Narcissists avoid shame at all costs. It is their nemesis or “kryptonite”, if you want to see it that way. It’s not clear where the roots of narcissism start but generally held opinions point to parenting styles that are “shameful”. Shameful parenting styles do not teach right or wrong, they blame the individual and shame them for appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. This leaves a self-esteem, shame-filled void that needs to be filled somehow. It is generally done in these cases by using others to fill it. Here we can draw the distinction with codependency, where a self-esteem void is also a feature. Codependents fix others to control, narcissists use and discard.
Normal people can generally see that there are people in the world, sometimes around them that are better at some things, more able, maybe more stylish and beautiful. They can see that and not be threatened by it because they know that they have strengths and beauty of their own. No-one is perfect is what most people believe and live their life by. Not so narcissists, who do their utmost to ensure that they don’t have to face the fact that they are not perfect. Something they truly believe they are. Keeping this illusion going also keeps shame at bay. To keep away from this harsh reality , they employ “magical thinking”, a mixture of projection, distortion and illusion. Anyone caught up in this can expect their lives to be turned upside down.
Some narcissists will see themselves as centre of their fantasy about who they are. They will partake, and demand attention in something that they feel they have an extraordinary talent in. They will selfishly promote themselves in total disregard of the people around them. Other narcissists who detest this role will “bask in the limelight” of the success of others (usually one other), building them up, putting them on a pedestal but taking the credit for it. People are often targeted for their wealth, social status, talent or social circle (which the narcissist will soon isolate them from). There is an old saying stating that your relationship with a narcissist is doomed from the second you met them and this is very true. Soon that illusion turns into a need to pull their victim off the pedestal with criticism and belittling. The admiration felt by the victim soon disappears and they are left with the false illusion that disappeared with it. What follows is generally designed to destroy the victim. Gaslighting and distortion of the truth are common.
The issue here is that the illusion phase can be very alluring. Maybe for the first time, the victim feels special and is made to feel so. The narcissist represents everything in their life that they have been missing. It is not uncommon in the illusion phase to see red flags concerning control and manipulation being ignored as the victim is swept up in the “web” of illusion the narcissist creates. The narcissist is also feeling good at this point as the control and manipulation put in place “hooks” the victim. At the beginning of a relationship, it is very difficult to stop a narcissist until it is too late. They are very skilled at playing into any fears or previous experiences to move their agenda forward.
When the narcissist does feel shame in the relationship, it will be often projected onto the victim in terms of insult and criticism. They will project anything that evokes shame in themselves. When the victim is a child and the narcissist is a parent, the child will often accept the labels projected onto them, causing untold damage to future relationships.
All of these measures are designed on the part of the narcissist to avoid feeling shame and insignificant and they will move from one victim to the next in a continuous pattern of dysfunction. For the victims, these are huge barriers to intimacy and “feeling good” in the relationship as they are never loved for who they really are. In fact, they often come away from these relationships with self-esteem in tatters.
It does suggest that relationships need to be played out on a much slower basis. A narcissist will not keep his cover forever.