It’s not uncommon for narcissists to be very successful in their professional lives even if they aren’t in their personal lives. Many of their traits cause them to either genuinely strive for success or manipulate their way to the top. That’s why we see many famous people who are narcissists. When they fail, however, they often fail in spectacular terms by being publicly disgraced or even outed as criminals.
When the narcissist fails, this is when they can place their family, friends, and colleagues in the greatest danger. They typically lash out in an aggressive, vindictive manner. They deny, lie, and blame others to escape taking any responsibility for their failure, and they will never apologize.
Failure for the narcissist represents the worst possible scenario, and it’s critical to understand their thinking and the behaviors you can expect when this happens. Let’s explore how the narcissist will react and why.
Why Do Narcissists Fear Failure?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) leaves the narcissist with no internal mechanisms and representations to soothe themselves. People with a healthy sense of self can soothe themselves when they fail. They can assure themselves that whatever they did or didn’t do — no matter how bad — doesn’t mean they don’t have value as a person.
The narcissist, however, doesn’t have that ability. Their entire fragile self-esteem is a false construction, a false identity they created in response to certain childhood experiences that left them feeling ashamed of themselves and worthless.
This false self-image that they have constructed requires external validation because the nature of NPD is such that there is no internal support system available to the narcissist. Though they may seem overly confident and vain, at the heart of narcissism lies self-loathing.
The grandiose ideas they infused the false self-image with include such concepts as omniscience and omnipotence. Those might seem like child-like ideas, but the reality is that this devastating mental condition originated in childhood. It was a child’s idea of what they believed was expected of them and what they knew they could never truly achieve.
The adult narcissist has never been able to let go of those ideas, and as a result, they have the same high expectations of themselves. Since they can’t achieve those high expectations, they turn to manipulation to make it appear as if they have. They construct a fragile house of cards, but somewhere deep down, they know it can easily be toppled.
That makes them defensive and hypervigilant, and it can also make them very aggressive if they see a threat on the horizon.
What Happens When a Narcissist Fails?
Narcissists have worked their whole lives to establish their superiority, and they have come to believe they are entitled to the best of everything because of it. They often don’t think they should be questioned. They feel they are above it, and they have frequently manipulated their family and friends to keep them from questioning their integrity.
Narcissists can be successful for a while in their professional and personal lives, but more often than not, they are not able to keep up the mirage forever. When a narcissist’s bad behavior is exposed, it can lead to some very severe consequences. They cheat, lie, and may even steal or worse to keep up their image. When that is exposed, it can result in divorce, prison, or in some cases, like that of cult leader Jim Jones, death.
Narcissistic leaders of governments or even entire nations can lead their followers into destructive actions. When it all comes tumbling down, the narcissist will typically react in extreme, aggressive, and malignant ways to escape being blamed. Let’s look at several strategies they will employ to get out of the problems their mental condition gets them into.
The stereotypical narcissistic rage is usually the first go-to reaction of the narcissist. They will often explode in an extremely aggressive outburst. This is literally a ‘shock and awe’ campaign. They want to shock their accuser into silence and keep them from looking into anything they may have done any deeper.
This rage is often accompanied by an aggressive and vindictive devaluation of anyone who might be suggesting they did something wrong. They will yell at or about their accuser and devalue them in emotionally and sometimes physically abusive ways.
The idea is to distract from the initial accusation, and even though they may receive a negative response to their rage, if the tactic distracts the accuser from any suggestion of wrongdoing, it has been successful.
The first trick in the narcissist’s repertoire is to deny that anything is wrong. If there are allegations or situations that suggest otherwise, the narcissist will often try to misdirect any official or personal inquiries.
If you claim your narcissistic husband is cheating, for example, he will attempt to misdirect and gaslight you by accusing you of infidelity. They will guide the argument away from any proof you may have and they will claim that anything you think you have as proof is false. They will stick to this tactic as long as there is no evidence or no further allegations.
If someone does have evidence against a narcissist, the narcissist will do everything in their behavior to invalidate that proof. They may claim it is false or even the product of a conspiracy against them.
If you do present them with evidence, they will be both aggressive and vindictive in the manner in which they attack it. Anyone who stands as a witness against the narcissist will be ruthlessly attacked and humiliated. The narcissist will do this and they will also get their supporters involved in attacking them as well.
They will expect their supporters to do this willingly and to even sacrifice themselves should it become necessary. You might have seen this play out in public situations where politicians have been accused of illegal or unethical behavior and they’ve used their sycophants to attack their accusers, often to the detriment of their supporters’ careers.
Should foolproof evidence be offered against the narcissist, they will downplay it as the product of lies perpetrated or evidence created by their enemies, those conspiring against them, or clandestine government agencies like the ‘deep state.’ It’s also typical in this case for the narcissist to cast a very wide net of blame so that their claims of innocence will resonate more with those who support them.
Blame and More Blame
If things are looking dire, the narcissist will seek to blame someone else for their problems. They have no problem throwing even family members, long-term romantic partners, previously well-liked colleagues, business partners, or political allies under the bus. As long as the attention turns away from them, they will blame whoever gets them off the hook.
If they don’t get a promotion for that recent business success, they will blame some kind of conspiracy to undermine them. If they lose an election campaign, it’s because of fraud or their inept campaign manager. It’s certainly never their fault. As retired psychologist, Edward Tierney states, “They could never fail if it was just up to them, as they are brilliant at everything, it has been someone else who sabotaged them.”
Lies and Devaluation
From the beginning of any problem, the narcissist begins lying, and as things progress, they move on to devaluation. This can mean the devaluation of their accusers, but it can also mean the devaluation of supporters who didn’t try hard enough or who are being scapegoated to save the narcissist.
What’s more, the lies and devaluation don’t have to make sense. It’s nothing more than a distraction technique, and if the narcissist tells an absurd lie, it can still work to their advantage as it distracts their accusers from the core problem.
The narcissist will also expect their supporters to get behind their lies and to also devalue and criticize any critics. They will expect them to do this with as much vehemence as the narcissist themselves.
They Won’t Go Down Alone
If the nature of the failure is such that the narcissist faces dismissal, divorce, or even arrest, you can be sure they won’t go down alone. They will take as many people down with them as possible. They will vindictively attack everyone involved in the process in an attempt to make them suffer as much as the narcissist is suffering.
They will lash out at romantic partners, business partners, political allies, and anyone involved to ruin them. In extreme cases, they may even lash out in a physically violent manner. They will do anything they can to make everyone around them suffer.
Once there is no escape for the narcissist from their failings — they’re going to be fired, divorce is unavoidable, or even they’re going to be arrested — then they begin the process of continuously airing their grievances. They will wallow in their self-pity and air even the smallest of grievances they may have been carrying around for years.
They will talk about how they have been persecuted unfairly by everyone in their life. Of course, they expect any remaining supporters to echo their claims. In short, they will do everything they can to make the people around them believe they are the victim.
How Should You Respond When a Narcissist Fails?
Just about the only thing you can do if you are around a narcissist who is experiencing a life failure is to take care of yourself. If you are among the accusers of wrongdoing, it’s best to distance yourself from the narcissist.
They will only want to devalue you, and they will strive to manipulate and control you in ways that will harm your self-esteem. If you’re not among the accusers, you’ll still need to take good care of yourself.
You’ll likely be exposed to a lot of toxicity as the narcissist tries to draw into the drama. If you can’t keep your distance during this time, you’ll need to exercise extra care in setting boundaries so that you can process your own emotions.
When a narcissist fails, drama ensues. They feel as though the very core of their being is threatened, and in a sense, it is. Their false self is certainly in danger since they risk losing their narcissistic supply. That usually creates a strong reaction that begins with narcissistic rage and proceeds to denial, lies, devaluation, and the airing of grievances.
If you’re around such a narcissist during this difficult time in their life, you’ll need to take care of yourself. You’ll be exposed to toxicity and negative energy while they face the repercussions of their often questionable behavior.
With this understanding of what happens when a narcissist fails, you’ll also want to read this post about what a narcissist hates and fears the most. It will give you important insight into the way a narcissist thinks.
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