16 Little Signs Someone Is Experiencing 'Narcissistic Collapse' & How To Protect Yourself

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doubled image of a young, narcissistic-looking man against red wall

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized as a mental health condition in which individuals with this disorder have an unreasonably high or exaggerated sense of their own importance.

People that have this disorder may present as boastful, pretend to be superior to others, are easily disappointed, lack empathy for others, are impatient, etc. Persons with NPD often feel they are smarter, more charismatic, more capable, and more competent than their peers. 

They are often attention seekers, feel they deserve special privileges, are overly critical of others, and require a constant flow of both attention and admiration.

Although, persons with NPD project high self-esteem this is often not the case. Many people with NPD often have a fragile self-esteem, diminished confidence, and self-doubt.

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Narcissistic Collapse

Narcissistic collapse refers to an extreme emotional reaction that involves a break down of structure or stability. Some people with narcissistic personality disorder experience collapse under specific circumstances and conditions, such as humiliation, embarrassment, and perceived failure. 

During their episode, the individual often lashes out and becomes angry and anxious.

They can engage in avoidant behaviors during a collapse or become extremely vindictive, seeking to hurt others as they perceive they have been hurt.

Unfortunately, when the person feels they have lost control of their public image and are no longer “seen” in a favorable or high regard, the lashing-out behavior begins.

In extreme cases, narcissists may even attempt suicide when they feel they cannot change the perception others have of them being a “fake” or “fraud”. Although, the signs can vary, most times it includes intense emotional reactiveness and lash-out behaviors.

Fortunately, their behavior is not a permanent occurrence, and begins to decrease once the narcissist return to his, her, or their usual mood.

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Here are some common signs of narcissistic collapse that you may notice.

  1. Refusal to return to work or school

  2. Impulsive behavior

  3. Withdrawal/avoidant behaviors

  4. Vindictive or vengeful behavior

  5. Lash out behaviors

  6. Reckless behaviors

  7. Overly critical of others

  8. Gaslighting

  9. Excessive complaining

  10. Irritability

  11. Mental breakdown/decline

  12. Hostility

  13. Defaming others

  14. Antagonistic behavior

  15. Manipulative tactics

  16. Increased sensitivity

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Narcissistic collapse can be extremely challenging to deal with, particularly for partners of the narcissist or family members.

It can be hard to support and or help someone that is aggressive or confrontational. Some partners and family members can feel threatened by the behavior and may choose to avoid the narcissist entirely.

Persons experiencing a narcissistic collapse would benefit from confidence and self-esteem building. It is vital that they practice creating strong boundaries between themselves and others, identifying then avoiding triggers, and develop skills/techniques to manage negative moods.

Counseling can be helpful but the individual must recognize there are problems and be willing to make appropriate adjustments.

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If you are a family member or romantic partner of a narcissist experiencing a collapse it is important to avoid fixing their problems.

You can validate their feelings without making a judgment and provide opportunities for the narcissist to reach out for assistance when ready. 

Do not feel obligated to accept abusive language or behaviors from the narcissist simply because they are experiencing a collapse. Protect your own mental and emotional health and seeking counseling whenever necessary.

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Dr. Terra Bates-Duford is a psychologist who has engaged in extensive work and research on familial relationships, family trauma, and dysfunctions.