Narcissists are often portrayed as self-assured people. In fact, they are masters at presenting themselves as suave and confident.
However, beneath the surface, many narcissists struggle with deep-seated insecurities. Understanding this can allow us to peek into the reasons behind their self-centered and manipulative behaviors so often the red flags of narcissism.
Are Narcissists Insecure?
Yes, narcissists are often insecure, masking their deep-seated feelings of inadequacy with a grandiose facade. This insecurity drives their constant need for validation, admiration, and control, as they attempt to maintain their fragile self-image and avoid confronting their underlying vulnerability.
In my clinical experience over the years, most narcissists are constantly coping with feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and self-doubt. That itself is one of the reasons they hesitate to seek professional help.
“A narcissist’s low self-esteem may explain the odd patterns of behavior in their relationships.”
10 Reasons Why Narcissists Are Insecure In Life
Here are 10 reasons why narcissists are insecure:
1. Need for Validation and Admiration
Narcissists have a strong need for validation and admiration from others. This is often driven by their underlying sense of insecurity and low self-esteem.
They crave attention and praise as a means of feeling more secure and valuable in the eyes of others.
To gain recognition, narcissists may engage in self-promotion, boasting about their achievements, and constantly talking about themselves.
They often exaggerate their talents, abilities, and accomplishments to appear more impressive and draw admiration from their audience.
This craving for praise may also lead them to manipulate situations or people around them to make sure they receive praise and validation.
Here’s where it can take a negative turn.
They take credit for others’ accomplishments, fabricate stories, or engage in superficial relationships where they feel admired and respected.
When they see someone else receive the praise or attention they believe they deserve, narcissists may feel threatened and envious. To retain their sense of superiority and significance, they may tear others down or belittle their achievements in their typical narcissistic way.
2. Fear of Criticism or Rejection
Narcissists often have a deep-rooted fear of criticism or rejection. This fear stems from a desire to protect themselves from feelings of inadequacy.
So, to avoid being confronted with their own flaws or imperfections, they try to control their relationships and manipulate others to get their way.
Their reluctance to accept their vulnerabilities, and the underlying fear of rejection, can lead to mental health issues like chronic stress, anxiety, or depression.
Whereas the rest of us see feedback as a means to improve our flaws, narcissists see it as an attack on their perfect facade.
But the thing is, they know it’s a facade that can only be kept up by validation from others. So, even the slightest negative criticism can trigger their high sensitivity to feedback.
When faced with rejection or criticism, narcissists may react aggressively or defensively. This behavior, called narcissistic rage, is an attempt to shield up against a negative apparisal of their self-image.
Sometimes, narcissists may force people to respect, praise, and validate them to boost their self-esteem and maintain a sense of superiority.
3. Unstable Self-Image
Narcissists often have an unstable self-image, making it difficult for them to maintain a consistent sense of identity. This instability can lead to feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.
One reason for this is their reliance on approval from others to maintain their sense of self-worth.
They may constantly compare themselves to others, seeking affirmation of their superiority, and trying to avoid revealing any signs of weakness.
Another factor making for their unstable self-image is their inner core of insecurity.
Despite outward appearances of confidence, they are aware that their self-esteem is fragile and easily vulnerable to criticism.
You may hear a narcissist (or anyone with poor self-esteem) say, “I criticize myself because it hurts less when I do it than when others do.”
They fear being exposed as flawed people, so they manipulate others into making their inadequacies go unnoticed.
They feel, as long as they control others, they can keep up their illusory image of strength and success.
The unstable self-image in narcissists can also be rooted in their past experiences, like a history of neglect, abuse, or being raised in an environment that prioritized external achievements over emotional well-being.
This may lead to the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a drive to succeed at any cost, further reinforcing the insecurity at the heart of their personality.
4. Sense of entitlement
Narcissists often feel as though they deserve special treatment, which can be seen in their sense of entitlement.
This feeling of entitlement can stem from their own belief in their superiority over others.
When things do not go their way, they may feel unfairly treated, leading to further feelings of insecurity.
The sense of entitlement can also cause them to act on their instincts, regardless of the consequences for others. This behavior can be detrimental to their relationships and create a cycle of rejection and short-lived relationships.
Sooner or later, people see their unchangeable offensive nature, and distance themselves from them.
Their repulsive sense of entitlement, although, can mask inner feelings of shame and insecurity. So, narcissists may use it as a defense mechanism to avoid confronting their own emotions.
To maintain entitlement, narcissists often view and place others in a negative light. By believing they are superior, they justify their stance of keeping avoiding facing their their underlying insecurity.
5. Difficulty with Empathy
Narcissists often struggle with empathy, which can be a significant contributor to their feelings of insecurity.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, but narcissists usually find it challenging to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
This difficulty with empathy arises from their inflated sense of self-importance, as they tend to prioritize their own feelings and needs above those of others.
As a result, they often dismiss or fail to acknowledge the emotions and experiences of people around them, which can lead to a lack of emotional connection in their relationships.
Moreover, the inability to express empathy can create a barrier in their communication and understanding of other people’s emotions.
From the early clinical conceptualizations of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to the introduction of NPD in the DSM–III (APA, 1980), impaired empathic processing has been considered a hallmark of pathological narcissism and NPD (Kohut, 1966; Kernberg, 1983; Watson, Grisham, Trotter, & Biderman, 1984; Kernberg, 1985; Adler, 1986; Watson & Morris, 1991; Cooper, 1998; Akhtar, 2003; Ronningstam, 2005). Most often, “lack of empathy” is included as a signifier of the diagnosis and is highlighted in both the clinician’s and lay public’s impression of narcissistic individuals.— Baskin-Sommers, Krusemark, and Ronningstam, Empathy in Narcissistic Personality Disorder: From Clinical and Empirical Perspectives, 2014
The lack of empathy can further exacerbate their feelings of insecurity, as they may interpret the emotional distance in their relationships as a source of criticism or rejection. This can lead to a continuous cycle of self-doubt and the need for external validation to reassure themselves of their worth.
One thing to notice here: Narcissists may have difficulties with emotional empathy and compassionate empathy, but have intact cognitive empathy.
That makes them dangerous, as they can read and understand your thoughts and emotions, and will modify their actions and gestures accordingly, instead of acting out of true empathy or compassion.
6. Envy and competitiveness
Narcissists often feel a sense of envy and strong competitiveness, leading to their feelings of insecurity.
Their envy can stem from various factors, such as the achievements, relationships, or possessions of others.
This constant comparison with others fuels their sense of inadequacy and drives their need for validation and admiration.
Moreover, narcissists tend to view life as a competition, always striving to outperform others in various aspects.
Their competitive nature stems from a fear of being outshined, which can result in increased feelings of insecurity.
This toxic competitive streak can manifest in work situations, social interactions, and even relationships with their own kids.
In their pursuit of perceived superiority, narcissists may become vindictive, resorting to gossiping, gaslighting, sabotage, manipulation, or smear campaigns to bring others down.
Their vindictive acts are attempts to maintain control and superiority. But deep inside, they become more insecure as their slur campaigns are more reasons to fear being exposed.
Ultimately, their unrelenting envy can make them so insecure that they avoid meeting people in their field, fearing each interaction will either lower their status or give them another peak of envy to climb.
7. Subtle Insecurity Under Grandiosity
Narcissists often display grandiosity as a shield to hide their underlying insecurities.
While on the surface, they may appear confident and assertive, deep down they are often plagued with feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.
A study by Kowalchyk & Palmieri suggests narcissism is driven more by insecurity than an inflated sense of self.
Narcissism is better seen as a compensating adaptation to overcome and hide low self-worth. It explains why narcissists engage in negative behaviors like self-congratulation or ‘flexing’ that makes others think less of them.
In truth, people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) almost always have a fragile sense of self-esteem, which gives them feelings of insecurity.
Grandiose behaviors by narcissists, like boasting about their achievements and belittling others, are acts to compensate for their deep-seated fears and insecurities.
Narcissists may excessively post about their accomplishments, material possessions, or relationships, often seeking praise and admiration from others.
This constant craving for affirmation, in a way, highlights their insecurities, as it shows their need to rely on external validation to feel good about themselves.
In trying to maintain their grandiose facade, narcissists may engage in attention-seeking behaviors on social media, or in person.
Some call it “selfitis” or eager attitude of people too take too many ‘selfie’ pictures.
Understanding the underlying, all-pervasive insecurity in narcissists can give us a valuable insight into their thought drives and motivations.
Recognizing this dynamic can also be a good shield to carry when interacting with narcissistic people, as it allows you to see where their slef-aggrandizing behaviors are coming from.
8. Fragile Personal Relationships
Narcissists are known to have fragile personal relationships due to a variety of factors including their insensitivity and tendency to manipulate others.
The inability to establish and maintain healthy emotional connections with others negatively impacts their sense of worth, exacerbating their insecurities.
One characteristic of narcissists that contributes to fragile relationships is their excessive focus on themselves.
They often prioritize their needs and desires above the needs of others, which can create resentment and animosity among their friends, family members, and romantic partners.
This self-centeredness may cause a narcissist to frequently engage in conflicts or misunderstandings with the people around them.
Because narcissists need constant admiration and validation from others, their friends and loved ones may feel pressured to praise them, leading to feelings of being used or manipulated. This can tense up the relationship and result in their eventual breakdown.
Also, the fragile ego of narcissists make them more susceptible to feeling threatened or jealousy in their relationships. Which can further undermine the healthy support structure necessary in strong connections.
A narcissist’s toxic insecurity can lead to breakups, leaving them with a yet higher sense of insecurity and a stronger need to control their environment.
9. Manipulative Tendencies
Narcissists exhibit manipulative tendencies as a way to maintain control and power in their relationships with others.
These behaviors stem from their deep-rooted insecurities and constant need for validation. Manipulation allows them to secure the admiration and attention they crave while maintaining an illusion of superiority.
Some common tactics narcissists use to manipulate others include gaslighting, guilt-tripping, and playing the victim.
Narcissistic gaslighting involves twisting and distorting reality to make the narc’s target doubt their own perceptions and beliefs. This can make them quite dependent on the narcissist, as they may begin to question their own judgment and instincts.
Guilt-tripping involves inducing feelings of guilt or shame in others to manipulate them into doing what the narcissist wants. This can take the form of emotional blackmail or passive-aggressive behavior.
For example, a narcissist may imply that their partner is selfish for not meeting their needs, coercing them into prioritizing the narcissist’s desires over their own.
Playing the victim is another common tactic, in which the narcissist portrays themselves as the aggrieved party, garnering sympathy and support from others. This allows them to manipulate others’ emotions and further maintain control over their interactions.
Ultimately, the manipulative tendencies of narcissists serve to protect their fragile egos and support their self-image.
By manipulating others, they can maintain a facade of strength and competence, masking their inner insecurities from both themselves and those around them.
10. Obsession with Maintaining Control
Narcissists are often obsessed with maintaining control in their lives, which can be understood as another sign of their underlying insecurity.
This intense need for control can arise from their fear of vulnerability and their desire to conceal their perceived inadequacies from others.
The more control they have, the easier it is for them to project a false image of confidence, superiority, and self-assuredness.
To reinforce their perceived superiority, narcissists frequently employ various control tactics, such as manipulation, gaslighting, and emotional blackmail.
They might also demand constant attention, admiration, and respect from others. These behaviors are designed to keep others under their control and allow narcissists to dictate the narrative surrounding their lives.
Another aspect of their obsession with control is their fixation on appearances.
Narcissists might place high importance on outward beauty, material possessions, or social standing, as these things can be easily manipulated to maintain a superficial sense of control.
By focusing on external factors, they can divert your attention away from their own insecurities and shortcomings.
In relationships, narcissists may become controlling and possessive to maintain their fragile sense of self-worth.
They often try to isolate their partners from friends and family, dictate their actions, and belittle them to maintain the upper hand. All these are actions driven by their fear of rejection and exposure.
A narcissist is like a beautiful vase that is mostly empty and extremely fragile.
Their obsession with hiding their underlying insecurities is the reason they present themselves as superior people. Take a double look before you get floored by them
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Author Bio: Written and researched by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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