Narcissism is a common buzzword that seems to have been coming up a lot in the media and in therapy circles recently. When people think of narcissism it’s often associated with ego, entitlement, or an excessive love of self. While these things can be parts of narcissism, it can be more simply defined as obsession with one’s self.
Shame on the other hand is about self-loathing and a lack of self- worth. Shame is that feeling of not being good enough or not worthy. The belief echos something is inherently wrong with me. So what does this have to do with narcissism? Pretty much everything actually. At its core, shame is inherently narcissistic, because shame makes it all about you.
When I work with men through issues centered around sexual addiction and betrayal, I often hear things like:
Many think they are being empathetic with these statements, but in actuality it is far from it. Often I hear partners respond, “you always make it about you.”
This is a common cycle couple’s get stuck in when one person is mired in their shame.
Statements like, “I’m so messed up, you would just be better off without me” are about shame and are narcissistic. They are more about you than your partner. This is what shame does. It keeps us stuck on self and how bad we are.
Just like the OVER inflated ego, the UNDER inflated ego is still focused on self. It creates the same walls and distance in relationships. Additionally, your partner can start to feel crazy for being mad at someone who is in shame. When this dynamic becomes a reoccurring pattern, it can become very frustrating, because it feels like the attention ALWAYS focuses YOU.
When it comes to what we classically think of as narcissism (ego, grandiosity, etc.), shame is at the core of it as well. What may come off as arrogance and an inflated sense of self is compensating for deep-seated insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. Whenever we feel entitled in one area of life, it is because we are making up for another area.
This is how a narcissist finds a sense of balance. They are guarded against their shame, but the shame is still very real. A phrase that some use to describe this blend of shame and arrogance is, “I’m the piece of garbage that the world revolves around.”
When it comes to dealing with narcissistic traits, whether in individual work or in couple’s work, addressing your shame is an essential component. It can be complicated at times, but working to understand this dynamic can go a long way to help you in your recovery and restoration of relationships.