Having a narcissistic wound doesn’t make you a narcissist, but you do need to attend to it; attend to it like you would to any wound.
A clinical narcissist is someone who is extremely prone to feelings of humiliation; to defend against humiliation they develop an omnipotent delusion of who they are. They’re so imbued in this on-going defence response that they don’t see you, me or anyone. Relationships become transactions and people become objects. They’re constantly assessing your usefulness to them, which is often about helping them maintain the grandiose image they’ve developed.
Being admired becomes as important as food. If you fail to do this, you’re discarded because not receiving admiration equals annihilation. Their sense of existence and worth is on the line and that’s when the narcissistic rage kicks off. All of this takes up so much of their functioning that there’s no space left for anyone, and when there’s no space for anyone there can be no empathy for anyone either. It is possible but very hard to meaningfully reach such an individual.
What is a narcissistic wound?
Having a narcissistic wound is a different story. It isn’t harmless and it needs to be taken seriously, but it doesn’t make you a narcissist.
Those of us who grew up in households where there was very little space for us, and our needs weren’t taken into account, can develop narcissistic wounds. When you’ve had parents with narcissistic processes you would have experienced yourself as their extension. Not a child in their own right who needs protection, but someone who is being competed with as if they were equal.
In such households parents are threatened by their child’s personhood and to defend against this threat they reduce their children to objects, of use to them as long as they don’t grow into themselves and become their own person. Manipulative power plays may have been imposed on you to the point where you have no sense of who you are beyond your aching wounds for recognition and being seen with your needs.
The effect on relationships in later life
Because you ache so much, you yearn for someone to give you what you’ve never been given. But your expectations now come with these additional yearnings that don’t belong to your current relationships. The more your partner and/or friend fail to give you the experience of being seen the more you demand it. This is how we carry the trauma on, without realising we have now made anyone and everyone around us our extension. We have reduced them to their capacity to meet our needs and because no one ever really saw us we don’t really see anyone either. This is the tragedy of carrying a narcissistic wound.
But there is hope; it is possible for you to recover and heal through this. Your partner might resemble your parent, but they are not your parent. As obvious as this is, when your wound gets tapped into, it is easy to lose sight of.
Pace is key here. Begin to notice what happens in your body as an interaction where you are missed again unfolds. Try and catch it. Break eye contact if you need to. Breathe and continue to notice. Because without slowing your pace down and noticing your body, you will spiral into uncontained anger. You’ll become focused and present in that rage, and its familiarity will comfort you for a split second, but it works against you and your relationship in the long run.
It is not possible to meaningfully take responsibility for something that you’re not aware of. When you are able to slow down, you will be able to feel your wound and the information it carries; the message that you’ve taken in some time ago – that you don’t matter or that you’re not seen and appreciated. It will then be more likely that you can judge what feels proportionate to what’s happening and what feels out of context. Taking responsibility then becomes possible. And then you might still express that you’re pissed off but will be able to do this with some insight into your reaction, which will make your sharing and your anger more palatable for the other. Try and be forgiving with yourself when you can’t manage to slow down and end up spiralling into rage. This is hard.
If you recognise yourself in this text, know that what happened to you was real, and it is OK for you to be wounded. It is important to begin to understand and explore this for yourself in therapy or with someone you feel safe with. Understanding your narcissistic wound will help you see the context in which it was created and the context it is getting triggered in now. You will begin to be able to differentiate between what happened and what’s happening – something which is easier to do intellectually but much harder emotionally. And remind yourself that just as your partner isn’t your parent, you’re not your parent either. It is not our wounds that dictate how we relate to ourselves and others, but our awareness of them.
As published on welldoing.org