Here’s another helpful article I ran across on how to effectively work with a narcissist in couple’s or family therapy.
The article offers some gems for both the therapist and the family member. 3 Basics of Working (Mindfully) with a Narcissist in Therapy: a Balancing Act:
It may be surprising to know that it’s definitely not about a sole focus on how to “set the npd straight” or “correct” their attitudes and treatment of others; in effect, that’s their job. Your job is about letting go of what’s not yours … to avoid that trap, so you can remain aware and authentically connected to your inner sources of strength, thus, in an optimal state of mind and body to be a healing presence for yourself … allowing you to do “your part” to create a context or “holding place” in which healing, authentic connection and transformational change is possible.
An npd’s behaviors are destabilizing at least in part because: balance is both their greatest need, yet also what they most actively and desperately fight against, nevermind the outer calm they may present.
These three starting points provide a mindful understanding of npd, first and foremost, as a set of learned problem behaviors driven by a certain mindset (belief system, thoughts, etc.) from which the therapist may invite the npd client and their loved one(s) to work as a team, inspiring them to create new possibilities. This starting place:
- Shifts away from judging or condemning the npd client to identifying the “problem behaviors” that, in effect, predictably always produce the same effects, and include negative ones for the npd as well, for example: they push those they love away from them; and isolation, knowingly or unknowingly, is the cruelest of punishments to human beings. For the narcissist, abandonment can be their greatest fear. If this seems puzzling, consider this: their current mind set associates “avoiding vulnerability” with “status” and illusions of “power,” etc., which explains why they desperately need to shift to a mindset that would better their higher needs to relate authentically as human beings. The new mindset, for example, would recognize the ability to be vulnerable as a relationship-building strength! (Warning to codependent partners: This is not your job; it’s theirs alone.)
- Allows the focus of what needs to change to remain on the “problem” mindsets and behaviors, and the cultural and familial contexts in which they flourish. Additionally, this focuses on “judging” behaviors, not persons (and disarms the npd of one of their primary weapons — blame). Instead all are invited to not only take blame off the table, but also to (humorously) team-up to “blame” blame itself for much unnecessary suffering.
- Places primary responsibility on therapist, and increasingly on those interacting with an npd client for their part of the interaction, and that is, to remain present, observant and thoughtfully responsive rather than judging, reactive, anxious to fix or to please, etc., because reactivity “feed” the npd problem-behaviors.
- Last but not least, this shift to a new mindset emphasizes the reality, that: all human beings are hardwired to yearn to matter and feel they contribute value and meaning to life around them. The destination mindset is a way of thinking that makes therapy (and relationships) a place where each is primarily responsible for relating to self and other in ways that promote authentic, wholehearted ways of loving self and other. Most npds are more capable of empathy than they’d care to admit. Thus, for those interacting with an npd client, it’s important to keep reminding themselves that npds are human thus fully equipped with human capacities (just more or less misguided or addicted to a false sense of power they gain from their current mindset, reinforced by major cultural institutions, media, entertainment, etc.)
As a therapist (or loved one), there are no quick fixes. The best hope of being a healing presence that has a balancing effect on your relationship with others starts inside you — your mindset, and relationship with your self.