The Narcissist’s Shame
As a “Premier Social Emotion”
The Narcissist’s Shame As a “Premier Social Emotion”
The narcissist’s excessive self-worth does a great job of chasing off their inferiority complex and replacing it with an outer veneer of superiority through their False Self. This goes a long way to disguising their inner sense of vulnerability that is far too shameful to be seen by others.
This, to a large extent, creates the narcissist’s typical arrogance that is all too apparent. Narcissists are plagued with feelings of envy that are born out of their deep, emotional insecurities and poor sense of self-worth. It is important to know that their shame and envy are inextricably intertwined.
Unable to form their own ideas and ideals for themselves, the narcissist latches onto others out of envy, especially those who they respect as being superior so that they can get that same sense of self from them. Unfortunately, those who are superior to the narcissist will eventually unintentionally trigger the narcissist’s feelings of lacking, causing them to feel shame. They just cannot abide or tolerate feeling less than anybody else, so when someone possesses something that they do not have, it provokes feelings of inadequacy and triggers their shame and resentful longing.
It is the narcissist’s envy that causes their constant denigration of others. This may indeed quieten their shame for a while, but it does not conquer it. The narcissist’s unacknowledged shame often leads to their displays of shamelessness, lack of compassion, rage, and entitled grandiosity.
Always the narcissist’s shame is linked to the trauma they have experienced as children. To understand it more fully, we need to go back to the narcissist’s childhood and understand how their environment (i.e. family, school, etc.) operated through a fog of criticism and punishment that was so severe that it left the child feeling totally worthless and powerless.
Raised in an environment where the child is not allowed to get things wrong, and where any failure subjects them to constant humiliation is nothing short of soul destroying. Research has been able to determine that humiliation is a more intensely felt emotion than either happiness or anger, and that it produces feelings in the child that they are “sadly lacking”, and therefore, “not good enough”.
Their internalised sense of shame affects the child’s sense of being in such a way that leads them to believe that “I am bad”, rather than learning “I did something bad” (guilt). There is a place for guilt, because healthy guilt is about having moral feelings or a conscience that leads to our sense of social justice. Dr. Rick Hanson (2014) speaks of guilt as being “in the wince of healthy remorse.” He says: –
“Healthy remorse is distinct from unhealthy, pathological shame, which includes feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, second tier standing, and damaged goods — I can speak from personal experience here. As my dad, who grew up on a ranch would put it: feeling like the runt of the litter – and that’s not good for us.”
To avoid these shameful feelings and escape from the grip of shame, the child looks to get some control over their lives in other ways. For example, the child may glean control through perfectionism, grandiosity, power, attention, etc., all of which leads to the manifestation of the narcissist’s “God complex”, where they feel superior to everybody else.
In such an environment where the child is governed by a shame-based caretaker, a bed of shame will be created for the child that is so damaging that it affects their self-esteem and fragile sense of self. Later, as adults, whenever shame is experienced at any given moment, it calls the narcissist’s positive social image into question, posing a serious threat to their social bonding. This is guaranteed to trigger old feelings of abuse that will lead to a loss of esteem, status, acceptance, rejection, and social isolation; all of which are a threat to the narcissist’s social self. When this happens, it is likely to deregulate the narcissist emotionally. This will cause them to discharge their defence responses in a very aggressive shame-rage or humiliated fury at the offender without mercy.
Furthermore, all this turmoil related to shame, and their constant need for soothing, links the pathological narcissist to a wide range of addictions and compulsions as a defence against shame (i.e. substances, food, sex, gambling, adrenaline, rage, narcissistic supply, attention, power, control, addiction to self, etc.).
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My husband and I just realized that my step daughter (now 50 yrs old) is a shy narcissist. Recently we changed our trust to making our son the executor. He is of age now and lives close by, whereas she lives across the country. Most people would be relieved to not have that responsibility, but she evidently saw it as Narcissistic injury. She immediately decided to come and see us (for the first time in 30 years)saying, “We’ll see about that” when told, and started gaslighting and punishing her father when she arrived. We were so confused. She tried to turn our son against my husband (she has never reached out to him before) and doesn’t know him, and made up terrible untrue stories about things her father had done when she was a child. She tried to convince us she knew our son better than we did and give us advise. The visit ended with me losing my temper and saying she was manipulative and trying to cause dissension between our son, my husband”s sister and my husbands other son (whom she has also accused of untrue things for years and never speaks to). After she left she wrote a haughty letter reiteraing everything she has accused my husband of and saying, of course that she can’t have a relationship with me (she never has). Then she blamed her father for not taking up for her, went to his sister and his mo9ther and said horrible things ab out him (triangulation) and to the rest of the family. Then we started trying to identify her strange behavior and came across a perfect description. My husband has decided on no contact. I am wavering after reading how much pain they are in to begin with and knowing further rejection will cause more. I feel sorry for her, but know there is nothing I can say or do to console her. (She used my outburst to play the martyr.)
Best capsule of information I have read lately on Narcissim and I thank you.
I really appreciate learning about Narcissism. My 42 year old son is married to a woman who is probably high on the spectrum. He has medicated with alcohol and is an alcoholic. After 11 years of abuse his liver gave out and he is being treated for liver failure. His wife says she will not change her lifestyle so he can stay sober so he had to move out and leave his children age 7 and 10 with his wife. She has a high paying job with insurance so he can get liver help, perhaps a transplant. He has been too sick to work so I have had to support him His wife refuses to give him anything and lives in their high end home. When he tries to force her to cooperate with expenses, she threatens to file for separation and divorce. The insurance would then drop him as her spouse. He worries about his kids but so far, they idolize Herand she tells them Dad is the bad guy because brought this onto himself. No answer here but to hope for the best and take what comes
Hi Andrea, Narcissism is a spectrum disorder (Psychopathy), that means some cases are worse than others. I would say that it depends on where they are on the Psychopathy Scale. Therapy can only work for people who are willing to make change, and unfortunately, most narcissists are not wanting to change….. they are happy with who they are.
For those who want to change, then I would say it is probably possible. But you must be willing to give the time necessary to make those changes. Perhaps a good place to start would be for the narcissist to speak with their GP and ask for an assessment to be done.
Perhaps you could listen to Wendy Behary, she works with narcissists on their recovery. I only work with the victims.
Here is an article you may find helpful: –
Is there any cure or help for narcissistic people? Can they overcome it?
I am so sorry to hear that your daughter has turned out to be very much like her narcissistic grandmother, that must be heartbreaking for your family. It was the same with my brother. I had the most loving parents, and they treated us all well, however my brother grew up to become a psychopath.
In my first book “The Three Faces of Evil, I explain that my brother was brutalised at school, but also that he had a head injury at 2 years of age that I believe left him with brain damaged to his frontal lobes, leaving him unable to control himself. If he had not had the loving home environment that he did have, I shudder to think how much worse things could have been for us all (God knows it was bad enought, as he put three of his siblings in intensive care).
I think you may have misunderstood what I was saying about the spectrum of narcissism, because I do not blame parents at all. Much of the research out there does blame the parents, that is true. However, to my mind that is a lazy way of thinking, things are more complicated than that. For that reason, I have tried to show that any caregiver with a narcissistic personality can damage a child that is in their care (i.e. a parent, sibling, grandparent, teacher, priest, sports coach, etc.).
Actually, I am more interested in the “Nature V’s Nurture Debate”. In my thesis (when I was studying Criminology) I asked the question “Are psychopaths born or made?” My academic research led me to believe that Psychopathy (the malignant narcissist and the psychopath) emerges from a complex interplay between biological factors and social forces…. so, in fact, I believe that pathological narcissism is a blend of “Nature and Nurture”. Nature concerns itself with the individual’s innate qualities (i.e. genetics, chemical activity, hormone levels, physiology, IQ, etc.); while Nurture is concerned with the individual’s lived experience (i.e. perinatal matrices, environmental influences, bonding, socialization, socioeconomic status, deprivation, physical or emotional trauma, education, etc.). The task for all researchers is to determine how these multifaceted factors (individual, familial, and social factors) affect the development and behavioural traits of a child in a way that shapes juvenile delinquency, mediating their entry into criminality, and in some instances, leading to Psychopathy.
Perhaps if your daughter had not had the loving family she did have, then perhaps she would have been even higher up on the spectrum than she already is. Unfortunately for you and I, in the end, the only way to protect ourselves from our family members that suffer from high-end pathological narcissism, may be to do “no contact”….. and that for me was really heartbreaking, because I loved my brother (he was the one next to me in age). I can only imagine that it is similar for you with your child and mother. There is so much that we do not understand about this subject, but one thing we do know, is that when one experiences narcissistic abuse it is soul destroying, and it has a ripple effect, especially within a family.
I hope that you will not continue to feel judged by me, because I have no wish to lay the blame at anybody’s feet. What I want is for everybody to be aware of this type of personality, and how to protect oneself from the fallout of such abuse. So, bye-the-way, I totally agree with what you are saying.
Thank you Christine for all the helpful information. My mother was a narcissistic personality and my husband and I moved half a country away to escape from her influence. We moved shortly after marriage because my husband had seen her in action when we were dating so he knew what she was too. Until our first child, our daughter was an adult, there hadn’t been anyone else I was exposed to that was like my mother. None of my three sisters was like her, but my daughter has turned out exactly like her grandmother. She has never had much contact with her grandmother over the years so it is not behavior that influenced her. But now her two brothers and wives and my husband and I have no contact with our daughter. My comment is this…you have stated that the reason one becomes a malignant narcisscistic personality is severe childhood trauma. I don’t believe this is the cause in our case and it is hard to read this as the damage my mother did took years to work through. I have always tried not to play the games with people’s feelings the way my mother did and truly feel that I was a loving caring mother. Her brothers feel that they were all treated the same as children and they, themselves are well adjusted, decent, moral, kind and loving individuals. And they have made good marriages with wives that openly express appreciation for the kind of men they are. So please don’t lay it all on the doorstep of parents.
Sincere appreciation to Christine whose articles reenforce the strength needed for me to maintain a ‘ no contact’ with my spouse. Texts keep coming, “ will you please tell me that you even like me, I’m lost”, and others. I do not reply, but my empathetic nature keeps asking how will this man cope? A bully, controller, loaded with grandiosity, but displaying much kindness when he chooses. I am very well aware this person has no self confidence which he masks by use of rage & aggression. What will eventually happen to this man to whom I could never return?. He has no friends due to his being anti social. I’ve tolerated enough emotional abuse, with some physical, but primarily emotionally, with which I have had no choice but to self admitted myself to hospital on three occasions for appropriate therapy. No more such admissions for me.
Sam Vaknin says Narcissists are fake humans and androids. People who have poor boundaries or no boundaries and people who are too kind and selfsacrificing people and too naive and to good of trust and don”t know to let in or who not to let in. Lonely people and people who are lovehungry ans people who are too idealistitic without it is tempered with some realism. This are the types of victims. They have studied for a long time and have a natural good knowledge of human nature, and you have to watch out for this people because they can stirr your emotions and it can look or feel very sincere, They can take adventage of it of what is a weak spot or painfull point. They can detect weak spots in a person on a far distance and can make you feel good about something you feel not good about it. When they have you they can attack you on that while it was good at first sight . They don”t want to take responsebility after what they have done or misdone to somebody and are doing on victimblaming guilttripping. I did n”t know that there were so many of narcissist who are free in the outside world. Feel good about yourself and knowledge is the only weapon you can have to protect us from this predators. It is often head over heals in that relationship with a narcissist. It looks too good to be true they say and it is like that way. I hope that they get a taste of their own medicine cause it is making you sick when you are in that relationship en don”t know about red flags. Where can you turn to when you got nobody to turn to and that smearcampaign is so convincend and it is undermining your life and reputaion.
Christine 13 May 2018
Having walked on egg shells for 40 years; feeling sorry for my spouse with such a fluctuating personality. A very intelligent man but lacking in self confidence and unsociable only with those whom he considered worthy to share his knowledgeable company, grandiose!!
I have been emotionally abused, on many occasions, only to be told the following day how much I’m loved.
I’d had enough. I left our family home. I have tried partial separation, but with no success.
I am now having ‘no contact’ which Is not easy. I do feel very sorry for my spouse, but I do not wish to have further emotional abuse. Christine, through her advice, continuing contacts and her two books continue to provide me with much needed energy
Take a good, honest look at what has happened since the outcome of the 2016 election in the USA to get a true picture of narcissism at work. They simply can not fathom that they would be rejected because of lies, crimes, murder, embezzlement, and even endangering national security, but instead, it is everybody else’s fault to the extent that all hell breaks loose in order to destroy those that didn’t soothe or patronize the narcissistic evil. The entire world suffers for people like them. They have no shame and nothing will stop them from promulgating their evil lies and from their need to pull everyone else into the hell fires with them. So what our politicians do is fan the flames of the victim mentality; racism, sexism, this phobia and that phobia because this, behind the guise of “social justice” is nothing but identity politics. They will exploit every evil they can to achieve their agenda and make themselves God.
We can largely thank these narcissists for political correctness and their arrogant need to cast God aside in order to subscribe to their Marxist liberal “group think.” The narcissist is incapable of thinking for him/herself unless it comes to their wallets, the altar of their hearts and brains.
Should we have mercy upon them? Of course we should, but we must also hold them accountable. When they’re pressed to the wall they cry victim. Never ending cycle. We must pity them and pray for them. It is my belief that the only way we can achieve peace with these people is for God’s Justice to be served. All they need to is turn to Jesus Christ but they’re too arrogant to do that. They suffer no humility whatsoever, and humility is the only cure for the narcissist.
My youngest brother fits this definition, without question. He constantly denigrates me every chance he gets. I was a professional actress for many years, and although I wasn’t famous, I supported myself performing in television commercials and films and made a six figure income. My brother, on the other hand, is a teacher and claims that being a teacher is the most esteemed profession in the world, more important than being a doctor or lawyer, even. He constantly belittles my accomplishments, whenever he can, particularly in the presence of others. He is full of himself and oftentimes cruel in his comments about other people, as well.
Hi Christine. How do narcissist’manage to stay married for over 20years.? I had a colleague, male, married with 2 boys. He spent the bet part of 2years coming at me. First bullying then added the sexual stuff. I eventually rejected him and things turned really nasty. The women we work with adored him. They were, I believe, jealous of the attention he as giving me. When I rejected him, the next week he absolutely humiliated me in front of those women. I was never interested in him but I played along because he was a fire cracker temper and we are nurses in an acute mental health unit. I needed to keep him inside. Well that backfired didn’t it!! His wife apparently runs a pre school. Surely she must know him. I’m baffled about him. I’m 8yrs older than him. I had to leave my job. I was bullied and mobbed out. My female boss was even involved in the end
You are quite right Alexandra. Narcissism is the result of neglect or abuse in childhood. So, I would see that they are victims of childhood, and the defences mechanisms they choose to survive causes their inflated egos to develop. Often these victims identify with the narcissists that wounded them, where some victims choose to become “caretakers” as their means of defence.
I have also wondered if we should feel sorry for them. Surely being Narcissistic is not a behaviour you would choose to portray.
Hello Christine, I was wondering if what you have written changes at all with the different types of narcissism…overt vs covert, cerebral vs soma, badly treated vs being the golden child. I have had experience with several different combinations …covert/cerebral father, overt/soma husband, covert/golden child husband, covert/soma, golden child lover. Looking back, it is interesting to see the the differences between a covert vs an overt and a soma vs a cerebral. My question is, does a person end up being a narcissist solely because of infant/young childhood experiences with primary caregiver? I also noticed that the covert type is usually very subtle most of the time even at home unless one knows what to look for and associate the behavior with narcissism. I have been studying this phenomena for about 3 yrs but was frustrated because most of what I was reading or viewing was of the overt type and my experience, for the most part was with covert types. What I was looking at was not my experience except when I would see information solely about covert types.
Thank you so much for your wonderful work!
Thank you Christine
Shouldn’t we then feel sorry for them? I forgive my ex for the hurt he caused me, because hurt people hurt. The roots of his need to control lie in his past. How sad for him.