Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Narcissism: ‘Ha, You Don’t Understand’

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 3, 2011

“Ha, you don’t understand,” Evie, sixty-three, an attorney,  says to me with a joking, supercilious and hostile tone. She is referring to her background of “white trash,” as she says, assuming that I come from privilege. “Maybe you don’t want me to understand so that you can feel unique in that you have grown up in a culture that you feel only you can understand,” I say, responding to her continual feeling that unlike her professional peers, she has “overcome” more economic and social obstacles.

It seems to me that the way she has dealt with what has felt to her to be an uphill road, is by convincing herself that she, alone, has traveled this path. The sentiment that “no one understands” could be a cover for a narcissistic streak which enables her to feel special. The hostility in her tone, as she tells me that I don’t understand, seems to convey a long-standing feeling that her childhood wounds are so deep, that she cannot imagine the feeling of sharing them with anyone. In other words, her arrogance seems to be a defense against getting close, feeling understood, by others.

I find myself feeling bad for Evie, on the one hand, since she her tone is so off-putting, but on the other hand, I feel like I have been knocked down, and so I must reconstitute my  internal self before I can respond in a professional way. “It must be hard to feel like no one can possibly understand  you,” I say, trying to soothe her, while being aware that I should not get defensive. “No one can understand,” Evie says with conviction, continuing to wall herself off from me. “Maybe if we keep talking about where you come from, I can get a better idea.” I say, trying to pull one brick off her wall. “I doubt that,” Evie says, returning to her hostile tone. “Maybe it is important to you,  to feel that your pain is special in some way.” I say, highlighting the narcissistic aspect of her statement. “I think you miss my point,” she says, unsatisfied by my response. Our work continues.

4 Responses to “Narcissism: ‘Ha, You Don’t Understand’”

  1. Shelly said

    Why does a narcissistic person like fictional Evie come to a psychiatrist? If she is so resistant to being understood, unwilling to share any part of herself and her experiences with you which would allow you to understand her, then how can you begin to build a trusting relationship with such a patient? What do narcissistic patients want in therapy? What is Evie’s hostility from, if she is the one who made the appointment with you, realizing from the start that she would have to talk about herself? Is the hostility because she thinks you came from a life of privilege and she had to “work her way up?”

    • Evie, like all of us, has narcissistic traits, which wax and wane, depending on her stress level, so I am working with a dynamic system. Narcissism is an interesting aspect to personality in that it makes us want attention, but at the same time, we feel like we are so unique, no one can possibly understand us. This contradiction makes for the tension in most relationships. Evie illustrates this tension because she wants to be understood, but at the same time, she is afraid to be understood because then she would have to give up her feeling of being special. Yes, on the surface, Evie’s hostility has to do with her assumption that I did not have to struggle to get to where I am in the same way that she did. Thanks, as always, for your comments.

  2. danny said

    Arn’t the Narcissistic and borderline personality disorders very resistant to change ? Great blog.

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