As scary as they may seem, there a few things that scare narcissists.
In the media, narcissism is minimized to a person who is conceited and self absorbed. In reality it is better defined as a pathological personality trait of a person who creates an image to conceal pain, insecurities, and brokenness. It is important to understand the true traits of a narcissist to identify red flags early. The intention is not to create an environment in which everyone you engage is being tested for a personality disorder, but to increase awareness so you can better navigate around toxic patterns.
Narcissists may come off perfect, self-indulgent, and invincible; in reality they have low self-esteem and are afraid to be their true selves. The deceit and manipulation is to fill a void that their past trauma and insecurities have created. Narcissist are not courageous, in fact there are a multitude of fears they have. Here are a few:
If you were to call a narcissist out and you expect them to evaluate their wrongdoings, express guilt, or discuss how they will improve their character flaws of any sort – you may be wasting your time. Narcissists really struggle with self-evaluation and reflection when it involves highlighting areas where improvement is needed. If you call a narcissist “a narcissist” you will see an elevated emotional response due to being triggered by the word.
Like with many inner conflicts, accountability over your emotions is about asking yourself why you are triggered by a label. On one end your ego and sense of self may be contradicted, meaning what you think you know about yourself may fall apart once labeled. This can be an experience to raise self-awareness or create shame. On the other end you may know this label to be true and you are unhappy with that truth, so you deflect. Someone who presents with minimal narcissistic traits will evaluate where they stand by reflecting on why they are triggered. The narcissist is unable to have this discussion with himself or anyone else. Instead he or she will become offended and defensive. The tone of their response is almost all you need to identify their lack of empathy and introspection, a telling narcissistic trait.
Since self-reflection is challenging for the narcissist, you may notice struggles with relationships. The function of relationships for the narcissist is to create a situation where he has ultimate control. A narcissist will woo you into love with him, but once things start coasting, and you feel comfortable asserting yourself, he sees his control slipping away. Typically, this is when aggression presents and is usually triggered by the anxiety of not having control. You may pull back from your narcissist or propose ending the relationship. In turn, he may appear apologetic and go back to the stage of wooing you, this is to re-establish control. The narcissist may apologize, but it is only out of panic that he may lose his power.
Narcissists typically react to criticism with aggression and sometimes rage. They need a continuous supply of flattery, subservience, and attention. They have fragile self-esteem;anything less than singing their praises is perceived as a form of humiliation. The narcissist creates a false perception of themselves to save face. Anything that challenges the validity of the image a narcissist has created is a threat. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love, states, that the narcissist “perceives every disagreement as criticism and every critical remark as complete and humiliating rejection.”
A deep fear the narcissist has is getting caught in a lie, especially in front of others. Narcissists may lie to manipulate people or embellish stories about trips they’ve taken and money they’ve spent to heighten their image. Putting them on the spot, questioning or challenging inconsistencies may start as a game for them, and they will play, until they lose. If you successfully expose their previous lies, they may pivot by calling you out about something, or try to recover in some way. It is important to be mindful and possibly concerned about safety when confronting a narcissist about his lies.
Many Narcissists fear receiving favors from others and sometimes even struggle with saying thank you. According to Psychology Today, the communal narcissist is one who will appear humble, philanthropic, and gracious but it is a ploy to flex. They want to be recognized and praised for what may outwardly appear as a genuine service to others but they will use it to gain leverage if they do not get the credit they feel they deserve. The communal narcissist may say thank you and show gratitude to avoid looking snobby; her intent is to be well-liked and she will not risk that. However, most narcissists try not to be on the receiving end of service. They like to post pictures and videos about their community outreach projects and feeding the homeless.The malignant narcissist would never find himself asking for a favor or needing help. The malignant narcissist would just steal what he needs.
When you have a narcissist on your hands and you are working toward addressing problematic personality traits, be aware of their fears. Out-crafting the narcissist can be the best way to escape the relationship.