At the foundation of narcissism is pervasive insecurity. Now, most narcissists are too self-deluded to acknowledge their insecurity, nonetheless, there it is. Narcissists are known for being selfish, controlling, falsely superior, disinterested in understanding others, entitled, and manipulative. But as you gain insight into this pattern, you will observe that beneath it all, narcissists are driven by fear.

Narcissists fear being rejected. They fear being deemed inadequate, insignificant, or irrelevant. Narcissists fear being mocked, ridiculed, and invalidated. They fear appearing stupid or uninformed. On the outside, they desperately want to be known as A Force To Be Reckoned With, but make no mistake, they are in an ongoing mode of compensating for their fears.

The two easiest ways of detecting narcissists’ fear is their quick defensiveness and their out-of-proportion anger. They dread having to admit faults or frailties, and if confronted, they cannot have honest, adult conversations. Instead, they try to crush you. Again, that is them compensating for their insecurities.

It can be normal for each of us to have moments when we wonder who can be trusted or how much self-disclosure we should use. This is, after all, an imperfect world, and there are moments when healthy fear is necessary. But as you peer deeply into the souls of narcissists, it is clear that their fears are not healthy, but they typically rise to the level of paranoia.

To get an idea of how narcissists are paranoid, notice multiple tendencies:

  • They are chronic keepers of secrets. They don’t want you to know who they really are.
  • Narcissists have an exaggerated need to determine: “Are you for me or against me? Will you esteem me or reject me?”
  • They find it difficult, to the point of impossibility, to rationally discuss their hurts, mistakes, or miscalculations.
  • Instead, narcissists respond to conflicts as The Victim. A go-to strategy they use is blame-shifting.
  • They are very reluctant to say words like: “I blew it,” or “I need help.”
  • Your simple differences become a referendum about them. They easily presume you wish to harm them if you just have a separate preference or interpretation or emotional reaction.

Very early in life, narcissists concluded that openness and honesty will get you into trouble. Most were exposed to relationships that emphasized power, authority, and correctness, meaning there was little allowance for uniqueness or vulnerability. Being exposed to messages of judgment and shame, they became convinced that cover-up was safer than self-disclosure. Buying into the notion that power is the ultimate sign of significance, they vowed to themselves (sometime consciously and other times subconsciously) that they could never allow others to know their weaknesses. Hiding behind the veneer of a False Self became far more important than authenticity.

The net results of their self-protective paranoia are quite varied. For instance:

  • They have an excessive need for you to agree.
  • Narcissists expend little to no energy knowing your hurts, needs, or desires.
  • They struggle with envy when they see others doing well. Somehow your good fortune is interpreted as an unfair advantage over them.
  • They hunger for compliments and validation.
  • When angry, they find it almost impossible to break down problems or conflicts constructively.
  • Their need for control is pervasive as they insist that others should be subordinate.
  • They put great effort into building their personal brand. Image is all important.
  • Being the victim, they hold onto grudges for a long time. Forgiveness is not at all common.
  • They act as a know-it-all, meaning they are unable to learn. Admitting they do not know it all is tied to shame, something they struggle with greatly.
  • Tenderness and gentleness feel awkward due to the vulnerability it represents, so instead they prefer to be feared.

As you might imagine, one of the byproducts of a narcissist’s paranoia is the inability to self-reflect. That would require them to examine both their pluses and minuses, but their insecurity won’t allow that.

Understanding the narcissist’s fear

So, as you develop an awareness of the narcissist’s pervasive fear and paranoia, it is essential to understand how they are driven by their own subconscious, unfinished business. They predictably blame and accuse as a way of sidestepping an honest appraisal of themselves, but when they go into that mode, don’t bite.

Instead, your challenge will be to remain focused on what it means to be non-paranoid. With the right people, you can choose openness, a lack of defensiveness, encouragement, and being rational in discussions about differences.

The opposite of paranoia includes trust and trustworthiness, inclusion, love, and peace. So, even though the narcissist is incapable of joining you with those priorities, stay steady in your resolve anyway.

To watch the video version of this topic, please click here.

~Dr. Les Carter