Some people cannot be pleased. Some people are easily and openly agitated. Some people assume you are supposed to cater to their idiosyncrasies, and when you don’t, it triggers their anger. Some people live for your admiration and conformity as if it’s their birthright. Some people pounce on your mistakes or weaknesses to reinforce their own false bravado. Some people are habitually impatient and annoyed. And some people just don’t like you.
When that someone is a narcissist, it’s likely that you’ve received many harsh messages, given their penchant toward false superiority.
With condescension fully intact, the narcissistic attitude could be summarized in one debilitating statement: “You are not enough.” They will declare you defective and damaged, convinced that you have no place in their world.
As narcissists persist with such harsh messages, one pattern emerges over and over: You will be shamed. And as they convey such an attitude, understand that their shaming goes beyond the pronouncement of guilt or disappointment. Shame, in this context, implies that your interior, your character, is lacking. They presume you are rotten on the inside.
A narcissist’s willingness to shame can rob you of hope, joy, contentment, and peace. That shame can become an acid to the soul. To get an idea of the impact of persistent shaming messages, consider the plight of individuals such as the following:
- The adult who recalls many childhood episodes featuring ridicule, anger, and over-the-top denouncements from family members or social circles.
- Or, the adult who has a history of being neglected or shunned by a parent who didn’t have enough interest to engage.
- The parent or grandparent who has been alienated from a child for no plausible reason.
- The adult who has a history of problems (perhaps addictions, sexual misconduct, career problems) who is now genuinely working to get life back on track, yet remains scorned by those who will not let the past be the past.
- The pensive person who embraces political positions, religious views, or social preferences that do not fit the tribe’s status quo.
- The marital partner, friend, or family member who dared to confront another’s hateful or exclusionary attitudes.
These individuals (and similar others) have inevitably heard the messages:
“You disgust me.”
“It’s my mission to remind you that you are tangling with the wrong person.”
“No one will believe you over me.”
“You’re a loser who does not deserve a place at my table.”
“Any accomplishment of yours is overshadowed by the inadequacy that defines you.”
“You are not enough.”
Naturally, as the narcissist’s shame messages echo inside your mind, you will feel hurt, disillusioned, angry, or perhaps rebellious. In public, you may struggle with the imposter syndrome, feeling confused or lonely, fearing no one will care to know and understand you honestly. Powerlessness can be an all-too-familiar experience.
But if you have indeed received shame messages from a narcissist, it is of utmost importance to rethink what has been conveyed. Any person who freely (gleefully?) pronounces shame has a short memory and is not honest about one’s own frailties. It is wrong to the point of immoral for anyone to presume the right to strip a fellow human of core decency.
That understood, cling to undeniable tenets:
- Those who choose to shame others inevitably struggle with their own feelings of shame. They use projection as they see in you what they will not address within themselves.
- Shaming individuals have become intoxicated with the notion that they can and should control others, as if it is a reasonable manner of engagement. Emphatically, it is not.
- No one can claim to be ideal. We do not live inside a fairytale script, since ours is a world where brokenness intermingles with success. Each person is a mixed bag.
- Your worth, your value, your dignity is not subject to a vote or to anyone’s dictatorial pronouncement. It is integral to your humanity.
- You deserve to be honored, to be considered anyone’s equal.
- You are capable of learning and growing, turning wrongs into right.
- Your life experiences (the good, the bad, and the in-between) can be understood as seasoning or as winnowing as you come to terms with your identity. You are not a finished product, but instead a life in motion.
- Even (or perhaps especially) your failures can become foundational to the development of wisdom.
- Peace can indeed be found even after you have been rejected. Peace is anchored in your ongoing commitment to integrity and good character.
Narcissists who resort to shaming you are plainly wrong. Simply put, you are enough. Love who you are and let love be your guide as you engage with others.
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
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