Do narcissists self-punish in order to manipulate you?

Written by Angela Atkinson

One of my SPAN members wonders whether I’ve seen narcissists do this odd thing called self-punishment.

Her question, in short:

Have you ever researched the link between narcissism and self-punishment? Has anyone experienced self punishment in narcissistic behavior?

Initially, I told my SPAN member that I have seen this behavior, especially in regard to narcissistic injury.

She replied:

It happens every time when he’s injured. And, by the way, his parents used to beat him up when he had done anything wrong. So maybe there’s a link there as well. My narc does this instead of hoovering. It’s his way of making things right. And I think maybe it’s his way of discarding me on some level – an excuse for emotional distance and not taking responsibility for anything and at the end feeling like a victim.

Yes, that’s confusing for sure, right? Have you been there?

Well, here’s the deal. First off, we’ve got to remember how a narcissist is created in the first place – and that starts in childhood. In some cases, kids are over-indulged and placed on a pedestal by well-meaning parents who are so concerned about maintaining a kid’s self-esteem that they actually end up causing a bad case of NPD. In other cases, kids are neglected or even abused and over-controlled – and that’s pretty much the other side of the coin – the other way parents can create a narcissist.

With that being said, in the case of this particular narcissist, we can see that since he was beaten by his parents when he made mistakes as a kid, he feels the need to acknowledge his bad behaviors and “cleanse himself” of the wrongdoing through the self punishment. He feels like he’s “paying his dues,” so to speak – but is this a narcissistic behavior or is it something that might be a co-morbid condition?

Turns out, it is very possible that it’s all part of the narcissistic condition and it’s various complications.

See, the narcissist’s fragile self-image is built on his idea of what other people think about him or her. When the narc inflicts self-punishment, he feels relieved of his overwhelming anxiety – and in some cases, he feels more powerful as an individual. This way, he’s punishing himself before he allows anyone else to do it – and then if anyone else should try to add to that punishment, the narcissist can use narcissistic injury to punish his or her victim.

Like I said, it goes back to childhood and to various rituals that the narcissist went through growing up when it came time to “pay for his or her mistakes.” The thing is – although the narcissist apparently can, in certain cases, feel something like guilt, he or she can’t figure out why and as such, will turn on the person who is causing him or her to feel that way. He or she will start to feel like an injustice has been committed against him or her, and will react in kind.

The parents who raised the narcissist showed him or her that unconditional love didn’t exist, and that the only way to get love would be to fulfill certain wishes or requirements of the parents. If the kid didn’t make it happen, the parents sort of rejected him or her (similar to the discard phase). Since a kid can’t understand this, he or she will either turn inward and become an empath – or turn outward and rage against the injustice – and this becomes a habit that they carry well into adulthood.

On the same token, empaths are likely to develop when the children of unavailable narcissists direct their natural love outward toward others (and they can become codependent). And a narcissist will develop when the child turns that same love inward and directs it toward him or herself. And interestingly, while the narcissist is likely to turn critisms outwardly toward others, an empath will be more likely to turn criticisms toward him or herself.

Given that information, you can sort of see why so many empaths end up with so many narcissists – we are often two sides of the same toxic coin.

The narcissist then basically self-destructs as the empath tries to hold him or her up. It’s an ongoing battle and it won’t end until you walk away.

What are some ways a narcissist will use self-punishment as a manipulation tactic?

  • Physical punishments such as cutting, punching one’s self in the arm or leg, hair pulling and more.
  • Other – the other types of punishment can be far more damaging to both the narcissist and the people around him or her. For example, a narcissist might intentionally stop eating or neglect himself in other ways. He or she might intentionally blow a big promotion or opportunity, or even just talk badly about him or herself excessively (sometimes even seeking compliments and other forms of narcissistic supply in the process). It’s all about self-sacrifice – and all about indirectly punishing the narcissistic supply – who, inevitably, feels incredibly guilty for what the narc does to him or herself (and who is almost always directly or indirectly blamed by the narcissist for the self-punishment and treated as such).

In some cases, the narcissist might even separate him or herself from the supply as a form of self-punishment – supposedly. They’ll say things like “I don’t deserve you” or “You’re too good for me,” indicating that their mistake renders them worthless. This is sometimes just an attempt to get the supply to relent and beg him or her to come back – and sometimes, it’s a good excuse to go do things that any good partner would avoid – things that are unhealthy for him or herself and for the relationship.

So how should you react to these narcissistic behaviors?

You should gray rock – and mean it. The only time you should take action is if the narcissist is causing any physical injury to his or her self, to you or to any other person – in which case you need to get a spine of steel and call the police. Otherwise, stick to the cool, calm gray rock method – don’t give the narcissist any reaction at all. Keep yourself busy and don’t give up the things you love – stay focused on what you can control, and not what you can’t. If you’re really bold, tell the narcissist something like “Let me know when you’re ready to be an adult again. Until then, I’ll be here, doing what I do.”

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below and let’s discuss it.


  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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