It’s Narcissist Friday!   


Especially when out of their desired element, narcissists can be surprisingly incompetent. They are not as smart as they would have us believe. They often fail to prepare for tasks, fail to listen to instructions, fail to follow through on promises, or fail to take the job seriously. Narcissists often climb the success ladder by manipulating the system or using the work of others. When expected to actually do the job, some fail.

By now we understand that there are several different kinds of narcissists, and we expect that narcissists will respond in different ways to failure. In fact, this is a core subject when thinking about narcissism. Since the narcissist must be superior, failure can present serious difficulty.

Even the definition of failure might seem cagey when thinking of narcissists. Obviously, there is no failure in not keeping a promise. Nor is there failure when the expectations of others are not met. Not in the eyes of the narcissist. The fact that you are inconvenienced or disappointed or hurt does not mean that the narcissist will realize he has failed. No, failure only happens when there is the possibility of a negative light on the image. In other words, only when the narcissist is in danger of being seen as weak or incompetent will he/she respond to failure.

For example: Fred somehow is given the responsibility of putting on the organization’s yard sale. He hand-picks a group to work with him, giving them the jobs that involve real work. He makes the decisions. He sets the date, writes the ad, and keeps everyone going. Fred loudly proclaims that this will be the best sale the organization has ever had. When the day comes, however, the sale is a bust. There were other events in town that day and the place Fred chose was off the path. The ads didn’t get into the paper because Fred didn’t get them done in time. The decisions Fred made were not good ones. So few people came that someone said it was the worst sale they had ever had.

Now, how does Fred handle this failure? He knows that everyone is looking at him. Almost everyone who has had a relationship with a narcissist has seen this situation. Here are some of the options (and remember that a narcissist can use any or all of these):


Blame – Fred will probably complain about everyone. The stupid newspaper should make their deadlines clear; and why do they need all that time anyway? The stupid town should advertise their events better so people know what’s going on. If he just had more help. If the workers had told more people. If the organization members really cared. On and on and on. Everyone is to blame except Fred. It isn’t his fault.


Attack – Anyone who even looks like they are thinking that Fred has failed will be attacked, especially Mrs. Fred and the kids. The attacks may have nothing to do with the sale. Suddenly the car is dirty and the son is irresponsible and stupid. Suddenly the food isn’t good enough. No one is safe while Fred feels like he has failed.


Lies – If possible, Fred will find a scapegoat. After all, he told Bill to be in charge of advertising. The leadership of the group chose the date. If the organization had been willing to spend a little money to get a better location the sale would have been much better. But Fred never told Bill about advertising. And Fred chose the date over objections from others. And the group offered a better location, but Fred disagreed. Fred is very willing to lie so that it doesn’t look like he has failed.


Rationalize – The weather was bad. Who could have known about the town’s events? The sale had been going downhill anyway. Nobody wants to buy used junk these days. The people of the town are cheap. Yes, the sale was a bomb, but it couldn’t be helped.


Now, this last one might surprise some of you.


Whining – I worked so hard, but I just can’t seem to do anything right. Nobody likes me. I am a failure. I didn’t want the responsibility, but someone had to do it. I feel terrible.


Why would some narcissists be so willing to take blame and accept failure? So that you and others will disagree with them and tell them it isn’t their fault. By seeming to embrace the failure, Fred is actually deflecting criticism. Instead of the complaints of others, Fred hears words of encouragement. As they agree with his rationalization, they affirm him. As they remind him of his many successes of the past, they build up his image in spite of the obvious failure.

The narcissist sees criticism as arrows of attack, and any failure or appearance of weakness invites criticism in his/her mind. So the narcissist has two options. He may preempt the shooting of the arrows or he can redirect the arrows. He will try to preempt by rationalizing the failure or by inviting the arrows and making the shooters feel bad or by shooting first. He will try to redirect the arrows through lies and blame.

The point is that the narcissist must avoid the criticism. The arrows cannot stick. So much is invested in making the image superior that any negative must be stopped. The cost of stopping the criticism from sticking is never too high.

There is actually one more option for the narcissist, especially if nothing else works.


Quitting – Fred, in an explosive fit of blame and lies, tells everyone how terrible they are and then quits the organization. Or he simply leaves. He won’t answer phone calls. He won’t talk to friends. If anyone asks, Mrs. Fred is instructed to tell them that Fred is just too busy with important things and should never have tried to help. Now he is leaving the organization so that he can focus on what he is really called to do.


Fred can prevent the arrows, redirect the arrows, or dodge the arrows.

And there you have it. Several options. Fred may use any or all of them. Are there others?

Let’s just say that narcissists don’t handle failure well.


Filed under Narcissism

16 responses to “Failure

  1. Still Reforming

    Too true. Nothing – not even whining – would surprise me coming from the mouth of the narcissist. I’ve heard (and fallen for) far too many false “apologies” and even seen the crocodile tear wiped from the corner of his eye. Anything to help the image. That’s what makes it so difficult for those trying to discern truth. When a little truth is mixed into the lie and then the “apology” or disinformation spread around to deflect blame from – while still attracting attention to – himself, anything is possible. Just one of the many reasons why as much distance as possible from the narc works for me.

  2. KayJay

    I’ve seen every one of these from a family member. Yep, failure is not recognized

    • Sandra

      Yes, me too!
      And I would add, the way the N advertises, highlights, harps on the failures of others (whether real or projected, we don’t know, right?)

      Whoever isn’t a failure is either too stupid or drunk. But we don’t know what those so called failures were trying to accomplish in the first place, but the N knows everything, and only talks about the worst.

      Is there a message board where this topic can be discussed? If so, please let me know, I still need to get a few things off my chest as I kick the dust off my heals from this miserable relationship.

      And thank you, Pastor Dave, for this wonderful article.

  3. Sam

    This article is very helpful. Thank you for sharing with us.
    Blessings to you.

  4. MeganC

    Excellent. Sharing on Give Her Wings. Thank you.

  5. Greater Glory

    Wow. I’m almost hyperventilating. I had to read it in 2 parts. Such crazy making foggy confusion. Yup. Amazing how clear it all seems now that I’m out….after 20 years. So exhausting.

  6. Once X backed out of a parking space and hit a car. This parking situation had been the exact same way for YEARS. Yet this time X backed into the car that he knew to expect would be there. His response? The car was stupid because it was a dark color. Why would ___ drive a stupid car with dark paint. Stupid, *&^(&^R(&^R% car…

    • Hahah! Once my N father backed into *my* car, & I didn’t notice for a week. When I confronted him w/ it, he mocked me for not noticing!! No apologies, of course. Though he did pay for it, since the car was in his name.

  7. all I know is ALL abusers can never ever ever say sorry or accept blame NEVER

  8. Faith

    “The fact that you are inconvenienced or disappointed or hurt does not mean that the narcissist will realize he has failed. No, failure only happens when there is the possibility of a negative light on the image.”-so true! The CN I’m married to (20 years) leaves/avoids all of his work responsibilities, to the very last second, (or later) and then ends up ‘not being able?’ to participate in holidays, birthdays, vacations, family time, lets me do all the work, planning…and somehow he always find a way to look like the, “poor me, I have all this work stuff to do”, and people fall for it. It has made our life chaotic, stressful, disorganized and unproductive. He doesn’t seem to have any shame or humiliation, as long as people feel pity/sympathy for him, his image is intact! I always felt the shame instead, like I was on a losing team, still am. Basically this prioritized him as #1, and the rest of us, somewhere. else.

  9. Kitkat

    I remember an elderly couple in their 70’s or early 80’s that I saw in the grocery store about 40 years ago, and that poor woman still haunts me. Her husband had taken her to the store for their regular shopping. His attention was fixed on something on a shelf and he took his time moving to the next aisle. She was shopping and he berated her unmercifully just for walking into the next aisle without his permission. She was a petite, little bit of a woman, very meek, frail and submissive. She was timidly trying to explain and apologize for having stepped out of line. He was loud, vile, and extremely aggressive. I stood there in awe and having to bite my tongue so as not to interfere, but I so wanted to smack him for being so abusive. The only reason I didn’t say anything was because you could tell it would have made things worse for her, he seemed like he could have been physically abusive as well. And you also knew it was something she put up with for decades. It was all her fault because she dared to walk on instead of wait for him. I don’t think I will ever forget the unjustified sense of shame, fear and embarrassment, I saw in her face. I just wanted to hug her and tell her she didn’t have to put up with that. But she came from the generation of women who were taught they were less than a man. Thank God we have moved on and are no longer fettered by the old constraints that kept so many in bondage. We have a choice, and no one should have to put up with that kind of abuse…. ever!

  10. Priscilla

    This is totally true for what I have experiencing. My Xn husband did the same over and over. I used to feel soo sympathetic on him why others were messing his project/work up. I was just too brain-washed to see through the “blaming”, “whining” and “quitting”. It is just him. Most of the time, not other’s fault.

    • Lene

      Oh my. My ex did this too. In the 20 years we were married, he had no less than 7 jobs. He was always leaving because he had been undermined by someone else. Looking back now, I realize that probably wasn’t the whole truth.

      • Priscilla

        Exactly, Lene. He gets bored with a job after a few years and always on the look for excitement and adventure. A good job that he landed would begin well and his has passion and energy towards it but quickly found it boring (perhaps the supply has ran out when people realised his true-self); and then complaining and whining about the job that he said that he praised and would be retiring with. I used to be so protective about him and started to “pick fight” with those that he said “bullying him”. He just wanted me to be on his side.

    • Lene

      Exactly, Priscilla. My ex was always getting bored with his jobs. I’m in the same job now for 25 years. I never felt I could have left it because he was always praising my work (he had no clue what it really involved), and saying that we couldn’t make it without my income. What he really meant though was he couldn’t leave his jobs without mine to back him up. When he took a job where he made more than me, he started to discuss what to do with HIS “extra” income. My income was “ours” and his was “his.”

  11. Greater Glory

    I called it “The Could have…..Should have….Would have” syndrome. All talk and no show. Such a paralyzing fear to avoid failure. Sooooo tiring and chaotic, and one day, I realized nothing he said ever really was going to happen. It was all hot air. Sad.

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