Narcissists can be friendly, until they’re not.  As long as you are docile and compliant (or at least willing to stay out of their way), they can contain the worst of what they have to offer.  But once you become unwilling to defer, watch out.  Here comes the venom.

When narcissists realize that you view them as flawed, it triggers feelings of contempt, often of the exaggerated variety.  Lacking peace, they are easily angered and that emotion can feed a spiteful craving to put you in your place.  In their minds, they might think something like: “You have hurt me so now I’m going to hurt you more.  I’ll make you regret coming against me.”  The natural instinct of a spiteful narcissist is to destroy.

Now, what about you?  When you have a long history of mistreatment at the hands of a narcissist, you too can feel spiteful.  Feeling wounded and weary, you can think: “I didn’t sign up for this.  That person is an awful human who needs to be taught a lesson.”  That being the case, you might jump into combative exchanges with the narcissist, trading insults or becoming aggressively invalidating.  Is that how you want to be?

Narcissists have a way of bringing out your visceral reactions since they are defined by humanity’s worst ingredients…condescension, raw selfishness, a lack of regard, manipulation, and more.  

They are inclined toward combat and they need lackeys who will prop up their delusion of superiority.  To them, your disinclination toward subordination is a grand insult.

You need not be faulted for feeling spiteful in reaction to a narcissist’s spitefulness.  You are, after all, human.  But when the emotion runs high, it is in your vested interest to examine healthy versus unhealthy ways to respond.  It is a certainty that narcissists will not manage spitefulness well.  But can you?

Narcissists approach relationships with an attitude of entitlement leading the way.  Once connected to them, you are “assigned” the task of propping up their fragile ego.  Needing your enablement, they can feel panicked when you won’t feed their shaky ego.  This stands in direct contrast to healthy people who are capable of monitoring strong emotions by drawing upon a well-conceived mindset of decency.

As you decide not to match pitch with the dysregulated narcissist, you can determine to take your emotional responses into a very different direction.  Let’s look at some distinctions in the ways you can differ when spitefulness is in play:

  • Narcissists are inclined to register shocked disbelief, thinking: “How could you do this to me?”  Healthy people make room for disappointment and are not blown away by the presence of another person’s negative traits.
  • Narcissists transfer their emotional pain onto you, requiring you to carry it for them.  Healthy people take responsibility for their emotions, knowing that healing begins with inner contemplation.
  • A narcissist’s spiteful feelings are directly tied to the fear of abandonment.  Healthy people want connection but are not disabled in its absence.
  • In their spitefulness, narcissists maintain very thick walls of defense.  Healthy people can feel defensive too, yet they remain open-minded.
  • Narcissists must establish dominance in order to feel significant.  Healthy people find significance by being decent.
  • Once triggered, narcissists show a very low capacity for insight, which is already in short supply.  Healthy people ponder immediate disappointments through the perspective of their guiding principles.
  • Narcissists seek destruction.  Healthy people seek coordination.
  • Narcissists are clear in communicating that you are a nobody.  Healthy people refuse to accept such an erroneous presumption, nor do they feel the need to devalue others for personal gain.

When someone feels spiteful, that emotion is directly tied to the yearning for self-preservation.  Almost always, narcissists try to preserve self by aggressively diminishing others. 

Healthy individuals will preserve self while holding to the belief that justice is found only as propriety and reason remain intact.

Also, remember they are very prone to projecting onto you what is unfinished within themselves.  They spew venom because that is what is in their emotional account.  Their harshness is about their life of misery.  It’s not about you.  Hold onto that awareness.

In their destructive need for vengeance, narcissists illustrate a pitiable lack of coping skills.  Their commitment to meanness is their way of saying: “Harshness is the only way I know to save face when I feel rejected.  I never learned the mature alternatives.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.