It’s Narcissist Friday!
Sometimes you might be surprised to hear a narcissist put himself/herself down. The popular definition of narcissism has something to do with bragging almost constantly, so we don’t usually expect narcissists to speak negatively about themselves or their abilities. However, that person you suspect is a narcissist may well lower himself in comparison to others at times. This can be confusing.
Why would a narcissist talk down about himself? Such an action, so out of sync with expected behavior, must have a purpose. Yes, and we call it “sandbagging.”
Sandbagging is a term used in competitive sports and games. Gamblers use the term to define the action of a player who suggests he has a low hand by only matching or passing, then raising when the pot is larger (also called “slow-play”). In racing, the term refers to someone who deliberately runs a slower qualifying race in order to convince others that he cannot perform as well. In chess and golf, sandbagging is to purposely play at a lower level in one game in order to gain a higher handicap for the next. A few years ago an Olympic badminton team was disqualified for intentionally playing at a lower level for the purpose of a higher handicap.
You get the idea. Sandbagging is hustling. Almost every form of competition has its hustlers, and sandbagging is a primary method of hustling. For the narcissist, every human interaction is competition.
For some competitors, the goal of sandbagging is the higher handicap. For others it is to influence the betting. For still others, it is to gain a better position. But what is the goal of the narcissist?
Here are some ideas:
1. The narcissist may use sandbagging to get out of work. Real work is anathema to the narcissist. They would rather use the work of others. So the narcissist might claim a physical limitation or a lack of ability to avoid an unpleasant job. “Oh, I am terrible at cleaning,” the narcissist says. So someone else will have to do it.
2. When the narcissist needs praise, and they do crave praise much like other addicts crave their drug, she might say something negative about herself so that you will disagree and lift her up. “I am such a terrible mom,” she may say. To which, of course, you must say, “Oh no, you have been a good mom.” So the praise is gained by a simple self-demeaning statement. (The irony here is that the narcissist doesn’t believe the negative, but says it; while you do believe the statement, but are put in a position to speak against it.)
3. Narcissists are not above simple hustling. To trick an opponent into thinking of the narcissist as less able, then overwhelm with superior ability, is narcissist glory. For example, Jack is invited to play racquetball. He has played all his life, but he says that he isn’t very good. Then he thoroughly enjoys beating his opponent. He has, in fact, beaten the opponent twice. Once by the deception; and once by superior play. Jack may even try to pass off his success as a total surprise, a fluke, just so he can do it again to the same opponent.
4. Some narcissists play the role of a victim so others will support them with help, money, and sympathy. They put themselves down to manipulate the feelings of others. They are disabled, or confused, or depressed, or shy, or whatever it will take to get you to do what they want. By the time you figure out that their negative claims don’t stand up to truth, you have been used.
5. Sometimes the narcissist will sandbag just for the sake of making you feel guilty for questioning or criticizing them. When you have dared to point out an error in something the narcissist has done, you may hear over and over how the narcissist just isn’t good at that. This is not an excuse to get you to do it, but a way of manipulating your feelings. If the narcissist got lost while driving, and you had to help find the right way, he may continually say that he is “so lousy” at directions. Each time you are made to feel ashamed for any criticism you may have felt, whether you shared it or not.
So, if you hear the narcissist putting himself or herself down, ask why. Believe me, there is a reason.