Narcissists love using shame as a weapon.
Shame is different from guilt. Guilt says, “I should not have done that. My action was bad.” Shame says, “I should not have done that. I am a bad person for doing that.” Guilt is a natural and good thing, because it can prevent a person from doing bad things or make them realize that they did something bad, and they will not do it again. Shame however, exaggerates. It makes a person feel like they are stupid, bad, evil, etc. for doing what they did rather than simply pointing out their mistake and allowing them to move on from it.
Not only does shaming people make narcissists feel superior, but it takes attention off of their bad behavior while simultaneously discrediting their victim. It also makes a victim easy to control by obliterating that victim’s self esteem. Shame is a very effective weapon.
There are various ways narcissists use shame.
Narcissists reinvent the past. They tell stories differently than they actually happened. They either claim to be the reason someone succeeded or twist the story so the other person looks stupid, like a failure, etc. Since narcissists speak with such certainty, this can make a victim doubt their own memories and also feel ashamed for something they did not even do.
They tell embarrassing stories about their victim. Narcissistic parents in particular seem to love this one. They tell stories that the victim would rather people did not know about. My mother used this one with me, telling stories about me in front of other people of when I was a child and did stupid or embarrassing things. Never did she share stories of my excellent grades or things I did well, only the stupid and embarrassing things. When I said I did not want her discussing these stories, she would shame me for how I felt, saying I was wrong and should not feel the way I did. It took a long time to realize that I was not wrong, that my feelings were just and this was nothing but an attempt on her part to make me feel shame.
Playing the role of victim. No matter what a narcissist does to a victim, they have the amazing ability to spin the situation in their favor, so they look like the victim, and the real victim is the abusive one in the relationship. This can create shame in a victim very easily unless the victim is well aware of this abusive tactic.
Religion can become a weapon. No true narcissist can be a Christian. Narcissism is diametrically opposed to the beliefs of Christianity. However, that does not mean a narcissist will not use Christianity to shame victims. Growing up, my mother told me I was going to Hell because of how badly I treated her. Later in life, a couple of people who knew nothing about narcissism said I was a bad Christian for treating my parents as I did while “claiming to be a Christian.” Thankfully, I have a good enough relationship with God to know what they said was utter nonsense. If I did not, their comments would have caused me a great deal of hurt and doubting my salvation!
“I was only joking!” “You’re too sensitive!” Nasty comments said to a victim followed by, “I was just kidding!” “Can’t you take a joke?” “You’re so sensitive!” and the like are also designed to make a victim feel ashamed for being righteously angry that they were offended by the narcissist’s cruel words. The goal is to make you feel ashamed of yourself for not realizing the narcissist was only kidding (which they were not) or being so sensitive you were offended by their “joke.” Do not fall for it. You are not wrong.
Comparisons. If you and the narcissist have done similar things, you can guarantee the narcissist has done it better, at least if you listen to his or her side of the story. Everything with narcissists is a pissing contest (sorry to be crude, but that is the best term I know of to describe this situation). If you found a cure for cancer, they found it first, but did not want to brag like you are doing. See what I mean? If they can make you feel badly for not being as good or as talented as them, that sows a seed for shame in you.
Talking down to others. Even a narcissist that is not overly intelligent can make a very intelligent victim feel stupid, and ashamed of being so stupid. Narcissists love to talk in circles and use big words (often that they do not know the proper definition of and also not in context). If you leave a conversation with a narcissist and your head is swimming, it is not because you are stupid. It is because narcissists are masters of talking in circles, which is also known as word salad.
Acting as if the narcissist is the adult, the victim the child. This is very common among narcissistic parents. They are all about keeping their children, children, no matter their child’s age. A person who thinks they are immature and not wise like the narcissist is very easy to control. Narcissistic parents may continue using a tone of voice that intimidated their children when they were growing up well into that child’s adulthood. They may call victims immature or mock them with phrases like, “You’re such a baby/child!” “You’re so immature!” “You need to grow up!”
Remember this if you are faced with these behaviors. You do NOT need to feel shame! No one should put that on you, but narcissists will try to. If they do, never accept it. Ask God to tell you the truth. Also, look at your situation objectively and you will realize the truth. Write about it in a journal, too, since writing often gives a great deal of clarity that speaking simply cannot. You do not need to carry the shame of your narcissistic parent!