27 Horrific Signs Of Narcissistic Collapse

It's vital to know when to engage with a covert narcissist and when to walk away.

Man raging with anger behind the wheel Marko Aliaksandr | Shutterstock

Narcissistic collapse is an intense emotional reaction to anticipated or experienced humiliation and failure.

The covert narcissist has two core needs:

  1. Narcissistic supply
  2. Preservation of their idealized self and false reality

The narcissist’s grandiosity — expressed through their ideal, false self — protects them from their fragile self-esteem, lack of sense of self and extreme shame.

For covert narcissists, their grandiosity is hidden from the naked eye but manifests as their need for attention, validation, admiration and sympathy.


Someone or something that threatens a narcissist's image and their false reality triggers narcissistic collapse.

Triggers may be mild or extreme.

Here are 14 triggers for narcissistic collapse:

1. Not responding to a text or voicemail right away

2. Saying "no"

3. Ending a conversation

4. Setting a firm boundary

5. Correcting them

6. Providing constructive feedback

7. Wanting to improve the relationship

8. A child talking back

9. An adult child not taking their advice

10. Job insecurity or being fired

11. Being passed over for a promotion or job

12. Not getting an expected raise

13. Being served divorce papers

14. Being caught cheating

The trigger causes the narcissist’s self-defense mechanisms to break down.


The idealized self, their false self or persona, is no longer intact and secure. Their house of cards is at risk of crumbling or has crumbled.

The trigger initially causes narcissistic injury. It’s followed by narcissistic rage.

When the covert narcissist cannot mask the rage, and cannot preserve their persona despite the injury, they experience a narcissistic collapse.

RELATED: If He Does These 6 Things, Yikes! He's A Covert Narcissist

Here are the 2 forms a narcissistic collapse may take:

1. Covert narcissist withdrawal

  • Stonewalling
  • Abruptly ending a conversation followed by the silent treatment or ghosting
  • Depression — manifesting as apathy and withdrawal from society
  • Intense anxiety
  • Threatening self-harm
  • Substance use, drinking, reckless driving — anything to distract them from the truth

2. Covert narcissist vindictive behavior

  • Intense irritability
  • Picking fights
  • Gaslighting
  • Verbal/physical violence
  • Intense lashing out
  • Repeatedly accusing you of hurting them
  • Angry outbursts
  • Aggressive smear campaigns
  • Revenge

As always, covert narcissists are different.


Covert narcissists are more likely to lash out aggressively during a narcissistic collapse than their overt counterparts.

Perhaps this is because so much of their narcissistic supply comes from their flying monkeys. The risk of being exposed as a fake or fraud when the entire world sees behind the mask is too much to bear.

The covert narcissist tries to regain control by projecting their self-hatred and self-loathing onto someone else.

RELATED: My Ex Was A Covert Narcissist. Don't Make The Mistakes I Did.

Here are 27 horrific signs of a narcissistic collapse:

1. Inability to function

2. Inability to move forward or complete projects

3. Inability to work

4. Disheveled appearance

5. Sleeping on the floor

6. Drinking or using other substances to "numb out"

7. Not showing up to planned events

8. Not returning anyone’s calls

9. Self-harm

10. Looking for something to be angry about

11. Violent, angry outbursts

12. Abusive written communication via letter, email or text

13. Throwing things

14. Punching through the wall

15. Breaking objects

16. Bellowing

17. Stomping

18. Aggressive stances

19. Physical altercations

20. False police reports

21. False legal claims

22. Intentional sabotage for revenge (breaking something dear to you, ruining a business deal, getting you fired, etc.,)

23. Abruptly ending the relationship without warning

24. Firing employees

25. Threatening to ruin one’s reputation

26. Blackmailing the offender

27. Stalking

RELATED: I Understand The Warped Mind Of A Narcissist Because I Used To Be One


On the receiving end, it looks and feels like they’re out to get you.

From the covert narcissist’s perspective, they are battling intense fear and shame and are desperately trying to regain control.

How to handle a narcissistic collapse

Step away from the covert narcissist.

Attempts to show them the truth, call out their behaviors, or "fix" the problem are ineffective at best and extremely dangerous at worst.

This is a very volatile situation.

Empower the covert narcissist to regulate their emotions and deal with the consequences by stepping back and, when possible, leaving the situation.

It is not your job to caretake their emotions. It’s not your role to enable them.


Instead, take care of yourself. Acknowledge, accept, and process your emotions. Give yourself what you need.

That is within your control.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of ongoing emotional abuse at the hands of a narcissist, you are not alone.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are or anything you've done wrong.

If you feel as though you may be in danger, there is support available 24/7/365 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233. If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474, or log onto thehotline.org.

RELATED: How To Deal With A Narcissist — 8 Smart & Simple Steps


Dr Melissa Kalt, MD is a trauma and covert narcissistic abuse expert who helps high-impact women break free from the longstanding aftereffects of narcissistic abuse.