A defining feature of narcissism is the ability to create a false positive persona. We refer to it as the False Self, which arises from a narcissist’s inclination to live inside their own Alternate Reality. Most narcissists know it is in their vested interest to attempt to appear pleasant, supportive, and coordinated, so they can make attempts to appear more congenial than they really are. But the foundational elements of narcissism are so contrary to relational and personal maturity, that they cannot maintain the façade indefinitely. This is especially true when difficulties inevitably arise.

Beneath the surface of narcissism are all sorts of features that run counter to healthy relationship connections, so it is only a matter of time when the false positives will collapse and a mean streak will emerge. Narcissists are so self-absorbed that they cannot contain their proclivities toward harshness. Being fair-weather companions only, when trials or differences emerge so does their contentiousness. It’s what they do.

There are multiple emotions at the base of narcissism that fuel their meanness. Insecurity, fear, anger, and haughtiness come to mind. But the primary emotion that propels them into meanness is vengeance. Feeling entitled, narcissists see you as a potential giver of narcissistic supply. They want you to remind them of the many ways they are special and when you do not, there is a price to pay. Mere differences between you and the narcissist can be enough to trigger the notion: “You’ll be sorry for ever going up against me.”

It is essential for you to understand how the identifying ingredients of narcissism predispose these individuals to become mean and vengeful.

Keep in mind:

  • Their lack of empathy makes it easy for narcissists to dehumanize you. They care little about what you think or feel, and when you show yourself to be different, they have no willingness to consider your distinctions.
  • Their need for control leads them to think of you as a subordinate. You will never be their equal, so if you insinuate a desire for equal consideration, you will be “put in your place.”
  • The belief in their superiority excuses their ongoing condescension. Narcissists view you as an ill-informed, unenlightened menace who needs to remember who is in charge.
  • The narcissist’s fear of your independence results in their inclination to criticize. They have an agenda, a script that you are supposed to follow, and they will enforce that agenda when necessary.
  • Their chronic defensiveness creates a natural distrust toward you. They are mean because they assume negative motives from you.
  • A narcissist’s willingness to exploit causes them to see you only in terms of your utility. You are merely a tool to be used.
  • Their propensity toward keeping secrets puts them in an adversarial position against you. They want no one probing their personal initiatives and priorities.
  • Craving admiration, narcissists are naturally inclined to think of your desire for respect as a competing desire. Therefore, they feel justified in showing you dishonor. You are a detriment to their ego needs.

How to handle their vengeance

The very nature of narcissism sets up the potential for vengeance, which then sets up mean reactions. As far as the narcissist is concerned, you will never measure up. Criticism is justified. You can be replaced. Your differences will lead to a loss of favor. Their anger and contempt are your fault.

Naturally, when a mean narcissist seeks vengeance, you want to defend yourself, and you can get sucked into a “why-are-you-doing-this” discussion. But let’s acknowledge that such a reaction will not help your cause. Remember, before you ever showed up in the narcissist’s life, that person was already inclined toward meanness and vengeance. It’s built into their psyche.

That being the case, know who you are and how you wish to conduct your life. This becomes the foundation for your own relationship boundaries. Know that no one deserves to be treated with contempt and disdain, including you. Seek your own separate path. Apply consequences and stipulations where possible. Expose yourself to people who can and will accept you as you are.

Narcissists do not know how to relate to your humanity because they have never been able to come to terms with their own frailties and dysfunctions. While it is pitiable that they are so developmentally stunted, you need not become anyone’s doormat.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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