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Narcissists Live in Denial

Updated on May 15, 2018
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

Narcissists are all different in some ways, but one thing virtually all of them have in common is denial. They operate under a huge amount of denial. It's one of the central functions of the defense mechanism. Narcissistic people generally experience large amounts of self-hatred and shame. Their emotions are out of control and disproportionate to the situation a lot of the time, which is experienced as frightening or as weakness - which they loathe. They generally haven't learned how to regulate or control them, so they are not able to soothe themselves when they get upset. The result of this is the only defense they have against this ever-boiling cauldron of emotion: denial.

This denial is very important. In order to keep the self-hatred and pathological shame that most of them feel at bay, they must combat that. Denial works as far as it goes but it isn't enough. To simply deny who you are creates a vacuum, because then you are nobody. To counteract that, you have to then create something new to put in its place. That is where the false self comes in. It is a monument to the narcissist's denial. It is the counterpart to every negative thing the pathologically narcissistic person secretly believes themselves to be. It is the shining, perfect, beautiful facade designed to keep the ugly hidden one under wraps. Without this facade, they have no armor against the self-hatred and shame they feel. It consumes them very quickly if it can break through that facade and what often follows is decompensation, or what some call collapsing. Collapsing can lead to psychosis and even suicide. It is very serious.

This is why penetrating the denial of pathologically narcissistic people is so difficult. It is essential to their very existence. Their coping strategy is set up in such a way that they never have to accept anything that is hurtful or that feels like blame. It does not penetrate the armor. This is why they turn and twist and deflect and project. Imagine those old cartoons where the guy contorts himself into crazy positions, using a frying pan to deflect all the bullets back to the shooter. This is what the narcissistic person is doing. However far outside the bounds of reality or credulity they have to go doesn't matter. What matters is deflecting the threat. Any criticism or blame opens a doorway to that barely-restrained self-hatred and shame. That's why you see the rage. That's why they feel attacked. It's like a dam that is about to burst. There are cracks in it now, and more and more water is starting to trickle through. The pathologically narcissistic person can feel that trickle. They can feel the pressure behind the wall and they are panicking because their denial cannot hold on in the face of facts. What's on the other side of it terrifies them.

Denial is powerful but it is also a very fragile coping mechanism for pathologically narcissistic person. There's a thin wall between the narcissist and the things they want to escape, and it is fractured easily, probably because they are aware that they are hiding something. When this happens, you will often see various types of devaluation, rage, hysterics, suicide attempts, silent treatments, ghosting and discarding. Not only is it a warning to the threat to back off, but when you deny something, you make it more powerful. The more afraid you are of something, the more you hide from it, the more power you give it. Imagine how powerful these things are then, considering the sheer amount of time and energy the narcissistic person has put in to denying them for their entire lives. It probably feels like a monster inside of them. And ironically, that's often exactly how it comes out.

Narcissistic people face these threats to their denial constantly, because they cannot avoid reality completely. They may appear delusional but they are not psychotic, and even the most clever reframing in the world simply cannot mitigate all the facts all the time. Sometimes some things get through. It is a never-ending battle on their part, then, to shore up the cracks in the dam so they don't drown. They are good at it, but contrary to their beliefs, nobody is perfect. When denial of something is no onger possible, often serious depression can occur. They may break down and collapse under the strain. This is often when they will reach out to others with their threats of hurting themselves or feelings of abandonment, rejection and despair.

Because pathologically narcissistic people cannot regulate or create their own self-worth, they must extract it from other people - usually using the false self. If they cannot use the false self, such as in times of collapse, what you will often see is a heavily-filtered version of the true self: a cataclysmically depressed wreck of a person, a child who does not know how to function in this world. It is a sad irony that instead of using this stolen self-worth to actually build true self-worth to engender acceptance of themselves, they use it to rebuild the dam and strengthen their denial. Instead of fixing the problem, they are actually reinforcing it and making it worse.

It is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons we can learn from narcissistic people, the importance of living authentically and being honest with ourselves. Yes, accepting things can be painful. However, what we don't accept, we cannot change. And what we deny eventually ends up running our lives. Be honest with yourself and face the struggle. Change is never easy but it can be so worth it. Honesty is the first step.


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