Narcissists spend so much of their time pushing other people’s buttons and hammering away at their weak spots, but how do we actually do the same to them? Is it possible to cause “narcissistic injury” to a narcissist? Can we burst their bubble and push their buttons in a way that annoys them?
In general, it is possible to cause narcissistic injury to a narcissist by attacking some part of their identity that they are vain about, whether it’s their appearance, accomplishments, status, credentials or intellect. Overtly or subtly undermining something that is a key part of the narcissist’s grandiose self image is likely to cause them narcissistic injury.
Understanding exactly what each narcissist’s individual weak spots and “buttons” to push are can be helped by understanding the difference between cerebral and somatic narcissists. We’ll define narcissistic injury, as well as cerebral and somatic narcissism, before we give some specific examples of how to cause narcissistic injury to each type of narcissist.
What is Narcissistic Injury?
Narcissistic injury is usually defined as some kind of injury or blow to the narcissist’s (false sense) of self; some kind of puncturing of their ego or grandiose self image that leaves them feeling deflated, exposed, inferior and/or and less than perfect (perfectionism, superiority and grandiosity often prop up the narcissist’s identity)
It can refer to traumatic wounds the narcissist has received in childhood, but we can also cause them narcissistic injury in adulthood by intentionally or unintentionally undermining some aspect of their false, grandiose self.
It’s often the implication that is important here; by subtly doing or saying something, we imply something about them that undermines their grandiosity and deflates them or sends them into a rage or depression.
We won’t spend too long on this, because readers want specific examples, but suffice to say, narcissistic injury is when you burst their bubble and deliver a blow to their ego in some way.
Understanding Cerebral vs Somatic Narcissism
Another distinction that’s important to make here is how a narcissist generates their supply, and a good criteria to use here is personality disorder expert Sam Vaknin’s distinction between cerebral and somatic narcissism.
Narcissistic supply is just some form of reinforcement or validation (psychological “food”) to the narcissist that their false, grandiose view of themselves is true. With regards to how different narcissists generate their supply
- Cerebral narcissists generate their supply by applying their minds (intellect, wit, humor etc).
- Somatic narcissists generate their supply by applying their bodies (beauty, fitness, sports, sex etc)
- Wherever a narcissist draws their supply from will become a significant ego-investment for them, and is therefore a weak spot for them psychologically, because they will be vain about that particular thing. Their (very fragile) ego is wrapped up in it.
The point in making this distinction is that it’s important to know what each individual narcissist’s weak spots are, where they are vain, because they will differ with each narcissist, depending on whether they fall into the cerebral or somatic category.
There’s no point in pushing the wrong buttons with a narcissist, attacking them somewhere where they aren’t vain, because a) it won’t inflict narcissistic injury on them; and b) it shows your hand to them, and they’ll often start retaliating, hammering away at your buttons instead.
For example, I had a friend who was a cerebral narcissist, and loved mocking others for being “stupid” or “simple”, but was grossly overweight, and knew full well he was. In fact, I think he deliberately made himself overweight to protect himself from women and people in general. Therefore there was no point in attacking him for being fat, because it didn’t push his buttons. He already knew he was and wasn’t bothered. Attacking him on a mental and intellectual level, implying that he was simple and slow and inferior to others, was much more effective, because it actually pushed his vanity buttons and attacked a weakness in his (fragile) ego, where he loved to look down on others and consider himself superior.
With other narcissists, it will be the other way around, and you will be able to cause them narcissistic injury by attacking their body or appearance, but they might already know they aren’t bright intellectually and couldn’t care less. Their ego is wrapped up in their beauty or physicality and not so much their intellect.
So you need to me more strategic and precise, and identify where their ego-investments (and therefore ego weaknesses) and vanities are. Therefore to repeat the distinction again:
- A cerebral narcissist is vain about their intellect, mindset, academic accomplishments, and considers themself mentally superior to others, in terms of accomplishments, IQ or what they can do with their minds.
- A somatic narcissist is vain about their looks, body, beauty, fitness or athletic/sporting accomplishments. They consider themselves physically superior to others, in terms of aesthetics or what they can do with their bodies.
There might be some crossover, and perhaps it’s true to say that all narcissists, regardless of IQ, consider themselves mentally superior to others on some level. However, the distinction is useful in identifying where a specific narcissist is most vain, has most of their fragile ego invested in, and is therefore most vulnerable to being caused narcissistic injury.
Let’s now apply this theory to both cerebral and somatic narcissists, looking at different ways you can push their buttons and target their vanities.
Pushing a Somatic Narcissist’s Buttons
This one is perhaps the easier to target, because a somatic narcissist’s vanities usually become obvious pretty quickly. Their ego is wrapped up in their bodies or physical abilities in some way; therefore to cause them narcissistic injury, attack or undermine this aspect of them.
Here are some ways you could do this:
- Imply they’re ugly or mediocre in the looks department (if their ego is especially invested in the opposite).
- Imply they’re overweight (or could do with losing some weight), if their ego is invested in being thin or “in shape”
- Imply they have body odor or smell or are dirty/unclean.
- If a male narcissist has their ego wrapped up in their “amazing body”, then undermine this, especially in comparison to others, making it out to be “ordinary” and “nothing special”.
- Lots of narcissists will have their ego wrapped up with how good they are in the bedroom. Again, undermining this by implying their ordinary and nothing special will be a real blow to their ego.
- Imply that their sporting accomplishments are mediocre and nothing special, and/or compare them to other people in the field and imply that they’re much better than the narcissist.
However, when inflicting narcissistic injury, it’s has the best impact when done subtly, not overtly or obviously. It’s best when these things are subtly implied or suggested, or just slipped in under the radar, rather than stated openly and obviously. It’s the psychological equivalent of a liver shot in combat – that shot that’s just snuck in without the other person expecting, but is excruciatingly painful and destabilizing.
This is how narcissists themselves often abuse people, so it’s good to flip the script and use the same dynamics back on them. When you sneak in a one of these psychological “liver shots” on a narc, you’ll often notice right away – overt narcissists will often fly into a rage, and covert/fragile narcissists will clam up and go very quiet and withdrawn, upset that their bubble has been burst.
Somatic narcs are often vain about their appearance, which is a weak spot that can be attacked
Pushing a Cerebral Narcissist’s Buttons
A cerebral narcissist has their ego more wrapped up in their mind or intellect, so here’s some things you can attack in this regard:
- Imply that they’re stupid or low IQ. Narcissists love to look down on the stupidity of others, so flip the scrip and imply this about them.
- Imply that they’re “simple” and slow, especially if they pride themselves on “being quick” or having a sharp mind.
- Imply that they’re mentally or intellectually inferior to others, instead of the other way around.
- If their ego is wrapped up in being “funny” and “sharp witted”, instead imply that they are actually distinctly unfunny, boring, and predicable – a dullard. Don’t take them on when they want you to laugh at their nonsense. Just meet them with silent treatment and folded arms, or something similar.
- Subtly undermine their credentials or status in a certain profession or field, of their ego is wrapped up in this.
- Generally imply that the time you’re spending with them is dull, boring and ordinary, nothing special (see section below).
- Academia is full of intellectual narcissists. Imply that their work is dull, boring and distinctly ordinary. I had one particular narcissist lecturer who fit this mold at university. I did wonder why he attacked me so much, and only years later did I realize that the (very valid) questions I asked were rubbing his face in the ordinariness of his course material. It was causing him narcissistic injury.
Academia is full of closed-minded, narcissistic psuedo-intellects, with very fragile egos
Suggest That A Narcissist Is Boring Or Ordinary
This is a more general way of causing narcissistic injury, that pretty much works with all narcissists to some extent. We’ve touched on it in other points above, but it needs drawing out because it’s such an effective way to get a shot in at a narcissist, regardless of where they draw their supply from.
“Just frame whatever the narcissist wants or needs as completely banal and ordinary. Their needs are ordinary, their wants are ordinary,… their life is ordinary…..You know what that would do to a narcissist in your life, they would go ballistic. If you just very calmly just kept repeating that ‘everything you want is normal, you’re a completely normal person, you’re one of many, you’re not special, you’re not special, you’re not special’. They’ll flip their lids.
Tell a narcissist how boring they are….(that’s) a nice little liver shot there. Just suggest or imply they’re dull…That’s harsh”
Richard Grannon/Sam Vaknin.
Here are some more specific ways you can this:
- Narcissist will often drop subtle hints or facial expressions that you’re boring them to provoke a reaction. Flip the script and do the same to them – imply with body language, hints and facial expressions that they’re boring you. Drum the table, blow through your lips, look around at other people instead of them.
- Imply that the time you’re spending with them is really dull and nothing special, and that you’re got much better and more exciting things to do with other people (hedonistic narcissists will go mad at this).
- Imply that their interests, hobbies or or other pet “things” they’re really into are boring, dull or uninteresting.
- Imply that papers/books/articles they wrote, or other projects they’ve worked on are boring, dull, or unexceptional and ordinary.
- More generally, imply that they, or anything they do, say, have or follow, is dull uninteresting and unexceptional – distinctly ordinary.
- Narcs love to turn up late and keep others waiting, making themselves the center of attention. Flip the script, keep them waiting and cause them inconvenience, do not apologize and watch them explode with rage. Blame any reactions on them being too sensitive or moody. Send the message that your time is more important than theirs.
- Take subtle digs at them through back handed compliments which have an aspect of praise in there, but also with an insult embedded, but always with a smile and positive body language.
- Doing these things will actively irritate and cause “narcissistic injury” to the narcissist, since by criticizing anything they do in this way, they’ll take the insult by extension to themselves. They’re very fragile in this way – they will fume if their fake image of perfection and special-ness is broken.
Wait for the end….The perfect “liver shot” to the narcissist – “you’re boring and ordinary”
Other Ways to Cause Narcissistic Injury
Here are some other ways to annoy or cause narcissistic injury to a narcissist, mainly drawn out from our other main article on how to irritate a narcissist:
- Send abuse (gaslighting, digs/slights, overt or covert insults etc) right back to them – the quicker you send their nonsense back, the more it will annoy them
- Keep them waiting. This is a huge one. Narcissists love to imply and demonstrate that their time is more important than yours. Flipping the script can really stoke a lot of narcissist’s egos, and make them fly off into a rage.
- Ignore them. Many narcissists fly into a rage when ignored, because again it sends the message they are unimportant.
- Say no to them. Again you’ll be surprised how much this can annoy the narcissist who’s not used to being refused or turned down (think of promiscuous narcs of both sexes). Can really puncture their ego, especially if done with a smile.
- Continue to grow, change and evolve. Will annoy any narcissist in your life, because they are utterly incapable of doing any of these things themselves. Symbolically, you’re abandoning them, and this pains them and deflates their ego.
- Once away from them, move on with your life and live well, not thinking about them at all. Is in many ways the worst form of narcissistic injury, because it’s the ultimate and final message to them that they are unimportant to you. Work on detachment, indifference and living well without them on your mind. This tortures the narcissist.
See our detailed article on the different ways to annoy a narcissist, for more on each of these points.
A Word Of Warning On Causing Narcissistic Injury
We’ll finish off this post with the same warning we gave in our post on irritating narcs. Getting these shots in may be good fun in the moment, but it’s also important to be wary of how nasty narcs can be once triggered. If you have to still be around a narc who you’ve caused narcissistic injury too, it can be really unpleasant.
Make sure you’re ready for this and are detached from any barbs they’ll throw back at you. It’s true that some will back off, but if you have lots of unresolved issues yourself, the narc will have long ago clocked these and will hammer away even more at you, making life very unpleasant if you have to still be around this person.
Moreover, once they’re triggered in this way, they don’t just calm down again in a few minutes. Once the battle is on with a Cluster B disordered individual, it never stops until they win (this is more true for the psychopath, but it does also apply to the narc as well. They don’t just forgive and forget slights against their fragile ego, even if they are the ones that have been doing most of the abusing until then. They don’t do equal. They have to be on top at all times).
This is why the last point we mentioned (getting away from them and living well) is by far the most important one, both to irritate the narcissist but also for your own well being long term. You need to be strategic in the battles you pick, and understand where you are at in terms of your own weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Getting into a prolonged battle of wills where you are pushing each others buttons is not advised. These people need to to be removed from your life as soon as possible. Dropping them cold and moving is the best way to cause them narcissistic injury, but protect yourself as well.