NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame

The grandiosity that is associated with narcissistic behavior is often a cover up for a great deal of shame.  For people who exhibit narcissistic traits, what appears to others as over confidence or even arrogance is really a thin shell that protects a deeply deflated and hollow sense of self.  Often, people with narcissistic traits are on an emotional seesaw between grandiosity and shame.  

Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame

A Need for Ever Greater "Narcissistic Emotional Supplies"
To hide their sense of shame, people with narcissistic traits often need to constantly keep themselves pumped up emotionally or expect that others will pump them up.

If they're in high positions of authority, there are usually subordinates who are willing to engage in this charade for whatever they expect to gain from the situation.

Behind the scenes, these subordinates might be secretly laughing at their boss, especially if they see through the boss's grandiose cover up.  But in front of the boss, they're all too willing to continue providing narcissistic strokes.

The problem is usually that, eventually, the pendulum swings the other way and the person with narcissistic traits confronts his or her own deep seated shame and emotional hollowness.

If people with narcissistic traits are unwilling to acknowledge and take steps to overcome the deep sense of shame that fuels this dynamic, they often find themselves in a never-ending quest for more "narcissistic emotional supplies."

This can take many different forms, including an obsession with making more and more money, a craving for ever greater expensive possessions, an obsessive focus on appearance (e.g., a need to appear physically "buff" or having plastic surgery to hide the signs of aging), the need to have a lot of power over others or the need to be surrounded by very attractive  romantic partners.

These so-called "narcissistic emotional supplies" provide only temporary gratification.  Sooner of later, the shame that might have been temporarily kept at bay rises to the surface.

Narcissism:  An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame

Often, people who are caught in this emotional seesaw between grandiosity and shame don't get help unless there is a significant emotional crisis in their lives.  This could take the form of a spouse getting fed up and leaving, the realization that this dynamic has alienated other close family members like one's children or  losing one's job and thus losing career status.

When people with narcissistic traits go through these types of losses that they cannot assuage in other ways, they're often in a lot of emotional pain, and they don't have the emotional resources to deal with it.

These deeply humbling experiences and the shame that cannot be pushed down any more sometimes brings them to therapy.  For others, who don't get help, they often feel impotent rage or depression.  They might turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sexual acting out or other mood-altering behavior to bury their feelings.  This often leads to a further emotional spiraling down.

The origins of shame are as varied as the people who suffer with it.  This kind of deep seated shame, which is covered over by grandiosity, often starts early in life.  It might start as early as the preverbal stage of life.  It can begin with emotional neglect or the lack of emotional attunement or mirroring between the infant and the primary caregiver.

Getting Psychological Help
Getting help to overcome shame takes courage, especially for someone who has spent most of his or her life trying to hide it.

Shame often keeps people with narcissistic traits out of treatment so that the people who usually need the most help never seek it.

If they do seek help, they must be willing to make a commitment to stick with it, and treatment is often long.

These are ingrained characterological traits and require a willingness on the client's part to do in-depth psychological work and the willingness on the therapist's part to do the work with challenging clients.

For those willing to do the work with a skilled clinician, freeing oneself from the emotional seesaw of  grandiosity and shame can be a life changing experience.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. 

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my web site:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me,