Narcissism: Unstable Emotions = Unstable Reality
One of the things we most often hear about narcissistic people is that they flip-flop. About their feelings, about their truths, about their very reality. Some people call it lying, some call it changing their mind. Either way you look at it, pathologically narcissistic people are definitely known for emotional and behavioral u-turns. But why?
As with everything connected to pathologically narcissistic people, this is a multi-faceted and complex question, but probably one of the biggest reasons it happens is because narcissistic people are ruled by their emotions. In a very literal sense, pathologically narcissistic people perceive their feelings as facts. If they feel it, it's true. If facts do not support these feelings, it doesn't really matter. The feelings are more real to them than the facts will ever be.
People who are non-narcissistic fit their feelings to the facts. In other words, their emotional reactions are related and appropriate to the events that are occurring. Pathologically narcissistic people often fit the facts to their feelings. This means that they interpret events in a way that matches how they are already feeling. Unlike non-narcissistic people, if their emotions do not match the events, narcissistic people attempt to re-frame and change the events, rather than their feelings.
For example, if something happens and a person who is not narcissistic overreacts because they are already upset about something else, they can see this and adjust their reaction until it is more appropriate. At the very least, they can admit their reaction was inappropriate. People who are narcissistic do not do this. Instead, they insist that the events were bad enough to cause the overreaction. In short, they insist it was not an overreaction because the things that happened to them were so awful that they could react not other way. This may because they actually did perceive the events as abusive and horrible, or it may be because they are so disconnected from - and in denial of - their own internal landscape that they don't even understand their own emotional reality. And of course, it can be because they are simply trying to punish the person they believe they are upset with by accusing and harassing them.
This is very hard for people to deal with. They don't understand why the narcissistic person is upset, they don't understand what the problem is or what they did wrong. They often try harder to do right and not upset the narcissist or cause them to become angry or feel hurt, but somehow they just can't get it right. It seems like something always upsets this person. Something always makes them angry. Something is always wrong. The problem is that it is impossible not to upset the narcissistic person, because the narcissistic person is already upset. They are behaving the way that they are because of things that have nothing to do with anybody else. It's all inside them.
The irony is that even though narcissistic people are so controlled by their emotions, they are usually very disconnected from them consciously. They often live in almost total denial of their emotions and spend a huge amount of time avoiding and dodging them. Their entire dysfunction grew out of trying to avoid confronting or acknowledging painful and negative emotions. They are champions at doing this. However, they cannot avoid feeling these emotions. The feelings are all still there, whether a person denies them or not. You can deny that it's raining all you want, but you will still get wet. Because narcissists are in such deep denial of their feelings, they often perceive them as coming from other people, or of being caused by other people, hence the irrational insistence that you did something to make them feel the way they feel. It's a trick the mind is playing on itself in self-defense.
For instance, hatred of themselves may be projected and perceived by the narcissist as hatred for themselves that they are feeling from others. Events in reality may not match these feelings, but the feelings are real and they must be coming from somewhere, right? Therefore, they insist the other person is the one in denial. This is what often results in the crazy accusations they are known for. "You hate me! You are always faking being nice to me but I know the truth!" You of course deny this because it's not true and list things that you have done or situations that disprove it. These things will then be denied, re-framed or completely reinterpreted to fit the narcissist's current emotional narrative. Their own negative feelings are coloring their perception of everything.
Sometimes, of course, those accusations are just BS they are throwing at you to divert the subject away from what they've done wrong, but when the craziness seemingly comes out of nowhere, it can be because they are projecting their own feelings outward in self-defense. Self-hatred, for example, is very difficult to defend against. Hatred from others is easier to fight. It can be spun into many different things. Being jealous of other people is hard to live with, because it highlights your own insecurity. People being jealous of you is much easier to deal with, because it means they are the insecure one.
Because they are so disconnected from their emotional inner-world and because they perpetually deny and avoid emotions, narcissists' feelings are often chaotic and out of control. You certainly can't control something that you are pretending does not exist. As a result of this blanket denial defense mechanism, narcissists may have a lot of unprocessed trauma, and because it is unprocessed, it can be as if the trauma happened yesterday. Many also have not emotionally matured the way that most other people have; they haven't learned control over their emotions or to be able to self-soothe. It seems that for pathologically narcissistic people, their emotions present to others in one of two ways: either freewheeling with no structure at all, or so locked in that they seem to emotionally react to nothing at all most of the time. Inside, the emotional turmoil is the same and emotions are still the guiding force of their life.
These emotions color everything narcissistic people do. Feelings are the lens through which they perceive everything. This is why things are given meanings they don't have, and people are assigned motives, feelings and thoughts that do not match reality. They match the narcissist's feelings. And to the narcissistic person, that is reality. Their feelings define and create their reality - much more so than other people. It's no wonder then, that their reality is so chaotic and unstable. Their feelings are no different.