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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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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