Narcissistic collapse

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that impacts a person’s mood, behavior, and relationships. People with NPD can experience what is known as narcissistic collapse when their self-esteem is threatened or damaged. This can cause several reactions, including withdrawal, emotional outbursts, and aggression.

What is narcissistic collapse?

Narcissistic collapse is a term used to describe an emotional response experienced by people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People with NPD rely heavily on the admiration and approval of others for their self-esteem. When this is lacking, or they are publicly criticized, it can damage their ego, leading to a narcissistic collapse [1].

Studies suggest that there are two types of NPD. Overt or grandiose NPD and covert or vulnerable NPD. People with overt NPD tend to have a more substantial belief in their superiority and self-worth, so they might be less likely to experience narcissistic collapse than people with covert NPD, who are more likely to have a fragile ego and low self-esteem [2][3].

Narcissistic collapse can happen for various reasons and may appear differently from person to person. The signs and duration of a narcissistic collapse can vary depending on the type of NPD, the cause of the collapse, and the context in which it occurs [1][4].

Signs of narcissistic collapse

Signs of narcissistic collapse can vary depending on the person and the situation. Some people may display more outward expressions of collapse, while others are more inward and withdrawn. People with covert NPD may show more inward or passive-aggressive signs, while people with overt NPD may show more outwardly expressive signs [1][3].

Signs of narcissistic collapse can include:

  • Hostility and criticism toward others
  • Narcissistic rage, often involving an outburst of anger and aggression
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Accusing others to displace blame and responsibility
  • Gaslighting others to distort or distract from reality
  • Passive-aggressive behaviors, such as purposefully ignoring others or making sarcastic and hurtful remarks
  • Vindictive behaviors, such as telling lies or negative ideas about others to damage their reputation
  • Impulsive and reckless behaviors, such as gambling, excessive drug or alcohol use, or driving under the influence
  • Extreme stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Self-harm and suicide attempts

What causes narcissistic collapse?

People with NPD can experience varying levels of self-esteem, which may fluctuate. Studies suggest that, despite outward expressions of arrogance and superiority, people with NPD have a deeply rooted sense of inadequacy and insecurity, which they may or may not be aware of [4][5].

Typically, narcissistic traits develop either following abuse, as a defense mechanism and way of reducing feelings of worthlessness, or after receiving excessive praise as a child, thus creating an inflated ego. In both cases, the individual’s belief in their superiority relies heavily on the admiration and validation of others, known as ‘narcissistic supply’ [1][6].

If this supply is diminished for any reason, the person with NPD experiences a decrease in their self-worth and self-esteem, which can lead to narcissistic collapse. This may occur due to:

  • Being exposed for lying or manipulating
  • Being criticized for their work or underachieving
  • Not receiving the treatment or reaction that they believe they deserve
  • Witnessing others receiving the special treatment or praise they believe they deserve

When this occurs, the ego and confidence of the person with NPD are damaged, and their self-esteem cannot be upheld, causing them to recognize or be reminded of their flaws and inadequacies. As such, they experience emotions such as anxiety or shame, causing a ‘collapse’ in their narcissistic traits as they try to recover their control and power [3][7].

This reaction will vary depending on the individual. It may cause an outward and aggressive response to someone they believe has damaged their self-esteem. Alternatively, it might result in withdrawal and impaired functioning. In both instances, the individual will likely experience self-criticism and a fear of failure or inferiority [6].

How long does narcissistic collapse last?

Narcissistic collapse can last for any length of time and will vary from person to person. For some, it may last just a few hours, while for others, it may last several months or even years. How the individual responds to the narcissistic collapse will influence how quickly they recover.

For example, emotional outbursts, manipulation tactics, or severing ties with a person can all be used to recover from collapse as techniques to regain power, control, and superiority [2][4].

Often, a person with NPD will lack self-awareness, so they cannot self-reflect and recognize their role in the situation. They will likely blame others for their collapse, causing them to lash out and deflect responsibility [3].

This helps them release the negative emotions they experienced during their collapse and recover their perceived control and self-esteem. Once this is achieved, the narcissistic collapse will end, and their previous behavior and presentation will return [6].

How to deal with collapsed narcissists

Coping with the emotions and behaviors of someone with NPD experiencing narcissistic collapse can be challenging, harmful, and draining. The following may help manage these situations [7][8]:

  • Learn the signs: Gaining a better understanding of NPD and the signs of narcissistic collapse can help you recognize when it is happening and improve your ability to cope.
  • Set boundaries: If you regularly engage with someone with NPD, you may find it helpful to set boundaries with them. This might include specifying what types of communication and behavior you will and won’t engage with and how you will decline to engage when necessary. This can help protect you from harmful situations and help the person with NPD know what to expect.
  • Leave them to their emotions: It is important to remember that their emotions and reactions are not your responsibility or fault, even if they try to tell you that they are. You don’t need to fix the situation or make them feel better.
  • End communication: If necessary or appropriate, you can end all contact with this person, severing the relationship entirely. This may be necessary if you are regularly experiencing emotional or physical abuse. Helplines and resources are available that can assist you with this.
  • Seek professional help: Dealing with someone with NPD can cause distress and be physically and emotionally exhausting. You may find it helpful to speak with a therapist or other professional, to find a safe and healthy way to discuss and process your experiences. This can help you feel supported, protect your well-being, and get advice on how to cope with ongoing situations.

When to seek professional help

Although there is limited evidence for treatments of NPD, various professional interventions are available that can help manage symptoms, including therapy and medications.


There are several potential options for people with NPD who wish to engage in talk therapy, including [4][6][9]:


Although the FDA has not approved any medications to treat NPD, medications are sometimes prescribed to help manage co-existing conditions or symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, agitation, and aggression. Medicinal treatments that may be helpful for someone with NPD can include [6][9]:

  1. Vaknin, S. (2020). Narcissistic Mortification, Shame, and Fear. SunText Review of Neuroscience & Psychology, 1(1), 106. Retrieved from
  2. Rogoza, R., Żemojtel-Piotrowska, M., Kwiatkowska, M.M., & Kwiatkowska, K. (2018). The Bright, the Dark, and the Blue Face of Narcissism: The Spectrum of Narcissism in Its Relations to the Metatraits of Personality, Self-Esteem, and the Nomological Network of Shyness, Loneliness, and Empathy. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 343. Retrieved from
  3. Krizan, Z., & Johar, O. (2015). Narcissistic Rage Revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(5), 784–801. Retrieved from
  4. Caligor, E., Levy, K.N., & Yeomans, F.E. (2015). Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 172(5), 415-422. Retrieved from
  5. Kowalchyk, M., Palmieri, H., Conte, E., & Wallisch, P. (2021). Narcissism Through the Lens of Performative Self-Elevation. Personality and Individual Differences, 177, 110780. Retrieved from
  6. Yakeley, J. (2018). Current Understanding of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. BJPsych Advances, 24(5), 305-315. Retrieved from
  7. American Psychological Association. (2016). Speaking of Psychology: Recognizing a Narcissist, with Ramani Durvasula, PhD. APA. Retrieved from
  8. National Domestic Violence Hotline. (n.d). Narcissism and Abuse. The Hotline. Retrieved from
  9. Mitra, P., & Fluyau, D. (Updated 2023). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In: StatPearls [Internet].Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Oct 6th 2023, Last edited: Oct 24th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Oct 6th 2023