Narcissists have a deep-seated need to be the center of attention. They see the other people in their lives as mere extensions of themselves, and they expect that if you receive a message from them, you will respond immediately. When that doesn’t happen, there are several ways they may respond, and all of them are negative.
If you don’t respond to a narcissist’s text, they feel ignored, and this can send them into a narcissistic rage. Ignoring them is threatening to their self-esteem, and that narcissistic injury can turn into rage and a desire for vengeance. As a result, they will try to get you back for hurting them.
It’s important to learn about why the narcissist reacts the way they do so you can know what you should expect. It’s also valuable to understand their underlying fears to help you with setting boundaries and pushing back against their emotional abuse.
Why Do Narcissists Hate Being Ignored?
To put it simply, narcissists hate being ignored because they can’t stand being left alone with themselves. They need other people to validate them and prop up their self-esteem. Narcissism is caused when a person is unable to fully develop a sense of self, an ego.
Your ego helps you to self-soothe when things don’t go your way, and it also is what gives you your internal sense of self-worth. It may seem as though narcissists have too much ego because they’re constantly bragging about their accomplishments or looking for praise.
The truth, however, is that the narcissist was never able to fully develop an ego, and as a result, they can’t support their own self-esteem. Instead, they need other people to do that which is why they have an almost insatiable need for admiration and praise.
In the narcissist’s mind, they are the center of your world, and if you don’t act like they are, they are left with having to come face to face with a reality for which they are just not prepared. That’s why they’re always trying to point out how great they are and get you to compliment them.
What is Narcissistic Injury?
A narcissistic injury occurs when the narcissist reacts negatively to any real or perceived criticism, attempts to hold them accountable, boundaries that are placed on them, or judgment. When a person doesn’t accommodate their insatiable need for narcissistic supply, the narcissist will often overreact and personalize what may be a benign interaction.
You might not be intending to convey any message to the narcissist by not returning their text message right away — maybe you were just busy — but in the narcissist’s mind, you are rejecting them in a very personal way and this triggers long-buried memories. As a narcissist herself, Karen Burke puts it this way, “Mainly I will think that you are doing me wrong in some way. Whether you are cheating on me, ignoring me on purpose, simply busy, or whatever, I see it as complete rejection, a threat to my self-esteem, self-worth, and my sense of self.”
One wronged, the narcissist will often seek to get you back. Their need to punish you can easily be traced to their pervasive levels of pathological loneliness and the core shame they feel about their true self as a result of childhood experiences.
What is Attachment Trauma and How is it Related to Narcissism?
The narcissist’s childhood abuse caused an attachment trauma, and it was an agonizing experience for the young narcissist-to-be. They felt alone and worthless, and they learned that the world is a frightening place where their needs may not be met. Such was the nature of their psychological trauma that they relegated it to the realm of the unconscious mind because it was too painful to face.
In the human brain, there’s a circuit breaker-like response to trauma, a kind of natural safety mechanism that kicks in when the brain’s capacity to respond rationally is overloaded. For anyone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — as most narcissists do — that safety mechanism is what allowed them to bury those traumatic memories.
This is the nature of attachment trauma, and it blocks the narcissist’s recollection of those childhood events until something happens, i.e., a narcissistic injury occurs, to trigger them. When you fail to respond to their text message, you’re unintentionally creating a narcissistic injury that is dredging up those long-buried memories.
How Will a Narcissist Respond to Narcissistic Injury?
If a narcissist truly had to face their own traumatic memories, they would likely experience a personal meltdown or what is called emotional dysregulation. As a child, the burial of these traumatic events was a coping mechanism, one that helped them survive the dysfunctional environment to which they were exposed.
As an adult, these coping mechanisms serve to keep them from having to face their traumatized and psychologically impaired self. In other words, it keeps them from having to face the shame and sense of self-loathing they truly feel.
When you threaten the house of cards they have constructed by not acting in a way that they see as consistent with their grandiose ideas, they will react in a number of different ways to keep from having to face that awful truth.
They may ignore you, fly into a rage, deny any importance you may hold for them, fantasize about getting you back, devalue you, and some can even respond with physical aggression. They truly feel that if you’re ignoring them, you pose a threat to their very carefully constructed reality.
How Should I Respond to Narcissistic Rage?
The truth is there’s nothing you can do to prevent narcissistic injuries because the reality is the narcissist’s mind is a veritable minefield. Your intentions have little to do with their perceptions, and they can be triggered by even the smallest perceived slights.
If you care about the narcissist and don’t want to go no-contact, the best thing you can do in response to a narcissistic injury is to simply reassure the narcissist that you care about them and had no intention to hurt them in any way. If they are in a rage, let them know that you will be happy to discuss it when they have calmed down and then walk away.
They won’t be able to respond in any rational way when they are in a triggered state, so the best you can do is enforce your own boundaries regarding respectful treatment and try to speak to them when they are calmer. To truly help them, they need to realize they have a problem and seek long-term psychological counseling, but most narcissists are unwilling to make the commitment to getting help.
It’s helpful to know the causes that lie behind the reactions narcissists often have when they feel slighted. It’s a sad story, really, but it’s also not your fault. When dealing with a narcissist who’s been triggered, you should always take care of yourself and your own needs because you really can’t do anything for them.
To deal with the underlying trauma that is behind narcissistic injuries, long-term psychotherapy is the only helpful treatment. Unfortunately, that means recognizing what might be seen as flaws, and narcissists have great difficulty with that.
Narcissists have their own emotional triggers — like being ignored — but they are also expert at recognizing yours and using them against you. It’s critical to stop them from doing that by learning how to recognize and heal those old wounds to stop their manipulation tactics from working. My 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers can help you do just that. You’ll learn a better way to respond to the narcissist’s manipulation.
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