How do Narcissists react to being humiliated?


As healthy human beings do – only more so, much more so. It is also important to understand that the narcissist is regularly and strongly humiliated by things, which, normally, do not constitute a humiliation. It would be safe to say that the emotional life of the narcissist is strongly tinted by all-pervasive, ubiquitous and recurrent humiliation.

Any thing, event, action, inaction, utterance, or thought, which negate or can be construed to negate the uniqueness or the grandiose superiority of the narcissist – humiliate him. Living in a big city, being one of many (students, employees, the rich, the poor… ), any sign of disapproval, disagreement, criticism, or remonstrance – reduce him to a state of insulted, sulking agitation. The narcissist interprets them all as addressed to his person (“ad hominem”) rather than to his actions. The list of things by which a narcissist might be humiliated, is dizzying indeed. If contradicted he is humiliated. If not subject to special treatment, he is insulted. If subject to any attitude or approach, which he judges to contravene his grandiose, superior self-image or his sense of entitlement – he is beside himself with indignant rage. It is as though the narcissist has a need to be humbled, reduced, minimised and otherwise trampled upon. It is the eternal search for punishment that is thus satisfied. As we said elsewhere, the narcissist is on a constant trial, which, itself, is part of his punishment.

The initial reaction of the narcissist to perceived humiliation is a conscious rejection of the humiliating input. The narcissist tries to ignore it, talk it out of existence, or belittle its importance. If this crude mechanism fails, the narcissist resorts to denial and repression of the humiliating material. He “forgets” all about it, gets it out of his mind and, when reminded of it, denies it. But this is usually only a stopgap measure. The disturbing data is bound to float back to the narcissist’s tormented consciousness. Once aware of its re-emergence, the narcissist uses fantasy to counteract and counterbalance it. He imagines all the horrible things that he would have done (or will do) to the source of the humiliation. It is through fantasy that he seeks to redeem his pride and self-respect and to re-establish his damaged sense of uniqueness and grandiosity. Paradoxically, the narcissist does not mind being humiliated if this were to make him more unique. For instance: if the injustice involved in the process of humiliation is unprecedented, or if the humiliating acts or words place the narcissist in a unique position – he often tries to encourage such behaviours and elicit them from his human environment. In this case, he fantasises how he demeans and debases his opponents by forcing them to behave even more barbarously than usual, so that their unjust deeds will be universally recognised as such and condemned and the narcissist be publicly vindicated. In short: martyrdom is as good a method of obtaining Narcissist Supply as any.

Fantasy, though, has its limits and once reached, the narcissist is likely to experience a wave of self-hatred and self-loathing. These are a result of feeling helpless and of realising the depths of his dependence on Narcissistic Supply. These feelings culminate in severe self-directed aggression: depression, destructive, self-defeating or suicidal ideation. These reactions, inevitably and naturally, terrify the narcissist. He tries to project them on to his environment. The way from the employment of this defence mechanism to an obsessive-compulsive disorder or even to a psychotic episode is short. The narcissist is suddenly besieged by disturbing, uncontrollable thoughts whose violence cannot be harnessed. He develops ritualistic reactions to them: a sequence of motions, an act, or an obsessive counter-thought. Or he might visualise his aggression, or experience auditory hallucinations. Humiliation affects the narcissist this deeply.

Luckily, the process is entirely reversible once Narcissistic Supply is resumed. Almost immediately, the narcissist swings from one pole to another, from being humiliated to being elated, from being put down to being reinstated, from being at the bottom of his own, imagined, pit to occupying the top of his own, imagined, ladder. It is very typical: the narcissist has only an inner world. He does not accept, nor does he recognise reality. To him, reality is but a shadow cast by the consuming fire, which burns inside him. He is consumed by it, by the wish to be loved, to be recognised, to control, to avoid hurt. And by succumbing to this internal conflagration, the narcissist all but secures his inability to attain the modest goals that are achieved by others at a minimal cost and almost effortlessly.