Narcissists often appear as though they are supremely confident in their abilities. They often brag about their accomplishments and they seem to believe they can achieve anything. This might reasonably make you believe they are mentally strong individuals. After all, they are quick to point out their positive attributes even as they disparage others around them, but the truth is more complex than it seems.
Research has shown that some narcissistic individuals can be mentally tough, but others are incredibly vulnerable. At the heart of narcissism lies a fragile sense of self, but other personality factors can help to make some types of narcissists stronger mentally.
Here is some more insight about how a narcissist feels on the inside and how that affects their behavior on the outside.
Narcissistic Types and Characteristics
When answering the main question posed here, it is important to realize there are two general types of narcissists: vulnerable and grandiose. The type makes a difference with regard to how mentally strong the individual is and whether they can handle certain stressors or not.
Grandiose narcissists are the stereotypical narcissist. They are loud, brash, and arrogant. Vulnerable narcissists still feel the same way on the inside as grandiose narcissists do, but they are shy, introverted, and get their narcissistic supply by either associating themselves with people they admire or criticizing themselves so others will correct them. In other words, they fish for compliments.
At the heart of all narcissism is an extremely fragile and undeveloped sense of self. Narcissists are externally validated, and therefore, need constant support, admiration, and adoration from the people around them. They feel entitled to have all the good things of life, but they don’t necessarily utilize healthy means to get those good things.
Moreover, all narcissists lack empathy meaning that they can’t put themselves in other peoples’ place and understand how they are feeling. In fact, narcissists don’t feel the need to do so. They see other people as mere extensions of themselves who should be focusing solely on the narcissist’s needs and desires.
The difference between grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism, therefore, is in how these feelings and the need for validation are expressed and accomplished.
Degrees of Severity
It’s also important to realize there are degrees of severity when it comes to the expression of narcissism. Everyone with a healthy self-esteem has some narcissistic traits, but individuals with numerous, consistently expressed narcissistic traits may be close to or have already become pathological.
Subclinical narcissism is a generalized term for people with numerous narcissistic traits, but these have not become severe enough to be considered pathological. They simply have a pervasive pattern consistent with narcissistic personality disorder.
What Types of Narcissists are Mentally Tough?
Research at the Queen”s University Belfast included three studies on more than 700 individuals, and the results showed that individuals exhibiting subclinical grandiose narcissism were mentally stronger than other types of narcissists.
These kinds of narcissists were less likely to give up and felt less stressed. They also were more open to new experiences and suffered less from depression.
Vulnerable or covert narcissists, however, showed the opposite of the grandiose narcissists. They were more stressed, gave up easier, and often had symptoms of depression.
It’s important to realize that this study demonstrated these results in subclinical narcissists, so these were not people who had the more severe form of narcissism known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
The researchers also recognized that there were some weaknesses associated with their study. Namely, the study was conducted with a questionnaire and relied on self-reported data rather than any objective evaluation. Additionally, the mean age of the participants was 25-years-old, and since narcissism often gets worse with age, it’s likely older individuals might feel differently.
Can You Mentally Break a Narcissist?
While the research conducted at Queen’s University Belfast shows that there are some positive outcomes for certain narcissistic individuals, people with more severe forms of narcissism have a more fragile sense of self that can lead to problems with other mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
Because the narcissist is always concerned about how they appear to other people and they constantly need external validation, when they are denied their narcissistic supply and confronted with their bad behavior, it can create a great deal of stress for them.
At the root of narcissism is an extremely fragile self-esteem no matter how it may appear outwardly. That’s why calling them out makes them react in often intense ways. You might even experience their notorious narcissistic rage.
While it may feel good to make the narcissist confront their flaws, it’s important to remember that they don’t have the same inner support system that healthy people do. They don’t have that strong sense of self-worth that will allow them to consider criticism in a thoughtful manner and try to make improvements in their behavior.
Because of their illness, if you persist in calling them out, they will likely distance themselves from you. This can help you, but it does little good for them. It’s also why it’s difficult to break them mentally. They leave before that can happen.
In a sense, however, they are already broken, and that’s the problem. Still, if you’re genuinely seeking to help a narcissist improve with their illness, support, therapy, and compassion are better remedies than trying to get them to break down emotionally.
Do Narcissists Ever Give Up Their Need for External Validation?
The truth is that without professional help, it’s unlikely that a narcissist will realize they behave badly and make the necessary changes to improve their condition. It’s not impossible, but it’s very unlikely.
Their condition is such that they genuinely can’t see that they are the root of their own problems. Therapy can help them improve, but they must be committed to making those improvements. When you don’t see that it’s you who is causing your own problems, you aren’t very likely to seek the help you need.
Narcissists can be mentally tough, but only those with less severe forms of this mental disorder. At the root of the problem is an undeveloped sense of self resulting in a fragile self-esteem. Moreover, their penchant for blaming their problems on other people means they are not likely to even realize they have a problem and seek help for it.
Now that you understand a little more about how narcissists feel and why they behave the way they do, you might be interested in this post about how narcissism develops.