Behavior and reactions of the narcissistic person. (ERICH FROMM)

Behavior and reactions of the narcissistic person. (ERICH FROMM)

An ever more dangerous pathological element in narcissism is the emotional reaction to criticism of any narcissistically cathexed position. Normally a person does not become angry when something he has done or said is criticized, provided the criticism is fair and not made with hostile intent. The narcissistic person, on the other hand, reacts with intense anger when he is criticized. He tends to feel that the criticism is a hostile attack, since by the very nature of his narcissism he cannot imagine that it is justified. The intensity of his anger can be fully understood only if one considers that the narcissistic person is unrelated to the world, and as a consequence is alone, and hence frightened. It is this sense of aloneness and fright which is compensated for by his narcissistic self-inflation. If he is the world, there is no world outside which can frighten him; if he is everything, he is not alone; consequently, when his narcissism is wounded he feels threatened in his whole existence. When the one protection against his fright, his self-inflation, is threatened, the fright emerges and results in intense fury. This fury is all the more intense because nothing can be done to diminish the threat by appropriate action; only the destruction of the critic—or oneself—can save one from the threat to one’s narcissistic security.
There is an alternative to explosive rage as a result of wounded narcissism, and that is depression. The narcissistic person gains his sense of identity by inflation. The world outside is not a problem for him, it does not overwhelm him with its power, because he has succeeded in being the world, in feeling omniscient and omnipotent. If his narcissism is wounded, and if, for a number of reasons, such as for instance the subjective or objective weakness of his position vis-à-vis his critic, he cannot afford to become furious, he becomes depressed. He is unrelated to and uninterested in the world; he is nothing and nobody, since he has not developed his self as the center of his relatedness to the world. If his narcissism is so severely wounded that he can no longer maintain it, his ego collapses and the subjective reflex of this collapse is the feeling of depression. The element of mourning in melancholia refers, in my opinion to the narcissistic image of the wonderful “I” which has died, and for which the depressed person is mourning.



The heart of man : its genius for good and evil
Erich Fromm



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