his main enabler, and he treats one child as his idealized “golden child” and his other child(ren) as scapegoat(s). The scapegoat tends to be the child who “sees” through the narcissist’s mask, which the narcissist parent reacts against by punishing and isolating the “threatening” child, as well as projecting his self-loathing upon that in the smashed mirror

2. Being Humiliated To assert her superiority, the narcissist compulsively competes with others, often to the point of absurdity—being socially more “connected,” having a larger television screen, wearing the most stylish clothes, reading more critically acclaimed books, living in a sunnier climate, having more exciting sex, driving a more expensive car, raising more “accomplished” children, going on the most extravagant vacations. . . . In her game of one-upmanship, she continuously strives to outshine, embarrass, and denigrate family, friends, and colleagues.

Humiliation represents public vulnerability, which profoundly threatens the narcissist’s precious false self. Being at once hypersensitive and grandiose, the narcissist is enraged by even small, meaningless “slights” that others would easily brush off. For the narcissist, even a hint at humiliation is a devastatingly shameful cause for vicious retaliation, including rage, belittlement, mockery, and a host of other punishments.

3. Being Rejected Rejection in any form is the narcissist’s worst fear. Rejection reveals that which he works each day to hide—his sense of inferiority and unlovability. Narcissists regard any kind of rejection—personal, social, or professional—as intensely invalidating. While a healthy person will pick himself up and try again after rejection, the narcissist will resort to all means of contorted rationalizing, hoovering (pulling others back in), and bitter reprisal.

Typically, the narcissist stages her life to play the rejecting role, and she attunes herself to rebuff and discard others before they walk away from her first. But if rejected, a narcissist will utilize all her tactics, from guilt trips, to grand promises and seductions, to power maneuvers, to threats and revenge. As means to an end, she may resort to aggression and/or pitiful neediness, always to serve her agenda.

A rejected narcissist spouse may fight for child custody not because he “wants” his children but as a way to hurt his ex. Or in a social setting or work setting, he may launch a calculating smear campaign to discredit his former “friend” or business partner.

Pity for the Narcissist?

The narcissist’s tragic self-loathing would be sympathetic if not for her mask of grandiosity and fundamentally cruel and vindictive lack of regard for other people’s feelings, boundaries, and life struggles.

For those of us who have abusive narcissist family members, feeling love and sympathy for them is normal. But it is vital to understand that the narcissist personality does not, cannot, and will not give a damn about his family’s needs, including, most poignantly, those of his children.

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Images courtesy of dualdflipflop and cea +, CC.