Narcissists Have No Limits
The behavior of pathologically narcissistic people can be a huge problem in situations where they must be dealt with. It is often childish, it is often cruel, it is often vindictive and it is usually an overreaction. However, just when you think you cannot be surprised or shocked by the lengths they will go to, they find a way to do just that by going farther, by sinking lower, by doing something even you never thought they would do.
This happens because narcissistic people place no limits on their on behavior. Everything they do to that end is defensive. Would you place a limit on self-defense? Would you say, "I know this person is trying to kill me but I can't hurt them because that would be wrong. I'll just let them kill me because that's the right thing to do"? Of course not. And they don't do it either. The problem is, to everybody else, the situation does not look that dire - at all. It's often hard to tell what they are even defending themselves against. That's because in these situations, they are often defending themselves against an internal threat, not anything that is actually happening in reality.
For example, if you call a pathologically narcissistic person out on their behavior - even gently - it will generally trigger a huge shame reaction within them. And this is not regular shame. This is a pathological, all-encompassing, delusional, crushing shame that really has nothing to do with reality at all. And they are smothered under it. It feels life-threatening. It is life-threatening. This shame can topple the fragile fiction they have created in order to manage their self-worth and get through their lives. A complete loss of self-worth can result in suicide. The only thing a narcissist can do is strike back in self-defense and try to stop that tidal wave from crushing them.
They do this in a variety of ways: raging, projection, gaslighting, blame-shifting, accusing you of being abusive, manipulative or otherwise hurting them, being violent, calling you crazy... It is all designed to stop that tidal wave of shame by deflecting the information somehow. If you're crazy, they don't have to believe you. If you're just being cruel and manipulative, then what you're saying is not true. It has nothing to do with you, in reality. They aren't really trying to convince you of anything. They're trying to convince themselves. Convincing you or causing you to back off helps with this, but you are not the actual target of this behavior. It's a desperate scramble to convince themselves that they are not worthless.
People who are unaware of this dynamic are often very confused and hurt by this behavior. They cannot understand why the narcissistic person believes these things, or why they are taking things the way they are. They cannot understand why the narcissist thinks these things about them. But the truth is, they don't. Not really. It's all a reflection about how they feel about themselves. You're just a prop in this game.
It is interesting to note that because narcissists are so divorced from (and threatened by) their own feelings, they may not even be aware of this shame on a conscious level. It's simply become a knee-jerk reaction to deflect these things straight away. You can tell the shame is there though, because of the way they are acting and often because of the things they say.
For example, if you ask why they didn't take the garbage out and they scream that you don't love them or are saying they are a monster and a horrible person. Or attack you viciously for daring to even ask. The idea that they did not perform perfectly triggers shame. The shame triggers thoughts of how bad, horrible, worthless, etc. that they are. These thoughts and feelings threaten their fragile self-worth and this threat creates the overreactions that you see. It's like a line of dominoes falling over. As soon as they think they are hearing something threatening, they push it away and automatically defend against it with both barrels - even if it's not actually threatening. Reality doesn't matter. How they feel is what matters.
This is what "feelings equal facts" means. Narcissists believe their feelings are facts. More than that, they believe their feelings are evidence. They believe their feelings are proof of something, and it results in this circular reasoning that cannot be argued with:
- I feel threatened, therefore you are threatening me. The proof that you are threatening me is that I feel threatened.
- I feel tricked, therefore you are tricking me. The proof that you are tricking me is that I feel tricked.
- I feel hurt, therefore you are trying to hurt me. The proof that you are trying to hurt me is that I feel hurt.
- I feel your intention was bad, therefore it was bad. The proof that your intention was bad is that I feel bad.
Instead of fitting their emotions to the facts, they are fitting the facts to their emotions. When you attempt to assert the actual facts in the situation, it looks to the narcissist as if you are trying to talk them out of their feelings. To them, this feels like manipulation or even attempted brainwashing. You are inadvertently making the situation worse and making them more sure that they are right. After all, why would you try to talk someone out of their feelings unless you are lying and trying to manipulate them so you can get away with your abuse?
This often raises the question of whether pathologically narcissistic people understand that abuse is wrong. The answer is yes, they usually do. Narcissists that have not decompensated are generally not psychotic. They can seem delusional, but a careful examination usually reveals magical thinking and/or denial to be the problem, rather than any real, true delusion. They understand the difference between right and wrong. Very clearly, in fact. They certainly talk about how mistreated they are, and they know abusing people is wrong. But in their opinion, what they are doing is not abuse. It's self-defense. Or it's justice for the egregious wrong that has been perpetrated against them. In their opinion, you are the abuser or you are the problem and you deserve everything you get. They may never actually say that to you, but look at their behavior and see what you think.
This is why there are no limits on their behavior. How can there be, in this situation? They believe they are in a fight for their lives. If the threat is a family member, a spouse, a co-worker, a friend, a man, a woman, a child - even their own child - it doesn't matter. All will be reacted to the same way: with absolute malice and rage - and don't forget, rage doesn't have to look like screaming and violence. It can be disguised as many, many things. The threat has been identified and now it must be neutralized. Things will go as far as they need to go in order for this to happen. This can be up to and including killing someone.
This is how domestic violence murders occur. The abuser finally gets to a point where they cannot control the victim for whatever reason and the threat this loss of control presents to their self-worth is too much to take. They kill the victim in a narcissistic rage and out of desperation to regain that control. Narcissistic rage is about shame, hurt and fear. They'd rather the victim be dead than be allowed to get away from their control because the threat to their ego and self-worth is that large. Domestic violence is extremely narcissistic in nature and the tragic murders that occur all too frequently are among the most narcissistic killings that there are. This includes all domestic and family violence, regardless of whether it involves adults or children. It's all narcissistic and it all happens for the same reason.
There is a saying that a word to the wise is sufficient. It means that if someone is wise, they will not have to find out the hard way. Don't find out the hard way that narcissists have no limits. Too many people have been hurt already. What you already know is enough.