6 Signs of Narcissistic Collapse and How to Spot Them

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Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by an exaggerated self-image, a lack of empathy, self-centered behavior, and an excessive need for praise and admiration.

Some experts argue that narcissists use their attitudes of superiority and domination to compensate for insecurity and frail self-esteem.

So, when a narcissist does not receive the validation they believe they are entitled to, they may experience high levels of emotional distress, leading to a narcissistic collapse.

What is Narcissistic Collapse?

A narcissistic collapse represents an emotional reaction a narcissist experiences when their fragile self-esteem is threatened. So, any situation in which a person with NPD feels neglected, humiliated, or confronted may lead to a narcissistic collapse, causing them to stop functioning or harm themselves or others.

In other words, a narcissist will experience narcissistic collapse when you don’t enable their behavior. When you remove attention from a narcissist, they may feel profoundly threatened. When a person with NPD or narcissistic traits feels threatened, they may react with intense anger, lashing out at you. This angry outburst may be their way of reestablishing a sense of control.

For example, ignoring a narcissistic coworker or requiring them to accept responsibility for their actions may make them feel vulnerable and as if they are losing control of the situation. As a result, they may lash out at you or treat you passively aggressively.

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What Causes Narcissistic Collapse?

When you don’t give a narcissist the validation and recognition they believe they deserve, their emotional hurt may turn into a narcissistic rage. When they feel hurt, a narcissist’s rage may boil over, causing them to lose control and become furious for the slightest reason.

For example, if you ignore your narcissistic partner, limit your interaction with them, or avoid unnecessary communication, they may react with an explosive rage, leading to a collapse.

Narcissistic rage can manifest either as explosive (yelling, verbal or physical aggression, explosive outbursts) or passive wrath (resentment, stonewalling, passive aggression, avoiding or negligent behavior, etc.).

This narcissistic rage is at the heart of a narcissistic collapse. 

6 Signs of Narcissistic Collapse You Should Be Aware of

A relationship with a narcissist can be exhausting and detrimental to your mental health and well-being. Recognizing signs of narcissistic collapse can help you better manage this relationship and protect yourself.

So, here are 6 signs of narcissistic collapse and how to spot them.

1. Impulsive Behavior

A person experiencing a narcissistic collapse may engage in impulsive, risky behaviors such as excessive drinking or substance abuse, unprotected sex, rage outbursts, or self-harm.

Narcissists are already prone to impulsive behavior. However, the rage they feel when they don’t receive the attention they feel entitled to can increase their impulsivity.

2. Depression

When a covert narcissist collapses, they may withdraw and become depressed instead of lashing out at you (like an overt narcissist would do). They may sit in the corner, cry, have a bad attitude, or become passive-aggressive to receive your attention. 

However, instead of explaining why they feel that way, a covert narcissist will stonewall you, withdraw and stop responding to communication.

They may also talk about suicide, self-harm, or seem overly numb and hopeless.

3. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulation strategy narcissists use to control their victim’s thinking and behavior, making them question their knowledge, beliefs, and reality. For example, your narcissistic partner may humiliate you in front of your friends and then accuse you of being “too sensitive” when you complain later.

When narcissists collapse, they may gaslight you into thinking that you caused their suffering.

4. Mental Breakdown

Narcissistic collapse may involve episodes of intense mental distress, during which a narcissist may become violent and dangerous to themselves and others.

5. Hostile Blame and Rage

Anger is typically triggered by negative emotions such as hurt, rejection, or shame. It sometimes feels safer to be angry than to feel these painful emotions. However, because we perceive these emotions as threatening, we may develop a habit of transforming them all into anger.

This happens when a narcissist’s sense of grandiosity and entitlement is shaken. They become overwhelmed by rage because that is less painful than facing their vulnerability.

Hostile blame and rage are typically signs of overt or grandiose narcissists who use anger to exert power and control over others.

6. Self-Harm

When a person repeatedly and intentionally harms themselves, this is referred to as self-harm. For example, a narcissist in your life may either threaten to harm themselves or actually do it when they collapse. 

Some common self-harming behaviors may include burning, skin cutting, hair-pulling, hitting, excessive body piercing, etc.

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How to Protect Yourself from Narcissistic Collapse

If a narcissist threatens or attacks you physically, seek immediate help from the emergency services.

There are some other things you can do to deal with narcissistic collapse and protect yourself when you spot it.

The first step toward self-protection is recognizing the signs of narcissistic collapse.

Also, learning about narcissistic personality disorder can help you understand what causes narcissistic behavior and triggers narcissistic collapse.

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you may want to seek professional help. A skilled psychotherapist may help you develop healthy strategies to manage the narcissist’s behavior and learn how to protect yourself.

Uncover the signs of narcissism, strategies for recovery, and ultimately, the path to healing and freedom. Learn more now.

Ending the relationship with a narcissist may be the best thing to do. However, if you must keep this relationship for whatever reason, avoid fueling the narcissist’s rage. For example, if you respond to narcissistic abuse with the grey rock method, never ignore the narcissist. Instead, give brief responses to discourage further discussion.

Set boundaries and make it clear to the narcissist what behavior is acceptable and what is not.

Final Thoughts

People with NPD or narcissistic traits need continual external validation in order to function properly and feel good about themselves. Any disruption in their narcissistic supply can shake their already fragile self-esteem, causing narcissistic collapse.

Understanding what motivates their behavior and learning to identify signs of narcissistic collapse can help you protect yourself and manage your relationship with the narcissist.


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Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood is a Certified Life Coach, and best-selling author. Her mission is to empower high-performing adults and teens to become resilient self-leaders by reducing stress and anxiety, overcoming imposter syndrome, working through trauma, and re-discovering their AuthenticMe®.

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