Narcissists and shame, embarrassment and guilt.

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Narcissism is a shame-based disorder. This may seem impossible, since narcissists (at least the grandiose type described in the DSM) seem so full of themselves and incapable of shame. But narcissists became this way because they were usually shamed for being their true selves during childhood in some way. They internalized this message and became so ashamed of their emerging self that they created a false self to take the true self’s place. Overt narcissists developed a grandiose, arrogant and entitled false self which is an overcompensation for the shame they felt for being so vulnerable as children because they were made to feel ashamed of being that way. In a covert narcissist, the mechanism is a little more complicated. They also have the attitude of grandiosity and entitlement, but it’s covered over with a shy and unassuming demeanor so their narcissism is less obvious. But when supply is abundant, they can act just as entitled and grandiose as an overt. They can still act quite entitled when injured or supply is lacking, but usually without the grandiosity and arrogance. People who have a “martyr complex” and wallow in self pity are usually covert narcissists.

Guilt and shame are frequently confused but are not the same thing. Shame is the belief you ARE a bad person, while guilt is an unsettled feeling arising from knowing you have done something wrong. Guilt is much healthier than shame, unless it’s excessive or you feel guilt over things that aren’t in your control or that are not your fault.
Embarrassment/humiliation is similar to shame, but without the moral aspect. It’s a feeling of being exposed as defective. I think all Ns struggle with all three of these emotions, covert Ns especially because we feel so defective anyway.

The irony is now that I’m self aware–although there’s a deep shame involved in knowing I’m on the spectrum–I’m actually happier with myself now because I can see what I do and therefore stop myself before any harm is done.

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I’m one of those people who’s constantly feeling humiliated and ashamed. I also struggle with a lot of guilt on top of that. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my entire life apologizing for my existence. The tricky thing now is distinguishing what I should feel guilty about and what I shouldn’t. I also need to learn how to distinguish normal guilt feelings from shame for being who I am. And what I really am is not my false self.

I think the presence of shame and guilt separates us from people with Antisocial Personality Disorder, who feel no shame or guilt over what they do or who they are, at least not in any conscious way. I don’t think AsPDs get embarrassed easily either (I know my psychopathic ex doesn’t!) I don’t really understand too much about AsPD or what makes them tick, and I can’t relate to the way they their minds work. Narcissists are also less likely than people with AsPD to act on impulse, but impulsivity is something AsPDs share with Borderlines, a disorder that dogs me as well. I used to be much more impulsive when I was younger. The older I get, the easier it is to control my BPD symptoms. Age seems to have a calming effect on BPD. The narcissistic traits tend to stick around and are harder to see in yourself.

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21 thoughts on “Narcissists and shame, embarrassment and guilt.

  1. Yes! But it’s actually not a shame disorder, it’s the flip side of shame, pride. It’s a pride disorder. That is hard for some people to accept because they may be shy or withdrawn and it doesn’t look like the kind of arrogance we sometimes associate with pride. Pride however, comes in many forms. Your quote above speaks to this, fear of being ordinary, fear of not being extraordinary enough to be noticed. That is pride, the fear having your pride wounded. When people are hurt a great deal they use pride to wall themselves off.

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        1. There is nothing wrong with humility–it goes hand in hand with vulnerability. I pray for humility every day. But humiliation/shame (self hating) is something different. I think God wants us to be humble, but doesn’t want us to wallow in shame and self loathing. He doesn’t want us acting like Gods though either–there can only be one!

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    1. Have you ever seen any of Brene Brown’s videos? She’s wonderful. Her messages have made me cry. And her videos can help anyone, even the non-disordered. We’d all be better off embracing vulnerability instead of trying to hide it away like something shameful.
      If you only watch one, watch this one:

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think shame and humiliation are the same thing. Both are different from guilt. Someone on the PsychForum informed me that lack of conscience is not a diagnostic criterion for ASPD. Which is one of the problems of ASPD replacing psychopathy in the DSM. I don’t feel guilt but I am capable of shame. Wish I weren’t.

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    1. Guilt is definitely something unto itself. I can see that shame and humiliation are similiar both having experienced both they do feel somewhat different. Humiliation is being embarrassed. There isn’t a moral component. You just feel stupid, defective, exposed, whatever. But with shame, there’s that element of “I am a bad person.” You still want to sink into the ground, but with one it’s because you feel too exposed, the other, because you feel like you’re bad.
      I think if you didn’t have the capacity for shame you wouldn’t be human. None of us are perfect.
      You may be right about lack of conscience and ASPD. Of all the cluster B disorders, I’m the least knowledgeable about that disorder.

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      1. I get it. Only last Monday I experienced shame that wasn’t embarrassment. I spent the day in my apartment and I heard neighbors enjoying themself outside. I had an unpleasant feeling which I identified as shame that I had wasted the day.

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  3. I really believe God wants us all to be in good health and to prosper. That shame/pride dichotomy just brings us a lot of suffering. I sometimes say pride may be the original sin because it’s made us so miserable. Some people say in Christ there is no condemnation. That’s because there is no pride either. Pride shames and condemns us. Humiliation is an interesting word because it is the precise opposite of humility. When one has humility, there is no toxic shame and no one has the power to humiliate you. To be happy, to be well, one actually needs to become shameless, which sounds a bit funny, but it’s true. Our conscience will still be intact, but those feelings of being bad, they no longer have control.

    Thanks for the video link!

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  4. Thank you for your honesty. I think you must not be full-blown if you have this level of reflection on your behavior. I am wishing for you to have complete peace and to be filled with love for yourself, and for you to feel connected to others.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for your honesty. It seems like you may not be full-blown NPD because of the level of self-reflection you have. Maybe I am wrong, but either way, thank you for your honesty. I’m wishing you complete, unconditional self-love, healing, respite and true, safe and fulfilling connection with others.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lucky otter:

    I think you have far too much insight into any undesirable behaviors you may exhibit to have NPD on any level of the spectrum.

    IMO, your self description and reaction to yourself are closer to BPD. Also, as you yourself have noted, it could also be PTSD and CPTSD that causes your unwanted behaviors. If that is true you can be helped with counseling.

    You seem to recognize and want to correct undesirable behaviors and responses. If you had narcissistic personality disorder you would never recognize your own negative behaviors and you would most likely place blame for them onto an outside source, if the negative behaviors were pointed out.

    Liked by 1 person

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