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.