Psychology Today – The Narcissistic Injury


This is a re-post of my article published in Psychology Today on December 7, 2015.

Heather Edwards Psychology Today

You Feel Stung, and Badly:

Someone says or does something that hurts deeply. You feel unseen, betrayed, invalidated, or simply criticized. You may feel it’s unfair or that you deserve it. Either way, you are having a tough time recovering.

It eats at you. The hurt somehow sticks. You feel ashamed that you can’t just let it go. Or respond in a healthy way. So you either nurse the wound privately, or you lash back in an over-reaction.

  • This is the Narcissistic Injury.
  • It’s common – and you need not be a Narcissist to feel its sting.

In this post, Heather Edwards(link is external) gives us ways to recover.

OUCH! It hurts!  Like a psychological punch in the gut.

It can feel like an existential crisis, an emotional assault, or a plain and simple embarrassment. You approached a situation or a person with an, “I got this” attitude and then Whamo!, it took a hard right south. You feel stupid, ill prepared, and less than worthy.

Your best friend calls and you are happy to help with whatever she needs. After all, you’re a good listener. You pick up the call, and instead of a warm hello…you get a nasty critique about your personality. “It’s always about you.” Or, “I just can’t believe what you did to me yesterday.”

Hi…You Suck.

It hurts.

You would have been fine if you knew a criticism was coming…but you didn’t, and it hurts because its partially true, and you weren’t ready. A psychological punch in the stomach.

The wound cuts deep. You feel deflated. It’s painful, because you trusted. The flip side for some of us who feel good about ourselves is the tendency to take criticism too hard.

The response is either self questioning or pointed rage.

  • Both are over-reactions.

You are studying for an important exam.

You put in days upon days and you are prepared. You walk into the exam…”let’s slay that beast.” A week later you find out that you did miserably. Your confidence drops into the toilet, feeling depressed.

You wonder if you even have what it takes to succeed.

  • Sometimes egos take a beating when they are too expansive.

It is okay to flub an exam. It is not a sign of moral weakness or even ineptitude. You are narcissistically wounded, and feel hurt to the core. It is as if your confidence was your enemy, like your trust was in the previous example.

It’s empowering to feel strong and confident:

It’s what you want, but how do you temper it so that it’s balanced, wise, and not overbearing? After all, you don’t want to be perceived as cocky, self-absorbed, or the “n” word – narcissistic! Ugh!

This is a conversation that comes up in the therapy and coaching room. Most want to know where to draw the line between self-care and self-ishness – and between pride and a braggardly pretention.

All emotions serve a purpose:

While ego keeps you moving forward, it can also defeat you. So be strong and self-assured, but season it with genuine regard for others and an open flexibility. If ego lies on a continuum of possibility, with extreme humility at one end and extreme pride on the other, then there’s a healthy amount in the middle that establishes balance.

It’s good to experience a sense of accomplishment, worthiness, comfort, and pleasure in who you are and how you indulge yourself:

Extreme pride, however, can lead to uncaring behaviors, or a bulldozer syndrome. Extreme humility can lead to victimization – or a doormat syndrome. Neither are attractive, healthy, nor desired. And both are destructive to relationships.

Here are a few tips for finding the sweet spot in your ego…

  1. Practice empathy – Take a walk in someone else’s shoes. Imagine what their experience of this moment is like. Consider the impact of your words and actions on them. If you’re unsure, ask them how they feel. Really listen.
  2. Get crystal clear on boundaries – Know what’s okay and not okay with you. Get comfortable with saying, “No”, “Yes”, and “Let me think about that”. Be assertive, not passive nor aggressive.
  3. Hit the reset button – Start an “Improve & Remove” list. Notice what you want more of, and what you want less of in your life. Be proactive. Develop a plan. Take action.
  4. Be open. Be aware. Stop judging. – Just be present. Drop into the now. With a mindful awareness of your values, intentions, and goals and an unconditional acceptance of others, you can stay grounded and keep your ego in check.
  5. Focus on the good – When you’re feeling the metaphorical smack down, get up &brush yourself off.  Remind yourself of your worth and lessons learned. Discover thewisdom in the experience and vow to do better next time. Don’t fall prey to fear, judgment, and self doubt. Those too need to be acknowledged, measured, and balanced.
  6. Know your truth – The more internalized your values have become, the easier it is to confront, deal with or simply walk away from something that is truly wrong.

In a 2011 Study by Ronningstam E. cited by NIH, there are “two sides of character functioning [in NPD], which include both self-serving and self-enhancing manifestations as well as hypersensitivity, fluctuations in self-esteem, and internal pain and fragility… they co-occur with depressivity and perfectionism.” This demonstrates there is a painful internal experience of NPD, not just the outward observable traits by which it is typically known.

Finally, as evidence of the universal struggle with managing ego, hear from the celebrated and wise among us:

“Because of its phantom nature, and despite elaborate defense mechanisms, the ego is very vulnerable and insecure, and it sees itself as constantly under threat. This, by the way, is the case even if the ego is outwardly very confident.” – Eckhart Tolle

“Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.” – Colin Powell

“All bad qualities centre round the ego. When the ego is gone, Realization results by itself. There are neither good nor bad qualities in the Self. The Self is free from all qualities. Qualities pertain to the mind only.” – Ramana Maharshi

“Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent.” – Sigmund Freud

“Whenever I climb, I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’.” – Friederich Nietzsche


About Heather Edwards

Heather Edwards is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Board Certified Coach, & National Certified Counselor. She is a frequent contributor to Psychology Today. She provides individual therapy, couples therapy, corporate coaching, career coaching, and life coaching.

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