Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Narcissism And Blame

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 17, 2013


Rainer, from my previous post, is irritated with John, her husband, when he challenges her plan of action. “I am going to call the plumber,” she says about the leaky toilet. “No, don’t do that,” John says, “maybe I can fix it.” Rainer, unwilling to listen to John’s point of view, claims that life is never “easy” because she is always questioned. “Maybe it is hard for you to tolerate other ideas,” I say, wondering about Rainer’s narcissism; her sense that her ideas are always the best ideas and a question of her ideas makes her nervous and insecure. “Well, yes, I have to agree with you,” Rainer says, as she quickly sees her own flaw; her sense that she cannot accept a discussion about her plan of action. Rainer sees and feels her narcissism, giving her shame about herself, but also relief that John is not as “bad as I thought,” she says, with sadness, as she implies that now she feels like the “bad one”. This realization that Rainer’s anger towards John is a defense against her own personality weakness. To Rainer, questioning her decision to call a plumber, makes her feel small and insignificant, and since John should know that, he should not offer an alternative idea. Giving the light of day to these notions helps Rainer see the absurdity of her need to have John go along with all of her decisions. “The ‘N’ word is a tough one,” I say, referring to the pain of recognizing one’s own narcissism. “Yea, I am going to go home and plop on the couch,” Rainer says, expressing her exhaustion after seeing herself in this painful way.

6 Responses to “Narcissism And Blame”

  1. Ashana M said

    Going back to your earlier post about Rainer, the belief that emerged there is that people are not allowed to have different ideas about things. If John likes his friends, she cannot dislike them. If she wants to call the plumber, he cannot suggest fixing it himself. This creates a great deal of stress for her, because every time there is a disagreement, there is a rule that has been broken that she needs to enforce–and at the same time, someone’s moral character is called into question. You can see it in her response to you as well: whatever you say, she also agrees with. She agrees she has low self-esteem. She agrees she is narcissistic. She has to. Not agreeing would make her a “bad person.” It’s against the rules, akin to murdering your cat and leaving it on your front porch.

    • Yes, Ashana, you bring up an excellent point. The need to please creates a difficulty in psychotherapy in that it is hard to distinguish between understanding and pleasing. This is something that Rainer and I both need to be mindful about. Thanks.

      • Ashana M said

        You’ve misunderstood me. There’s no evidence one way or another that she wants to please you. She may. She may not. I’m sure that’s an issue for some people in therapy, but the anecdote doesn’t reveal that. On the other hand, the anecdote does reveal that she believes that it is morally wrong to disagree with other people. If you like being agreed with, then her agreement will make you happy as an incidental by-product of her belief, but she can hold a belief that disagreeing is morally wrong without being concerned with your pleasure or displeasure. Rainer is likely to continue to agree with you even disagreement is what began to garner your approval instead of agreement. It is her rule she is following–not yours. It’s a different problem than wanting to please you.

  2. Shelly said

    Ashana said exactly what I was going to say. I really don’t think that Rainer is narcissistic, at least not in the classical use of the term. Perhaps it would help me to understand how you are using it in this post if you explained it? In my mind, Rainer is the exact opposite of a narcissist: she gives way under the slightest suggestion of others, be it from John or from you. I thought narcissists believed they were always right, and that their ideas were the way to go, to the exclusion of all others? How is Rainer a narcissist? And why the moral judgement?

    • Narcissism comes in different flavors. The overt narcissist is grandiose, in defense of a sense of inferiority. The covert narcissist (my terminology) feels so fragile that alternative points of view are threatening and scary to a cohesive sense of self. Both folks share a shaky sense of themselves, needing to hold themselves together like a house of cards. This lack of perceived stability in the self creates an anxiety when the world shifts, ever so slightly. Rainer seems to understand this, but as Ashana points out, one could argue that her need to please, stemming from a lack of self-confidence, could cause her to be fearful to argue with my ideas. As such, she is repeating her issues with me, and hence, not growing in this chapter of our relationship. Over time, though, I could imagine that this repetition will serve as an illustration of how difficult it is for her to be comfortable with her own mind. Thanks.

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