Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a lack of empathy, combined with extreme self-centeredness and a need for constant attention. It’s a disorder that can have a profoundly negative effect on people, and it can be difficult to deal with someone who has it.
Today, we’ll dig into the collapsed narcissist and identify some of the red flags or signs that you might be dealing with a narcissist who might be what psychologists call a collapsed narcissist.
What is Narcissistic Collapse?
When someone with NPD (or even toxic narcissist traits) loses the ability to get their unrealistic needs met through their usual methods of manipulation and deceitful behaviors, they will often begin to exhibit signs of collapse as they struggle to maintain control over the situation. A narcissist may also collapse if they’ve been confronted about their behavior and are forced to accept accountability for it.
Collapsing is a painful process for them since it’s often a point of extremely high stress and anxiety in their lives. In so many cases, the narcissist may have developed an entire persona around being superior to everyone else, but when this starts to break down, so does their false self.
While there are many signs to watch for, most are related to how a narcissist experiences a significant event or loss of supply; or in many cases, they just fail to maintain the normal amount of narcissistic supply.
Another form of narcissistic collapse occurs when a person becomes depressed without their narcissistic supply. This happens usually post-discard when the narcissist feels that he/she has lost control over someone’s admiration and adoration.
When someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or narcissistic traits can no longer uphold their grandiose, confident image, they feel profoundly threatened due to the lack of narcissistic supply – or even the potential of lack.
As a result, they tend to become enraged, resulting in impulsive behavior, intense lashing out, or hurting other people.
In severe cases, a person with NPD or NPD traits may feel so wounded they become suicidal or homicidal. They may see suicide or murder as the only way to get back at a perceived slight.
Narcissists who are in collapse also tend to become enraged, resulting in impulsive behavior, intense lashing out, or hurting other people.
What does a collapsed narcissist look like?
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this kind of narcissistic rage and have wondered what prompted it, then you’ve probably seen a collapsed narcissist in action.
This is especially true if you’re involved with a narcissist who has been removed from their primary sources of supply: family members who have wised up to their manipulation and gaslighting; former friends who have rejected their lies and abuse, or even employers that have caught on to their toxic ways.
They have become devastated, hollow versions of what they once were. You ALMOST feel sorry for them. Of course, the specific reaction will also depend on the type of narcissist they happen to be.
Vulnerable narcissists tend to be shy and self-effacing. They are also hypersensitive to how others perceive them, which means they are easily hurt and offended by criticism. They tend to be pessimistic, insecure, and fragile. A vulnerable narcissist will respond with shame or anger when their sense of superiority is threatened or injured by criticism or rejection.
By contrast, grandiose narcissists are those most people think about when they hear the word “narcissist.” Grandiose narcissists are arrogant, indifferent to others’ feelings and needs, and expect special treatment. When criticized or challenged in any way, they lash out with contempt and rage.
Can a collapsed narcissist recover?
Sometimes we’ll see a narcissist who has “collapsed” or otherwise seems to be going through some kind of emotional upheaval and distress. This begs the question: Can a collapsed narcissist recover?
Is it possible for a collapsed narcissist to become normal again?
Sadly, the answer is no. A collapsed narcissist is not able to recover and be normal, because they do not understand that they are a narcissist or why they have become a narcissist.
In other words, they almost completely lack self-awareness, at least when you compare them to non-narcissists.
This lack of self-awareness, combined with their natural sense of entitlement and other typical narcissistic traits makes it nearly impossible for a malignant narcissist to recover from collapse.
In fact, most of them will never realize the truth about themselves, even if their life depended on it. It is difficult for anyone to admit that their entire life has been a lie and a waste of time and energy.
The narcissist, a highly disordered personality, is incapable of having a healthy relationship with anyone. Because of this, their relationships are toxic and riddled with abuse.
Perhaps even more confusing, narcissists can be incredibly charming and enticing when they want to be. They’re also extremely manipulative and adept at grooming you to meet their needs. They do whatever they can to suck you in and hold you tight, to use you up until there’s nothing left.
When they “move on” or the relationship ends, they will often discard you without another thought. This is because they have no empathy or regard for anyone but themselves. In fact, they’re quite pleased with themselves when they can leave you utterly shattered as if it were some kind of game to them.
What triggers narcissistic collapse?
In the end, the collapsed narcissist is someone that has had their self-image severely damaged so much by a particular experience or situation, that they’ve begun to lose all sense of who they are. This often leads them down a path of anxiety, depression, and an inflated sense of oppression when dealing with others.
Narcissistic collapse is often triggered by narcissistic injury – a perceived threat to their self-worth or self-esteem. When this happens, narcissists typically respond with rage and contempt and may engage in destructive or self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse, suicide threats or attempts, violent outbursts, or physical violence directed toward themselves or others.
The Empty Shell Person
The best way to gain a better understanding of what is going on with the collapsed narcissist is to use the term “empty shell.” That’s because the narcissist in collapse very much appears to be a hollow shell of what they once were.
Most people have a solid sense of who they are. An empty shell person has lost their sense of self.
Because they’re so afraid to let their facade down, it’s hard to understand what is really taking place because underneath.
After all, beneath the ego structure of most human beings lies a sensitive and vulnerable narcissistic child. This can be a very painful place to be, and if this child was neglected or abused enough, they may have collapsed into themselves in order to survive.
This means that a lot of the personality structure and defense mechanisms had to go away in order to just cope with life day by day.
You’ve probably wondered what a narcissist thinks about – and, if you’re anything like me, who told them they could TREAT PEOPLE THIS WAY! You might wonder if it hurts their feelings when someone corrects them or “bests” them.
They will take extreme measures to tell you exactly what they want you to hear without any regard for the truth. Their main concern is only getting their desperate need for narcissistic supply met.
What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a way of relating to others involving the exploitation, blatant manipulation, and control of others in order to meet the abuser’s own needs. It can exist in a relationship between any two people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or type of relationship.
Narcissistic abusers are often difficult to spot and even harder to leave. Whether or not they have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder isn’t as important as whether or not they have narcissistic traits and behaviors.
For example, a narcissistic abuser can be charming, charismatic, and fun at times – and they can turn on a dime and become your worst nightmare. However, thanks to their powerful ability to project, deflect and play the victim, narcissists are rarely confronted about their behavior.
Of course, this is possibly due to the fact that they frequently surround themselves with enablers (AKA flying monkeys) who don’t want to believe that anything is wrong.
The effects of narcissistic abuse can last for years after the relationship has ended and may lead the survivor to develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). C-PTSD from narcissistic abuse differs from PTSD caused by experiences such as car accidents or military combat in that it involves re-living or re-experiencing rather than avoidance or numbing of memories.
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic narcissists use to control someone and make them feel crazy. It doesn’t matter how great a relationship you have with your partner or spouse; as long as there’s abuse and manipulation, your relationship isn’t healthy.
Gaslighting occurs when someone tells you that what you’re experiencing isn’t authentic or not genuine, in other words causing the victim to question their feelings, instincts, and sanity.
First and foremost, you need to know that nothing you do will force the narcissist to change. They will only change if it benefits them.
You must understand that this person does not have the same morals, emotions, or feelings as ordinary people. These people cannot be around a good and decent person or have friends who care about them.
They are only after one thing in life, and that is control. They can never be satisfied with what they have accomplished because there will always be someone out there that they think has more than whatever they have at the moment.
Listen, if you were ever to feel like you want revenge on the narcissist in your life, trust me when I tell you that you are FAR from alone. But is it worth the trouble?
The truth is that whether or not you’re a narcissist’s target, interacting with them can be exhausting (to put it mildly). That’s why it’s essential to keep the upper hand and ensure that they are the ones chasing you – not the other way around.
It doesn’t even have to be anything drastic – act interested in their lives, but not to the extent that they think they can manipulate you.
Toxic relationships have a huge effect on survivors’ lives. They affect every aspect of the survivor’s life and can destroy the survivor’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth, confidence, and trust in their own judgment – as well as their ability to relate to other people.
Trust Your Gut
Trust your instincts, always. When it comes to the narcissist, you, unfortunately, need to be on guard at all times. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it probably is.
Take action: confront the narcissist (if safe to do so), call the authorities, alert family members, tell other people about what’s going on – do whatever it takes to get out.
Do you feel like you’re never able to win over your narcissist husband, wife, or partner? Or maybe it’s your narcissistic parent, friend, or neighbor? Do you find that they always seem to be a step ahead of you?
Somehow, narcissists have this intrinsic ability to “know” what buttons to push that will hurt you the most. This is because narcissists are expert mind game players. The narcissist is a master of manipulation. They can get you to do things that you don’t want to do and think thoughts that you don’t want to think…all under the guise of “love.”
What are narcissist mind games?
There are so many different kinds of narcissist mind games, but in this case, we’re talking about different types of emotional manipulation. The manipulation of emotions can be so subtle, so smooth, so insidious that you hardly notice it’s happening. Sometimes the narcissist’s words and actions are so contradictory that you might even doubt your own judgment. Each game has a purpose, whether it’s to keep us hooked in the cycle of abuse, to use us for supply, or to manipulate us into giving them what they want. These games are designed to make you feel insecure, relatively inferior to them, and encourage you to compete with them or put your energy into earning their approval.
The good news is that once we know what the games are, we can work through them and learn to break free.
Why do narcissists play mind games with you?
To be able to play mind games, the narcissist has to ignore the feelings of others completely. They have no empathy and can’t see their pain or feel it. They have no ability to connect with others on any other level than a superficial one. They have no interest in others as people other than how they can use them, and they lie for no reason other than to avoid being honest.
In other words, narcissists play head games to control others and be in power. The main goal is to confuse, deceive and manipulate. They enjoy the ‘chase’ and the ‘hunt’ more than the actual ‘kill,’ so they want you to stay hooked at all times so they can keep playing this game. Whether consciously or otherwise, the narcissist’s goal is to keep you confused about and focused on figuring out how to navigate their behavior.
That way, they’ll have more control over you because you’ll be so focused on trying to figure them out that you might not recognize what’s happening. Plus, in most cases, the mind games involve tearing you down and making you feel worthless – so you won’t believe you can do any better than them. It may be hard to believe that a person who loves you would knowingly try to hurt you, but if they are a narcissist, that’s exactly what they do. But you’ve got to understand that a narcissist cannot love you in the same way you could love them.
What are the most common mind games played by the narcissist?
There are many narcissist mind games but these are the most common. They’re used often to play with your emotions, your intelligence, your sanity and they’re used often to confuse you. They don’t mean anything; it’s nothing personal (usually) It’s just for one reason or another they use these mind games to make you feel like you aren’t good enough… like you need to change something about yourself…
If you’ve ever been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, you might already know how adept they can be at making you feel completely worthless. If that rings true for you, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, one of the most underrated ways a narcissist can devastate you is by making you feel inferior, or like you’re just not good enough.
How does this kind of long-term narcissistic abuse affect you?
The impact of this kind of ongoing psychological abuse is so significant that most victims of long-term narcissistic abuse find themselves struggling with symptoms of C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). We become so damaged that we end up becoming codependent. This ongoing invalidation of a person’s self leads to a lack of self-esteem and self worth, and it can lead us to becoming ideal prey for other narcissists.
Does psychological abuse at the hands of a narcissist change you permanently?
You lose yourself, in so many ways, when you become enmeshed with a narcissist in any kind of relationship, and the closer the relationship, the more damage it can cause for you, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. The good news is that it does not have to be that way, as victims of narcissistic abuse can recover through intentional healing and learning how to avoid getting entangled with other toxic people in future relationships. Making yourself aware of the red flags to look for in new potential relationships can help as well.
Why do narcissists make you feel like you’re not enough?
Narcissists Lack Self-Esteem, And It Makes Them Feel Better To Put You Down
It is a known fact that many narcissists, despite appearing to be the opposite, have a major lack of self-esteem. This leads them to bolster their fragile egos with a façade of false confidence, and at the same time, they do anything they can to make you feel terrible about yourself. Covert narcissists are less likely to pretend to be confident, so they’ll act more self-hating, but they will also do anything possible to make you feel inferior. So, when a covert a narcissist begins to show their true colors; you immediately think how out of character it is for them since they initially showed you a vulnerable side.
Worse, narcissists will put you down in unimaginable ways – they dig deep to hurt you. They put you down regarding your appearance, intelligence, habits, and anything else that comes to their minds.
Narcissists Use Gaslighting to Make You Doubt Yourself
Narcissists need to find ways to bolster their fragile egos, and if their abuse towards you is making you doubt yourself, they are getting exactly what they want. Gaslighting is the ideal manipulation tactic for this outcome, and narcissists use it to push you further into submission. They find your weak points and exploit them. For instance, they will make you believe that you are losing your memory by telling you things that you did that you never did or vise versa. When they see you doubt yourself further because of their manipulation and gaslighting tactics, they feel good about themselves.
Narcissists Get a Thrill From Invalidating You
Narcissists are known to invalidate your feelings by saying things such as “you’re way too sensitive” when you react to their abusive behaviors, for example. They invalidate your feelings to make you doubt yourself so they can get you in control. When you believe you’re worthless or not enough, the narcissist figures you’re not going to go find out you can do better than them. The way they see it, their feelings are very important – but their marked lack of emotional and compassionate empathy means they literally do not care how you feel at all. This is a dangerous combination for anyone involved with a malignant narcissist.
Narcissists Feel Entitled
Narcissists live in a constant fear of missing out (FOMO!). This is often developed early in childhood, at the same time as the development of their trademark entitlement complex. Their sense of entitlement also means they feel compelled to do anything they want, and they will do it at your expense without concern for the impact it has on you, your feelings, or your life. They lie and cheat on you, too, because they feel entitled to do so. They feel that they need to have access to other sources of narcissistic supply as “backup” because they cannot stand the idea of ending up alone.
Remember that healthy, secure people will never tear you down to hurt you on purpose. This is a toxic, malignant behavior and it’s one you don’t deserve. Need help recovering from narcissistic abuse?
Do you know how it feels to be in a toxic relationship with a narcissist? Have you experienced narcissistic abuse? And can you recall the first time you really started to realize that something wasn’t right? It’s this ache in your gut, that one stray tear you can’t control and as it rolls down your face, it almost burns. It’s like your body gets it before you do, somehow.
It’s this feeling that something is missing or isn’t right. So, you try to figure it out. So, you start thinking and you go through all of the obvious possibilities.
Am I hormonal?
Am I being unreasonable?
Are my expectations just too high?
Could I be overthinking this whole thing?
As much as you rack your brain, you aren’t clear. You just know that it is something else. Something you can’t quite put your finger on….like a piece of you feels like it’s missing or gone somehow.
But how do you lose a whole part of yourself? You might kind of laugh at yourself, but the thought makes you feel almost nostalgic … but in an unidentifiable, achy way that can’t be logically explained. Maybe you have this sense that it might be some kind of other life calling to you. You think maybe it’s on the soul level.
You start to feel like you’re living inside your own head. You’re so internal that you might even start to hate everyone and everything. You start to see through it all, and everyone seems artificial. Their lives seem small and petty. Their problems seem unreal somehow – they are so far away. They are blind to your struggles and you can’t even begin to verbalize them, because they sound so petty when you say them out loud.
But you do your best to keep looking perfect on the outside and you pretend like nothing is wrong. You keep smiling and pretending that all is well.
Perfect on the Outside, Broken on the Inside
You maintain a perfect social media presence, photos of your beautiful home and successful kids. You feel like a huge fraud as you try to project the image you want to see in your life, rather than what it really looks like behind closed doors.
It’s like social media gives you a certain amount of validation that you can’t get elsewhere. It makes you feel better somehow, like it’s okay that you’re dealing with all of this internal conflict, because you project that perfect life image.
Meanwhile, the narcissist in your life is always threatening to leave you. Threatening to stop loving you if you don’t conform to their will. They threaten to stop caring about anything if you don’t shape up.
We will just live our separate lives, they tell you. See how you like that, they say.
Apathy, Brain Fog and Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse
It’s like you’re living in some kind of bubble and nothing feels real. You’re not even sure YOU are real. You’re exhausted and pretty much numb at this point. But every now and then, something reminds you of who you used to be, the fun and silly and passionately driven person that the narcissist seems to have beaten of you (emotionally anyway).
And when that happens, that person who you used to be…that person gets sad. Then you feel angry and like you’re finally ready to go. But inevitably the scary thought that is change takes you down this stupid road that imagines that things can be better.
The one part of you that is afraid to jump without a net shows up again and tells me that you’re overreacting and that it’s not really as bad as you think. That’s the problem with the narcissist’s intermittent-reinforcement-style of love because right about the time you think maybe it really is going to be different …bam! Smacked in the face with more manipulation and mind games again.
You remember that the definition of insanity is to continually repeat the same cycles and behaviors while expecting different results. And yet, here you are. You’re tired of being in this relationship and tired of feeling consumed with trying to make it okay when you are clearly less important than literally anyone or anything else in the narcissist’s life.
Your cognitive dissonance is strong now. You always thought this relationship was supposed to be us against the world. Me and you, you and me. Ride or die. Unconditional acceptance of one another. You keep offering it up, but you inevitably get the opposite in return.
What is Cognitive Dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance is a form of psychological stress or discomfort that happens when you simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.
Narcissistic Love is One-Sided and Conditional
Your relationship with an abusive narcissist will always be conditional and one-sided. You’re tired of never being enough. You’ve had enough of not being enough by now. You always say you’d rather be alone than unhappy … but the idea of losing everything you’ve worked so hard to build scares you more than the idea of shutting your mouth and pretending so that your kids can have a good life.
But you keep asking yourself this crazy question: am I really willing to give up the next umpteen years of my life being miserable? Isn’t it possible that I can have it both ways?
And yet, as you sit in the cold, numb aftermath of yet another attack on your personal character, your thoughts are dulled and foggy. You can’t seem to form a complete thought as the narcissist’s sharp, cutting insults replay over and over again in your head.
This torturous soundtrack is accompanied by a small voice in the back of your head, the part of you that remains indignant about the abuse, the slowly-dying part of that still knows it’s not normal and remembers that you deserve better. That part of you quietly counters the insults, reminds you that they’re all a part of the manipulation tactics the narcissist uses to gain control.
That’s the same part of you that truly knows that you’re not in a “healthy” relationship and that there’s little chance you’ll successfully change this person. That part of your mind races, struggling to form a plan to fix things, to make your escape, or to at least find “normal” again.
And it’s that part that will ultimately help you to not just exist and survive, but also to really thrive and become the fully realized person you deserve to be. The longer you remain in a toxic relationship, the more you deny your truths in order to avoid the wrath of this narcissist, the quieter this voice becomes.
Denying Your Feelings as a Result of Narcissistic Abuse
When you deny your feelings when you allow yourself to be told that you’re not a real person and that you don’t matter – you begin to act as if that is true. You start to breathe and believe it – you emanate a vibrational sense of “I’m not good enough.” And you become inferior because you believe that you’re inferior.
It’s hard to be happy when someone is always criticizing everything you say and do. It feels like you’re always walking on eggshells. And when you start to actually enjoy a conversation, whether it’s with them or with someone else, they cut you off because they aren’t interested in anything you have to say or they interrupt because whoever you’re talking to is not paying attention to them…well…it’s emotionally crippling, to say the least.
Only a person with extremely high self-esteem could even survive it, you think, let alone remain capable of thinking they have value in the world. You need someone to talk to, but you don’t know who will get it. You’re living in a constant state of invalidation. But why?
Because, at some point, during our toxic relationships and often beginning in childhood, people like you and me? We learn that love must be earned. We learn that our value and worth are conditional at best – and that’s if we think we have any at all. People hurt us and our souls are crushed. Our selves are lost.
Narcissistic Abuse Makes You Feel Unlovable and Worthless
We forget who we are, or maybe we never knew. We learn that people don’t love unconditionally, or that if they do, no one has found us worthy of such love. So what do we do? How do we deal?
We tiptoe around and we accept the crumbs – that intermittent reinforcement thing again- the crumbs of kindness and affection that have been our sustenance for our whole lives. We take those crumbs and we are grateful for them because we don’t even think we deserve this much, and we can’t imagine what it must feel like to be one of those people who has people who actually love them.
We pretend to be happy, Our faces smile, but not our eyes.
Most people don’t notice, and those who do make us feel attacked. They say they’re concerned about us, they note that we’re different than we were before. And often, their concern is genuine. But whether we aren’t ready to hear it yet or we’re concerned that they’ll upset the abuser in our lives, we push them away and we hope they will just leave us alone. Because one more conflict with the narcissist will kill us, we think. And this person, as much as we love them, just doesn’t really get what we’re dealing with when it comes to our relationship with the narcissist.
Why Narcissistic Abuse Makes You Walk on Eggshells and What That Means for You
We learn to walk on eggshells, and we may or may not cognitively realize that underneath it all, we’re such nice people because we are secretly afraid that the narcissist will leave us, like everyone else does and has, in one way or another.
We get scared that everyone will leave us or otherwise abandon us. So we start being too nice to everyone around us. We stop talking about ourselves because people don’t seem interested and because our emotions seem to be a burden for anyone with whom we’ve shared them. We allow people to abuse us and we beg them to stay.
We accept it because we secretly fear that they have been right all along and that we truly are in fact unlovable.
Why You Have to Keep Starting Over in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Every now and then, we think we’re going to change ourselves. And we want to change our lives. We promise to ourselves that we’re finally going to start taking care of ourselves for once. We swear that we’re going to finally come into our own power and we’re going to start enforcing our boundaries – maybe for the first time ever in our lives.
We think it’s time to follow our passion and to actually start truly LIVING our lives. And sometimes, we succeed – we actually make things happen. Sometimes, we even manage to leave! Changes begin to become more and more apparent, and we think, “This is it! I’ve figured it all out!”
We are finally happy. We’re on top of the world! Other times, we fail. We forget to try, or we feel too exhausted at the end of the day. Or, we just…can’t.
But let me tell you something. Sometimes, it takes more than one shot. Sometimes, you have to keep starting again, and again. Sometimes, we have to learn new ways to think – and we have to do it again and again. We have to relearn all of it each time we forget. We have to remember who we are and what we’re doing here. The narcissist always does their best to make us forget, to shape and mold us into the extension of themselves they both want and simultaneously hate and resent. And yet, that little voice inside of ourselves keeps telling us that something isn’t right. That we need and in fact deserve better.
And you know what? That little voice, your intuition, is right. And it reminds you that the truth is that we only really fail when we stop starting. No matter where you are n your journey, and no matter how good it really gets, you still might, on occasion, have to start again. And that’s okay. You’re totally normal. Just keep starting. Don’t give up on yourself, and keep tuning in to that little voice, your gut – whatever you call it, tune into it and listen carefully. It is the part of you that knows the truth, and it’s the part of you that’s going to get you out of this whole thing and help you to take your life where you need it to go. You with me?