The Shame in Narcissism

The Shame in Narcissism

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has been argued to be the most problematic of all personality disorders and clusters. NPD is defined as a mental disorder where people feel an embrace of their own importance and excessive need for attention and admiration. A narcissistic person can share no empathy for others, have a mask of extreme confidence, and high regard for themselves. There are distinct forms of narcissism which cause conflicts in relationships and daily life and activities between family and friends. We have all dealt with a narcissist one way or another in our lives. One may ask, how does a person evolve to become so narcissistic? Where does it begin?

No one really knows for sure what the onset of narcissistic personality disorder truly is. Information retrieved from research and case studies conclude that there are many factors that contribute to the rise of narcissism in an individual. The factors that seem to be the most influential to the development of narcissistic personality disorder is the connection between the brain and behavioral thinking, inherited genetic characteristics, and environmental settings the narcissist had shared with a parent or relative (Mayo Clinic, 2017). 

Since many are unsure of what the direct cause of NPD is, research has explored the origins in an individual’s childhood development and certain emotions that play a significant role in the growth of narcissism. Parents who are overprotective or display excessive adoration in one’s childhood can inflate the sense of self-esteem. Even forms of major criticism can cause one to desire attention and admiration since it was not received in the period of childhood. Traumatic or abusive environmental settings in a child’s experience can create fragile self-esteem and a feeding for constant approval from others. As the individual grows older, they begin to develop great confidence in order to mask who they truly are. 

A person who is narcissistic tends to show a high sense of entitlement and belittles anyone who is deemed inferior to them. They try to take advantage of others and expect special treatment in any kind of situation. They tend to have a very jealous nature where they envy others or believe others envy them because of their fabricated status. They demonstrate a strong unwillingness and inability to recognize and value another person’s emotions and needs.  

The manifestations of narcissism have been strongly believed to stem from the emotions of shame and rage one has felt in their lifetime that arose from a traumatic experience. At one point in someone’s life, everyone may feel shame or rage in an embarrassing or humiliating encounter. However, a narcissistic person who has felt a sense of shame that proceeds with a feeling of rage or extreme hostility will generally want to destroy the person who they think wants to diminish their strong self-image (Martens, 2005). This is referred to the shame-rage dynamic and is often intertwined with narcissistic behavioral beginnings. 

For a person who is narcissistic, it may be surprising to hear that they tend to internalize failure. However, they feel programmed to do so in an unhealthy and toxic manner. The internalization of failure will lead to shame, thus having these types of individuals externalize blame elsewhere and be filled with rage. Narcissistic people who can’t seem to avoid the shame felt after a personal failure will tend to experience a conflicting inability to self-analyze the situation. This form of shame is often felt like they have been rejected and their self-importance has been dismissed with a feeling that they are unable to impress others with their self-image. 

The emotional roles of shame and rage can account for a lot of analytical aspects towards building a gradious perception of an individual. These feelings of shame proceeded with rage can account for the realization of a weak self-structure. Narcissists will be aware and fear their poorly developed self by constantly devaluing others, possibly entering a self-destructive pattern. Their cover up of grandiosity is the primary choice of protection to avoid questioning their judgment and perspective. They lack a sense of reality because they are living in their own bubble and would not let it be popped because someone points out they are wrong. In their book, they are never wrong.

From discussing the vulnerability of shame and rage in narcissistic behaviors, one can clearly see where manifestations actually begin. A vital rule of thumb when understanding personality disorders is how emotions and patterns of thinking play a fundamental role in behavior. Most known personality disorders find psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as gold standards for treatment. In today’s society, it is not uncommon to come across grandiosity within a person. We like to live in a world where we desire to impress others. Whether it be a reward from our work, looks, and status. The world is bound to be filled with some narcissistic behaviors. Narcissistic behaviors can be controlled if the right therapeutic measures are taken. All it takes is to take a really good look who you truly are in front of the mirror.  



Narcissistic personality disorder – Symptoms and causes. (2017, November 18). Mayo Clinic.

Martens, W. (2005). Shame and narcissism: therapeutic relevance of conflicting dimensions of excessive self esteem, pride, and pathological vulnerable self. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 8(2), p.10.

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