Do You Have Trouble Admitting Your Mistakes?

Narcissistic personalities have trouble admitting their mistakes.

Posted Oct 15, 2020

What happens when a narcissist gets fired, loses an election, or is simply caught doing something wrong? These are painful experiences for anyone. But for the narcissist, the primary need is to be the center of attention in order to support his labile self-esteem.

While healthier people are hurt by disappointment or disapproval, the narcissist feels completely destabilized by it. He cannot get "back on the horse." The narcissist cannot maintain his sense of worth and is dependent on others for sustenance.

If other people mirror the self-aggrandized self of the narcissist, they are included in his idealized bubble. Hence, people may report that their experience of a narcissist was that he was charming and flattering. But disagreement or criticism by another person, a Board of Directors, or an electorate is experienced as a narcissistic injury.

Narcissistic injuries do not feel like hurt feelings, they feel like his self is being attacked. The narcissist needs constant reassurance that he is special and can spin out of control and attack others venomously when he feels unappreciated.

Source: Sander-Weeteling/Unsplash

Patrick came to see me when he was fired from a large corporation. In the first session, he explained how unfairly he had been treated. But he wanted to come twice per week and figure out what he may have contributed to the bad outcome. I concurred that it seemed that the process had been unfair and coming twice per week was a good idea.

When the session came toward the end of the hour, I explained to him that I charge for missed sessions. If I am not given at least 24-hours notice, the patient is charged. If I am given more notice, I offer a make-up time, but if the patient does not take the make-up, I charge for the session. I also explained that I give the patient a bill at the end of the month and expect payment the following week in the session. (This was before the coronavirus pandemic!)

Patrick said he would not pay for missed sessions twice in a week — only once at most. It was clear to me that Patrick needed to be special. He refused to follow my rules because they did not suit him. This was the first diagnostic sign that Patrick might be a narcissistic personality. I could have insisted on my terms, but he would not have started the treatment.

Karen cannot admit making a mistake. One evening, she came to my group and brought a container of coffee. The other group members pointed out that the container was leaking on my upholstered chair. Karen laughed and continued talking. The other group members again pointed out that the coffee was leaking. Finally, Karen got up from the chair, stroked it, and exclaimed, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s fine.”

Another time, Karen came into her individual session in a rage. She had been given a ticket for parking in a “Disabled” parking spot.

“The cop was so stupid,” she said, “there were plenty of empty parking spaces.”

When I pointed out that she had done something wrong and the policeman had every right to give her a ticket, she got incensed at me.

“Why are you picking on me? It’s so stupid to be given a ticket when there were plenty of places for a disabled person to park.”

Like Patrick, Karen didn’t feel that the rules applied to her. She was special and the policeman should have known that and not given her a ticket.

Narcissistic patients typically idealize or devalue the therapist. It was clear that Patrick was going to devalue me. He was trying to maintain his self-esteem and avoid feeling the shame resulting from having been fired by projecting his sense of defectiveness onto me. Karen devalued me by unapologetically staining my chair and denying that she had done it. In both cases, the challenge for me was to tolerate being devalued so that the treatment could continue and perhaps help them accept their mistakes in judgment.