Seeing Behind the Narcissist's Mask
The following dialogue and analysis is taken from the book Narcissism: Behind the Mask. The dialogue is an argument between a narcissist called Pete and his wife Bethany after Pete had forgotten to pick up milk from the shop whilst Bethany was at work, as agreed that morning between the two of them. It then goes on to explain the real meaning behind what Pete says.
This behavior by Pete is typical of how a narcissist creates and distorts an argument solely to protect his ego.
Bethany: Did you get the milk?
Pete: We don't need milk because we're having wine with dinner.
Bethany: We do need milk. Will you go and get some milk from the shop, please?
Pete: Stop nagging me.
Bethany: I'm not nagging you. I'm just asking if you can get some milk from the shop. We have run out and I'm cooking us a meal and I need milk for the rice pudding. In any case, we will need some in the morning for breakfast.
Pete: You really know how to get on people's nerves, don't you? You always do that. You're impossible to get on with. I never get any time to myself.
Bethany: Always do what?
Pete: You get on my nerves; you always have something to moan about.
Bethany: Why do I get on your nerves? I only asked you to go to the shop and get some milk.
Pete: You get on my nerves because you're always opening your big fat mouth and moaning. Moan, moan, moan, that's all I ever hear.
Bethany: No I don't.
Pete: Yes you do. You moaned at me last week when you wanted me to clean up that mess.
Bethany: Well you made it.
Pete: I was doing the job for you.
And so the argument goes on. What is apparent very quickly in arguing with a narcissist is that the facts are completely immaterial. The substantive matter, that there is a need for milk and that Pete is best situated to go and get it, is entirely irrelevant.
Narcissists avoid blame at all costs
What really matters to Pete is the avoidance of blame. It was Pete who was at fault, he forgot the pick up the milk earlier. But he adopts a typically narcissistic strategy of not admitting that he was at fault and causing an argument as a distraction. When Bethany is not immediately drawn away from the question of going to get some milk, Pete resorts to getting personal '. . . you're always opening your big fat mouth and moaning' in order to raise the emotional stakes and draw Bethany into an unrelated, personal issue. Bethany is now concerned with defending herself from Pete's personal attack
Thus Pete has succeeded in converting the conversation into an argument and moving the dialogue away from his failure to pick up the milk, so avoiding any risk of accepting blame. At the same time he has avoided being told what to do, again, something that narcissists detest.
Pete's emotional response to failure is to feel shame, which he feels must be avoided at almost any cost. Being accused of failure, being blamed and so being made to feel ashamed, this most probably relates back to the way he was treated as a child when he failed to live up to his parents' expectations. It is not the importance of the 'failure' that matters to the narcissist, in this case, forgetting to pick up milk is a most trivial failure in most people's eyes; what matters to him is the trigger of being reminded of painful repressed feelings from his childhood, fed into his consciousness from the unconscious part of his mind. And Bethany's request, '. . . will you go and get some milk from the shop, please?' despite being accompanied by 'please', triggers further repressed painful feelings from Pete's childhood of being told by his parents what to do, probably at an age when he needed to be allowed to make decisions for himself, but was not allowed to do so.
You will only win an argument against a narcissist when you first meet him and he is trying to impress you, or much later on, when you are completely under his control. If you get so weak that you can't look after him, he'll manipulate your emotional state so that you are able to look after him, but he'll never let you get sufficiently strong to be able to stand up to him, or to run away.
The narcissist's behaviour in the workplace is similar to his behaviour at home, but the two are complementary in some ways. If he can get the admiration that he so craves in one environment, he may be easier to please in the other. This aspect of his behaviour makes it so much more difficult to recognize the narcissist.
To understand more about narcissists and their codependent collaborators read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.