Narcissistic Injury

The Narcissist's Hidden Depression

IMAGINE LIFE WITHOUT the ability to generate authentic joy, love, or compassion.  It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that one’s internal ecosystem would be a bleak and desolate landscape. However, if you were to open up the mind of a pathological narcissist and look inside, what you would find is a psychological wasteland riddled with persecutory objects.

The ambiguity of malignant narcissism is that its outward manifestations are often the opposite of the internal reality, which is a gaping void. The gnawing emptiness within is a catalyst for narcissistic pretensions that serve to preserve their idealized false self. Chest thumping boasts of supremacy are a safeguard against the toxic shame that has engulfed their true self.

Where others have a conscience, the pathological narcissist has a vacuum. For this reason, they are on a constant hunt to consume anything that might fill the void. Alcohol, narcotics, pornography, sex, gambling, people – you name it, the narcissist ravenously devours it. But it doesn’t fill them up because they are bottomless pits.

When narcissists encounter people who are able to manifest constructive emotions the narcissist cannot, it wounds their pride, stirs their jealousy, and causes a narcissistic injury. 

What is a narcissistic injury?

A narcissistic injury is a threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s steely psychological armor is penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.

Sensing danger, their ego sends all hands on deck to rescue the false self from annihilation. For this reason, narcissistic injuries go hand in hand with narcissistic rage.

The narcissist’s first line of defense is a disavowal of reality. They devalue the threat, stripping the individual of their humanity and reducing them to the status of object. The narcissist’s ego then fractures the object as it resorts to primary defense mechanisms, such as splitting and projection.

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Someone who was once all good is now all bad. A person once hailed as the light of the narcissist’s life becomes the very heart of darkness. The threatening object is made wrong so that the false self can be right. Thus, the narcissist vindicates themselves from any criticism, wrongdoing, and – most importantly – shame.

The more the narcissist uses splitting as an ego defense, the more anything resembling a cohesive identity unravels. Whenever the ego splits an object, an identical split takes place in the ego itself, causing it to become fragmented. The more a narcissist splits off from the abuse they inflict, the more it escalates.

To escape accountability, the narcissist uses a sleight of hand and projects their sadistic acts on to the people they target. This enables them to shape-shift into a new persona – which they do with the ease of a serpent shedding its skin. 

What are the causes of narcissistic injury

The narcissist is a paper tiger. Their psychological structure is too feeble to grasp a self-concept with any complexity. They are satisfied to worship an illusion of their perfect false self. This disposition is common in toddlers, but it’s crippling in adults.

The construction of a false self may have shielded them from adverse childhood experiences in their early years, but it is maladaptive in adulthood as it prevents them from living authentic emotional lives.

The need for emotional bonds disgusts them. Yet, paradoxically it is also something they covet.

While the false self mimics edifying emotions, it does not experience them. A kind of emotional rigor mortis defines the narcissist’s existence.

How do narcissists cope with narcissistic injuries?

Their fragility sends them on predatory crusades to boost their ego. They may sustain their insatiable false self with adulation or attention or with cruel power trips utilizing coercive control, and psycho-emotional abuse.

Narcissists believe that by destroying a person or thing, they obtain power over it.  They accomplish this through deception, seduction, and psychological cannibalism. To the narcissist, this affirms their imaginary superiority.

It is their way of making the false self appear real. 

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Children are targets for Coercive Control

Children Are Targets for Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

CHILDREN ARE OFTEN TARGETS for Coercive Control as part of a wider campaign of intimate partner abuse.

In dysfunctional families with malignant narcissists or psychopaths at the helm, it is not uncommon for the abuser to target and weaponize children to further isolate the recipient of the abuse. 

Why are children targeted for Coercive Control?

Abusers seek to maintain total dominance over the people they target by isolating them. Manipulation of the victim-survivor’s perception is easier to achieve without outside influences, which could be accessed through children or the child themselves.

Therefore, it is in the interest of the abuser to undermine the authority of the victim-survivor in their parental role and willfully sabotage the relationship between the targeted individual and their children.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

In his research Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book ‘Coercive Control’, found that this kind of abuse has a far more damaging and pervasive effect on the a targeted individual than acts of physical abuse.

Dr. Stark’s research found that the violence model of domestic abuse was too limited to gauge the extent of injury because much of suffering inflicted on survivors was not prohibited by law at the time.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to amend the understanding of partner abuse that limited it to violence,” Dr. Stark told Welsh Women’s Aid, “And we’ve talked a little bit about the extent to which it involved Coercive Control. We rejected the violence model in part because we heard from women themselves about the range of harms they were experiencing beyond violence.”

The impact of Coercive Control on children

Child abuse occurs mainly in connection to domestic violence. Dr. Stark’s research found that in 45% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser was hurting the spouse and the children. Exposure to and direct abuse were harmful to children.

Dr. Stark explained, “As I began to interview children and looked at the research of Emma Katz and others – which was based on my work but went way beyond it by looking at the qualitative effected of Coercive Control on children. It really became clear to me that children were being coercively controlled as well as women.”

The study showed that child abuse is closely linked to the abuse of the targeted parent.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

She explains, “Children’s access to resilience-building and developmentally-helpful persons and activities were limited.”

The abuse children experienced at the hands of an abusive parent were low-level assaults, comparable to the abuse inflicted on the targeted parent.

The research findings were the same regarding the sexual assault of children.

Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them as co-abusers.

Dr. Evan Stark

According to Dr. Stark, “There was sexual assault of children, some of it dramatic, but most of it fell on a continuum of sexual coercion: touching, inappropriate dressing [of] boys as well as girls.”

The research also found that children experienced the same patterns of isolation, intimidation and control as the targeted parent.

Children are weaponized in coercive and controlling relationships

The evidence gathered by the researchers discovered that children were often “weaponized” against the targeted parent by the abuser.

Abusers use Coercive Control tactics to modify the identity of the child and turn them against the targeted parent.

Dr. Stark explains, “Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them sometimes as co-abusers if they were older children. They would use them as pawns in court processes as ways of extending their abuse.”

What can be done when children are targets of Coercive Control?

Raising children with a high conflict personality, such as a narcissist or psychopath, can be extraordinarily challenging.

This is especially true, for survivors who have left the relationship and are targets for their abusers vindictiveness.

For information on how to approach this situation please read our interview with Michael Kinsey, Ph.D. ‘How To Co-Parent with a Narcissist.’

Have your say

Have you or someone you know experienced coercive and controlling behavior? Does Dr. Stark’s descriptions of the power dynamics in a dysfunctional family resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.