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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Why do narcissists need to think we’re bad?

narcissistNarcissists have the uncanny ability to make those closest to them feel defective and bad.  When in a close relationship with one, you will often feel like you have let him or her down in some huge way, “causing” him to feel extremely angry or extremely hurt or both.  The partner or child of the narcissist always ends up feeling as if he or she has somehow failed him – a belief the narcissist thrives on.  The personality disordered individual is masterful at placing blame on her target, using a variety of techniques, particularly implication.  Some forms of implication include pouting, brooding, and the silent treatment.

Don’t forget, the narcissist’s favorite weapon is the silent treatment.  The silent treatment provides a variety of purposes for the narcissist:

  • It controls the communication and thus, the relationship.
  • It prevents him from having to deal with anything.
  • It places the narcissist in the superior position, deeming the recipient of the silent treatment as deserving of punishment (which he so eagerly dispenses.)
  • It hurts its targets and since narcissists have no empathy, they could not care less about hurting others, and may even feel powerful and strong knowing they have such an impact on them.

Why do so many of us put up with this constant attack on our self-esteem?  Not only do we put up with it, but we analyze what we could do different or better in order to ensure a positive outcome after our next encounter.  In many ways, they are more significant to us than we are to ourselves.  And truthfully, we really should be pondering what we’re going to do about our own mental health, rather than constantly analyzing them.

That being said, I am now going to analyze them.  I am a big believer in schema therapy and modes.  To understand more about schema therapy read some of Jeffrey Young’s works.  The material I am presenting comes from his book entitled, Schema Therapy – A Practitioner’s Guide.  According to Young, the narcissist presents three common schema modes; these are:  (1) the lonely child; (2) the self-aggrandizer; and (3) the detached self-soother.  I will further define these terms at the end of this article.

Schema modes are types of “personas,” or facets of the self comprised of strong emotional and rigid coping states and reactions caused when specific “soft spots” in our psyche are triggered.  Have you ever had your “buttons pushed?”  If so, you have experienced yourself being in a schema mode.  People shift from one schema mode to another, displaying different coping styles, each based on the current set of emotional circumstances.  For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on specific maladaptive schema modes commonly experienced by narcissists.

Of particular note for this blog is the lonely child mode, which is triggered by the emotional deprivation schema and the defectiveness schema – common schemas experienced by narcissists. The emotional deprivation schema is a deeply held belief/conviction that a person will not be loved. In fact, this emotional deprivation schema ensures that the narcissist will remain being both unable to love and incapable of feeling love. When the emotional deprivation schema and/or the defectiveness schema are triggered in the narcissist, he goes into the lonely child mode.  To cope with the threat of the underlying emotions, the narcissist will compensate in a variety of ways.  I am sure you are familiar with the over compensatory mode of “self-aggrandizer” and I’m also sure that you’ve dealt with the “detached self-soother” mode as well.  Their names are self-explanatory.

What the non-narcissist partner or child fails to understand is that the narcissist needs them to be bad.  Because narcissists have developed these underlying beliefs or schemas of emotional deprivation or defectiveness, they will demand much from, and give little to, the people closest to them.  Because of the deeply entrenched schema of emotional deprivation, the narcissist’s emotional needs are never met.   This dilemma will cause him to exaggerate how much he is neglected and misunderstood – by you.  While I set out to explain why this is so, I see that I am only explaining THAT it is so.  Suffice it to say that it is akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy of remaining emotionally deprived and defective. In place of true connection, the narcissist settles for the compensatory strategy of power and control.

You, being a relatively reasonable human being, will use your humanity and empathy to try and soothe the other person’s distress – all to no avail.  In fact, because sometimes you get glimpses of pleasing the narcissist with your efforts, you will be reinforced to keep trying even harder to win the narcissist’s approval.  But, instead, you end up being criticized and ignored. The narcissist does not appreciate your efforts in the least. In fact, he or she will point out what you failed to do right.  For instance, if you clean the house, cook a special dinner for him, dress nicely, and greet him at the door with a bouquet of flowers, he will find fault in some way, by either ignoring your efforts, pouting in front of the TV for some unknown reason, or will pick on you for not cooking a good enough meal, etc. You will be unappreciated and will most likely feel crushed.  And like most empaths or regular people, you will end up blaming yourself and trying harder still.  Your entire relationship will be defined by three important experiences:

  • Dumbing down your expectations in the relationship to the point of accepting mere “crumbs,” such as being grateful for a time when your partner is simply not yelling at you or ignoring you
  • Taking on 100% of the responsibility for the well-being of the relationship
  • Being preoccupied with the relationship to the detriment of your mental well-being

The best suggestions I can give for people who cope with the crazy making behavior of a personality disordered person is the following:

  1. Do not personalize other people’s “stuff.”
  2. Recite “mantras” that are self-affirming.
  3. Understand that this individual needs you to be bad and learn to not need his opinion to change; that is, learn acceptance.
  4. Practice self-approval; do not place your sense of worth in the hands of a personality disordered person; this is not wise.
  5. Rather than focusing on the relationship with this person, go live your life.
  6. Tell yourself: “Observe, don’t absorb,” when in the presence of this individual.

There are many more things you can do to help yourself when in a relationship with a difficult personality; the main thing to remember is to always take care of yourself and focus on your own lifeDon’t engage in the dramaMove on.  Allow yourself the freedom to be yourself and enjoy life.

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Defectiveness Schema:  The feeling that one is bad, unwanted, inferior, or unimportant.

Detached Self-Soother Mode:  This mode can be triggered by feelings of inferiority, or may just involve a desire to detach; in this mode a person “turns off” his feelings by comforting himself and detaching emotionally from others; this mode usually involves addictions and emotional disengagement.

Early Maladaptive Schema:  A broad pervasive theme or pattern comprised of memories, emotions, cognitions, and bodily sensations regarding oneself and one’s relationships with others; developed during childhood and elaborated throughout one’s lifetime; are dysfunctional.

Emotional Deprivation Schema: The belief that one’s desire for a normal degree of emotional support will not be met.  The three major forms of emotional deprivation are needs for nurturance, empathy, and protection.

Lonely Child Mode:  This is a mode or persona that is triggered by feelings of emotional deprivation and defectiveness schemas.

Schema Modes:  Personas which are developed to cope with the underlying maladaptive schemas triggered in interpersonal relationships.  Modes are transitional and rigid – that is, you cannot change them.

Schema:  A pattern imposed on reality or experience to help individuals explain it.

Self-Aggrandizer Mode:  This is a mode that transfers feelings of inferiority by overcompensating and becoming superior, entitled, and arrogant.

Why do narcissists need to think we’re bad?

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2016). Why do narcissists need to think we’re bad?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from