Narcissism and Suicide Threats – When a victim of narcissistic abuse gathers enough strength to leave the relationship, the last resort for the narcissist may be to threaten suicide after realizing hoovering and crying no longer work.
If the narcissist you know keeps bringing it up, you may want to look into whether they have Borderline Personality Disorder, which is very similar to NPD, but with its own specific set of behaviors. The two disorders are often confused with one another because they belong in the same cluster and share certain traits. Additionally, a person can have both disorders simultaneously (comorbidity).
Those with Borderline Personality Disorder often have a history of violent and unpredictable mood swings, and typically have a history of harming themselves, such as cutting, drug abuse, or even overspending. These behaviors help relieve the internal pain the disordered person feels, but this relief is only momentary.
Borderline Personality Disorder has the highest rate of suicide than any other disorder. According to studies, about 70 percent of those diagnosed with BPD have attempted suicide. Eight to 10 percent of those diagnosed will complete suicide, a rate 50 times higher than that of the general population.
If you believe your partner may have BPD, remember, it’s not up to you whether they live or die. Many times, the threat of suicide is meant to make you feel helpless. Other times, these threats come from a genuine place of feeling abandoned. Either way, you are left feeling powerless.
You should call 911, but know that the BPD person may leave the scene or act completely normal once help arrives, attempting to make you seem like the unstable one. However, if their talk of suicide is, in fact, meant to manipulate you, their knowing you will call the proper authorities may make them think twice.
Managing a BPD’s suicide threats is difficult, even for trained counselors. The best thing you can do is find a good therapist for yourself, learn the best ways to manage the narcissist’s unstable behaviors, and consider leaving the relationship if it has become overwhelming and stressful for you.
Narcissistic Suicide Threats as Emotional Blackmail
While narcissists typically don’t harm themselves in this way, the risk of their following through with suicide apparently depends on where they lie on the “dark triad spectrum”. The presence of other conditions like substance abuse seems to magnify the likelihood of actual suicide.
In contrast to those with BPD, narcissists are more likely to use the threat of suicide as a means of manipulation. A clear indicator of whether the threat of suicide is being used to exploit you is if they consistently make the threat when you’re not doing something they want you to do.
Suicide as the Ultimate Hostile Act
If you believe you’re dealing with a narcissist, while rare, they do sometimes die of suicide. In many cases, these acts are what’s considered “spiteful suicides” – intended to traumatize the person who finds them and/or didn’t follow the narcissist’s commands.
Under these particular circumstances, such suicides aren’t carried out by a tormented soul who didn’t find the love and care they needed. On the contrary, when a narcissist completes suicide, it’s correlated with a particular level of depravity and sadism. Namely, because the act is often directed towards those with a proneness to high levels of shame and guilt.
In these cases, the narcissist’s act of suicide is a spiteful act of supreme vengeance —a malicious victory over the person who refused to step back into being controlled.
So how should you handle yourself under these circumstances? Below I offer a few tips:
What NOT to do
- Don’t argue with them regarding whether or not they are serious about going through with it. Sometimes, a manipulative person will take their own life just to prove you wrong.
- Don’t call their bluff or accuse them of manipulating you. Doing so would accomplish nothing more than an increase in conflict and hostility.
- Don’t give in to their threats. Their decision to take their own life rests on them entirely. Giving in to their threats doesn’t prove to them that you care, it only shows them that they can continue using suicide threats as a means to control you.
According to their book Choosing to Live, Thomas Ellis and Cory Newman write:
“When you give in to the threats, you will still be angry, the other person will still threaten self-harm at any time, and the underlying issues will not have been addressed. Plus, it is likely that the same scenario will repeat itself again and again.”
What to Do When Suicide Threats are Used to Manipulate You
What if the narcissist in your life uses suicide threats on a consistent basis? Perhaps they’ve even taken too many pills at some point (just enough to permit resuscitation) or have called you at work to let you know they were going to kill themselves and forbade you from trying to help them?
First, keep in mind that people who are truly intent on taking their own lives often won’t give any clues ahead of time. The scenarios listed above are often termed “suicide gestures” – or having no suicidal intent when injuring oneself – also called “non-suicidal self-injury”. These terms are being used less by the psychological community due to the inherent risks that lie in any suicidal ideations, but they are perfect terms to describe a feigned attempt at taking one’s life when used as a manipulative tool.
Second, any time this happens, you should call 911, whether or not you believe the narcissist will actually follow through with their threat. Sometimes people who intend to carry out a feigned suicide attempt can die by accident.
Below are some additional pointers for when you believe the narcissist is using suicide threats to control you:
- Maintain your boundaries while expressing concern. Threatening suicide in order to get you to obey is emotional abuse, plain and simple. Express your concern for their well-being, but don’t give in to their demands.
- Call 911, especially if you receive a text or email where the narcissist is threatening suicide or has sent an incriminating photo, such as holding a gun to their head. Show these to the authorities. Don’t be under the false impression that calling the proper authorities will make matters worse. Not doing anything and caving into their demands, however, will always make things worse for you. And if you have children, they will likely grow up with severe trauma and PTSD, putting them at risk for dying by suicide (I’ve heard many recounts of this happening through clients I’ve worked with).
- Leave the relationship. If you are involved with an individual who you believe is narcissistic, you have other problems to worry about – in addition to their manipulative suicide threats.
Read: 6 Strong Signs You Have Narcissistic Abuse Syndrom
Regardless of whether the narcissistic individual has NPD or BPD (or both), there is simply no way of knowing for sure if they will really act on these threats. Even people who have no history of a personality disorder will sometimes die by suicide during bouts of severe depression, grief, and/or hopelessness, such as after the death of a loved one or the loss of a job.
While no one wants to feel responsible for the self-inflicted death of another person, it’s important to understand that ultimately, it’s a choice the other person makes. If you have concerns that the person you know may have BPD, the best you can do is try to help them seek treatment. Even then, there is the risk of their stopping treatment and meds, so to stay in the relationship is a gamble, especially if children are involved.
 Borderline Personality Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2014, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml
 Ellis, T. E., & Newman, C. F. (1996). Choosing to live: how to defeat suicide through cognitive therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.