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NARCISSITIC INJURIES: What They Are And How To Protect Yourself From Them



What They Are And How To Protect Yourself From Them


Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT


A narcissistic injury occurs when narcissists react negatively to perceived or real criticism or judgment, boundaries placed on them, and/or attempts to hold them accountable for harmful behavior.  It also occurs when a person does not accommodate a narcissist’s insatiable need for admiration, special privileges, praise, etc.  The “injury” also shows up when the narcissist over over-amplifies and personalizes benign interpersonal interactions, or when a person with no mal-intentions does not meet the narcissist’s impossible to achieve desires for high levels of praise and admiration.

The “injury” is often followed by the narcissist’s loss of control over his or her emotional equanimity, and a subsequent burst of passive or overtly aggressive vindictive responses.  These bouts of emotional tumult are referred to as emotional dysregulation, as the activated narcissist emotional reaction spikes and often is beyond his or her control.

In my book, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us, I explain how the loss of emotional control and the reflexive need to punish an “offending” person can be traced back to the narcissist’s core shame and pervasive levels of pathological loneliness, about which the narcissist is often either in denial or oblivious (disassociated from). The hair-trigger “injury” reaction is a direct result of attachment trauma the narcissist suffered as a child, often because of an abusive, neglectful, or depriving narcissistic parent.  As much as I make a case for the distressing nature of attachment trauma the child who will become an adult codependent experiences, the agonizing experience for the child who is to become a Pathological Narcissist is far worse- there is no comparison.

In The Human Magnet Syndrome’s chapter, The Origins of Pathological Narcissism, I explain that the massive abuse, neglect, and/or deprivation perpetrated by both the Pathological Narcissist and, to a significantly lesser degree, the codependent parent, results in psychological trauma of the highest degree.  To emotionally survive this anguish, the child’s mind reacts in a manner similar to adult victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  When a traumatic event is beyond the brain’s ability to process, sort through, and integrate as an experience of severe trauma, it is relegated to what many people refer to as our unconscious mind.

The human brain has a circuit breaker-like response to trauma.  In other words, a natural safety mechanism that is activated when any given traumatic event(s) exceeds the brain’s capacity, or is overloaded.  The “circuit is tripped” and the traumatic experience is relegated to a part of the brain that deeply buries these memories.  In other words, the trauma is neatly packaged in what I refer to as a “hermetically sealed memory container,” which is physically located in the brain’s limbic system, specifically the amygdala.  Once buried, the trauma memory is disconnected from a person’s conscious abilities to recall the event and/or experience the emotions surrounding it.

Considering the manner in which a narcissist-to-be child processes attachment trauma, this author believes all Pathological Narcissists, or those with Narcissistic, Borderline, and Antisocial Personality Disorders, also have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Therefore, underneath the narcissist’s psychological “surface,” lies a deeper reservoir of self-loathing and core shame.  Although the attachment trauma is blocked from the narcissist’s conscious recollection, they show their “ugly face” during narcissistic injuries.

More often than not, defense mechanisms successfully protect pathological narcissists from realizing the truth about their highly traumatized, shame-based, and psychologically impaired selves.  This form of protective amnesia wards off personal meltdowns (emotional dysregulation) by the psychological processes known as defense mechanisms.  Such mechanisms include: Conversion, denial, displacement, fantasy, intellectualization, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, regression, repression, sublimation, and suppression.

Since the human brain was designed through the imperfect process of evolution, and not by computer programmers, neurologists, or mechanical engineers, the brain’s natural defense mechanisms by themselves are not insufficient in keeping stowed away trauma memories from “bubbling up” into the narcissist’s conscious mind. Despite the brain’s best efforts to keep the trauma cordoned off from consciousness, the “seals are broken,” and there is “leakage.”

The activation or re-surfacing of the trauma manifests as feelings of danger, insecurity, and extreme discomfort, which then trigger a cascade of angry second-level emotional responses, such as hatred, resentment, and/or disgust for the “perpetrating” individual.  The resulting emotional dysregulation, at most, is just a temporary solution to the narcissist’s misperceived threat.  Although the hair-trigger reaction emboldens and protects the narcissist, it is only temporary.  Like a loosely fitted bandage, it will eventually fall off – exposing the underlying wound (core shame).  This is when defense mechanisms kick back into action, and once again divert the narcissists away from their core shame, and toward their grandiose and entitled dissociated selves.

Narcissistic injuries are almost always projections, which is the misplacement of the narcissist’s unconscious self-hatred onto any person who they experience as threatening.   Feeling “bad,” “broken,” and/or “never good enough,” like they did as a child, is simply not an option for the Personality Disordered narcissist.  In actuality, projections are dissociated feelings of self-hatred and self-loathing, that are attributed a person who threatens the narcissist’s veneer-thin self-esteem.  In other words, projection diverts the realization of self-hatred and core shame by transferring self-judgment and condemnation onto the activating or ‘injuring” person.  Because projections intertwine with narcissistic injuries, it is only academic to separate them.

Narcissistic injuries are quite varied.  They range from active aggression, like a disapproving glance or kick in the shin, to passive aggression, which includes the silent treatment or triangulation of others against the “injuring” person.  A narcissistic injury may even occur when the recipient of the abuse does absolutely nothing It is the perception of a threat that causes the internal emotional meltdown, not the real thing!

Whether it is yelling, threatening, or even highly dangerous aggressive actions, narcissistic injuries are unnerving to many, and downright frightening to most.  They provoke an internal fury that incites punishing pronouncements, judgments, and actions against the perceived perpetrator.  The only real cure for them is to find an exit route to the interaction, and potentially out of the relationship.  Unfortunately, people who suffer from codependency, or what I now refer to as Self-Love Deficit Disorder™, find themselves powerless to Pathological Narcissists.  The reason for their attraction to narcissists and their inability to extricate themselves from harmful relationships with them is explained in full in my book, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us.  Sadly those will Self-Love Deficit Disorder mistake the abuse for love, and explain away their harm (trauma) by using some of the same defense mechanisms as mentioned above.

And remember this: few narcissists learn from the consequences of their out-of-control narcissistic injuries.  Any act of contrition or remorse is just a guise to hide their fear of being abandoned by the very person to whom they are causing so much suffering.  It is a psychological fact: few narcissists learn from the outcomes of their abuse.  And when conftonted about it, they do not experience empathy, as they feel justified in their actions

10 Tips To Protect Yourself from a Narcissistic Injury

  1. Always protect yourself and your children from unacceptable harm that results from the narcissistic injury. If necessary, contact the police.
  2. Remember, narcissistic injuries are rarely about you, but rather about the narcissist himself. My video,“It’s Not About You. It’s About Them!” explains this phenomenon.
  3. Apply my Observe Don’t Absorb Technique, which is explained inmy seminar of the same name.
  4. As much as possible, do not react defensively to the narcissistic injury, as to do so will antagonize the perpetrator of abuse. See my videoand Huffington Post article on the topic.
  5. Whenever possible, find an escape route, as narcissistic injuries and the harm that follows, are meant to hurt the projected perpetrator – you!
  6. Find a good therapist who can help you uncover why you have subjected yourself to the narcissist’s harmful treatment.
  7. When in psychotherapy, consider discussing how and why the absence of self-love and core shame is at the root of your codependency, or Self-Love Deficit Disorder.
  8. Explore my Self-Love Recovery, Self-Love Deficit Disorder™, and Codependency Cure,™ materialto assist you in self-protection and personal and psychological recovery.
  9. When you find yourself forgiving the offending narcissist, consider that you are more afraid of being alone/lonely then being hurt again.  My video on Pathological Lonelinesscan help.
  10. Consider reliable intensive retreats and breakthrough experiences to uncover why your fear of loneliness trumps your ability to protect yourself from pathological narcissists and their narcissistic injuries.

©Ross Rosenberg, 2017

Clinical Care Consultants Owner
Advanced Clinical Trainers Owner
Psychotherapist, Author & Professional Trainer
Author of The
Human Magnet Syndrome

Creator of “The Codependency Cure: Recovering from Self-Love Deficit Disorder” seminar (and upcoming book)

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A Response to the Joanne Russell’s “Open Letter to Patrick Carnes, Stefanie Carnes and Robert Weiss… (and CSATs).”

A Response to the “Open Letter to Patrick Carnes, Stefanie Carnes and Robert Weiss…and CSATs”

This is my response to the “An Open Letter to Patrick Carnes, Stefanie (misspelled in the article) Carnes and Rob Weiss…:  

With regard to the sex addict and their partner, there ALWAYS is some element of relational dysfunction before the sexual addiction is discovered.  Always.  Healthy people do not fall in love with sex addicts, or for that matter, narcissists. This is idea is explained in my Human Magnet Syndrome (HMS) work.

But let me be very clear, although the partner of the sex addict is never responsible for the sexual acting out, they willingly participate in a relationships that is marred by all sorts of open and hidden dysfunction.  Hidden dysfunction is best understood by what is secret  or what cannot be discovered.  It can also be hidden by the partner’s denial system, an unconscious process, that is beyond one’s awareness.

If you embrace my HMS and Continuum of Self theoretical constructs, you will agree that people come together in relationships because of how they psychologically match-up or the “chemistry” that powerfully directs their attraction patterns.  Although sex addicts are not necessarily codependents or narcissists, those who happen to be either of the two, are presumed to be in an intimate/close relationships with their opposite, like a negative polarized magnet is attracted to one that is positive.

All relationships come together like a dance partnership.    One partner’s “dance role” has to match the others, in order to make the “dance partnership” work.  Therefore,  the codependent sex addict is always attracted to a narcissist and the narcissistic sex addict is always attracted to a codependent.   This article is article and video clarifies my position on this relationship dynamic.

The reason I explain the above is because of audaciously negative and harmful article, “An Open Letter to Patrick Carnes, Stephanie (misspelled) Carnes, Rob Weiss…and CSATS,” written by Joann Russell.  It seems to me that her article is reflective of her own unconscious anger at sex addicts and her motivation to further her own personal, marketing, and business agenda.

Over the years, I have come to understand (as well as many of my colleagues) that there is a contingency of former partners of sex addicts who decide to become psychotherapists specializing in the treatment of partners of sex addicts.  Since this group of professionals are unaware of their own unresolved issues with the perpetrators of abuse in heir life, they project their unconsciously managed rage onto either sex addicts or those who treat them in an affirming and optimistic manner.  It seems to me that this unique subgroup of practitioners have a major chip on their shoulder against sex addicts.  Such plays out in the triangulation of their partner clients against the very important recovery, healing and restorative process, and of course, the sex addict.  These practitioners seem to be unable to take a balanced, objective and neutral point of view in their work with sex addicted clients or partners of them.  Moreover, they are oblivious that they are actually hurting their clients and the loved ones connected to them.

In my opinion, such treatment practitioners are often narcissistic, many of whom qualify for the diagnosis of Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder.  Just like the narcissistic clients they treat, they are predictably enraged, humiliated, and horribly victimized by their discovery of the sex addiction and the end of the the interacting systems of deceit and denial.  The Personality Disorder creates a uni-dimensional blame-based understanding of their partner’s sex addiction that inhibits them from understanding how and why they participated in the dysfunctional elements of the relationship.  Although the sex addiction is never their fault, they are completely oblivious to any contributing element that may have lead their partner to seek comfort, connection, or a self-medicating shot of anesthesia via their sexual “drug of choice.

It is common knowledge, going back to classic research by Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse in the 1970’s and those connected to Family Systems Theory, that it “takes two to tango.” In any dysfunctional system, people play out their roles.  There are no coincidences that unhealthy people come together in relationships. There is SO MUCH written about this clear and obvious psychological and sociological fact.  To repeat, psychologically healthy people are not attracted to sex addicts (or those who are destined to be a sex addict).  The chemistry, the “dance,  or Human Magnet Syndrome explanations account for this relational dynamic.

When any partner learns about their sex addicted partners calculated lies, deceit and despicable treatment of them, they are rightly upset, as they should be.  Many of them cannot forgive their partners, and consequently end the relationship.  This is possible outcome is not disauaded or discouraged by CSAT’s or the work of Patrick and Stefanie Carnes and Rob Weiss.  But they do take a stand however.  They, as do well trained CSAT’s who appropriately apply what they learned, try to heal and empower partners of sex addicts so they can make an informed and empowered decision regarding the future of the relationship.

Thanks to the CSAT protocols, methods and training, which are all scientifically/research supported and validated, partners learn about their unique “co-addict” role, while also learning to be safe, empowered and self-loving.  CSATs facilitate, not direct, decisions about relationships, and are well-aware of the long-lasting impact they have on their client’s mental health.  Incidentally, co-addict merely translates to “partner of the addict”  not “complicitous partner of the addict.”

To write a completely dismissing article with the proactive intent to smear people’s reputation, who are huge contributors (internationally recognized and acclaimed) in the field of sex addiction recovery, whom I know and respect, is just wrong.   In my opinion, Ms. Russell’s use of a public forum that has the capacity to impact multitudes of people was a calculated move to destroy or diminish the very important movement of sexual addiction recovery.  Looking at her website, it is clear she is privy to the power of Intenet marketing and search engine optimization.  In other words, the article was meant to create the maximum harm to the people she openly disparages in her article.  Articles like this lose their validity, because it seems more like a character assassination than helpful information.

In addition, it seems that Ms. Russel, neither has an addiction background or understanding of the very complicated matter of sex addiction and a partners experience of it.  In addition, she doesn’t seem to have a working knowledge about the seminal work of Patrick and Stefanie Carnes and Rob Weiss.  Such is evidenced by her highly opinionated and apparently activated opinions regarding sex addiction, the 12-Step Programs, CSAT training and methods, and more. One example is the CSAT methods are not 12-Step based; just influenced.  It is so very much beyond just one method, mode or theory.  It is includes an accumulation of research based methods that have been vetted and approve  by thousands of therapists.

Ms. Russell’s cavalier and fact-less article has the potential to hurt a field that has created huge advancements to mental health and addiction recovery field.  Moreover, she has the capacity to galvanize partners of sex addicts against a healing, empowering, self-loving, and possibly restorative process.

Using one’s business website as a bully pulpit to promote unsubstantiated judgments about hard working, dedicated and brilliant contributors to the field of sexual addiction is just wrong. Such judgments would have held more water if Ms. Russell’s education, training, and experience was somewhere in the area of the field that she was so quick to criticize.  In addition, it seems that Ms. Russell’s blog is more connected to personal gain and profit than helping others recover from the sex addiction, whether a partner or  an addict.

Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT

When Divorcing a Narcissist, Prepare for the Rage. Narcissism and Divorce. End it Smartly

Lindsey Ellison Headshot

Lindsey Ellison


When you first met your narcissist, you probably once viewed him as a majesty who could give you the keys to his fairytale kingdom. His charm, wit and charismatic personality won you over, because you so badly craved a prince charming to save you. Conversely, your needing a prince charming is exactly what attracted him to you, as it gave him the opportunity to validate his narcissistic fantasies of himself, that he is, indeed, a fairytale prince.

But now that you’re married, your prince charming has turned into a monster, and his once magical kingdom is now your inescapable cage.

Two things may happen: You will stay in the marriage and endure many more years of abuse, to the point where your low self-esteem tells you there are no other options. Or, you will have had enough and decide to divorce him.

The latter (in which you divorce him) may be the first time in your life where you are setting boundaries. You have come to the conclusion that you deserve better and you refuse to tolerate bad behavior.

But this one victorious act of boundary setting is what makes for a potentially horrific divorce. Few victims are prepared for it, and their lack of preparation can cost them thousands of dollars in attorney fees, leaving them broke and emotionally drained.

To divorce your narcissist, you must prepare well beyond your average divorce between two people with irreconcilable differences. You must get inside his head, and understand what triggers him.

Narcissists, according to Ross Rosenberg, author of The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us, have a huge fear of abandonment. So the very essence of divorce triggers his deepest fear, giving way to narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to his self-worth. Once the injury occurs, narcissistic rage then ensues, which is then excreted into the entire divorce process.

“All of their rage, hatred and contempt, which was perpetrated on them in their childhood, is projected onto the person who is fighting against them,” Rosenberg said.

During divorce, when you set boundaries and figuratively say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ the narcissist experiences a windfall of rage and hatred that goes far beyond anything they’ve experienced. They’re fighting more than you can actually see.

When you first express to your narcissist your desire for a divorce, he may first appear cooperative. He may suggest marriage counseling (despite years of you begging for it), but because it’s his idea, he agrees that it might help. He may calmly discuss separation, allowing you to call the shots and make suggestions on new living arrangements. But his friendly candor is all just a ploy to keep you within his reign, hoping that your guilt and your silly “momentary lapse of reason” will make you back out.

But if you press on and file for divorce, it’s game on. He will make you “pay.”

So before you hit the “go” button, be sure to:

1) Find an attorney who is NOT a narcissist: How can you tell? Narcissists have little empathy for people who are victimized, especially in a marriage. If your attorney seems apathetic to your issues, and you find them defending your spouse more than supporting you, that’s a red flag that they will ultimately find you pathetic and fight little on your behalf.

2) Set up your own bank account: If you don’t have one already, create an account that has enough money that can pay for attorney fees and other divorce expenses. When the divorce process begins, be prepared for your narcissist to move money, and claim there is none to give you.

3) Become your own forensic analyst: Get copies of past bank statements, capture every bank account number you have, get copies of past tax returns (you can easily get these online), investigate your shared computer records including spread sheets, online transactions, etc.

4) Define what “winning” is to you: fighting over assets in divorce can be an uphill battle that is never won. But as Rosenberg puts it,

To win, is to get out of the divorce alive. A narcissist can be willing to go completely bankrupt just to destroy someone. Objectively look at the disorder, outside of your emotions, and then come to a conclusion, what can you actually win?

If you remember the focal point of his narcissistic injury — his fear of abandonment and threat to his self-worth — you will be well-prepared for the battle ahead. The key is to not respond emotionally and let it drain you. “Observe, don’t absorb,” advises Rosenberg, which means to observe their behavior as a disorder, and don’t absorb it as a literal or personal attack on you.

If you mitigate for his drawn-out narcissistic rage, and know that he may attempt to destroy you, you will less likely feel bullied or defeated. “If you’re forewarned,” says Rosenberg, “like a hurricane ready to create disaster, you will be less victimized by something you expect.”


Lindsey Ellison is a women’s divorce coach, who specializes in helping women break free from their narcissistic partners. While this article is written about women divorcing their narcissist, it is not meant to exclude the female gender from being a narcissist. For readability, one pronoun is used, but this entire article can be applied to the opposite gender as well.

This article is part two of a two-part article on divorcing a narcissist (the first article can be found here.)