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WHAT IS NARCISSISTIC INJURY….and does it really matter in today’s world?

She said “no.” 

He wanted the candy bar that was right there at eye level in the check out lane at the store.

But she said “no.”

She was the mother and he was the child, probably around 3 or 4.   Cute little fellow.

He began to scream.

She said “no” once again.   Told him to stop screaming. 

He screamed louder.


Then he started hitting her.  Sides of her legs above the knee a ways.   And harder. 

“No, I said.   Stop it!”

Finally, she finished placing her items for purchase all on the conveyor belt.   And, last of all, she reaches down and picks up that candy bar and places it on the belt.  

If you live anywhere in America, I can pretty much guarantee I’m not the only one who watched this happen.   You saw it, too.   We’ve all seen it.   And not just once.   Again and again and again.   It’s the merchandising plan used in America’s typical marketplace as lines form at the check-out.  

But let’s take a closer look. 

The child’s desire is denied.  He is hurt.  So he hurts back.   First with his voice in screaming, but then with his fists in hitting.   

Ever assume that child will just grow out of it all some day?   If so, that’s an irrational assumption not supported by actual evidence.   He may learn to control his own impulses when he gets older, but he’ll not learn it on his own.  He will depend on a teacher, probably multiple teachers, to help him outgrow his impulsivity.

You see, we are born as narcissists.   We all want what we want when we want it.  And we all feel hurt when we don’t get it, and then want to hurt back.   That’s normal. 

What is abnormal is when teachers, starting with our parents, fail to do that part of their difficult job.   When such a failure occurs, as happens rather infrequently but does indeed happen, our society absorbs an adult who cannot take “no” for an answer and who has learned to use anything and everything: voice, fists, gun, and whatever else is available to hurt back.  

Narcissistic injuries are part of childhood.   They happen universally.   But when they happen in adulthood, we have social problems that go way beyond a toddler’s screams and fists aimed at Mom.   We have robbery.  We have rape.   We have murder.   And we have it all because narcissistic injury….the painful “no” that denies our desire…..sometimes involves our best of teachable moments going to waste.  

Over these last four decades or so that I’ve been a therapist, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Narcissistic injury in adulthood eventually develops into delusions of persecution. Narcissism becomes paranoia.  

Can you say “victimhood?”  

In our capitalist society, this creates a demand which then seeks a supply.   Hence, we have a market for two means of “hurting back” as sought by our adult narcissistic injuries.   One involves attorneys able to “sue the bastards” in court.   The other involves guns able to “shoot the bastards” in, well, wherever. 

Hurt people hurt people. Victims become victimizers.


We see it every day, but it doesn’t stop with the toddler in the check out line, does it?  It may start there, but it all too often doesn’t stop there.  

Should we blame America?  Should we blame capitalism?   Not necessarily.    To a certain degree it’s a global problem.   We may have more lawyers and guns than most places on earth, but we’re really dealing here with a critical aspect of human functioning in general, and human education in particular.   Impulse control.   Delayed gratification.  Capital markets rely heavily on the profits derived from our impulsivity.  Immediate gratification feeds the American economy and makes us the envy of the world. 

Hurt people hurt people.  Which is why our American healthcare industry  commands nearly 20% of our total economy. and more than the GNP of most other nations in our world.  The people we hurt the most may end up being ourselves.

So what do you think?   Is narcissistic injury an important conversation to have?  Is it a problem?   Is it solvable?  Preventable? Should we just live with the hurt?  Or should we just go back to distracting ourselves with some other shiny object out there in today’s world?                        


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