I am a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders who has worked with people with disabilities and mental illnesses for over 10 years.
It's pretty well-known to those who've had to deal with narcissistic people that narcissists don't deal with mistakes very well. Whether you made one or whether they did, there's bound to be a problem over it. But why is it so difficult for them to deal with something that is so common?
If you are the one who made the mistake, the narcissist may either be crushed that you are not perfect or overjoyed that you've messed up. Either way, you are going to hear about it. It is not uncommon for pathologically narcissistic people to fly into a rage over very minor mistakes, attacking the other person relentlessly and attempting to annihilate their character for something as small as bringing the wrong item from the store or simple forgetfulness.
There can be a few reasons for this. Many times, it's because the narcissist doesn't believe it is a mistake in the first place. They are sure you have malicious motives. They are certain you've done this thing on purpose to upset, sabotage or otherwise harm them. They take it as a personal attack and an offense. And of course, any attack on a narcissist will be avenged. If they do believe that it was unintentional, they may still attack or demean people anyway because it is a chance to make themselves feel better. Any flaw or failure on another person's part is an opportunity to elevate themselves and many narcissists will jump at this opportunity.
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Sometimes narcissistic people will attack loved ones for making mistakes because they cannot stand the idea that the person is not perfect. Not only do they feel this reflects badly on them, but a narcissist's idea of love is very immature, unrealistic and idealized. A partner that is not being devalued and discarded is usually being put on a pedestal. When this perfect partner messes up or fails somehow, this crushes the narcissist. They feel betrayed and tricked, and horribly let down. It's not unlike the way a child feels when they are forced to see their parents as ordinary humans before they are ready to understand or accept this fall from grace. It's a very traumatic experience, and it usually alters the relationship permanently.
Regardless of the reason, narcissists cannot abide mistakes. And if mistakes are difficult to accept from other people, they intolerable from the narcissist themselves. Everyone who has dealt with a pathological narcissist knows how far they will go not to admit or accept that they've made a mistake. But this denial is a lot more than just not wanting to be wrong. To most people, a simple mistake is usually not that big of a deal. It can be embarrassing, depending on the type of mistake but generally, we all understand that everyone makes mistakes.
To a narcissist, making a mistake - any mistake - is unacceptable. It's unforgivable. Mistakes to the narcissist are the ultimate proof they are not special or superior, which means that, behind the false self, all the horrible, hateful things they secretly believe about themselves are true. They really are worthless, they really are garbage, they really are stupid. This is of course ridiculous. Making a mistake means none of these things, but because of the narcissist's delusional shame and pathological self-hatred, it only takes something small to shatter the illusion they are trying to advance, and that tidal wave of bad feelings comes pouring through. Something as small as not remembering the date can be enough to trigger huge feelings of shame. It sounds absurd to most people, but this is the miserable reality that pathologically narcissistic people are living in.
This is why they need to blame their mistakes on other people. They need an out, a way to nullify and invalidate those bad feelings. If they can't do that, the feelings will overwhelm them and they are unable to deal with it. That is pretty much the reason they do everything. Their life is nothing but one long, constant attempt to escape those horrible, overwhelming feelings. It's why they rage, it's why they lie, it's why they manipulate and gaslight and why they created a false self in the first place. All of their efforts are directed toward the same thing. Sadly, it's like trying to hold the ocean back with a broom. The facade is so fragile that even a very small mistake sends the whole thing crashing down.
Imagine if your opinion of yourself were so delusional and negative that making a simple mistake could cause you to decompensate, even to become suicidal if you couldn't blame it on somebody are else and were forced to acknowledge it. This is their reality. And this is why relationships with pathologically narcissistic people will always be unfair and abusive. They are literally one small mistake away from total disaster all the time.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.