Narcissists are their own worst enemies. This is what it looks like when they finally collapse on themselves.
by E.B. Johnson
What happens when someone with NPD is exposed to their manipulative behavior? Your average person may feel some shame, they may even withdraw. Eventually, however, life goes on. Things are a lot more complicated for a narcissist. With an ego that is rooted in false realities, when they face being seen for who they are, the true narcissist falls apart.
That’s what narcissistic collapse looks like: an insecure and selfish person falling apart. Finally seen for who and what they are, the narcissist can no longer control the games they’ve crafted carefully for years. The result? A depressed, anxious, and catatonic person who sees no way out of the hopeless situation that they’re in.
What causes narcissistic collapse?
While we think of narcissists as self-possessed egomaniacs, nothing could be further from the truth. Scratch a little beneath the surface of anyone with NPD and you will discover someone whose confidence comes from inherent insecurities. You see, that’s because narcissists create grandiose masks in order to conceal their fears and insecurities. Take that mask away, and implosion isn’t far behind.
Narcissistic collapse can occur when a narcissist is exposed or faced with some kind of public humiliation. No longer able to resort to the carefully constructed manipulations that keep their masks in place, they are exposed for the flawed humans they are.
To the truly narcissistic person, this is a failure of the highest degree. Their narcissistic defenses don’t work, and that means their confidence is instantly extinguished. They are left, without tools, to face the people they have hurt or the messes they have made. A person with NPD cannot handle this level of exposure. Instead of finding a foothold and growing, they collapse in on themselves like a dying star.
Acknowledging the signs of narcissistic collapse.
What does it look like when a narcissist collapses on themselves? For those who have lived through it, they know how terrible the spiral can be. Forced into reality against their will (and their egos) the narcissistic person exposed and disappears into extreme fear, anxiety, depression, shame, and almost- catatonic behavior.
Intense anxiety is often the start of a narcissistic collapse. Knowing that their deepest and darkest insecurities and secrets are going to come to light, narcissists become highly anxious and irritable. This ranges across both physical reactions (elevated heart rate, sweating, shallow breathing) and psychological ones. The narcissist’s fuse grows shorter and their thinking can become even more erratic and disjointed.
Depression is another key component of narcissistic collapse. Unable to face the harsh reality of exposure, the narcissist withdraws into a dark and hopeless place. Some narcissists may have suicidal ideations in this state, others will withdraw socially or lean into addictive and risky behaviors. You can also see more erratic emotional states, sleep disturbances, or changes in the narcissists’ eating and drinking habits.
Much of the depression and anxiety that comes with a narcissistic collapse is shame-linked. Some narcissists have a history of childhood trauma, which comes with a lot of shame behaviors and memories that lead on into their adult lives and personalities. The narcissist is fearful of being exposed, not only because of the hit to their egos. Many also fear the deep, deep shame that is already tied to many of their other decisions and beliefs.
Have you ever seen someone in a catatonic state? Becoming almost lifeless, this is a state in which someone becomes abnormally still or slow moving. Narcissists can move into almost catatonic states in the spiral of narcissistic collapse. Dissociating, they shut down. They will stop communicating, stop eating…some may even lay in their beds for days and days at a time. In their minds, it’s a hopeless situation.
Fear is also a major part of the narcissistic collapse spiral. Narcissists fear being exposed to those who they value more than anything else. The masks they wear are how they get their supply, but it’s also how they get power and maintain every aspect of their personal lives. Remove one of those masks — show the world who they really are — and someone with NPD will lose all control and react like a cornered animal.
Protecting yourself from the grand implosion.
So what can you do to protect yourself from the grand explosion? As survivors of narcissists, we are very often witnesses of their worst moments. We are left at the mercy of their depression, their fear, and their anxiety, as they try to hold on to what’s left of their carefully controlled masks. What can we do to protect ourselves? How do we prevent ourselves from being pulled into the spiral?
Maintaining our emotional distance in situations like this is no small thing. It takes courage and knowledge that your safety and wellbeing are more important than protecting a narcissist from their own self-assured destruction.
For the best hope of keeping yourself safe, you should:
- Surround yourself with a support system
- Focus on building emotional intelligence
- Create safe spaces in and out of the home
- Separate yourself from the narcissist’s image
Reach out to those you can trust. Separate yourself emotionally and physically from what is happening to the best of your ability. You can offer support, but you cannot be a life raft. There is no rescuing someone from a mess they have created themselves.
You do not determine who the narcissist in your life is. You cannot protect them from their choices, or the flaws in their own thinking. The only life you can mange is your own. The only reactions you can control are your own. Their collapse is not your responsibility, no matter how much you may love them.
We can try to encourage the narcissists in our lives through these times. It’s important, however, that we don’t allow our empathy to be weaponized against us. You will not do them any good by helping them to keep their masks strapped on. In the end, narcissistic collapse results from too much subterfuge, too many lies. The only way out of that darkness is through it.
Keep enough distance to keep yourself safe. We are all on our own journeys, and these journeys are how we learn to be whole and compassionate people. Leave the narcissistic people in your life to their journeys and see to your own. You’ve only got this chance to get what you need out of your future. Use it wisely.
Are You Dealing With Narcissistic Collapse? | Practical Growth (medium.com)
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