My narcissistic clients have reported three main reasons why they become defensive when asked to explain their behavior:
(1) You feel attacked.
People with narcissistic personality disorder tend to be afraid of negative feedback or to be shown to be definitely wrong.As a result, they refuse to be detained and told or take responsibility for what they have said or done.
It can feel like a potential minefield that could blow up their self-esteem.You become the enemy who puts them in danger.
(2) You are afraid of being exposed as false.
A number of factors play a role in this.
- Unstable self-esteem – People with narcissistic adaptations are very insecure.
Their self-esteem is very balanced. They may seem very confident, but this is a slightly pierced defensive facade.
They are captivated by the pleasure of the moment and not particularly focused on the truth or falseness of what they say. It becomes too embarrassing for me to admit that one of her careless statements is false.
(3) If you only have to admit one mistake, its facade can be completely different.
Narcissistic self-esteem is like a helium balloon.It can hover high above us, but a single needle stick will empty it.
Narcissism has its own logic:
Admit to a mistake = to admit imperfection = to feel worthless garbage = Fall into a self-hating depression based on shame = Avoid admitting a mistake.
therefore… this could have an impact in the event of a real incident.
Example – Bob misses dinner
Bob, an exhibitionist narcissist, is married to Sue.Sue cooked him for dinner and waited until midnight for Bob to come home. His cell was shut down and her increasingly desperate messages went straight to the voicemail and her texts were never answered.
Bob missed dinner because he drank after work with some male colleagues and they ended up in a strip club.They were all very drunk and had lap dances.
He came home very drunk, his clothes messy and in no condition to answer Sue’s questions coherently.
The next morning: Sue asks Bob to explain why he missed dinner and didn’t answer her texts.Bob becomes extremely defensive and tries to ask her questions side by side.
Bob: Please leave me alone.My head hurts.
Sue: Well, you shouldn’t have been drinking.I was waiting for you at home. I did dinner. I deserve an explanation. What did you do, that was so important that you couldn’t let me know?
Bob: Look, let’s talk about it another time.
Sue: You owe me an explanation.I need clarity about why you came home drunk with a half-open shirt.
Bob: I work hard all day.Am I not allowed to relax and drink after work?
Sue: But what about me?You knew I was waiting for you at home. How can you be so ruthless and cruel?
Bob: Stop the muzzle!
Why is Bob so defensive?
He knows he was wrong, but he doesn’t want to be forced to admit it or look at his behavior.Bob had convinced himself that he had the right to “go out with the guys,” and he really didn’t care how Sue was doing. He experiences Sue’s questioning as an attack and feels entitled to attack her back.
Headline: Narcissists experience other people’s desire to have their past behavior and motives explained as potentially dangerous to their precarious self-esteem.Nor do they want to give up the freedom to do as they wish. They see clarity as a potential big loss for them.
One of my narcissistic clients said: I like the grey area.I don’t want to be nailed. I like to keep my options open and do what I want at the moment.
Elinor Greenberg, PhD, CGP
In private practice in NYC and author of the book: Borderline, Narcissistic and Schizoid Adaptations.