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Narcissistic Accusations

One of the behaviours that is highly characteristic of pathological narcissism is the making of unjust accusations.

The Overt Lie

Let’s suppose that, out of the blue, a narcissist has unjustly accused you of deliberately doing something bad, X. (I have stipulated ‘out of the blue’, because the situation is slightly more complicated if the narcissist has made such an accusation in response to something that you have said. Nevertheless, it is relatively straightforward to extrapolate from the ‘out of the blue’ case to the responsive/reactive case.)

Probably, there will be an important sense in which this unjust accusation constitutes a compulsive lie. However, the main point that I want to make is this: there will always be a more useful sense in which such an accusation also constitutes a compulsive telling of the truth (albeit an encrypted telling of the truth).

When an unjust accusation is narcissistically motivated (and out-of-the-blue), it is always either an instance of what Dr Malkin calls ‘emotional hot potato’, or an instance of what might be called ‘emotional bleed’ (or, more technically, ‘mood-congruent psychosis’).

Emotional Hot Potato

In the former case (emotional hot potato), the narcissist has unjustly accused you of deliberately doing something bad, X, because he is in fact guilty of deliberately doing X (or some other blameworthy thing).

One of the typical features of pathological narcissism is a pathological desperation to avoid feeling guilt and shame, and to avoid accepting that one is flawed or that one has done something wrong. Moreover, one of the dysfunctional narcissistic ways of avoiding such thoughts and feelings is to blame-shift, or to accuse others of wrongdoings. In part, narcissists do this to distract or deflect from their own feelings of guilt or shame. However, they also do it in the service of a strange, dysfunctional way of processing the aversive emotions that they are desperate to avoid: attempting to make others feel those very same aversive emotions (in this case, guilt or shame). Thus, the narcissist might have accused you of deliberately doing the relevant bad thing, X, because he has himself deliberately done X (or some other blameworthy thing). In this way, his unjust accusation tells you something true, namely that he might have deliberately done X or some other blameworthy thing.

Emotional Bleed

In the latter case (emotional bleed), the narcissist has made the unjust accusation because he is already experiencing an aversive emotion. Typically, pathological narcissists struggle to differentiate between reality and the contents of their own thoughts and feelings, especially when they are under stress or feeling a strong emotion. (This is closely related to their impairment of empathy, i.e. to their difficulty with taking the perspectives of others, and acting with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.) It seems as though pathological narcissists have only a limited awareness of the emotions that they happen to be feeling, and are relatively incapable of identifying such emotions and reporting to others that they are feeling them (this latter difficulty is as much due to distrust and fear of vulnerability as it is to an inability to recognise experienced emotions). Instead, it is as though the narcissist’s emotions invisibly influence and distort reality itself, as it is perceived by the narcissist.

Additionally, pathological narcissists tend towards paranoia, inasmuch as they tend to construe ambiguous social cues in a negative light, and assume that others are out to get them unless they have (what they perceive to be) strong evidence to the contrary. (This is ironic, of course, since it is more usually the narcissist who is exploiting and hurting others.) Therefore, if a pathological narcissist happens to be experiencing a strong aversive emotion—especially if it coincides with something that you have done—then this might automatically affect his representation of reality, and cause him to believe that you have gone out of your way to make him feel the relevant emotion.

Thus, the narcissist might have accused you of deliberately doing the relevant bad thing, X, because he is presently experiencing an aversive emotion, and X is something that, if you had deliberately done it, would have implied your intention to cause this bad feeling in the narcissist. In this way, the narcissist’s unjust accusation tells you something true, namely that the narcissist might be feeling a particular aversive emotion (specifically, whatever aversive emotion you would have deliberately caused if you had deliberately done X).

The Hidden Truth

Since these are the only two possibilities, there is a clear and determinate truth that the narcissist’s unjust accusation has conveyed. I.e. by unjustly accusing you of doing something bad, X, the narcissist has resolutely conveyed that either he has himself deliberately done X or some other blameworthy thing, or he is feeling whatever bad emotion you would have caused if you had in fact done X.

Therefore, if you know that an unjust utterance of

‘You did X deliberately!’

is narcissistically motivated, then there is a sense in which you may justifiably reinterpret it as an utterance of:

‘Either I did X or some other blameworthy thing, or I’m feeling bad in whatever way you would have caused if you’d actually done X’.

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