What The Narcissist is Really Hiding
We hear a lot about the false self of the narcissist and how they create this false self to hide behind, but what are they really hiding? Many people think the narcissist's abusive behavior is what they are trying to hide, but it actually isn't. The abusive behavior is something they use to try to keep the fiction in place. The abusive behavior is not what needs to be hidden, in other words. The abusive behavior is just another tool to make sure what needs to be hidden stays hidden. What they are trying to hide is far more ugly than that, in the narcissist's opinion, and they live in fear that other people will see it.
But what is it? It's the narcissist's true self, as they perceive it to be. The true self is not the fake nice one you see, and it is not the abusive terror you see, either. The true self is perceived to be a weak, worthless, unlovable monstrosity that has no redeeming qualities at all. You've likely never seen it unless the narcissist in your life has decompensated to the point that they are suicidal, and even then you probably didn't see the actual true self, but more of a reflection of it filtered through their other masks. The true self is generally extremely immature and undeveloped, like a baby. It may not even be able to communicate with other people, similar to what we often see with DID or what we used to call multiple personality disorder. This is what the narcissist is hiding. Something they believe is so ugly, so defective, so deformed, so shame-filled, so repulsive, so hideous and awful that it must be hidden at all costs because anyone who even looks upon it will run screaming in disgust. This is what they believe they are.
It's really no more realistic than their positive view of themselves, but unlike their false self, the narcissist does not know that this negative perception isn't real. They know their projected self is false, because they constructed it specifically in opposition to the true self. That's why they will go to such extremes to keep it in place, including discarding, abusing or even killing others who threaten to expose it. The false self is the only barrier between the world and what they think is the truth about themselves. By any means necessary, that true self must be kept away from the world. This is also the reason they are often so paranoid and hypersensitive. If you were walking around living a lie that you felt was going to be exposed any second, you would be paranoid, too.
This is why they behave abusively when their narrative is threatened. It's desperation. It's fear. They have been hiding that ugly, horrible core their entire lives and it is essential to their survival that they keep it that way. We've all heard stories where someone was living a false life, such as pretending they have been going to school to be a doctor or something and will be graduating soon. They play it out as long as they can, but when the date of their supposed graduation gets closer, they become more and more frightened that they will be exposed for the loser and failure that they believe they are. Instead of admitting the truth to their spouse or simply leaving, they kill their spouse because they can't tolerate the shame of exposure. They would rather their spouse die than find out.
Shame is a core part of the narcissistic personality. Not normal shame that you might feel if you did something wrong or remorse, but deep-seated pathological, delusional shame for who and what they are - probably stemming from their childhood - that has nothing to do with anything they have or haven't done. They carry this with them always. Anything that provokes that suffocating shame is reacted to with rage. Threatening their perception and narrative of things threatens their false self and provokes this pathological shame. They react with rage and abuse in an attempt to get the person who is threatening to expose them to back off. This may not even be that person's intention, but because narcissists are so shameful and protective of that core self, they will often over-react with abuse and rage. It's kind of like what we refer to as a guilty conscience; they fear people are trying to expose them because they know they're hiding something. It's shame-driven paranoia that the false self will be seen through because they know it's false.
Everything the narcissist does is designed to protect and hide who they believe they really are, both from the world and from themselves. They live in a carefully created fiction of illusions, projections and denials. This is why they are dedicated to misunderstanding you, and why they insist that everyone agree with their narrative. The fiction can't work if they are the only ones that buy into it. It can't work if other people keep insisting it isn't true. They discard, abuse, gaslight, manipulate and do everything else in an effort to preserve this very fragile fiction. It's really a very primitive, childish and ineffective defense mechanism, because they are reminded of the truth 100 times a day and they are miserable because of it. They cannot measure up to who they want to be, and they cannot accept who they actually are, and this war is going on inside of their heads 24 hours a day. It's no wonder they act the way they do. That would drive anybody crazy.