Why Narcissists Get Stuck in a Negative Rut – and what you need to know to not get sucked down with them

This is for all the HSPs and empaths out there who see the sensitivity in a narcissist and relate a little too much.

Especially when this person is the covert-narcissist victim type, there’s a lot of resentment, blame and superiority going on underneath the surface, but it won’t be apparent at first.

Rather, covert-narcissists love to show off their potential and explain how the world wronged them and misunderstands them.

Yet, no matter what you do to help, it never actually helps. Essentially, they get stuck in a victim role. But, that’s not as sad as it seems!




Here’s why:

1. They NEED to be experts

Being an expert (in a narcissist’s mind) means you know everything. To be that, you need to stay where you are at: you need to continue with the kind of life you are familiar with.

When you are focused on the negative, and you’re convinced that you know everything, then you will dismiss anyone who has a positive solution to anything (“Tss, those uninformed ignorant folk! They’re not seeing things clearly! Doom and gloom IS the way of the world…” )

Personal growth means admitting that maybe things aren’t as you thought. Moving out of negativity means challenging your own thought patterns, working through old emotions and transforming how you deal with the world. You can only do that if you’re willing to be a beginner who needs to start at step 1 again.

A narcissist may be happy to toot the horn of transformation, but only when it’s about them telling other people how those other people are “supposed” to transform. Big difference.

Another “formula” for explaining this: expert = high status, newbie = low status. So, on the extreme end of this, a narcissist who is an expert in an outdated technology, will prefer to find reasons why new technology is dumb. They won’t actually update their knowledge and thereby they will risk becoming irrelevant in their field over time. They may do o.k. for a while, but at some point, people will stop using that thing they are experts at.

So in this way, rather than preparing for the future, they literally dig their own future grave. They value their current expert status over everything else, so much so that they refuse to be newbies – even for a short while – to retain their expert status over time. After all (to them), learning new things involves being told that you’re “wrong” and that is just too humiliating to go through.

Where most people would say: “it’s o.k. to not know something, nobody can know everything” and even “learning new things is interesting!” for a narcissist the world is very black and white. There is no space for “learning something interesting”. Either you’re right, or you’re wrong. If you’re learning something new, then your teacher is right, thereby making you “wrong”. When it cuts to the bone like that, learning sure gets a whole lot less fun!


2. They stay “positive” by dismissing their own negativity

Narcissists have a way of burying, denying and disowning their own negativity. This means they will see it in others, but never in themselves. If they are energetically sensitive they can even end up pushing their own negative energy away onto other people. They literally decide that since it’s negative, it cannot possibly have anything to do with them and they just push it away.

This is also why many “spiritual” narcissists will be convinced they are empaths. The idea that other people’s negativity may energetically affect them is the kind of explanation they will wholeheartedly embrace and apply to everything, even to their own massive amounts of suppressed anger, blame, resentment and condescension

“You mean that anything I do not like to feel – and that I therefore label as negative – could actually be someone else’s problem and not mine? Well, yes! Sign me up for that label”.

Ironically, doing this can even make them look very bright and sparkly. That’s because they refuse to deal with anything that isn’t spotlessly clean. Their friends, mate and other people close to them will end up carrying the trashbags though.

Some narcissists will be convinced that they are good at feeling their feelings. If so, look closer. Which feelings exactly? Chances are, they are o.k. at feeling the feelings they like. And because they’re convinced that everything they feel and don’t like has nothing to do with them in the first place, well then they can “honestly” say that they feel all their feelings just fine.

You can’t transform negativity you refuse to deal with. So a narcissist will stay stuck in their negative-sparkly rut.

Sidenote 1: All people, empaths or not, have “negative” feelings of their own they need to deal with. The important question is, are they willing to? You can have suppressed feelings you’re completely unaware of, but do you want to learn how to recognize and own them? For narcissists, the answer to that is no.

Sidenote 2 on negative feelings: no feelings are technically negative, and labeling them as such is mostly unhelpful. But, for the sake of this article, “negative feelings” makes things a lot more clear, so I’m not diving into the details of labeling feelings here.


3. They want to win at all costs

Narcissists have chosen to prioritise “winning” over everything else. This is not to say that people who want to win are bad people! It’s just that healthy winning happens in a healthy context, it’s not about winning at all costs and it’s not about winning at everything!

Focusing so much on winning has a price. If you always want to beat others at everything, you end up feeling lonely. Other people will (eventually) stop supporting you when you make them feel “less than” all the time. Winning may give you a boost, but it’s not the same as happiness.

You can’t “win” at life by making winning THE top priority. There is so much you miss out on!


4. They need to be on their home-turf to control others

Narcissists have a strong need to control other people. To do this, they need to be on familiar turf. If they’re in a new transformational space, where they don’t know up from down, then obviously they won’t have any leverage over others!

They have perfected their mechanisms for overpowering others right where they’re at, so why throw all that away? Why change a winning game?


5. It’s hard to invest in something when you’ve spent your whole life devalueing it

Since narcissists need to win – at everything – and they obviously can’t be experts at everything, they have a nifty work-around. If they’re not an expert at it, then it’s because that topic / expertise / way of doing things is not worth being an expert at.

By denoting their own fields of expertise* as clearly superior to everything else you could learn or know, they never have to step out of their comfort zone.

*A narcissists’ expertise can be something that is technically no expertise at all, just a way they think something needs to be done. Why that way? Because they’re the expert at it!

But if you spend your whole life saying that the world outside your little microcosm is not worth dealing with because it’s just not valuable, then it takes a lot to say: “oh, maybe I should explore that anyway”.

So for a narcissist to start healing, requires that they start valuing something they’ve actively devalued and ridiculed their whole life. Because real healing requires vulnerability and facing inner mess and confusion. It requires learning new things, about the world but mostly about yourself.


6. They lock themselves into their own Ivory Mind Tower

The mind is a very predictable place. You can tell yourself “I am an elephant!” every day, and at some point, the thought becomes automatic. In fact, you can tell yourself anything you want and at some point you’ll start to “naturally” believe it. Some narcissists are a big fan of “positive thinking” for this reason. They tell themselves great things about themselves in their mind, and just ignore all evidence to the contrary. It can make them very convincing at first because they’ll come off as self-assured and unwavering.

So, the Ivory Mind Tower is their favorite place to hang out. Not so with the body. The body is the place of whimsical emotions, unexplored depths and mysterious sensations – all very chaotic and uncontrollable. No wonder then that narcissists prefer to be up in their heads and ignore their bodies.

(By the way, when I say this, I don’t mean to say that narcissistic people don’t work out. They may work out a lot. But there is a difference between pushing your body to perform, versus being in touch with your feelings and natural desires, and having respect for your physical limits).

Struggling with being in their body is not unique to narcissists, but their resistance to it is. They will adamantly refuse to feel into their body in any meaningful way. They want to solve all their problems exclusively through “thinking about it”. And so they might be quite interested in learning about how things work, as long as they don’t need to feel into their body, ever. 

Their success mantra seems to be: “If I don’t feel it, it doesn’t exist”. And so, they have no interest in exploring the idea that maybe not feeling anything is a sign of being disconnected and shut down.

As a result of that, it’s almost like they become split into two different beings. Up in their head, they think they’re running the show. They’ve dedicated themselves to upholding a certain self-image and squashing the competition (which is everyone worthy of their attention). Meanwhile, down in their bodies, all kinds of pain, complications, stressors and feelings are festering. Because the mind refuses to acknowledge any of it, a lot of this bodily pain turns into a kind of slime that starts oozing out, creating a very definitive, yet hard to pinpoint ick factor.

Because their inner world has composted into slime, it’s harder to recover. If you deal with a difficult event a month after it happened, most of the details will be fresh in your memory. It’s easier to pick through the rubble and identify what was what, and why it’s there: “oh, that’s right, and then she said that I was a good for nothing slob and I remember choking back my tears, because I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. So that must be what this mix of grief and anger is all about that’s been weighing on me since.”

If you have a few old events that were never fully processed, but you generally stay on top of how you feel about things, then recovery is a doable chore. It will consist of a few mysterious boxes that need unpacking, but not a whole warehouse of them. Even if your childhood is a big black hole, healing is very possible as long as you value the wisdom of your body and are willing to uncover it.

In the body of the narcissist though, not only are there several warehouses full of boxes, those warehouses are also sorely neglected. They’re damp. The boxes are moldy. Cats broke in and peed on everything… who would want to open those doors and figure out what is what?


So over time, the reasons for avoiding the Body Warehouse and staying up in the Ivory Mind Tower just become more and more compelling. For a narcissist to heal, they’d basically need to be convinced that: going down to those warehouses, picking through all those boxes, and feeling bad and overwhelmed in the process would be an excellent idea.

In other words, their own way of life-processing creates such inner waste, that straightening it all out would be a nightmare. A nightmare that would: strip away their superiority and everything they worked so hard to create.

It’s like walking up to someone who spent years building their own kingdom and saying: “excuse me sir, would you be interested in blowing it all up? It would make you a nicer person!”

Good luck with that.


Summing Up

So the hard thing to really “get” about a chronic victim like this, is that their suffering is their spider’s web. It is their source of: feeling good about themselves and getting what (they believe) they need from others.

It works just fine for them. And since, any real suffering they experience as a result is something they will manage to push away and disown, they’ve created a mechanism by which they don’t suffer the consequences of their own stance.

Of course, on some level, it’s still eating away at them. But if they don’t feel that, then it won’t get them to do anything about it. The only wake-up call they might respond to is when they have nobody left to help them and they have to manage completely on their own.

Problem is, there’s always someone who needs initiating into the world of Help That Doesn’t Help. So, these victims are basically set for life. They’ll be fine without you, I promise.


Is there a way out?

If you keep getting sucked into painful situations with narcissists, it means you have learned blind-spots.

There is no shame in that, you can unlearn them!

In fact, many naturally caring people learn to “misinterprete” malicious behaviour – because it just makes no sense to us why someone would hurt others, or stay stuck in misery, on purpose!

And yet, some people do, and trying to understand them or help them will – over time – completely suck you dry.

You know – at least in theory – how important it is to put on your own oxygen mask first. The next step is being savvy about who you invest your energy and support into. If it all goes down one big gaping bottomless well, then imagine how many other well-willing people you could support with that same amount of nurturing!

We have to be smart about how we make this world a better place. You don’t have endless energy to give. When you give to the wrong people, they can drain you to the point where you become a victim yourself. That doesn’t help anyone.

I have created a programme that teaches you how to spot and heal the ways in which you keep stepping into those bottomless messes narcissists create. Yes, they are the problem, yet from our end, we need to really internalise that and stop trying to help them. Many of us have helper blind-spots that keep attracting these types into our life and no amount of “knowing better” seems to stop it.

That’s because these interaction patterns happen on a really deep, mostly subconscious level. When you learn how to work on yourself at that level, things really change! Learn more about the No to Narcissists Programme for Highly Sensitive People here.

Also available:

A Light-Hearted Guide to Narcissists
First aid reading if you're struggling with narcissists or maybe-narcissists
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