Guest Blogger: Alisa Stamps, MSS, LCSW
In my last blog post, I mentioned that we would continue to address such questions as, “Are you wondering if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist?”; “What happens now that you’re aware of this”; and lastly, and maybe the most important question, “How do we get to the point where we can look in the mirror and see ourselves and not the narcissist?”. In order to begin to answer these questions we have to do it. We have to talk about shame.
In my previous job working at an inpatient drug and alcohol facility, I used to give a lecture on the topic of shame. Usually when I announced this topic, I would get a collective “groan” from my audience. Why? Because shame feels icky. It’s uncomfortable and is not usually a place that we like to live for very long. JH Simon, author of How to Kill A Narcissist: Debunking the Myth of Narcissism and Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse, says that “shame at its mildest is a slight ache in the chest and at its most potent, it physically deflates you—you question yourself and hold back your opinions and feelings” (Simon, 2016, p. 28). In my lecture I used to ask my audience to describe what shame might taste like or feel like. The answers would run along the lines of shame tasting like “hot garbage” or feeling rough “like sandpaper”. These are not pleasant images. But to a narcissist, shame must be inflicted to the target or the whole thing doesn’t work.
According to Simon (2016), shame “functions effectively two ways:
-Personal: this kind of shame arises when the self does not meet a particular reality and comes up short. For example, not being able to afford the dream car that you’ve always wanted.
-Social: this shame is based on the people and environment around you. For example, being given a disapproving stare by a loved one, or feeling like you don’t fit into a certain social group” (p. 29).
In either situation, shame will come knocking at the door, reminding you that you need to improve or that you are not up to certain “standards” and then slam that door in your face. This is a narcissist’s dream come true. In order to maintain their states of grandiosity they must be able to count on their target’s shame. Simon (2016), explains that something that both shame and grandiosity have in common is that they require something and someone to measure against. That’s exactly how the narcissist/target relationship works in the shame/grandiosity continuum.
Obviously, healthy shame is what we are striving for. The next time you notice shame coming up, see if you can place it on the chart. Does it fall under healthy shame or are those feelings all the way to the left? Awareness is the first step toward change. But your awareness is not what happens in the narcissist/target relationship—the narcissist doesn’t expect it! If the narcissist continuously creates a scenario to make their target believe that they are small and beneath them, they have activated shame and the target begins to believe they are less than human. Reinforced continuously, and the target will stay there and that shame becomes part of the core identity. Tada! The narcissist has achieved their goal.
Simon, J. (2016). How to kill a narcissist: Debunking the myth of narcissism and recovering from narcissistic abuse.
Simon, J. H. (2019). Shame-grandiosity-continuum. Retrieved August 17, 2019, from http://www.howtokillanarcissist.com/how-to-kill-a-narcissist-book-sample/shame-grandiosity-continuum/