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Why Narcissists May Be So Jealous, Competitive, and Mean

Understanding the cause of competition and meanness makes coping easier.

Severe narcissism is one of the most complex and confusing psychological phenomena, and its complexity explains why so much is written about it, and why there remains a need to continue educating the public about it. The focus of this article will be to address one facet of the disorder that remains so mysterious. Specifically, people who are in close proximity to severe narcissists often can’t understand why the narcissist in their life can: be so mean; get so jealous of their success or happiness; and be so competitive with them, even when we’re talking about two romantic partners.

One word that will help you understand the narcissist

To begin, the most helpful word in framing an understanding of the narcissist is “counterintuitive.” The most crucial point is that how the narcissist presents on the surface is entirely different from how the narcissist feels underneath. There are two “selfs” at work in the mind of the narcissist: their real self, and the fraudulent, fantasy self they try to sell to the public. Severe narcissists have a predatory, score-keeping approach to the social world around them. The narcissist’s daily life is spent fighting off potential threats to their ego and proving themselves as superior to everyone around them, and they have little peace of mind as they move through life. To understand why the narcissist can be so mean in interpersonal relationships, you must understand the unique motivations of the narcissist’s intra-psychic world or, in lay terms, what goes on inside the mind of a narcissist.

Most, if not all, severe narcissists were likely emotionally injured at a crucial time in their development. Specifically, they were injured when they were young children, a time when a child is highly impressionable, and when that child hasn’t yet figured out how to shore up psychological guards (defenses) to ward off things that make them feel bad. When the young boy or girl was emotionally injured, it probably took the following form: An authority figure or even bullying kids at school humiliated them, subjugated them, knowingly neglected them, or otherwise exploited them. To become severely narcissistic later in life, the emotional injury in childhood had to be severe enough that the individual arrived at the following (unconscious) conclusion: No one will ever hurt me like that again; I will never let my guard down. Later in life, this way of relating to people and the world has been practiced over and over for so many years that the personality becomes largely locked into place, and it is extremely challenging for the narcissist to let themselves be exposed emotionally for very long at all. If someone or something threatens the narcissist’s ego, the narcissist abruptly shifts into predator mode.

Why narcissists can be so mean

In a moment, I will explain what happens when the narcissist shifts into predator mode. First, however, it is important to understand why the narcissist feels the need to fight so doggedly to begin with. In the mind of the narcissist, the social world includes two strict categories: winners and losers. There is no possible outcome they can conceive of in which everyone gets their needs met. There isn’t enough attention and praise for everyone to go around, so according to narcissistic logic, only a few lucky ones will be selected. Because of the way the narcissist was probably humiliated, unnoticed, or subjugated in the past when it mattered most, the narcissist is also motivated by making sure that they are never put down or overlooked again. When the narcissist feels most threatened, it is because someone has said or done something that makes the narcissist feel small, unnoticed, weak, or defective, and the narcissist cannot allow anyone or anything to make him feel like that under any circumstances. The narcissist’s thinking goes like this: Any threat to her or his temperamental ego must be identified and erased immediately. If the threat continues, it must be annihilated by any means necessary.

If you put down the narcissist or humiliate them publicly, you will unleash decades-old rage, and the narcissist will not stop until they feel you have been verbally or emotionally decimated. (Keep in mind that what the narcissist perceives as a slight is rarely objective.) People who haven’t been in close proximity to a severe narcissist would never believe the animalistic, ugly wrath that spews from the narcissist when they are activated. Many boys and girls, or men and women, who have suffered at the hands of an extreme narcissist talk about how seeing such hate-filled “colors” in another human being is traumatic in itself. (These same individuals also find it hard to ever emotionally trust someone again who shows such unbridled, predatory rage.)

If you are in close proximity to a severe narcissist, understand that the meanness and viciousness the narcissist displays when threatened or held accountable is not personal. Narcissists can use words as bullets, zeroing in on anything they can to unsettle and upset you. Being on the receiving end of this behavior is horrifying and confusing. The recipients often turn to self-help books or articles (like this one) to make sense of the experience, because it is so traumatic and disturbing. Recipients often become sort of “armchair therapists,” learning about this personality disorder and trying to become an expert on this type of personality to maintain their sanity. If you are in close proximity to a narcissist, I will highlight what is important for you to understand to move forward. At root, severe narcissists are highly abnormal men and women who have a form of mental illness (a personality disorder). The root of the disorder means that the narcissist, by definition, violates basic social rules and social conventions. When triggered, especially, they don’t show empathy: They are entitled; they create their own reality from moment to moment; and they don’t really care about others’ feelings. The rules or social conventions that most elementary school children have already mastered are absent in the adult narcissist. I use the following expression with clients dealing with individuals like this: “They don’t get it, but they also don’t want to get it.”

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