You may have a person in your life who sometimes responds with rage that seems out of proportion to situations. Their emotion could be a reaction to a narcissistic injury.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a complex mental health condition in which a person might crave admiration, have an inflated sense of superiority, and lack empathy.

What isn’t obvious is the reason behind these behaviors. In some instances, a person with NPD might use these strategies to cover up feelings of vulnerability and low self-worth.

For others, they might appear shy or withdrawn, while internally, they’re boasting about their importance.

These behaviors can make it hard to get along with someone living with NPD. In some cases, they can be sensitive and easily wounded by what they perceive to be psychological threats.

If you know someone living with narcissistic personality disorder, you may have felt hurt by something they’ve done or said. But “narcissistic injury” isn’t referring to what you’ve experienced.

Instead, a narcissistic injury, aka “narcissistic wound,” is what some people with NPD might feel when they encounter criticism, loss, or perceived abandonment.

Even though they may not show it, they may experience humiliation and rejection. It’s their feelings in these situations that may be considered narcissistic injuries.

Rather than express vulnerability and reveal how they feel, they may react with defiance, arguments, and even a narcissistic rage attack.

Wounded narcissistic responses often don’t match the situation. They can be direct attacks through verbal or physical aggression or less confrontational reactions such as walking away during a conversation.

Any situation where you’re the recipient of blame or negativity could be an indication of a narcissistic injury such as:

  • explosive arguments
  • gaslighting
  • silent treatment
  • manipulation
  • false accusations
  • insults
  • threats
  • physical violence

It’s important to note that there are different types of narcissistic personality, and not everyone with a narcissistic personality will experience narcissistic injury.

Not much is known about why someone develops NPD. Some experts believe these traits might be in response to specific situations experienced early in life, such as:

  • abuse or neglect during childhood
  • unrealistic parental expectations
  • excessive pampering and praise from parents
  • narcissistic parent or parents

Not everyone with these experiences will develop NPD, though. Genetics, such as a family history of personality disorders, might contribute to this condition.

A 2014 study found that some traits of NPD — such as entitlement and grandiosity — could be passed on through genetics.

Brain differences are also involved. People with NPD had less gray matter volume in the left anterior insula, according to a 2013 study. This is the part of the brain responsible for emotional empathy.

Research suggests that parenting practices might also contribute to NPD. If parents place too much emphasis on achievement, children might learn that love is conditional. This could make them vulnerable to narcissistic injuries.

Narcissistic injuries are situations that trigger feelings of incompetence or unworthiness. These can include:

  • not winning in a competition
  • encountering disagreement in a conversation
  • an imperfection in something
  • having someone not live up to their standards or expectations
  • public embarrassment
  • being overlooked for a promotion at work
  • receiving correction or constructive criticism

While anyone can experience an emotional reaction from an intense situation, even mild events can cause narcissistic injuries for someone with NPD.

For example, if you offer correct information to someone who’s made an error, they may express thanks. In the same scenario, someone with NPD might experience a narcissistic injury from your correction and respond to you with gaslighting or an insult.

It’s essential to remember narcissistic injuries aren’t your fault. This is true even if a reaction is in response to something you’ve said or done.

But there are steps you can take to try to diffuse a situation and avoid conflict.

Change your mindset

Narcissistic injury and rage are an expression of a perceived slight against self-image. For example, a narcissistic injury might occur when you unintentionally criticize the person with NPD because they didn’t respond to a situation in a way you think they should have.

Reframing your thinking could help you separate yourself from this behavior, which might help you avoid getting drawn into an argument.

Learn de-escalation strategies

If you find yourself in a situation with someone experiencing a narcissistic injury, you can try to make the situation less volatile.

Consider the following strategies:

  • Empathize and validate how they feel: Focus on something you agree with. It’s less important who’s right and more important not to fight. Rather than listening to correct, try listening to agree.
  • Stay calm: If you keep in mind that a narcissistic injury is the response to a perceived threat, it’s easy to see why staying calm can help. If you allow yourself to get caught up in emotion, your agitated behavior might increase the threat level, which intensifies the narcissistic injury.
  • Respect their personal space: Entering the personal space of someone experiencing a narcissistic injury may feel overwhelming to them. Instead, you can help them by moving back and giving them space.
  • Speak less and listen more: If you’re faced with someone in the emotional grasp of a narcissistic injury, they may not be able to pay attention to what you’re saying. The most effective strategy might be to listen rather than speak. If you need to talk, try to keep it simple and short.

Create physical distance

Your safety is more important than managing a situation or protecting personal property. If narcissistic rage is creating a dangerous situation, the best course of action might be to remove yourself. If you feel in immediate danger, leave and seek help.

Practice self-calming techniques

A deep-breathing exercise or mindfulness technique, such as meditation, are effective self-calming strategies that can help you manage your emotions in tense situations.

Know when it’s time to leave

Relationships are complex, and you may have many compelling reasons to stay connected. But if your safety is regularly at risk and your stress level is often elevated, it might be time to consider leaving the relationship.

If someone has narcissistic personality disorder, their reactions might seem extreme and out of proportion to you. But because many people with NPD aren’t aware of their symptoms, they might not realize they’re responding this way or why.

Remembering their behavior is because of a mental health condition and not something you’ve done can help put the situation into perspective.

If you’re not sure how to respond, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. They can help you understand how to support someone with NPD. You can check out our find a therapist tool to get started.